Chocolate, as we know it today, is a fairly recent invention.
In 1828, the Van Houten company of the Netherlands developed the technology to separate fatty cocoa butter from cocoa mass to make cocoa powder.
Subsequently, a method of mixing sugar and cocoa butter with this powder to make a solid food was invented in Britain. This was the prototype of chocolate.
Milk chocolate was later invented in Switzerland, and mass production began in the late 19th century.
In Japan, Morinaga Seika began full-scale production in 1918, and Meiji Seika (now Meiji) followed suit in 1926.
But there's another side to chocolate. Long before it became a food, it was consumed as a drink.
Since ancient times, people in central and south America ground up roasted cocoa beans and mixed the powder with water, corn and red peppers to make a beverage. It was believed to be effective as a health supplement, and was only consumed by royalty and the aristocracy, and soldiers. The beans themselves were so highly valued that they were in circulation as currency.
In the 16th century, Hernan Cortes, the famous Spanish explorer, brought cocoa beans back to Spain after conquering Mexico, giving birth to the style of mixing cocoa powder with sugar to make a beverage. Throughout the 17th century, it became popular among the upper classes in Europe as a potent elixir. Back then it was still an expensive imported good, and the act of serving drinking chocolate to guests was a display of wealth. These are the origins of the cocoa we drink today.
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The global market for chocolate is now worth $100 billion (approximately 7.6 trillion yen), on a par with that for coffee (around 10 trillion yen).
One recent trend is the increase of consumption in developing countries.
The international price for cocoa beans was around 600 pounds per ton in 2000 (currently, one pound converts to 120 yen). In 2010, the price went above 2,700 pounds, mainly due to instability surrounding a presidential election in the Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa bean producer.
The price recently fell to around 1,500 pounds, but this is still 2.5 times what it was 12 years ago. Despite fluctuations, this consistently upward trend is largely driven by the fact that global consumption of cocoa beans has increased by more than 200 percent. The increase is the result of demand in developing nations.
Another trend concerns growing demands from consumers and nongovernmental organizations, especially in the European and American markets, for consideration to be given to the environment and human rights in the production of chocolate.
For example, there are calls for the prevention of children under 18 being forced into labor and that only cocoa beans from farms that do not use child labor should be used.
Labor-intensive cocoa bean production can be a hotbed of child labor.
UNICEF estimates that there are 200,000 children working on farms in Ivory Coast, and that the vast majority of them have been brought in by human traffickers.
A 2009 Ghanaian government study found that 180,000 children are involved in dangerous work on farms.
Poverty, lack of schools, regional customs, and other factors make this a complicated issue.
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