Now a Sweet Treat, Once More Valuable Than Gold

The chocolate that most people know of today is more sugar than chocolate. It is the Europeanized version that we are familiar with, cacao flavored with sugar rather than chili peppers. Learning about the original lovers of chocolate can help us enjoy chocolate today, equipped with the knowledge of both rituals and recipes of chocolate.

One of the earliest people who used Theobroma cacao, also known as “the food of the gods,” were the Olmecs from the Mexican Gulf Coast. While not much is known about how their relationship with chocolate, the Olmecs influenced the Maya in the form of which they consumed it. The Maya, from the Yucatan peninsula, enjoyed frothy drinks, and archaeologists have found spouted ceramic jars, that were used not only for pouring chocolate drinks, but also for blowing air inside to create foam.

maya choco.jpg

An elite prepares to drink his chocolate

Much of what is known about pre-Columbian chocolate use is from Mayan writings. They used pottery to prepare chocolate and wrote about cacao preparation on them. The Dresden Codex is full of numerous illustrations involving chocolate, in which gods hold cacao pods or seeds. Cacao had a religious value, as shown by burial rituals. The elite were buried with pottery filled with chocolate substance for them to enjoy after death. There is only evidence of the wealthy consuming chocolate, thus it is not thought that an ordinary Mayan was able to enjoy chocolate as well.

A group in present day Mexico practices a Mayan ritual

The Aztecs also used chocolate for rituals and in daily life. Cacao was also used as a form of currency. While the Maya drank chocolate warm, Aztecs drank it cold. Chocolate was also given to Aztec soldiers as part of their rations, as it was thought to give strength. Priests and and nobles were the ones who consumed chocolate, as well as the emperor Moctezuma, who also used it as an aphrodisiac. Quetzalcoatl was a god who bestowed chocolate to the humans, planting it in his garden. It was believed that drinking chocolate gave a person some of Quetzalcoatl’s wisdom.

Chocolate was also closely tied to blood in Aztec culture. Cacao represented the heart torn out of the body for sacrifice, the cacao seeds being the blood spilling out of the body. One ritual entailed a male slave drinking a mix of cacao and blood from the knives used in previous sacrifices, before he was sacrificed.

The way a person chooses to enjoy chocolate is their own choice, but learning about the origins of the food of luxury, of comfort, can help one enjoy it all the more.

 

Works Cited

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

Presilla, Marciel, E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

“Chocolate Use in Early Aztec Cultures.” International Cocoa Organization. 8 Jan. 2011. Web. 17 Feb. 2016. <http://www.icco.org/faq/54-cocoa-origins/133-chocolate-use-in-early-aztec-cultures.html&gt;.

Feign, Amanda. “A Brief History of Chocolate.” Smithsonian. 1 Mar. 2008. Web. 17 Feb. 2016. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/?no-ist&gt;.

“Maya and the Ka’kau.” Cacao. Web. 17 Feb. 2016. <http://www.authenticmaya.com/cacao.htm&gt;.

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