Chocolate comes from roasting and processing the bean which grows on the cocoa tree. The cocoa tree is harvested in the rain forests of the tropics, notably in Mexico, Brazil, and Ghana.
Our global community owes chocolate to none less than the Aztecs, who populated what is now Mexico. In fact, the word chocolate comes from the Aztec's word for a drink they served to Hernan CortŽz, the Spanish conquistador. That drink, made out of roasted cocoa beans, could have been very distant from our sweet idea of chocolate. It was in Spain, where Cortez introduced the cocoa beans, that the new chocolate drink was mixed with sugar and vanilla, a taste immediately loved around the world.
Other chocolate breakthroughs begin with Dutchman Coenraad van Houten who, in 1828, invented a press to remove about two thirds of the cocoa butter from chocolate. Before then, the chocolate drink was heavy and oily. Later Englishman Joseph Fry invented the chocolate bar, made out of chocolate and sugar, and in 1876 Swiss Daniel Pieter invented the milk chocolate bar by mixing chocolate with condensed milk, which was invented by Henri NestlŽ.
As a drink, because it has caffeine, chocolate is used by some people as an energizer or to cure hangovers. Some even say it works as an aphrodisiac and to improve longevity. Chocolate is extensively used in cooking, particularly for desserts. Less known is its use in meat dishes, popular in Mexico, Spain, and Italy. Mole, one of Mexico's most traditional dishes dating to the Aztecs, is a turkey stew with a sauce made with chocolate and peppers (mole).