This winter, when you’re curled up on the couch with a frothy cup of drinking chocolate from Delysia Chocolatier, you might want to raise your hot mug to toast Sir Hans Sloane. Sloane (1660-1753) was a noted English physician, scientist, and collector. The 71,000 books, prints, art and antique objects he gathered on his travels formed the foundation of the British Museum’s collection. He is also often credited for being the inventor of modern hot chocolate.
Cold and Bitter
Casual chocolate historians know that Mesoamerican peoples had been drinking chocolate for over 2,000 years. Ancient Mayans apparently sometimes liked it hot. Centuries later, however, Aztec royalty drank their chocolate cold. They added ingredients such as crushed flower petals and chili peppers that left a bitter taste.
Early 16th-century Europeans who traveled to the New World were not impressed. Jesuit missionary José de Acosta described the chocolate beverage as “a scum or froth that has a very unpleasant taste.” Conquistador Girolamo Benzoni said it was “more a drink for pigs than a drink for humanity. But then, as there was a shortage of wine. . . .”
Hans Sloane agreed. He was 27 when he traveled from England to Jamaica, in 1697, to serve as physician to the new governor. On the island, he too sampled a drink made with locally grown cocoa – and declared it “nauseous.” An inventive type, Sloane set to work creating a more appetizing version of drinking chocolate. He eventually came up with a winning recipe that mixed hot cocoa with milk.
Hot and Sweet
When he returned to England, Sloane brought along his recipe for hot milk chocolate. Early on, London pharmacies manufactured and sold the beverage as a medicinal remedy. Later, in the 19th century, the Cadbury Brothers commercialized the recipe under the name “Sir Hans Sloane’s Milk Chocolate.” As hot milk chocolate’s popularity spread, so did Sloane’s fame as the inventor of modern hot chocolate.
In truth, however, hot chocolate had already caught on in Europe. After their conquest of Latin America, Spanish conquistadors returned to Spain bearing cocoa. To make the Aztecs’ chocolate more appealing, they added another new, exotic ingredient – sugar. Since sugar’s sweetness only kicks in when it melts, cooks would heat the beverage. Spanish aristocrats adored sweet hot chocolate, but they kept its preparation a carefully guarded secret.
Over time, however, supplies of cocoa and sugar expanded and hot chocolate became the rage among Europe’s elites. During the 17th and 18th centuries, hot chocolate recipes multiplied as people experimented with different ingredients. Common additions ranged from spices, nuts, eggs, and lemon peel to wine, brandy, and even milk. And yet, without a doubt, Sloane’s recipe contributed to the popularity of modern hot chocolate. It’s also the direct ancestor of Delysia’s rich, velvety drinking chocolate.