There are several hypothesis regarding the origins of cacao. However, most historians agree that cacao crop originated in the basins of the Amazon river since the cacao trees grew naturally there. This would have occurred about 4,000 years ago (Motamayor, 2002).
Later, approximately 3,000 years ago, the first cultivators appeared in Central America. It is believed that the Olmecs, an ancient pre-Columbian Mesoamerican culture that developed in Mexico (Cultura México, 2011), discovered that cacao was edible by seeing how some animals consumed the fruit (Inaforesta).
According to research conducted by the University of Michigan (Henderson, 2007), cacao was initially consumed as a beverage.
The first shipment of cacao to Europe was made in the sixteenth century. Since that period, the consumption of cacao has expanded worldwide until achieving the international recognition it has today.
Everything you need to know to understand the cacao and chocolate production process.
Source: ICCO Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics, Vol. XLII, No. 1, Cocoa year 2015/16
Source: Euromonitor. Elaboration: Statista
Source: Euromonitor. Elaboration: CIC