Chocolate, an ancient food, is, typically sweet and usually brown because of the preparation of the cacao seeds. The seeds are roasted and ground then flavored, often with vanilla. The finished product may be made into a liquid, paste, or in a block and is often used as a flavoring ingredient in other foods. In other words, chocolate is produced from cacao seed, and the seed is in the cacao pod. This post is about the history of people using cacao, which dates back to 1440 AD and maybe even further. There is a statue from the Brooklyn Museum, of an indigenous looking man holding a cacao pod dated back to that time period of 1440 AD to 1521 AD. So chocolate, or better yet, cacao has been used for centuries…or maybe even longer.
The Mesoamerican people made cacao beverages with the sources being included were the Mayan and Aztecs who made a beverage called ‘xocolātl’, which meant “bitter water”. However, chocolate goes back much farther. The ancient Maya, who inhabited what is now parts of southern Mexico and Central America, certainly consumed chocolate. In fact, as early as 500 A.D., the Mayans were writing about cacao on their pottery and the word “cacao” is Mayan. Others think chocolate may be even older, dating back to the Olmec civilization that preceded the Maya.
Revisiting the word, ‘xocolātl’, “bitter water”, through chocolate’s history, the cacao of today, has a bitter taste. To our modern day pallet the notion of ‘bitter’ seems strange in relation to chocolate, until you taste some unsweetened dark chocolate. You’ll become familiar with “bitter’ right away, if you haven’t already experienced dark unsweetened chocolate. Bitter is just not something we usually equate with chocolate. In our minds, chocolate is anything but bitter, which is true, once it’s processed and sweetened.
All this ‘talk’ about chocolate got me up and taking a hunk of bakers chocolate I have on hand and it was bitter. If you saw the look on my face, you might ask if I’d eaten some lemon. I recognized how bitter it was when I followed it with a swig of unsweetened tea, which certainly tasted sweeter than the bakers chocolate.
But I digress, so let me get back to a question you might be entertaining about the historical facts. “Why am I bothering?”, you might ask. Well, first of all, I believe knowledge helps us make more informed choices. For instance, when I began reading labels on the processed food I was eating on a regular basis, that became a huge wake-up call for me, because I wanted to survive cancer well into longevity.
Knowing the history of chocolate will help you understand how cacao becomes chocolate, what the process requires and how it relates back into the history of chocolate.
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