Chocolate, Post-Columbian

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

chocolate, post-Columbian, refers to the culture of cacao after Spanish explorers brought New World cacao beans to Europe, beginning in the sixteenth century. Unlike the very wary reception of two other New World crops, potatoes and tomatoes, cacao was much more readily embraced by Europeans, thanks to its similarity—once roasted, ground, and prepared as a beverage—to two other popular, nonalcoholic drinks, tea and coffee. See cocoa.

Although it would take a few hundred years for some of the New World crops to be incorporated into Old World dietary systems, cacao’s trajectory was much shorter. Still, there was nothing inevitable about chocolate’s reception in Europe when Spanish conquistadors returned with those first cacao beans, which they referred to as “almonds.” (Hernán Cortés and not Christopher Columbus is generally believed to have been the first European to introduce cacao to the Old World, although no proof of this exists.) See chocolate, pre-columbian.