From cacao to chocolate

The great botanist Carl von Linné was by far not the first one to recognise the unique qualities of the plant he gave the botanical name "Theobroma Cacao L.". "Theobroma" means "food of the gods". As such cacao was already known by the Toltecs, Maya and Aztecs, from whom the name "cacauatl" was handed down to us. Already around the year 600, the Maya cultivated cacao in Central America. They used cacao for the preparation of a very nutritious beverage, which they called "Xocolatl", probably from which today's word "chocolate" derived.

The Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century were also interested in cacao. 1528 Cortez brought the first cacao to Spain, together with the necessary equipment to prepare the exotic beverage and it was soon received with great enthusiasm at the Spanish Court.

The infanta Anne of Austria, raised in Madrid and wife of King Ludwig XIII, brought drinking chocolate to the French Court in 1615. In Paris it became a status symbol and a fashionable drink of the aristocracy and hereafter was distributed in all of Europe. While drinking chocolate became less important during the 19th century, solid chocolate became more important instead, which had its beginnings in France in the years after 1830.

Chocolate comes to Switzerland...

1819 François-Louis Cailler opened one of the first industrialised chocolate manufactures in Corsier-sur-Vevey and with it founded the oldest still existing chocolate brand in Switzerland. Chocolate had now found its way into Switzerland, where it also soon found its largest promoters and pioneers. Philippe Suchard opened a chocolate manufacture in Serrières in 1826. Followed by Jacques Foulquier (forerunner of Jean-Samuel Favarger) in Geneva in the same year, Charles-Amédée Kohler in Lausanne in 1830, Rudolf Sprüngli in Zurich in 1845, Aquilino Maestrani in Lucerne in 1852 and later in St. Gallen, Johann Georg Munz in Flawil in 1874, Jean Tobler in Bern in 1899. 

Daniel Peter founded a chocolate factory in Vevey in 1867. After long trials he managed the obvious, but difficult combination of chocolate with milk and hence invented milk chocolate in 1875. Rudolphe Lindt opened a chocolate manufacture in Bern in 1879. With "conching" he developed a technique with which he was able to produce the first melt- or fondant chocolate in the world. In the years that followed, many more Swiss entrepreneurs founded companies, which, with their successful business activities, contributed to the worldwide reputation of Swiss chocolate. 

The first golden age of Swiss chocolate

The years between 1890 and 1920 were a true golden age for the Swiss chocolate industry. It coincided with the golden age of Swiss tourism. People of the highest social classes from all over the world, who spent their holidays in Switzerland, came to know and appreciate Swiss chocolate and spread the word about its reputation in their home countries. Between 1900 and 1918 the production of the proactive Swiss chocolate producers conquered the chocolate world market. Up to three quarters of Swiss chocolate was sold for export. That way the small country Switzerland became a chocolate world leader. Of course, the "Swiss chocolate" not only gained its worldwide reputation due to its export volume, but most of all thanks to its quality, which raised it above the mass of chocolate produced in other countries..

Crises give rise to new golden age

At the end of the twenties hard times began to hit the Swiss chocolate industry. The increased protectionism and the world economic crises in the 20s and 30s led to the loss of export markets. The Second World War brought tight restrictions on the import of sugar and cacao and in 1943 the rationing.

Since 1950 the Swiss chocolate industry enjoys a steady development. The automatisation and new technologies for the production of chocolate were furthered. The advancing economic integration as well as the worldwide tariff reduction promoted the international exchange of goods. Manufacturers recognised the signs of the times and further expanded their market position in many countries of the world. 

The development of novel products and types of products that accommodate modern consumption habits, the emphasis on quality, the consistent modernisation of manufacturing companies and the promotion of vocational training for staff are the means thanks to which the Swiss chocolate industry can still maintain its market acceptance in the 21st century.


Cacao is an especially precious product from the tropics. The cacao tree grows in tropic areas north and south of the equator. Its fruits, which grow directly on its trunk, are harvested twice a year and each contains between 20 and 30 white cacao beans.

Once the beans are freed from the husk, they are piled up, covered and left to ferment. In the process the beans lose their ability to germinate and at the same time develop parts of their flavouring. After drying the cacao beans are ready for shipment and will be bought by the processing companies at the international cacao stock markets in London and New York.

How chocolate is made

The production of chocolate is based on the old handcraft of confectioners and chocolatiers. Until today, the industrial production follows the original handcraft-based work steps, however, on all levels, highly developed technical installations took over the execution. They not only allow to rationalise production, they furthermore guarantee a consistently high quality. Cacao beans are the most important raw material for the production of chocolate. After a detailed receiving and quality inspection, the raw cacao is thoroughly cleaned, broken, roasted and ground. The resulting cacao mass, mixed with sugar and additional cacao butter, is the basis for the classic dark chocolate. For the basis of milk chocolate, milk powder or condensed milk is added. White chocolate is made without the brown cacao mass. These three bases are the starting point for all chocolate varieties. After mixing, the bases are finely ground and refined through "conching".  Thereby, the cacao mass turns into a chocolate mass, which is now ready to be formed into solid or - with nuts, almonds, fruits or liquor - filled bars, pralines and many other specialities.

The delicate big and small chocolates are now packed into envelopes, boxes and chocolate boxes and finally into large shipping cartons, before they end up in intermediate stores of the commercial trade and in the worldwide export.


Connoisseurs recognise the quality of a chocolate when they break off a piece: it breaks with a crisp and sharp snap, the broken edges are clean, the area of fracture does not crumble. The nose also scents out quality: the odour of a fine chocolate is full and well-rounded, but never obtrusive. Finally, on the tonge it is clearly noticable: good chocolate melts gently, does neither stick to the roof of your mouth nor does it feel sandy or let alone leave any kind of aftertaste. Its taste is fine, tender, complete - unique. 

Shelf life

Depending on the recipe, chocolate has a shelf life of up to 12 months, dark chocolate even up to 15 months. Chocolate should be stored at a temperature between 10° and 18°C and protected from light and humidity. Chocolate is healthy! Rarely in a food we find, within such a small space, a concentration of such a large sum of valuable and energising compounds like proteins, carbohydrates, trace elements, mineral nutrients and vitamines, all of them stemming from nature. The digestible energy of a 100g chocolate bar comes to around 2300 kilojoule or 550 kilocalories. Chocolate is good and healthy. It supports the balanced diet that should always be pursued, however, it does not replace it.

(Source: Chocosuisse Switzerland)