Cacao: The Uses of Today and the Uses of the Past

This past weekend I was in New York City. There is so much to view; the tall buildings within the city, the amazing flashy lights from the teleprompters,and a lot of stores. There are two stores in Times Square that caught my interest and they were right across the street from each other. M&M World and the Hershey store. The last time I was in those stores was about eight years ago. I remember drooling over the enormous amount of chocolate available. Back then I didn’t know how chocolate was made of where it came from. Then 3 years later it became clear to me that all foods have a source and origin and I learned that chocolate came from the cacao tree, but alas my knowledge only went so far. Now, with my interest and participation in this course I am noticing things and remembering facts about chocolate.  
Now, as I walk in the stores as an adult, and having the knowledge I have, I am amazed by how much chocolate they sell. Then I think about the amount of work the farmers have to do, the process of how chocolate is taken from the pod, to bean, to nibs, to paste, to the current process for making M&M’s and Hershey’s. How it’s now ready to be purchased and there is a 5-pound bar of Hershey’s chocolate that looked very good. Thankfully a,axon provides an image of big the bad is in comparison.


When it comes to the idea of consumerism of chocolate or cacao, I feel like things may not be that different from now compared to the Olmec, Mayan, and the Aztec civilization. The obvious differences would be that chocolate consumerism alone brings profit of about $50 billion. There is also current controversy of slave trafficking and child labor to pick the cacao pods. What is similar is that we still like to consume chocolate, and chocolate is still a form of income. Just now it’s actual income like gold for money versus the currency of the cacao beans. 
According to archaeologists, the Olmec civilizations were the first to use cacao in the form of drink. One of the vessels that was found to acquire this information is also noted that it dates from pre-Olmec period which can be from 1750 BCE. The chocolate drink was used for rituals or medicinal drinks. The use of the cacao by the Mayans can traced by 400 BCE. The Mayans believed that the cacao was food for the gods and they thought that people in high society should be the only ones able to access to cacao beans and their products like the frothy drinks.

By the 1500s the cacao beans migrated their way to the Aztec civilization. Since the Aztec’s land could not produce chocolate they became huge importers for the cacao beans for their empire. This is how the cacao beans began to be used as currency. Those of high authority begin to charge the citizens of the Aztec civilization a tax which could be paid in the form of cacao beans. Soon other items such as turkey and avocados were given in exchange for a certain amount of to cacao beans. Some citizens of the Aztec civilization tried really hard to commit fraud by using counterfeit cocoa beans or rather they would take the empty shells from the beans and fill it with mud on the inside so they could stick together. 
The Olmecs, the Mayans, and the Aztecs each had their own uses for cacao beans and definitely changed the world when they began domesticating the trees as a food source. The Aztecs advanced themselves by creating a currency that they all used. From trade between the Mesoaericas to Europe, cacao has expanded globally and is no longer consider a luxury but can still be considered a delicacy. I know that M&M’s and Hershey’s don’t contain that much to cacao but they are still making profit from others. 

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
Presilla, Maricel E. “The New Taste of Chocolate.” Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. 1-59. Print.

Multi-Media Sources “5 pound Hershey Bar.” Hershey’s Inc. Image retrieved from

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