Origin of Chocolate
Tracing the true origin of chocolate is tough. However, in 2002, the residue found in a Mayan teapot was analyzed. The results indicated that the Mayan people and their ancestors, the Olmec, were enjoying chocolate in 500 BC.
It is probable that people were cultivating the cacao tree long before the Maya, whose civilization flourished in what is now southern Mexico and the Yucatán, as well as in the highlands of Belize and parts of Guatemala.
The word chocolate is thought to be originally derived from the Yucatec Maya word ‘chocol’ meaning hot.
Food of the Gods
Chocolate lovers might be envious on learning that the Maya had chocolate at every meal. It was consumed in the form of a fermented beverage by both common people and their rulers and it was fed to the gods when they dined with mortal Maya royalty.
The scientific name for the cacao tree is Theoroma cacao meaning food of the gods. Maya murals have been found that depict chocolate being poured into the cups of royalty sitting with the gods.
The Maya were drinking chocolate when the Spanish found them in the 1500s. Accounts and descriptions kept by the Spanish indicate that the Maya drank chocolate that was dark and foamy. Hieroglyphs show the drink being poured from a standing position from one vessel into another on the ground. Pouring the liquid along with the cacao butter created a layer of rich, dark foam thought to be the best part of the drink.
Making the Drink
The seeds of the cacao tree are surrounded by a sticky white flesh nestled in pods. Seeds and pulp are removed from the green and yellow pods and left to ferment until the seeds become a rich, dark brown. The seeds are dried and roasted before being ground into a thick paste. This part of the process is much the same today.
Accounts kept by the Spanish tell us that the thick chocolate paste was mixed with maize, water, honey, and chili. Chocolate was consumed in liquid and solid form, and it was an accompaniment to every meal.
Cacao’s Enduring Popularity
Ancient Mesoamericans applied cacao externally to sooth burns and disinfect wounds. It was also believed that cacao could help bronchitis.
Cacao butter is still used today as a treatment for scars, stretch marks, and certain skin conditions, including eczema.
It is a principal ingredient in mole sauces served in Mexican restaurants worldwide and known for unique flavors arising from unlikely combinations like hot peppers and chocolate.
Often believed to be an aphrodisiac, chocolate remains one of the most popular Valentine’s Day gifts. It’s a great gift for almost any occasion thanks to its enduring popularity. Luxurious, sweet, and versatile; no wonder the Maya thought of it as the food of the Gods.