For centuries Native American residents of Central America made a dark bitter drink from the pods that grew on the trunk of the cacao tree, (Theobroma cacao). Soon after their arrival in the New World, the Spanish discovered the drink and subsequently brought cacao beans back to the Old World. In Europe, sugar was added to make the cacao drink sweeter, but the small beans still had to be cleaned, sun-dried, roasted, cracked open and ground into a paste, called chocolate liquor, before they could be used. Even with all this prep work, the chocolate drink of the 1600s and 1700s was very different from anything available today.
Things on the chocolate scene changed greatly in 1828, when a Dutchmen by the name of Coenraad Van Houten, invented and patented a hydraulic process that removed half the cocoa butter from the chocolate liquor, yielding a brown powder. To convert the dark pile of powder into a usable confectionery product, Mr. Houten discovered that he had to treat the powder with an alkaline substance in order to create a secondary powder that could be mixed with water. Now at last Mr. Houten had a powdered substance that was useful to candy makers and cooks. This secondary powder created by the alkali treatment became known as Dutch cocoa.
Today, both the brown powder, nowadays called natural cocoa, and the darker Dutch cocoa are available at the marketplace, but each one is used in its own distinct way. For instance, Dutch-processed cocoa, which has to used with baking powder, is used in European style cakes and pastries, where a milder flavor is preferred. On the other hand, natural cocoa powder is a bitter ingredient that yields a strong chocolate taste when it is added to a recipe.
Chocolate (candy) manufacturing today is a complex and complicated process involving large and intricate machines that are housed in factory-sized buildings. This is a far cry from the simple mechanical devices that Van Houten used almost two centuries ago.