The origins behind Theobroma Cacao is as mysterious as the complex magic found within its fruit and seed.
The origins behind Theobroma Cacao, known as the Food of the Gods, is as mysterious as the complex magic found within its fruit and seed.
Human use of the cacao fruit and its seeds is ancient, with the earliest-recorded archeological evidence of its use dating back to 2,000 BCE in Honduras.
The cacao tree was first domesticated by the Mokaya and Olmec peoples of Central America and Mexico. And over 4,000 years ago, cacao was being used by pre-Columbian cultures of the Yucatán, including the Mayans.
But the Olmecs were the ones who undoubtedly passed their knowledge of cacao to Central American Mayans. The Mayans used it as much more than a food source, drinking cacao concoctions inspiritual ceremonies, both ritualistically and shamanically.
Cacao was not a delicacy reserved for the powerful or wealthy, but was easily accessible to all. For many Mayans, chocolate was a staple to be enjoyed with each meal, and was frequently consumed in a mixture of chili or honey.
The collapse of the Mayan civilization led to the rise of the Aztecs, who also made cacao a chief part of their culture. Believing cacao was gifted to them by the gods, Aztec cacao use became extremely ritualistic, and cacao became linked to nobility and wealth. In addition to its food and ritual use, Aztecs also designated cacao beans as a form of currency for buying and trading other goods. At one time, beans were thought to be more valuable than pure gold.
The Aztecs’ most notorious cacao lover was the legendary ruler Montezuma II, who is said to have consumed multiple gallons of chocolate every day. His reason? To enhance both energy and lust.
At one time, beans were thought to be more valuable than pure gold.
Cacao’s Journey to Europe
Conflicting reports exist about when chocolate arrived in Europe, though most agree it first appeared in Spain. By late 1500, it was a well-loved, imported indulgence in the Spanish court. Meanwhile, other countries in Europe, like France and Italy, also began visiting Central America and bringing cacao home.
Soon after, cacao mania spread across Europe. This high demand yielded many cacao plantations in Africa, a continent with the proper conditions for growing cacao. Even today, Africa contributes the most to our global cacao trade.
Dutch Processing, which involved treating beans with alkaline salts to make a chocolate that was mixable in water, was created in 1828, resulting in Dutch cocoa. The cocoa press was then invented, which separated cacao butter from roasted beans to make cocoa powder. Both of these inventions made chocolate affordable for everyone, and initiated mass production of cacao.
In 1847, the very first chocolate bar was made from a paste of cocoa liquor, cacao butter, and sugar. Dried milk powder was added to this bar in 1876 to create milk chocolate.
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