The history and science of chocolate

Malays J Pathol. 2013 Dec;35(2):111-21.


This article gives an account of the origins, evolution and properties of chocolate. Chocolate is processed from the pod or cabosside of the cacao plant, grown in the tropical belt. The origins of chocolate are traced back to the Maya people who were probably the first to cultivate the cacao plant. The early chocolate drink, considered a "drink of the Gods" was mixed with cinnamon and pepper, tasting bitter and strong, and was most appreciated for its invigorating and stimulating effects than for its taste. Imported from the Americas, the softened version soon spread in Europe. From the 1800s to the 20th Century, it evolved from a drink to its current pleasurable varieties (such as fondant, Gianduja, milky and white chocolate), gaining much momentum in industry and also made great impact as a romantic item and art form. Important components in chocolate are flavonoids (antioxidants), cocoa butter, caffeine, theobromine and phenylethylamine, whereas the presence of psychoactive substances account for its pleasurable effects. Caffeine, theophylline and theobromine constitutes the methylxanthines, known to enhance the action of cAMP, which plays an important role in the transmission of intracellular signals. Chocolate is noted to have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and cardioprotective effects, and improves the bioavailability of nitric oxide, which action improves the pressure, platelet function and fluidity of blood.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Books, Illustrated
  • Cacao* / chemistry
  • Cacao* / history
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval