Chocolate Across Europe
Christopher Columbus is said to have brought the first cocoa beans back to Europe from his fourth visit to the 'New World' between 1502 and 1504. However, the many other treasures on board his galleons were far more exciting, and the humble cocoa beans were neglected.
It was his fellow explorer, the Spanish Conquistador Don Hernan Cortes, who first realised the commercial value of the beans. He brought cocoa beans back to Spain in 1528 and gradually the custom of drinking chocolate spread across Europe, reaching England in the 1650s.
Once Don Cortes had provided the Spanish with a supply of cocoa beans and the equipment to make the chocolate drink, a Spanish version of the recipe was devised. Monks in monasteries, known for their pharmaceutical skills, were chosen to process the beans and perfect the drink to Spanish tastes. Cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar were added, the chilli pepper was omitted and it was discovered that chocolate tasted even better served hot.
Cocoa beans were in short supply, so for nearly a century the special chocolate drink recipe was a closely guarded secret.
English and Dutch sailors, who found cocoa beans in the Spanish 'treasure' ships captured as they returned from the New World, failed to recognise their importance. The precious beans were thrown overboard by angry sailors reputed to have thought them 'sheep's droppings'.
An Italian traveller, Francesco Carletti, was the first to break the Spanish monopoly. He had visited Central America and seen how the Indians prepared the cocoa beans and how they made the drink, and by 1606 chocolate was well established in Italy.
The secret of chocolate was taken to France in 1615, when Anne, daughter of Philip II of Spain, married King Louis XIII of France. The French court enthusiastically adopted this new exotic drink, which was considered to have medicinal benefits as well as being a nourishing food.
The supply of cocoa beans to the French market greatly increased after 1684, when France conquered Cuba and Haiti and set up its own cocoa plantations there.
In the 17th century, the Dutch, who were great navigators, broke Spain's monopoly of cocoa when they captured Curacao. They not only brought cocoa beans from America to Holland, where cocoa was greatly acclaimed and recommended by doctors as a cure for almost every ailment, but also enabled the trade in cocoa beans to spread.
Chocolate probably reached Germany in 1646, brought back by visitors to Italy. The secret of the aromatic chocolate-flavoured drinks finally reached England from France in the 1650s when they became very popular at the court of King Charles II.
Up until this point all chocolate recipes were based on plain chocolate. It was an English doctor, Sir Hans Sloane, who - after travelling in South America - focused on cacao and food values, bringing a milk chocolate recipe back to England. The original Cadbury Milk Chocolate was prepared to his recipe.