The Europeanization Of Cacao

Much research has been done on the origins of chocolate to provide knowledge and provide an in-depth guide to the origins of cacao. The research helps people today to take a deeper look into the tasty treat that many erroneously assume originated in Europe. The first appearance of chocolate occurred amongst the Olmec people. The Olmecs are said to have began the Mesoamerican chocolate history and they lived along the southernmost part of the gulf coast of Mexico between 1200 BC and 300 BC ( Pg 9).  It was with Christopher Columbus’s  voyages that chocolate was introduced to European culture.  At first the chocolate drink was considered a detestable beverage and it was not until later that it became the decadent treat enjoyed by the Europeans.

It is an accepted argument that cacao first grew in South America according to DNA analyses that pinpoint two areas that have  traces of the crop: The Amazon River basin and modern Venezuela. Cacao was being incorporated into the culinary aspects of Mesoamerica after manipulation of the pod and seed. “The culinary investigation of the beans seems logical and inevitable, given the systematic way in which the pre-Columbian peoples of Mesoamerica approached most of their standard foods.”  (Presilla, Pg 8).

The process to convert cacao bean into chocolate  was to spread out the beans to dry in the sun, roast them and then grind them on stone slabs. This same technique was also used often for other common foods such as pumpkin seeds, corn and chiles. “ The cuisine of Mexico and neighboring regions has always been rich in drinkable foods that fit no European category.” (Presilla Pg 9).  Cacao made its way to Spain  and soon became a Spanish enterprise and the people began drinking it regularly. Within sixty years, this new custom spread throughout most parts of Europe. “They turned one former option into a requirement: adding a sweetener. It was the Spanish who first married chocolate and sugar, which they and the other European colonial powers were busy planting with African slave labor throughout the Caribbean.” ( Presilla Pg 25). There was a very clear association of the consumption of chocolate and high social class. Plantation owners began shipping cacao to distant lands, including other colonial capital. Cacao became a huge economic fortune to the plantations owners.  European and colonial latin america connoisseurs knew a lot about the origin of the chocolate. Depending on the area that the cacao originated from some cacao had higher value and quality than others.

Originally being enjoyed in a frothed fashion by ancient civilizations, to the indulgent delight concocted by Europeans, the transferring of cultural nuances from Mesoamerica to Europe gradually but surely altered the way in which chocolate is prepared and consumed at present today.

 

 

Sources:

Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural &Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

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