ORIGINS OF CHOCOLATE – Part 1
The story of chocolate begins in Latin America, where the cacao tree grows wild. The Olmec (1000 BC) were the first to make use of chocolate in what is today southeast Mexico. The word cacao is thought to originate from the Olmec word “kakawa”.
It’s not until the arrival of the Maya (250-900 AD) that chocolate history begins to take shape. The cacao bean was such a valuable commodity for the Mayans that it was commonly used as currency. Payment of 10 beans could get you a rabbit, a payment of 100 beans could buy you a slave. The beans were so valuable that it was known for people to counterfeit beans some even resorting to carving them out of clay. Cacao beans were still in use as currency up until the 19th century in many parts of Latin America.
The use of chocolate was firmly embedded within Mayan culture. Chocolate was used in religious rituals, marriage ceremonies and it even had it’s own god. While the Mayans used cacao purely as a drink, the story of solid chocolate doesn’t start until the 1850s. The preparation of chocolate by the Mayans wasn’t too different to how we do it today. Step one involved harvesting, fermenting and then drying the beans. Then the beans were roasted, the shells removed and then ground into a paste. This cacao paste was mixed with hot water and spices like chili, vanilla, honey and flowers. Chocolate was often mixed with water and corn to make a gruel which is similar to the corn drink pinole which is still consumed across Latin America today.
Chocolate was so valuable to the Mayans that it was usually only the rich that drank chocolate on a regular basis. Emperors were buried with jars of chocolate at their sides underlining the precious status of chocolate in Mayan culture.
The Aztecs had a legend that the god Quetzalcoatl brought chocolate to earth but was cast out of paradise for giving it to man, only the gods were fit to drink chocolate!