Nutty for Chocolate

Today we enjoy chocolate – in many forms – throughout St. Augustine. But how did the sweet treat first arrive on our shores? Let us chow down on the bittersweet history of chocolate.

Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). The plant thrives in the tropical regions of Central and South America. Archaeological evidence suggests that the domestication of cacao occurred thousands of years ago.

By the time Hernán Cortés arrived in 1519, the Aztecs prepared cacao as a drink called chocolatl. The Aztecs ground roasted cacao seeds before whisking them with water. They included other ingredients like chili pepper, vanilla, flowers, and spices. The conquistadors found the drink bitter, so they sweetened it with sugar from Europe. They named their “new” drink chocolat.

Woman dressed in colonial costume grinds cacao seeds with a mortar and pestle.
Audrey Redmond grinding cacao seeds for chocolat.

The sweet drink made its way to Spain in 1544 as a gift for King Philip II. It remained among the Spanish aristocracy at first due to its rarity and expense. As the ingredients became more available, chocolat spread across Spain’s colonies – including Florida.

According to an article written by Chocolate History Manager Rodney Snyder of MARS Chocolate Inc., the first reference to chocolate in North America (uncovered to date) is from the Spanish ship Nuestra Senora del Rosario del Carmen. This ship arrived in St. Augustine with crates of cacao in 1641.

A Spanish colonial kitchen featuring furniture, pots, ceramics, and other items used for cooking.
The kitchen of the De Mesa Sanchez House features two chocolatera on the mantle. (UFDC)

The Spanish noted that chocolat stimulated the sense and contained medicinal properties. Spanish colonists often served the drink with breakfast. They made the “hot chocolate” using a chocolatera – a copper cup fitted with a handle, cap, and molinillo (an instrument for whipping hot chocolate).

Chocolat remained a popular way to consume cacao until the introduction of solid eating chocolate in the 1800s. From this point, eating chocolate takes off. Over the next two centuries, creative innovations – such as chocolate molds like the one bellow – transform the seed into the treat we enjoy today.

Metal mold in the shape of two acorns being held in a hand.
Chocolate molds in the shape of acorns found in Governor’s House Library.

To try a colonial recipe similar to the chocolat drank by early St. Augustine residents, you can follow Maria Rundell’s recipe in A System of Domestic Cookery (1814) by clicking here.

One thought on “Nutty for Chocolate

  1. Pingback: Food Culture: Chocolate Arrives in St. Augustine in 1641 - HistoricCoastCulture.com

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