We are a species that seeks to discover all of the wonders of this world so that we may collect and consume them of our own volition. Everyday items that are utilized such as minerals, oil, money, and food are things we collectively yearn for, and there is no limit to what will satisfy our appetite. Among these everyday items exists one that has been a part of our history for as long as we can remember. Cacao plants and what can be created with them have navigated their way into our hearts, minds and influence our appetites daily. Whether it be beans, liquids, or solid chocolate bars, we have become far more engrossed with Cacao than those who originally possessed it long ago. These Ancient civilizations, which consisted of Mesoamerican’s such as the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec’s utilized Cacao in a controlled and market fashion similar to our own. However, we are on a much different playing field than they were back then.
Cacao in Mesoamerica…
As early as 900 AD is when it is believed that the Mayans discovered the Cacao plant. Almost immediately afterwards did the plant and it’s properties become ingrained into every faucet of life during the height of Mesoamerican society. The Olmec, Maya, and Aztec’s each ensured that the Cacao which was produced, was shared with royalty before any other societal class. It is fascinating to think about how the Cacao they were producing quickly became an important part of their lifestyles. Their understanding of it and its significance in regard to their culture during this time period laid the groundwork for how we indulge in the delicacies we have today. Additionally, it was during this era that Cacao began to take different forms that we have simply grown to know as Chocolate. Chocolate beverages were of the most popular amongst rulers that had the power to obtain large portions of Cacao, and they were usually representative of one’s nobility as well as one’s wealth during extravagant parties.
Aside from that, there were a number of other uses those with access to Cacao stumbled upon. Considering the scarcity amongst common folk, the beans from the Cacao plant became a form of currency. Slightly more disturbing was it’s use in ceremonies where a selected citizen was sacrificed to the Gods and consumed copious amounts of chocolate before being killed. It is safe to say that the obsession this era had with Cacao is the reason why we cannot get enough of it now. Due to how the Cacao plant was held in such high regard by those in power, as well as the way the common folk idolized it since they lacked an abundance of said delicacy at their disposal during this time period, it comes to no surprise how that influence has undoubtedly played a role in the market we have today.
So, with all that being said what does that mean for us today? In what ways were the Mesoamericans influential in the way we produce and consume our Cacao? For one, the chocolate beverage these people were so obsessed with has soared to heights no one could have imagined. Whether it be coffee, milkshakes, or hot chocolate, Cacao has evolved into something everyone craves. Coffee being the most predominant of the chocolate drinks, as it has been commercialized and sold to a market that has fallen in love with the tasty beverage. Starbucks, Hershey, Godiva, the list goes on.
These companies that practice selling Cacao in its newly fashioned state have identified what makes it so special and have capitalized on it. Firstly, the healthy abundance of Chocolate as well as how affordable it is in the United States allows citizens to consume as much of the popular product, more so than that of a noble person during the Mesoamerican era. Coupled with their ability to mass produce chocolate in multiple ways while simultaneously producing new ways to sell it, they have effectively created a system in which they can sell us cacao in any shape or form and we will still purchase it. Although we do not force individuals to consume chocolate before sacrificing one another to the Gods, it is still revered as something that everyone cherishes deeply, almost on a ritualistic level. Valentine’s Day, birthday’s, treats, snacks etc. Whatever your preference may be, chocolate is a delicacy that is near and dear to millions and for some it is considered a blessing to receive it as a gift.
What Cacao could look like in the future…
Now although Cacao (or chocolate) in this instance is an important product in circulation around the globe, some issues do arise with how it is produced and what that may look like for us in the future. As I stated earlier, Cacao has been highly influential in our market. It’s found on every corner in the U.S. as well as thriving sections of the world. Yet we are not truly indulging in a complete Cacao product. A vast majority of the companies making a profit off of chocolate are working with a product that is for the majority, made up of sugar. Compared to our Mesoamerican ancestors, we are consuming far less Cacao than we are sugar whenever we enjoy a delicious Cacao “treat.” Perhaps this is done in part to sustain the Cacao plants for a bit longer. However, the production of processed Cacao is not allowing people to experience it as the Aztecs, Maya and Olmec did. Because of this, we may reach a point in society where Cacao no longer exists in any of the “chocolate” products we consume and a vast majority would be none the wiser.
Garthwaite, Josie. “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Feb. 2015, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/archaeology-chocolate-180954243/.
The History of Chocolate: The Mayans and Aztecs, http://www.godivachocolates.co.uk/the-history-of-chocolate-mayans-aztecs.html.
Cartwright, Mark. “Chocolate in Mesoamerica.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 14 Mar. 2019, http://www.ancient.eu/Chocolate_in_Mesoamerica/.