Hans Sloane – Drinking Chocolate

Born #OTD in 1660 in Killyleagh, County Down, the venerable Sir Hans Sloane was founder of the British Museum in London and the the man whom London’s Sloane Square is named after.

The son of an Anglo Irish settler family from Killyleagh, County Down Sloane is best remembered as a gifted naturalist and physician, and one of the leading lights of his generation. What many people probably don’t know is that he was also largely responsible for popularising drinking chocolate!

Sloane came upon the idea when he travelled to Jamaica in 1687 as President of the Royal College of Physicians. Jamaica was at that time becoming a source of immense profit for the British Empire with its rocketing exports of sugar and cocoa. Hans tried the local cocoa and drank it mixed with water as was the custom but he is said to have found the drink very unpleasant. He set about trying to make it easier to digest and came up with the idea of mixing the cocoa with milk instead. He brought the recipe back to London with him where it was initially used as a medicinal treatment but soon became very popular as a drink in its own right.

It’s unlikely that Sloane was the first to mix it with milk and there were certainly many other options tried at the time including eggs and nutmeg but it does seem likely that it was his recipe that brought drinking chocolate to the attention of the wider public in London. By the mid-18th Century Nicholas Sanders of Soho was selling ‘Sir Hans Sloane’s Milk Chocolate’, and by the mid-19th Century, British chocolate giant Cadburys were selling drinking chocolate in vast quantities and still claiming to be using Han’s Sloane’s recipe.

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