Hernando Cortes was a famous Spanish explorer who tred in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus during the 16th century. Cortes was a controversial & bold leader, however he is also widely regarded as the first European to discover chocolate.
After spending years in Haiti & Cuba, Cortes moved onto his most famous expedition in Mexico, where he defeated King Montezuma & the Aztec Empire, then developed Mexico City (formerly Tenochtitlán) into the most important European city in the Americas. However, the defeat – by a dramatically smaller army – may have actually been largely assisted by a Smallpox epidemic brought over by the Spaniards, which then spread like wildfire throughout the Aztec population, as suggested by great American historian William H McNeill.
During the conquest, Cortes also tasted a warm, bitter drink made with cocoa beans called ‘xocoatl’. This was also called the ‘royal drink, which Emperor Montezuma apparently consumed 50 times a day. Furthermore, Cortes noted that the Aztecs were using cocoa beans as a currency substitute for gold, which led him to promote the development of cocoa bean plantations across Mexico, Trinidad, Haiti & throughout the Caribbean.
However, there is actually little historical evidence to suggest that Cortes was the first transporter of chocolate to Europe. In fact, in the book ‘The True History of Chocolate’, the writers states “No one knows for sure when cacao first reached Spain. There is no credible evidence to support the oft-repeated claim that it was the work of Hernán Cortés. He sent a ship to Spain from the coast of Veracruz in 1519 and visited Charles V in person in 1528 with “a dazzling sample of Mexico’s riches and wonders” including dwarves, bouncing rubber balls, monsters, and albinos, fans, shields, plumes, obsidian mirrors. But no mention of chocolate. More likely is that the Maya introduced it to Europe. Specifically the Kekchi Maya of Guatemala, who live in the Alta Verapaz (True Peace)… beautiful region of cloud-swirled mountains. Here, Dominicans led by Bartolomé de las Casas had taken over a delegation of Maya nobles to visit Prince Philip in Spain in 1544. Amongst the other things they brought were ‘receptacles of beaten chocolate’ “.
Maybe we’ll never know for sure……