Christopher Columbus is a key figure of history who is known for discovering the New World of the Americas in late 1492. The story of Christopher Columbus and the role he played in history is taught in school from a young age. However, over the course of time a popular myth has taken shape that Christopher Columbus was the first to try chocolate. Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe say that “there is not a shred of evidence that Columbus ever contacted syphilis in the New World (though some of his crew may have), nor did he know anything about chocolate” (Coe, 11). By using the myth that Christopher Columbus was the first to try chocolate as a lens, we can determine that over the passage of time people perpetuate popular myths pertaining to history as fact.
It is true that Christopher Columbus on his fourth New World voyage came into contact with cacao beans. In 1502 while he was traveling with his son named Ferdinand, Maricel E. Presilla notes in The New Taste of Chocolate that he “intercepted a party of Indians in a massive canoe off the coast of today’s Honduras” (Presilla 17). These Indians valued cacao beans tremendously but Columbus thought they appeared just like almonds. Presilla remarks “Ferdinand wrote of the supring fuss the people made over some nuts that they carried with them, immediately stooping to rescue any that dropped “as if an eye had fallen from their heads”” (Presilla, 17). This showcases that Columbus came to understand the perception of cacao beans as valuable but not that he personally discovered chocolate. However, according to the link for this Pinterest post below this reality has not come to fruition and the myth has survived the passage of time. The fact that a popular social media site like Pinterest contains comments like this confirms that the general public still believes that Christopher Columbus was responsible for intentionally bringing chocolate to us.
Upon Christopher Columbus’ voyage back home it became apparent that the cacao beans on his ship were the least of his concerns. He was more interested with the gold and silver that he obtained during his voyage. This is is apparent on the website for Cadbury Chocolate in Australia where it delves into Columbus on it’s “Discovering Chocolate” page which can be seen on the link below. It discusses how Christopher Columbus is credited with bringing “the first cocoa beans back to Europe from his fourth visit to the ‘New World’ between 1502 and 1504. However far more exciting treasures on board his galleons meant the humble cocoa beans were ignored” (Cadbury). This showcases that while Columbus comprehended that the cacao beans were valuable he did not comprehend the impact these cacao beans would make.
The myth of Christopher Columbus in regards to chocolate showcases that myths as a whole can develop into facts. This is apparent in this Youtube video embedded below where it lists the top 10 facts about chocolate. The video makes clear that Christopher Columbus in number six introduced chocolate to Europe (0:48 – 1:02). It is perplexing that this topic is placed as one of the top chocolate facts. Columbus has been credited with discovering chocolate but in all actually Columbus thought the cacao beans were almonds. However, he did recognize that the beans were valuable because they could be seen as a means of currency. This is made clear by Presilla when she states “Columbus’s one and only encounter with cacao illustrates the relationship between cacao and currency” (Presilla, 17). Christopher Columbus is a historical figure whose accomplishments are endless but it simply is a myth that he discovered chocolate. This serves as a reminder that it is easy to create myths as a society so it is important to attempt to not perpetuate them as historical unless all gaps are filled.
“All About Chocolate.” Pinterest. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <https://www.pinterest.com/pin/114982596707841289/>.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
“Discovering Chocolate.” Discovering Chocolate. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <https://www.cadbury.com.au/About-Chocolate/Discovering-Chocolate.aspx>.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print.
“Top Chocolate Facts.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWculT_DTlQ&spfreload=10>.