A Gift from Gods of the New World

We all have our own individual idea of chocolate. What does it mean to you? Does it bring memories, nostalgia, magical moments of happiness, pleasure or just a treat!
Chocolate makes me very exited every time I come across new cocoa estates and varieties. The smell of chocolate takes me back to my childhood and my grandmother who I spent happy times with, cooking, baking and using the most special ingredients. My love of chocolate started with her, she'd always have special treats for me and its this memory I'd like to share.
Do you remember your first time you ever had chocolate? Whether that was a bite or a sip of this sweet smelling product, its nature is to always bring happiness. When I work with chocolate I often think of the journey chocolate has taken from its first forms to what we know now and importantly how much we have changed it.
The history of chocolate is 100 million years old, growing wild on the slopes of Andes and then cultivated by the first farmers recorded in 3000 B.C. By 2000 B.C. cocoa seeds started to spread across the Central Americas. The pre Olmecs in Central America were grinding up the beans and making them into a hot or cold drink with vanilla, and spicy chilli peppers. They also made a spicy porridge like meal with corn adding some honey and chocolate to sweeten it up. There is no evidence of the first migratory journey taken by cacao towards the rainforests of North America, but it must have been much earlier than the earliest dates recorded. The people of Mochos, Zapotecs, Chontals and Mexico all have preserved traditional beverages that are made of cacao or use it as a main ingredient. On many excavation sites across the Mexican state of Veracruz; ceremonial objects, jewellery, carvings and a high number of ceramic pots used to store liquids and beverages were found, all relating back to the humble cocoa bean. Radiocarbon dating determined that they were from about 1750 B.C. while ultra violet radiation research shows a content of the component of cacao known as thebromine.
The cultures of the New World turned cacao beans into a mystical beverage that allowed them to connect with Gods. The Olmec taught the cultivation and use of cacao to the Mayans, who took it to other areas of Central America, they also worshipped a god of cacao, Ek Chuah, whose role was later extended to war and merchants.
A breakthrough came through the synthesis of two phonemes of the Mayan tongue (still spoken in the Yukatan Peninsula) kaj (bitter) and kab (juice). These written words were part of label found on a Mayan drinking vessel used by Mayan ‘’aristocrats’’ and contained three signs corresponding to the phonetic particles ka-ka-wa. The beverages containing (Ka-ka-wa) cacao were reserved for nobles and priests as they were considered important in rituals and were consumed during human sacrifice to gods, marriage and royal occasions.
By 600 A.D. the Mayans were cultivating cocoa trees rather than using the wild plants that had less chance of growing unprotected. Cocoa developed a monetary value especially during the reign of Aztecs, as it had become their currency. The Aztecs had divided the cacao beans into four categories based on size and condition the largest were used for trading and the payment of contracts, while the smallest were used for the popular cultural cacao drinks.
An interesting fact, on average the king Montezuma the 2nd drank up to fifty flagons of the chocolate like drink a day, he enjoyed this from a golden goblet, each goblet used just once.
The original “Xocolatl” that the Spanish colonialists discovered from the Aztecs was a bitter-tasting drink made from roasted and ground cocoa beans, spiced with peppery spices and hot peppers with a brown-red colour, they have dyed it red with a substance called achiote. This is a chocolate drink that was both literally and figuratively a thousand miles from what we know today as chocolate.
So how did the chocolate become an established part of life at the Spanish court back in the 16th century? The first documented arrival of the cacao was in 1544. This came as an offering presented to Prince Phillip from the people of Guatemala. The offering also included ceremonial pots and certain food products like chilli peppers, beans and maize. They served the frothy beverage Xocolatl to the Prince and he loved it! This is how it spread across Europe, becoming more and more fashionable, while the original hardship of the fallen Kingdom of the Aztecs was often forgotten.
Thank you to my friend Jarosław Źrałka, PhD Jagiellonian University Cracow, for cross referencing my post. 
Picture: Canvas

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