Chocolate as Medicine in the Baroque Age

During the Baroque age chocolate was consumed only by the elite class primarily for medicinal purposes. The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe  explains that the spiritual attributes that were given cacao in Mesoamerica did not travel with the chocolate to Europe in the early 1600’s.   The change in the role of chocolate in the Baroque Age was due to the medical theory that was practiced at the time known as “Galenic theory”    The premise of Galen’s theory and practice divided the body into four humors; hot, cold, dry and moist. Each humor was seated in an organ of the body, and that organs function was to produce its humor. A person’s good health depended on the balance between them. (Coe & Coe page 126-130).

The Four Humors of the Body According to the Galenic Theory

The humors of the body










In 1570 King Phillip II of Spain sent his Royal Physician Francisco Hernandez to Mesoamerica  to gain first -hand knowledge of this food stuff known as Theobroma cacao,  “the food of the Gods”( Coe,17, 122).

Maya cacao god from The True History of Chocolate by Michael and Sophie Coe, New York City 1996

Adhering strictly to the Galenic theory method of categorizing, Hernandez classified the cacao seed as “cold and humid; on the whole it is very nourishing… drinks made from it are good in hot weather and to cure fevers. Adding the spicy mecaxochitl  flavoring to chocolate  gives it an agreeable taste.  Due to the “hot” nature of most spices that are used in cacao , it warms the  stomach , perfumes the breath … combats poisons , alleviates intestinal pains  and colics and so on. As an added bonus , Composite chocolate drinks also “excite the veneral appetite”. (Coe, 122).


Chocolate it seems according to Hernandez’s assessment is the cure for almost all that ails you.

In 1591 Juan deCardena published a treatise on New World Foods that provided a deeper analysis of Hernandez’s classifications and provided a comprehensive analysis of cacao. “He warns that “green” chocolate harms the digestion and causes concerning symptoms such as paroxysms, melancholy and irregular heartbeats. However , Cardena does advise that cacao has  positive attributes when “toasted, ground and mixed with a bit of atole gruel and is fattening and sustaining, aiding the digestion and making one happy and strong. “(Coe & Coe 123).  This was good news to the health conscience Spaniards.

drinking chocolate is good for your health.

Cardena divided the cacao into three parts providing Galenic humor attributes to each part. The first part he stated was a “the cold, earthy part.”  The second he states is an oily part that is “warm and humid” and associated with air.   A third part is a “very hot” with a bitter taste that can cause headaches. This is not far off the mark as this is a symptom of caffeine and theobromine withdrawal” (Coe & Coe 123).

In his analysis  deCardena describes what are  the three stages of cacao from bean to chocolate. The cold earthy part is the bean, whilst the oily part is the cocoa butter that occurs when the liquid is pressed from the cacao. This results in the bitter tasting compressed chocolate cake that is commonly  used as a base to make chocolate drinks. Spices are added to make the drink more palatable  as well as to treat any humor imbalances and to maintain overall good health.  Chocolate was a powerful medicine during the Baroque age due to the Galenic medical theory practiced during that time. Although chocolate is not generally  prescribed for medicinal purposes today many find comfort in a nice cup of hot chocolate.

mexican hot chocolate,


Works Cited

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

Harvard University Library Open Collection. Contagion Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics, Humoral Theory., date accessed 2/17/16, Website

Images HumoursImages. Date accessed 2/18/2016.,cacao image. date accessed 2/18/16, date accessed 2/18/16., date accessed 2/18/16

Patis Mexican Table., date accessed 2/18/16


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