Monthly Archives: February 2016

The European History of Chocolate

In modern society, everyone has either tasted or heard of chocolate. Although chocolate has a very long and rich history starting in Mesoamerica, and was believed to have first been consumed by a tribe called the Olmecs who flourished from between 1500 to 400 BCE (Thames and Hudson, 34) As with many natural resources in history, when Europeans got hold of this natural resource, history was shaped to create a new identity for this resource, one free of the rich cultural and religious aspects that gives chocolate true meaning. Astonishingly enough, chocolate was most likely first picked as a fruit and consumed for it’s sweet white pulp rather than the beans we enjoy today. (Persil, 8) Although people like the Olmecs and early Mesoamericans used chocolate in a variety of ways, whether it was pressed into a patty and traded, or if it were mixed with corn known as Maize in a frothy beverage, or the whole beans being traded for other goods, when adopted by the Europeans, chocolate was turned into a coveted and exclusive item for the upper class to enjoy with peers. The early European chocolate recipes differed greatly from traditional chocolate recipes, while traditional recipes usually offered some sort of flavor profile or sustenance, the European recipes were usually quite decadent and sweet.


A Chocolate pot made in Boston in 1700 by a silversmith named Edward Winslow

Chocolate, in it’s earlier days, was consumed almost solely as a beverage. Essentially, the beans are roasted, the nibs are extracted then ground, and the resulting paste is mixed with hot water and frothed to form a drink. Chocolate was first recorded being consumed in Europe in Spain, and the Spanish’s recipe for a chocolate drink still was relatively similar to a Mesoamerican chocolate recipe, but as chocolate spread to parts of Europe like Britain and France, the recipe changed even further. The Europeans, having just acquired a taste for sugar, chose to enjoy Chocolate as a sweetened beverage. Another new addition to the chocolate beverage introduced by Europeans was the addition of milk. Early European preparations of chocolate was usually a grand event in itself. In addition to having pots dedicated solely to chocolate beverages, oftentimes there were special cups and saucers that were created just for the enjoyment of chocolate, indicating its popularity and its resonance among the Europeans who enjoyed it.

An early European chocolate house, a man is pictured pouring a beverage from a chocolate pot

Chocolate, similarly to it’s roots in Mesoamerica, had a habit of causing camaraderie  among those who enjoyed it. In Europe and in early America, there existed spaces referred to as chocolate houses, where people of notable status would congregate to enjoy chocolate beverages and converse. Chocolate, being a new resource being enjoyed more and more in society, also had to be identified into certain categories. At the time, society was still using the idea of the four temperaments in regards to their health. Early Europeans couldn’t quite realize into which of the four temperaments chocolate fell into, and just as with many natural resources introduced to Europe, Europeans believed chocolate to hold medicinal properties.

The four temperaments, each quadrant is linked to a season, time of day, astrological sign, and organ in the body.

Works Cited –

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History Of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.

Presilla, Marciel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

Images –

Chocolate Pot –

*Other Photos from Media Library in WordPress

Mayans and the Food of the Gods

For most of us consumers, it is easy to have a sense of detachment from the origins of the product which we consume, this statement is most applicable in the case of chocolate. It is arguable that the vast majority of chocolate consumers do not know the etymology of chocolate nor do they know it as a Cacao fruit first before its many transformation into chocolate. The word chocolate is said to have come from the Mayan word xocolatl. We have come to be introduced into the world of chocolate thanks to the many works of the meticulous archaeologists who have gone back in time to examine artifacts from regions in Mesoamerica that has helped to pinpoint the introduction of Chocolate into history, the culture, uses and beliefs of this wonderful beverage that came to be known as “food of the gods” (Presilla 5). The more delicate discoveries of chocolate including pre-Columbian recipes, uses and beliefs stems out of the Mayan civilization. In Mayan culture chocolate was a highly revered beverage both to the living and the dead and in particular to the Mayan elite. It was of utmost importance in Mayan ritual sacrifices and the use of cacao was also prevalent in Mayan dishes. Today, is a treat that can be afforded by both the rich and the poor, this being the case it is so easy to forget that at one point and especially in Mayan culture chocolate was a treat reserved only for the wealthy and the gods. The Mayan use of chocolate in various ceremonies including in sacred ritual sacrifices, marriage ceremonies, funerals and such makes an astounding case that the association of chocolate as “ the food of the gods” had its influences from the Mayan civilization.
It may be argued that cacao made its first appearance in the Olmec civilization but the Mayans came to domesticate this fruit and provide the vast artifacts that gave room to the study and understanding of chocolate. The area known today as Mesoamerica which spans “between central Mexico and Western Honduras, including all of Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador” (Presilla 8); Is said to be the birth place of the cacao and for the most part, this region has been placed as the sites of Mayan settlement.

Image 1:


The first discovery of Cacao in Mayan culture came from the Dresden codex. This historical artifact is “a type of folding screen book that was discovered as part of Mayan writing collections that preceded the Spanish conquest” (Coe 41). From the scenes in which cacao is depicted in this sacred text, it can be deduced that the Mayans saw cacao as a sacred. Cacao also made another appearance in a “far less artistic Madrid codex and in this text, a young god squats while grasping limbs from a cacao tree. We also see a depiction of gods scattering blood over cacao bloods” (Coe 42). This last scene was the first time the association between human blood and chocolate was made one that would come to mean so much later as we discover about the use of chocolate and blood in sacred sacrifices.

Image 2:

A god holding a vessel with cacao beans.

As it has become apparent, the Mayans highly prized cacao, so much so that it was depicted quite often in the presence of gods. For people who held such reverence for this fruit, how so did they consume it?

We know from “inscriptions deciphered from classic period drinking vessels and funerary offerings” (Presilla 12), that cacao was first consumed as a fruit beverage made from the fruit pulp. Mayan glyphs for “tree fresh cacao, was discovered from the Primary Standard Sequence of the Buena vista vase, from Buena vista del Cayo in Belize” (Presilla 12).
Image 3:

mayan drinking vessel
Classic Mayan drinking Vessel


The most instrumental discovery for archaeologists in understanding the Mayan use of cacao and chocolate came from the discovery of the tombs at Rio Azul. It proved to be a site of countless evidence of the chocolate drinking culture of the Mayans. On one particular person, that of a “middle aged ruler, archaeologists discovered in his tomb an astounding 14 pottery vessels including six cylindrical vases and on some of the vases evidence that they had contained dark liquid was very apparent” (Coe 46). In this particular tomb, evidence of different recipes of chocolate was also found; a drinking vessel containing for “witik cacao and kox cacao” (Coe 46). In these wonderful discoveries, it is well seen that the Mayans even sent of their dead equipped with chocolate beverages to ensure a feast in the afterlife. The Mayans were also credited for popularizing the frothed chocolate beverage which we still enjoy today. In a vase that was discovered and attributed to be made in the “Nakbe area in the 8th century, of the images illustrated, a lady is seen pouring a chocolate drink from one vessel to another. A discovery that proved to be the first time a picture of a chocolate drink was being made and the introduction of the foaming method” (Coe 48).

Image 4:

mayan glyph for cacao
A replica of the vessel found in a tomb at Rio Azul; highlighted next to it is a Mayan glyph for cacao.

To the Mayans, chocolate was a highly prized beverage, one that found its way into various aspects of Mayan culture including, marriage ceremonies, parties, rite to passage ceremonies, burial ceremonies and sacred ritual sacrifices. Although cacao may have first made its appearance in the Olmec civilization, it was not raised to its level of importance until the Mayans came into the picture. That is, the Mayans are responsible for introducing a level of finesse into the making of the beverage we come to know as chocolate today; The Mayans raised chocolate to its status as the “food of the gods”.

Scholarly Sources:
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013(1996). The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames&Hudson.
Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural &Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Multimedia Sources:
Herrera, Ashleigh. beloit college. 2012. image. 28 february 2016. <;. n.d. 26 February 2016.
Vail, Dr. Gabrielle. Chocolate in Prehispanic Maya Culture. 8 August 2015. 28 february 2016. <;.
—. The Food of the Gods: Cacao use among the Prehispanic Maya. 1 August 2014. Image. 27 February 2016. <;.

The Evolution of Chocolate in Europe

When we think of chocolate today, we think of the sweet treat we can get at almost any convenience store at a very low price. The truth is that Chocolate is so widely available and comes in so many different shapes and tastes that is easy to forget how important and how exclusive this product once was. The tradition and the idea of chocolate is a very important aspect of its history particularly in Europe where it was adopted as something very expensive and rare eventually ending up in how we consume it today.

The first documentation of chocolate in Europe appeared in Spain in 1544, but it was not until 40 years later that the first shipment of Cacao bean reached Europe. When conquistadores like the Spanish Herman Cortes returned to Spain with chocolate, it was consumed in liquid form and the taste was very bitter. In order to counteract this bitterness, the Spanish added sugar or honey to make it sweeter.

This picture shows the first chocolate makers in Spain making the famous drink. Chocolate was considered an essential part of a diet for the upper class. They believed the drink had many health benefits and so it was consumed for taste, health and energy. Spanish people were even allowed to consume it during lent as it was considered a necessary beverage.

That being said, one thing that remained the same in chocolate in the New World versus Europe was who was able to purchase and consume it. In Spain, only the royals and the Spanish elite drank the chocolate drink because of how much it cost to import it. Spain kept chocolate somewhat of a secret for nearly a century before it was introduced to France when Louis the XIII newly wed wife brought chocolate with her to France. Needless to say, chocolate quickly became popular to the point where people were making claims about its many health benefits that it had. Similarly to the previous places chocolate was introduced, only the elite was able to afford the product.

In this picture we see members of the French elite enjoying chocolate.

Following it popularization in France chocolate discovery moved to Britain who opened their first chocolate houses in 1657. The English also believed in chocolates health benefits so much so that they believed it to be a cure-all medicine capable of treating tuberculosis. A century later, when more efficient technologies for making chocolate came about, chocolate began to assume a solid form. It was also the start to a time where chocolate was more readily available to less wealthy and high-class people.

This is a picture of a man working in a chocolate refinery. It was technologies like these that helped chocolate spread to lower income classes. A French man by the name of Dubuisson created the steam driven chocolate mill which helped in mass producing chocolate quickly and cost efficiently.



Bensen, Amanda (March 1, 2008). “A Brief History of Chocolate”.Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 3 March 2014.

Mayan marriage traditions around cacao and chocolate

Chocolate and cacao was imbued with religious meaning and incorporated into ceremonies in unique ways that still carry over to today. Particularly poignant examples can be found in the context of the marriage traditions of the Maya. Chocolate was used by the Maya to seal marriage negotiations and ceremonies. Coe and Coe illustrate how special a role cocoa played in Mayan wedding explaining how brides and grooms would each exchange five cacao beans along with their vows  to execute the contract of marriage. (Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 2013, Kindle Locations 868-870.)

Such an important role cacao and chocolate played in marriage traditions that it too was represented in important historical artifacts of the Maya.

Image 1. A depiction of an exchange of cacao beans during a marriage ceremony.

This post classic Maya picture comes from the Codex Nuttall and shows a Mayan wedding scene in which chocolate is being exchanged by the bride, Lady 13 Snake, and groom, Mixtec king 8 Deer “Tiger Claw” of Tilantongo. (Mixtec)

The longevity of this tradition is apparent in many Mayan wedding traditions even today. For example, the Awakateko are a Mayan ethnic group from the that reside in the Aguacatan municipality located in the northwestern highlands of modern-day Guatemala. Mayan marriage traditions practiced today by this people still feature cacao quite prominently. For example,  after marriage negotiation between families, a marriage ceremony is performed which is  known as a quicyuj. The quicyuj means “cacao beans” and referential to the Mayan custom of using cacao beans to pay bride-prices/dowries to cement the contract to marry between the groom and bride. (Brintnall, 1979, pp. 82-84) 

Final Mayan Chocolate vessel Illustration
Image 2. A depiction of a premarital bride-price negotiation and exchange.

A modern example of  a traditional Mayan wedding ceremony showcasing the role of cacao beans may be viewed here.

The relationship between chocolate and marriages would extend beyond the ceremony and negotiations; chocolate was used as a tie that could bind people and families together but it was also used to keep them together, particularly by women. Typically, chocolate  drinks were made by women rather than men and so that role was unique. An example of a woman making chocolate in the traditional Mayan fashion may be viewed here.  

After the Spanish conquest, chocolate continued to be used to treat marital difficulties by women who learned from the indigenous women of the area. For instance, in Guatemala during the 16th century when experiencing marital difficulties, like infidelity or spousal abuse, women would often turn to serving bewitched  or “doctored” chocolate drinks to their partners.(Few, 2005, pp. 673-687) These specially prepared chocolate drinks were thought to imbue women with powers over men, and so offered women who prepared this drink a certain amount of agency, particularly significant for indigenous women and African/Mulatto women that often worked as domestics or slaves in  during the Spanish colonial period of Guatemala, around the 16th century.

Understanding more about how cacao and chocolate was incorporated into rituals around marriage, both in the pre-Columbian and colonial periods, is fascinating. it is interesting to briefly explore how Mayan traditions surrounding cocoa, chocolate and marriage related to today’s customs and to women. From the exchange of cacao beans to execute a marriage contract to the preparation of bewitched chocolate drinks to preserve a marriage, chocolate and cacao played a pivotal role.


Brintnall, D E. 1979. Revolt Against the Dead: The Modernization of a Mayan Community in the Highlands of Guatemala. Library of Anthropology. Gordon and Breach. (82-84)

Coe, Sophie D.; Coe, Michael D. (2013-06-28). The True History of Chocolate (Kindle Locations 868-870). Thames & Hudson. Kindle Edition.

Few, M. (2005). Chocolate, sex, and disorderly women in late-seventeenth-and early-eighteenth-century Guatemala. Ethnohistory, 52(4), 673-687

Mixtec. (n.d.). Retrieved February 18, 2016, from

Restall, M. (2009). The Black middle: Africans, Mayas, and Spaniards in colonial Yucatan. CA: Stanford University Press. (271-272)


  1. A depiction of an exchange of cacao beans during a marriage ceremony[Photograph found in Codex Zouche-Nuttall, ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria]. (2015, December 4). Retrieved February 16, 2016, from
  2. Mayan Chocolate vessel Illustration [Photograph found in Denver Art Museum, Denver]. (2012, November). Retrieved February 16, 2016, from

Multimedia Sources

Spirituality Riviera Maya: Traditional Mayan Wedding Spirituality Riviera Maya [Video file]. (2013, October 25). Retrieved February 16, 2016, from (Marriage ceremony showcasing the Mayan tradition of exchanging cocoa beans)

Toledo Ecotourism Association – making a chocolate drink [Video file]. (2008, May 10). Retrieved February 16, 2016, from (Mayan woman making a traditional chocolate drink of chocolate and maize)

The Evolution of the Chocolatière: From French Innovation to Retirement in Museums

As the 16th century cultural exchange between the Old and New World progressed, the consumption of cacao beverages transitioned from being a ritualistic foodstuff among the ancient populations of the Americas to a new, European luxury. It is alleged that in 1606 chocolate was brought to Italy from Spain by a traveler and, from this point on, began to spread to other major European nations such as France (“A Concise History of Chocolate,”). In 1648, France emerged from the Thirty Years’ War and was beginning to enjoy a period of political and economic stability; thus, French citizens had the economic capability and the social curiosity to invest in new luxury trends such as the production and consumption of cacao beverages (Perkins 89).

A traditional French chocolatière pot made of silver and amaranth wood. This pot was made in 1774 by Frenchman Joseph-Thèodore Van Cauwenbergh.

When cacao spread to Europe, the French hybridized ancient Mesoamerican techniques with new and refined values to create a Europeanized production of cacao beverages. A physical result of this hybridization is the chocolatière pot, a French invention that encompassed both efficiency in making and serving the beverage and a sophisticated aesthetic. This pot did more than supply a vessel in which chocolate beverages could be produced and consumed; it created a distinctly French niche within the international chocolate production scene. The French were motivated to making up for their late arrival as participants in the international chocolate industry by fashioning sturdy, sophisticated cookware. Commonly, a traditional chocolatière pot is a pear-shaped vessel made out of metal- usually silver or gold- that features a hinged or removable lid. The lid contains a hole to place the handle of the “moulinet,” which is normally made of wood and is used to rapidly froth the beverage before serving. Although the chocolatière itself was French, it combined the basic shape and idea of ancient Mesoamerican gourd vessels and the wooden frothing instrument of the colonial Spaniards, the molinillo (Perkins 90). The chocolatière experienced a rise in popularity, particularly among the elite and the royal, until its decline and ultimate disappearance from the French household after the Industrial Revolution (Righthand).

The legacy of chocolate in France begins with the marriage between Anne of Austria and Louis XIII in 1615 (Coe and Coe 150). Austria had already been introduced to the chocolate making process and it is likely that chocolate was exchanged as wedding gifts between the newlyweds. France’s earliest, most notable supporter of chocolate products was Alphonse de Richelieu who promoted the consumption of cacao for medicinal purposes (Perkins 90). Chocolate was quickly gaining popularity with the elite- by the start of the reign of Louis XIV in 1643 chocolate was served daily in Versailles. This new trend necessitated innovations for more efficient self-production; resultantly, the French chocolatière was created. Although the origin of the chocolatière is not completely known, Sophie and Michael Coe support the theory that it was a French invention (158). Records show that chocolatières were given as gifts to French royalty from foreign nations in the late 1600s, yet it is hypothesized that the invention predates these records and evidence of such has not been found or preserved (Coe and Coe 158). The first substantial reference to a chocolatière pot is dated to 1671, when Marquise de Sévigné laments about the tragedy of her daughter not having access to a chocolatière (Coe and Coe 154).

“But you do not have a chocolatière; I have thought of it a thousand times; what will you do? Alas, my child, you are not wrong when you believe that I worry about you more than you worry about me,” (Coe and Coe 155).

As chocolate gained popularity, the chocolatière pot was mentioned in most chocolate-related literature for the rest of the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of the most notable works include Nicolas Blégny’s 1687 work of Le bon usage du thé, du cafféet du chocolat and François Massaliote’s Nouvelle Instruction pour les Confitures, le Liqueurs, et les Fruits in 1734  (Perkins 90-92). The pot became a physical symbol of France’s involvement in this international trend.

But by the end of the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, chocolate production practices had began to change and progress. Chocolate became a more widely available product and small volume production equipment such as the chocolatière was becoming less desired. In 1828, the cocoa press was invented by Conrad Johannes Van Houton (Righthand). The press allowed for quick production of cocoa powder which could easily be mixed with water to create chocolate beverages- thus, the

One of the most famous pieces of art that features chocolatières and chocolate serving table pieces is “Le Dejeuner,” by François Boucher.  A viewer can notice the chocolatière pot featured in the center background of the piece.

chocolatière pot was becoming archaic in the presence of the new technology. By the conclusion of the 19th century, new technology had revolutionized chocolate manufacturing and lessened the demand for the chocolatière pot.

The 19th and 20th centuries experienced the disappearance of chocolatières due to their low demand; however, an increased interest in antiquities for gift giving is fostering a revival of the pots. Traditional chocolatières and any associated artwork are now popular attractions in museums and pricey investments in modern antique shops.

Here is an interactive “exploration,” of a traditional chocolatière pot held in the Walters Art Museum. The animation only allows the viewer to zoom in/out but it has clear quality for observing details such as lid engravings:



Works Cited:

“A Concise History of Chocolate.” C-Spot. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Boucher, François. “Le Dejeuner.” 1739. Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Perkins, Suzanne, Grivetti, Louis, Yana Shapiro, Howard. “Introduction: The Chocolatière and the Refinement of Aristocratic Manners in Early Modern France.” Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009. Print.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot.” History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian. Smithsonian Magazine. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Chocolate: Healing powers of the original superfood

The term superfood, a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being, was first used in 1915 ( However, the seemingly unending search for the best, most potent cure-all or health-promoting remedy (be it food, drink, or supplement) is not solely a modern obsession; even though it may seem to be a product of our times with increasing sedentary lifestyles and higher caloric intake. As we look back through the history of chocolate, we can see that there has been a long-term love affair and belief in the healing powers of this proposed superfood.

Chocolate: Theobroma cacao or “food of the gods”, as is was named by the 18th century Swedish scientist, Carl von Linné, nearly 250 years after it was introduced to the Old World (Coe and Coe 17-18), had been a cultural mainstay for thousands of years. In fact, evidence of its production and consumption predates the Classic Maya and has been tracked as far back as 1900-1500BC through traces of chocolate found in barra ceramics (Coe and Coe 36-37).

This is a drawing of the barra ceramics which provided evidence of ancient civilization use of chocolate (Coe and Coe 89).

The Maya

The Maya used cacao for medicinal purposes, believing it provided power and strength in addition to digestive and anti-inflammatory remedies. Historical evidence shows that the ancient Maya consumed chocolate as a beverage, often mixed with ingredients such as flowers and spices, that it was shared socially, and had ritualistic significance (C. Martin “Sugar”).

Mayan warrior_C. Martin_Mesoamerica
Pictured here is a Mayan warrior wearing cacao pods as amulets (C. Martin “Mesoamerica”).

The Aztecs

The Aztecs also believed in the strong healing powers of chocolate. They not only consumed it as a beverage, but mixed it with other ingredients and applied it to the skin. According to pre-Columbian era medicinal recipes documented in Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro, the Aztecs would drink “Chocolate (unmixed with other products; very bitter) … to treat stomach and intestinal complaints; when combined with liquid extruded from the bark of the silk cotton tree … this beverage was use by traditional healers to cure infections. In another recipe prescribed to reduce fever and prevent fainting, 8-10 cacao beans were ground along with dried maize kernels; this powder then was mixed with tlacoxoshitl…and the resulting beverage was drunk” (100).

This image depicts Aztec broken bodies, perhaps as a result of illnesses introduced from Europe (C. Martin “Mesoamerica”).

New Medicine Introduced to the Old World

Though perhaps a dubious account, rumored to be written in a 1556 letter by an “Anonymous Conquistadore”, the medicinal properties of chocolate were proclaimed to provide a drink that was “the most wholesome and substantial of any food or beverage in the world, because whoever drinks a cup of this liquor can go thru a whole day without taking anything else even if on a cross-country journey…” (C-spot).

There was great interest in power of this potential medicine, but there was also concern about its potency, and the fact that it was an unfamiliar and exotic substance. Spanish Royal Physician to Philip II, Francisco Hernandez, crossed the Atlantic in 1570 to determine how to “incorporate cacáo into a ‘civilized’ framework: an apothecary based on Humoral Medicine subscribes that cacáo contains healing-properties encompassing 3 & perhaps all 4 elements – air (fat), fire (bitter), earth (thick) & maybe water (sweet) – to yield a neutral temperament leaning ‘wet-cool’, thus making it acceptable. (Unbeknownst to Europeans, native medicine also treated cacáo as similarly ‘cool’, applying it as an emollient in hot illnesses such as fevers & dysentery.)” (C-spot).

4 Humors_C.Martin_Sugar
Depiction of the four temperaments based on the humoral schemed devised by Hippocrates and Galen (C. Martin “Sugar”).

Once brought to Spain, it was introduced across borders as a medicine and quickly gained popularity across Europe. For example, the following account was published in 1713 in Bonaventure d’Argonne’s Melanges d’Histoire et de Litterature: “We know that Cardinal Brancaccio wrote a treatise on Chocolate, but perhaps we do not know that Cardinal of Lyon, Alphonse de Richelieu, was the first in France to use this drug. I heard from one of his servants that he used it to moderate the vapors of his spleen, and that he had the secret from some Spanish monks who brought it to France” (Coe and Coe 152).

Chocolate Today

Coe and Coe write that, in addition to media highlights, there has been an abundance of medical and nutritional literature published in the last decade advocating the beneficial health effects of chocolate; primarily due to alkaloids caffeine and theobromine (30). Through these recent medical studies, it is known that caffeine levels are low and that bromine “is said to be mood-enhancing, and is a known stimulant, vasodilator, and diuretic” (Coe and Coe 31).

 As can be seen after thousands of years of collective (if sometimes controversial) scientific, medicinal, religious, and cultural evidence, chocolate does indeed seem to have healing powers and just may be the original superfood.

Works Cited

A Concise History Of Chocolate. C-spot. N.p. N.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third Edition. Thames & Hudson Ltd: London, 2013. Print.

Grivetti, Louis Evan. and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage. Wiley:New York, 2009. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 3 Feb. 2016. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 17 Feb. 2016. Class Lecture.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009. Print.

Olver, Lynne. “Food Timeline FAQs: Aztec, Maya, & Inca foods and recipes”. Lynne Olver 2000. 1 March 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2016

“Superfood.” Merriam-Webster, 2015. Web. 19 February 2016.

On Church and Chocolate…

Some things never change –especially in church. For centuries people have read the accounts of the early church in the book of Acts and have determined to keep its traditions, two of whicccch are fellowshipping and arguing over what is constituted as right or wrong for believers. Over the centuries these two things have evolved. What we observe is that over the past four hundred plus years, chocolate has made its way into the life of the church. Not the life only , chocolate has made its way into the controversy that keeps the ears of the parishioners tingling.


In the beginning days of the church, the saints are recorded to fellowship with food and prayer daily. Alongside this daily fellowship of prayer and eating was weekly fasting. The book of Acts records arguments among believers on who could be Christians as well as what rules they had to follow once they were Christians. What was eaten, we do not know. However, what we do know is that the tradition was held strong and it was little room for private interpretation. When questions arose, men immediately turned towards leadership to give clear and district direction. Click the following link to see detailed information about one of the first major debates in the early Christian Church.


Nearly fifteen hundred years after the birth of the church it seems like nothing had changed. At least in the story of a Dominican Friar from Chiapas. The saints were continuing in fellowship. It was not everyday as it was in the beginning. But, they did fellowshccccip in worship and sharing food. Here in this 14th century Mesoamerica context, saints come together to worship and enjoy one another’s company by sharing in a common drink of chocolate.


Amazing enough, fifteen hundred years after the start of the church believers were still arguing over what was appropriate for believers and what was not. This time the subject was fasting. This Dominican Friar was concerned that saints who were fasting and consuming chocolate beverages were not “truly” fasting. The issue was so important to him that he wrote to the pope. Unfortunately for him, it was not an important subject to the pope. This was proven by the lack of the response he received. Evidently, the pope thought it was quite hilarious to have received such a question.


Four hundred years later the saints are still the same. They are still fellowshipping –much less. But, they are questioning even more. The question of what constitutes a fast is still on the table. I suppose the questions have been answered –although not by the pope of Rome. In many colder climates of north America many church groups still gather and enjoy the company of one another by consuming chocolate before or after worship. But the church has split on the question of chocolate being able to be consumed while fasting. Many modern day Christians have taken the side of the pope by believing it is not a matter of importance. However, there are those who have taken up the concern of the Dominican Friar. The end result is that they believe it is a sin to consume chocolate while fasting.


I suppose there is nothinfightg new under the sun. Fifteen hundred years from now the church will probably be doing the same thing. They will be getting together to hear the preached word. They will fellowship,  with or without chocolate. And of course, they will continue to argue over what constitutes a fast and what does not.



Works Cited

“Acts 15: Gentiles as Gentiles in Davidic Promise and the Clarification of Paul’s Offer of the Gospel in Acts 13”. Gregory Herrick Web. 19 February 2016

Dr. Carla Martin (2016) Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Lecture Video. Web. 19 February 2016

Lilac Chocolates Web 19 February 2016

“Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the World’s Poorest Citizens, Makes His Case – Knowledge@Wharton.” KnowledgeWharton Muhammad Yunus Banker to the Worlds Poorest Citizens Makes His Case Comments. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

The Chocolate House Web 19 February 2016

“The Kingsman Review”, Peter Orrestad Web. 19 Feb 2016


A visit to Yucatan

“  The astonishing Maya
  called the starry firmament
  the corn’s sacred gold
  scattered by the wind–
  into the green night
  of Uxmal and Chichen Itza–
  to sate the ravenous hunger
  of a false, lifeless god
  arms outstretched in cruciform

  The newborn Void,

  salt and blood strewn over memory.” (Cluny, Claude Michel)

Translations from the French
By Daniel Simon


Last week I had the opportunity to visit Merida, Mexico for a studio trip about social housing. Despite having a strict schedule every day that focused on housing architecture, I had the space to immerse myself into the Mayan culture for nine days. I want to clarify that talking about the Mayan culture is very much talking about a culture that is alive, and that has adapted to different epochs through time.


It is very common to think of the Mayan culture as something from the past that can only be reminded by ruins. However when you visit Yucatan it is delightful to see the colors and flavours that are present in the everyday life of the people that inhabit this area.


Uxmal. Photo credits: Alica Meza

On of the places that I visited was Uxmal. Uxmal is an UNESCO world heritage site, and among other Mayan cities it is considered one of them better preserved cities of the Puuc Region.  Puuc Region refers to souther region that encompances a range of hills. The Puuc region is special because most of the Yucatan terrain is flat. Something that caught my eye from Uxmal is that in comparison to other Mayan cities like Chichen Itza, this city has a more intimate human scale, where perhaps it facilitated a social atmosphere where mayans could have enjoyed their xocholat beverages.



Uxmal. Photo credits: Alica Meza

Although the most common thing to enjoy today chocolate today even in Yucatan is in the form of a chocolate bar, there is a museum called “Choco-story” in Uxmal where you can have interactive tours where you can learn about the Chocolate history and have tastings of the traditional chocolate beverages that we talked about in class.

In a way it is interesting to see how the european assimilation and transformation of Chocolate has made its way back to its origins. And as we tasted the different chocolates in class, today a lot of the chocolate flavor that we associate our paladar with is very closely related to the sugar flavor. Chocolate is one of the earliest form of globalization if we think it from an economic perspective.


In another hand, a lot of the ingredients that we talked about in class that were combined with cacao are present in the everyday diet of the people from Yucatan. Some of the most evident ones are corn, vanilla, and achiote.



Cochinita Pibil. Photo credits: Alica Meza

Achiote is a natural red condiment that comes from the Bixa orellana tree. A paste is extracted from the pulp around the seeds. Achiote is a key ingredient for of of Yucatan’s most traditional dish, cochinita pibil, which is a pulled pork that is traditionally cooked in an earth oven for several hours.


Uxmal. Photo credits: Alica Meza

Yucatan is a testimony the constant evolution that cacao has given to the culinary world. During my trip, it was interesting to see how much of what we have learned so far in class still present today in the region.







Consulted and cited works:


Cluny, Claude Michel. “Uxmal.” World Literature Today 79.2 (2005): 60. Biography in Context. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.


“Choco-story” Web. 20 Feb. 2016. <;
“Uxmal.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica Academic. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 20 Feb. 2016. <>.



This Little “chocolate pot…”

Much literary attention has been given to Pre-Columbian cacao artifacts, specifically the cylindrical types used by both the Maya and Aztec for cacao preparation and consumption. Until more recently, however, there has been little attention given to the much older Preclassic spouted vessels excavated throughout Maya highlands and lowlands (see figures below). The pichinga, as these vessels are now called by modern Maya groups living in the Guatemalan highlands, are historically significant as they fit into the earlier segment of the cacao and chocolate narrative; furthermore, these pots have only more recently been able to provide the ethnographic data to substantiate why for the past century “Mayanists have dubbed [these] Preclassic spouted vessels as “chocolate pots”” (Powis et al., 2002).


Figure 1: Spouted Vessel, Tomb 1, Mound 1, Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas Mexico 100 BCE-100 CE, 21 x 18.5 cm. (source:

Figure 2: Excavated from the Colha site in northern Belize between 600 BCE-250 CE, is one of 14 vessels that contained substantial amounts theobromine.

As early as 1918 the term “chocolate pots” was used in Thomas Gann’s report, “The Maya Indians of Southern Yucatan and Northern British Honduras” to describe the Late Preclassic spouted vessels found in burial sites at Santa Rita Corozal, Belize without any supporting evidence to confirm its accuracy. The term “chocolate pots” has since permeated literature, uncontested albeit the lack of “supporting contextual, residual, phytolith, or iconographic analyses to either confirm or deny” cacao usage (Powis et al., 2002). Why then has this phrase “chocolate pot” become so embedded within the literature? With the discovery of new methods to analyze phytoliths, these vessels now provide substantial data to conclusively determine that these vessels were indeed used during the preparations and consumption of cacao, given the high levels of theobromine found within them (Powis e al, 2002).

Preclassic spouted vessels were associated with the elite class. The contextual findings presented by Powis et al. suggest that approximately 90% of these vessels were excavated in “special deposits”, and were of elaborate forms, suggesting that cacao drinking was incorporated in ceremonial and ritual practices. Patricia McAnany and Eleanor Harrison, in their seminal 2004 work, K’axob: Ritual, Work, and Family in an Ancient Maya Village, confirm these special burial caches, suggesting that the K’axob site yielded “signature pieces” and that “they contain special characteristics such as modeling, gadrooning, incising, and appliqué,” which denoted dedicated function (McAnany and Eleanor, 2004). As is more commonly known, this practice of dedicated vessel usage was exhibited with the Classical cylindrical vessels and continued on up until the arrival of the Spaniards. However, the Primary Standard Sequence (PSS) does not appear on any spouted vessels, only on the Classic cylindrical types. Nonetheless, these elaborate spouted ceramics were part of the elite continuum of cacao’s status among the Mesoamerican people.

Spouted vessels provide the linguistic evidence needed to link the word kakawa or cacao to the Olmecs. Until the discovery of these vessels, there was no strong evidence, either archaeological, botanical, or iconographic to support the Olmec theory of origin for the word, according to David Lentz and Michael Coe (Powis et al., 2002). Within scholarship there were two opposing hypothesis to the origin of the word cacao.  On the one side, as articulated by Karen Dakin and Sren Wichmann (2001), kakawa was a Uto-Aztecan term, of Nahuatl origin. This would then suggest that the history of cacao consumption started sometime during the 5th century CE.  However, Lyle Campbell and Terrence Kaufman’s seminal article in 1976, “A Linguistic Look at the Olmecs”, contended that the term kakawa was of Mixe-Zoquean origin, which the Olmec spoke as early as 1500 BCE, suggesting that Preclassic Mesoamerican cultures produced, distributed, and consumed cacao at least two millennia before the Aztec. Thus the discovery of these pots was significant in that they provided the necessary data to support the much earlier Olmec origin (Powis et al., 2002).

Although it is not definitive as to why Protoclassic Mayans replaced their spouted pots with the Teotihuacan-style tripod cylindrical vases, Powis et al. suggest that the new method for cacao preparation was perhaps introduced by Mayan contact with Mexican highlanders as these new vessels were superior for cacao usages than the spouted variety. Given its form and larger size, the cylindrical vessels provided better storage; made it easier for transportation; provided more space for inscribing glyphs to identify ownership, purpose and location of craftsmanship;  and perhaps most importantly, these new vessels provided wider mouths, openings from which to pour the liquid cacao from one vessel to another in order to create the all coveted foam for their beverages (Powis et al., 2001). Joseph W. Ball, in his 1983 article, “Teotihuacan, the Maya, and Ceramic Interchange,” provides a discussion of the notable homologies between the Mayan and the Teotihuacan ceramics, suggesting that:

…either aesthetic considerations or a desire to emulate a particular vessel form associated with a foreign social system and so connoting high status might have motivated such copying. Consideration should also be given to the possibility that lidded tripod cylinders might have represented specialized commodity containers. Some possible association with the transport, presentation, storage, and/or consumption of cacao or a cacao preparation comes immediately to mind given the Teotihuacan and Guatemala highland distributional foci of such vessels (Ball, 1983).

Although the “chocolate pots” of Preclassic Maya are less known and studied than the more recent cylindrical vessels, these spouted ceramics, nonetheless, play a vital role to understanding the Mesoamerican ethnography surrounding cacao and chocolate. The discovery and analyses of these spouted pots and the important data they provide have enriched scholars and chocolate lovers alike, providing us with a richer picture of how this “food of the gods” has evolved throughout the ages, and how it became intrinsic to the Pre-Columbian peoples: their sustenance, their rituals, their beliefs, and ultimately their enjoyment, a pleasure now indulged throughout the world.

Works Cited

“Archaeology Cacao Usage by the Earliest Maya Civilization : Nature.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

Ball, Joseph W. “Teotihuacan, the Maya, and Ceramic Interchange: A Contextual Perspective.” In Highland-Lowland Interaction in Mesoamerica: Interdisciplinary Approaches, edited by Arthur G. Miller, 125–45. Washington, D.C: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, 1983.

Brady, James E., Joseph W. Ball, Ronald L. Bishop, Duncan C. Pring, Norman Hammond, and Rupert A. Housley. “The Lowland Maya ‘Protoclassic.’” Ancient Mesoamerica 9, no. 01 (March 1998): 17–38. doi:10.1017/S0956536100001826.

Campbell, Lyle, and Terrence Kaufman. “A Linguistic Look at the Olmecs.” American Antiquity 41, no. 1 (January 1976): 80. doi:10.2307/279044.

Dakin, Karen, and Sren Wichmann. “Cacao and Chocolate: A Uto-Aztecan Perspective.” Cambridge University Press, Ancient Mesoamerica, 11, no. 1 (2000): 55–75.

“Gadrooning – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

Gann, Thomas W. F. The Maya Indians of Southern Yucatan and Northern British Honduras. Bulletin/Bureau of American Ethnology 64. US Government Printing Office, 1918.

“K’axob – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

“Lords of Creation: Royal Feasting.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

McAnany, Patricia Ann, and Eleanor Harrison, eds. K’axob: Ritual, Work, and Family in an Ancient Maya Village. Monumenta Archaeologica 22. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California Los Angeles, 2004.

“Mixe–Zoque Languages – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

“Phytolith – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

Powis, Terry G., Fred Valdez, Thomas R. Hester, W. Jeffrey Hurst, and Stanley M. Tarka. “Spouted Vessels and Cacao Use among the Preclassic Maya.” Latin American Antiquity 13, no. 1 (March 2002): 85–106. doi:10.2307/971742.

“Santa Rita Corozal – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

“Sourcebook on Ceramics – Stuartceramictexts.pdf.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

“Theobromine – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

“Uto-Aztecan Languages – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” Accessed February 20, 2016.


Mayan and Aztec cacao use: stratified by gender, yet socially significant for all.

Cacao originated in Mesoamerica and became an incredibly important crop for most indigenous groups of the region as early as 2000 BCE (Coe & Coe, 33-105). Cacao’s stimulating properties, due to the compound theobromine, likely led to its high value in these societies, in which it often became a religious symbol, playing a role in origin myths and depictions of religious figures (Coe & Coe, 38-42). The cultural importance of cacao in Mesoamerican civilizations, however, was not simply its nutritional value or use in religion.

Rather, the most important cultural impact of cacao was what followed this assignment of high value: it came to be used as social currency to solidify bonds across family groups and within families, and to reaffirm hierarchies in these societies with the various roles groups could play in its production and consumption. In examining the Aztec and Mayan civilizations, two of the most expansive and well-documented of these Mesoamerican civilizations, we are able to see that the consumption of cacao solidified a gender divide in which males were afforded higher status, and were more able to enjoy the social benefits of meal sharing, or in this case, cacao sharing. Still, however, it is also likely that the social quality of the preparation of such drinks afforded women in these societies some social benefits as well.

In this image from a mayan vase, we can see the god of maize depicted as a pod from the cacao tree. This god in particular is often depicted in this way, but many other gods are often also depicted as wearing or carrying cacao, which became an important part of religion in Mesoamerica.

Cacao based drinks, which varied somewhat from civilization to civilization, were ritualistically shared to bring together family groups at ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, and marriage arrangements, and we are able to see how social bonds can form around its consumption in a way that Mintz describes of shared consumption in general (Mintz 3-7). Yet in most depictions or descriptions of such ceremonies, only the men of the participating families are involved in the consumption of cacao, and women are more likely seen preparing or frothing the cacao drinks that are to be shared. In this way, we can see a clear stratification of the Mayan society along gender lines.

In this image from the Princeton Vase, like many others depictions of such ceremonies, we see a woman at the ceremony frothing the cacao beverage but not participating in its consumption.

This stratification extends to class as well—the elites or royals are most often depicted as having cacao, and royals even depicted themselves as descendants of cacao trees, putting themselves close to gods and establishing a justification of their high status. From these two types of representations we are able to follow the hierarchical logic pretty clearly: royals and elites are close to cacao and therefore close to god, and men are the second order of this stratification because they can participate in the consumption of cacao (elite men are highest, then likely elite women, then lay men, then lay women), placing women the lowest on this scale. Considering Mintz’s analysis of shared consumption as one of the ultimate methods of social bonding, are the women of these societies then left out of the social sphere by their not participating in the ritual cacao drinking?

Here we can see that Mintz left out a key predecessor to social consuming: social preparation. In reality, the women of these societies were likely often a vital part of these ceremonies in their preparation of the cacao beverages, and likely realized social benefits of this beverage preparation outside of the ceremonies as well. In Richard Wrangham’s book, Catching Fire: How cooking made us human, he discusses in depth the way in which cooking together contributes to a shared community in a similar way that Mintz describes of eating together (Wrangham, several). We can sometimes see depictions in art from these Mesoamerican societies of groups of women preparing this cacao beverage together, and it is likely that the women within a family group would work on this task together, solidifying family bonds. Although it is hard to know, it seems possible that, at gatherings of multiple families, the women might prepare the beverages together, further helping socialize across the families, and contributing to a community within their own social sphere. Finally, in most depictions of these ceremonial gatherings, the women are shown frothing the beverages in front of the guests. Such an activity does not need to be public, but its depiction as such suggests that, though they were given a lower status and an accompanying lower status role in these rituals, they were still likely a vital part of the socialization of their families and their communities.

In this image from the Florentine Codex, we see a cacao beverage being prepared by several members of different generations in a family group. This shows the way in which preparation of cacao could be a highly social event.


Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Sotelo, Angela, et al. “Chemical and nutritional composition of tejate, a traditional maize and cacao beverage from the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, Mexico.” Plant foods for human nutrition 67.2 (2012): 148-155.

Wrangham, Richard W. Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. New York: Basic, 2009. Print.

“Maya Agriculture.” Maya Agriculture. Authentic Maya, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

“Los Medios De Intercambio.” Los Medios De Intercambio. Editorial Raices, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

“A Brief History of Chocolate: Part 1.” Dandelion Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.