In this first of a multi part series we're going to explore the wonderful history of one of mankind's greatest obsessions, chocolate. Chocolate first appeared on the scene about 4,000 years ago when the ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures discovered the cacao plant. The plant itself is said to have originated in the Amazon or Orinoco basin. Around 600 AD, which is the earliest "modern" recorded account of chocolate growing, the Mayans made their way to the northern regions of South America. It is there that they set up the first known cocoa plantations in the Yucatan. However, it is suggested that the Mayans knew about cocoa many centuries earlier and used it as a form of payment for goods and services.
The Mayans and Aztecs took beans from what is known as the cacao tree and from them made a drink they called xocoatl. Aztec Indian legend says that cacao seeds were brought to them from paradise and that the wisdom, power and knowledge that they gained was from eating the fruit of the cacao tree. Obviously, this has never been proven.
The actual legend says that the god Quetzalcoatl made his way to Earth on a beam from the Morning Star carrying a cacao tree from paradise and gave it to the people there as an offering. Supposedly he taught them how to roast and grind the seeds into a paste that could be dissolved in water. The Aztecs then added some spices to this mixture and called the drink chocolatl, which translated means bitter water. It was believed that this drink, when consumed, would give a person universal wisdom and knowledge. The word we know as chocolate is said to have been derived from the Mayan xocoatl. Cocoa is said to come from the Aztec word cacahuatl.
The Mexican-Indian word chocolate comes from combining choco, which means foam and atl, which means water. Early forms of chocolate were only in beverage form. In early Mesoamerican marriages, part of the marriage ceremony was to share a mug of frothy chocolate.
In 1923 Arthur W. Knapp wrote a book called "The Cocoa and Chocolate Industry" where he points out that if we are to believe in Mexican mythology, chocolate was consumed by the gods in paradise and the cocoa seed was given to man as a special blessing by the god of the air. Ancient Mexicans believed that the goddess of food and the goddess of water were the guardian goddesses of cocoa. Each year the ancient Mexicans would perform human sacrifices to these gods, giving their sacrifice cocoa at his or her last meal. It is interesting to note that in many accounts of the early days of chocolate, that the cocoa bean or cacoa tree were treated as divine rights from the gods and for the most part the chocolate made from these was consumed mostly as part of religious rituals and not used as a part of everyday life.
In our next article in this series we'll look at more modern account of chocolate history. .
By: Michael Russell