French Chocolate and Anne of Austria

Who doesn’t love chocolate? One of the decadent delights of life, one could say that chocolate is one of the Earth’s greatest gifts to us. Chocolate was originally discovered and cultivated in Mesoamerica by the Aztecs and Mayans, though some would argue that it was perfected by the French. Chocolate was originally introduced to continental Europe in the sixteenth century when Christopher Columbus, returning from one of his famous voyages to the new world, brought cacao beans back to Spain.

This discovery remained contained within Spain for some time, but eventually, chocolate fame began to spread throughout England, Germany, the Netherlands, and of course France. The story behind chocolate’s introduction to France is that it was a gift from Anne of Austria to her husband King Louis XIII, leading some to consider Anne of Austria the “originator” of chocolate in France. This took place in the year 1615, and at that time chocolate was a commodity that was exclusive to the bourgeoisie, because it was an exotic and hence expensive item. Owing to its mild stimulant properties, many at the time treated chocolate as if it was a medicine, plenty even considering it an aphrodisiac.

These properties only helped accelerate its spread and chocolate rapidly gained popularity amongst the Kings and the Queens of France, and in fact became so popular that specialized confectioners were hired by the nobility to make them their daily cup of chocolate, as at the time it was primarily consumed in liquid form. King Louis XIV, like his predecessor, was also quite the lover of chocolate and was the first person to introduce chocolate to Versailles. As chocolate just continued to grow in popularity factories eventually started sprouting up in order to meet the ever-increasing demands for it.

Around this time, continuing the trend of nobility savoring chocolate, when Marie Antoinette moved into Versailles, she brought her own personal chocolate maker and she was known to start her days with a cup of hot chocolate. Additionally, she was the first person who would add sugar to her liquid chocolate to minimize the bitterness. The first chocolate factory was opened in Paris in 1659 by David Chaillou, and in 1732 Debuisson invented the first table to grind cocoa beans, which streamlined the production process. Finally, in the 19th-century chocolate was accessible to the common folk as commercial production had increased enough to meet the public demand. The first large-scale commercial chocolate factory was opened in Pyrenees in 1814.

Following this development, in the early 19th century many more chocolate shops began to open. In 1884 the first breakfast with chocolate and vanilla cream was invented in France, cementing its role as a confectionary treat. By the early twentieth-century chocolate shops were a commonplace sight in towns and cities. Now up to the present day, following its storied history, chocolate remains one of the world’s favorite treats and we have Anne of Austria and the French royalty to thank for popularizing such a tantalizing treat.

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