Modern-day chocoholics, step aside. In the long history of chocolate you are mere upstarts compared to the ancient civilizations of Mexico. Before you came along, the Mayans worshipped Ixcacao, an ancient fertility goddess responsible for ensuring her people were fed and had plenty of what they called kahau (bitter) to drink. And in the myths of the Toltecs, Aztecs, and other ancient indigenous tribes of Mexico, cacao was a revered plant reserved for the gods. They used it to brew xocolatl, believed to be an aphrodisiac that also made its imbibers wiser and more virile. Made by roasting the cacao berries, grinding them into powder, and then mixing the powder with water until frothy, xocolatl was considered the food of the gods.
The Spanish conquistadors who conquered Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, defeated the Aztec emperor Moctezuma, and eventually destroyed Aztec civilization brought xocolatl back to Spain, and the Spanish, to ameliorate its bitterness, added sugar (the Aztecs had sometimes mixed it with honey), thus taking the first step to creating chocolate as we know it today.
Fast forward to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and, thanks to a French invention, chocolate was finally machine-ground in quantity and could be turned into a smooth, creamy, solid bar or block. From this sprang an entirely new kind of chocolate made for eating, and chocolate morphed into the familiar bars that could be mass-produced and were affordable for the working class. World Wars I and II helped spread chocolate around the world, as it was transported in the kits of soldiers on the move.
Confectioners, pastry chefs, and chefs have all taken this simple ingredient, enhanced it with liqueurs, flavors, and spices, and turned it into cakes, breads, molded chocolates, and a host of other irresistible bonbons. Each culture has put its own spin on chocolate goodness. Read on for 12 different ways chocolate is used in countries around the globe.