Chocolate milk is objectively delicious, whether cold, boxed, hot or malted. The beverage has been a staple of American lunches for years (thanks, in part, to the U.S. milk lobby). It has also been the center of some controversy: parents can’t seem to decide if the beverage is a hero (saving their children from drinking soda at lunch) or villain (filling their children with empty calories). In New York City, about 60 percent of the milk cartons served at every school lunch are full of chocolate milk. That’s 60 million cartons of chocolate milk consumed every year in New York City lunchrooms alone.
But where did it come from? Who first thought to add chocolate and milk together? According to the Natural History Museum in Britain, that credit goes to Sir Hans Sloane, an Irish botanist. Sloane spent some time in Jamaica in the early 1700s, where the local people gave him cocoa to drink. “He found it 'nauseous' but by mixing it with milk made it more palatable," the museum says. When he returned to England, Sloane brought the milk and cocoa mixture with him, and for many years it was sold as medicine.
But, as with most things, the European who gets credit for inventing something probably did not actually invent it. According to Jame Delbougo, a historian, the Jamaicans were brewing “a hot beverage brewed from shavings of freshly harvested cacao, boiled with milk and cinnamon” as far back as 1494. And chocolate has been known to humans as far back as 350 B.C. It's hard to believe that no one before Sloane thought to put milk in it.
Even Europeans had known about chocolate since 1502, when Columbus brought it back from his conquests in the Americas—although it wasn’t until Cortez pillaged the Aztecs in 1516 that Europeans actually figured out what to do with cacao. In fact, Cortez had a similar reaction to Sloan when served the bitter drink—he added spices and sugar to cut the bite. (If you want to make that kind of hot chocolate, try this Mesoamerican recipe.)