After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted. The shell is removed to produce cacao nibs, which are then ground to cocoa mass, unadulterated chocolate in rough form. Once the cocoa mass is liquefied by heating, it is called chocolate liquor. The liquor also may be cooled and processed into its two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Baking chocolate, also called bitter chocolate, contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions, without any added sugars. Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter or added vegetable oils, and sugar. Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids.
Cocoa solids are a source of flavonoids and alkaloids, such as theobromine, phenethylamine and caffeine. Chocolate also contains anandamide.
Chocolate has become one of the most popular food types and flavors in the world, and a vast number of foodstuffs involving chocolate have been created, particularly desserts including cakes, pudding, mousse, chocolate brownies, and chocolate chip cookies. Many candies are filled with or coated with sweetened chocolate, and bars of solid chocolate and candy bars coated in chocolate are eaten as snacks. Gifts of chocolate molded into different shapes (e.g., eggs, hearts) have become traditional on certain Western holidays, such as Easter and Valentine's Day. Chocolate is also used in cold and hot beverages such as chocolate milk and hot chocolate and in some alcoholic drinks, such as creme de cacao.
Although cocoa originated in the Americas, recent years have seen African nations assuming a leading role in producing cocoa. Since the 2000s, Western Africa produces almost two-thirds of the world's cocoa, with Ivory Coast growing almost half of that amount.
The word "chocolate" entered the English language from Spanish in about 1600. The word entered Spanish from Nahuatl word chocoltl, the language of the Aztecs, but the exact etymology of the Nahuatl word is debated. One proposed etymology derives it from the word chicolatl, meaning "beaten drink", which may derive from the word for the frothing stick, chicoli. The term "chocolate chip" was first used in 1940. The term "chocolatier", for a chocolate confection maker, is attested from 1888.
Chocolate has been prepared as a drink for nearly all of its history. For example, one vessel found at an Olmec archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico, dates chocolate's preparation by pre-Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BCE. On the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, a Mokaya archaeological site provides evidence of cacao beverages dating even earlier, to 1900 BCE. The residues and the kind of vessel in which they were found indicate the initial use of cacao was not simply as a beverage, but the white pulp around the cacao beans was likely used as a source of fermentable sugars for an alcoholic drink.
An early Classic-period (460480 AD) Mayan tomb from the site in Rio Azul had vessels with the Maya glyph for cacao on them with residue of a chocolate drink, suggests the Maya were drinking chocolate around 400 AD. Documents in Maya hieroglyphs stated chocolate was used for ceremonial purposes, in addition to everyday life. The Maya grew cacao trees in their backyards, and used the cacao seeds the trees produced to make a frothy, bitter drink.
By the 15th century, the Aztecs gained control of a large part of Mesoamerica and adopted cacao into their culture. They associated chocolate with Quetzalcoatl, who, according to one legend, was cast away by the other gods for sharing chocolate with humans, and identified its extrication from the pod with the removal of the human heart in sacrifice. In contrast to the Maya, who liked their chocolate warm, the Aztecs drank it cold, seasoning it with a broad variety of additives, including the petals of the Cymbopetalum penduliflorum tree, chile pepper, allspice, vanilla, and honey.
The Aztecs were not able to grow cacao themselves, as their home in the Mexican highlands was unsuitable for it, so chocolate was a luxury imported into the empire. Those who lived in areas ruled by the Aztecs were required to offer cacao seeds in payment of the tax they deemed "tribute". Cocoa beans were often used as currency. For example, the Aztecs used a system in which one turkey cost 100 cacao beans and one fresh avocado was worth three beans.