Chocolate, a Mayan-Olmec Gift and Heritage to the World
The Mayans of Yucatan from Uxmal and Chichenitzá and Coba and the Caribbean coastal cities like Tulum, Tankah or Muyil, and also as far south as Chiapas and Tabasco and as well as the Aztecs of Central Mexico believed the cacao bean had magical, or even divine, properties, suitable for use in the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage and death.
According to Chloe Doutre-Roussel’s book The Chocolate Connoisseur, Aztec sacrifice victims who felt too melancholy to join in ritual dancing before their death were often given a gourd of chocolate (tinged with the blood of previous victims) to cheer them up.
When most of us hear the word chocolate, we picture a bar, a box of bonbons, or a bunny. The verb that comes to mind is probably “eat,” not “drink,” and the most apt adjective would seem to be “sweet.” But for about 90 percent of chocolate’s long history, it was strictly a beverage, and sugar didn’t have anything to do with it.
Etymologists trace the origin of the word “chocolate” to the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods.”
Many modern historians have estimated that chocolate has been around for about 2000 years, but recent research suggests that it may be even older.
In the book The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe make a case that the earliest linguistic evidence of chocolate consumption stretches back three or even four millennia, to pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica such as the Olmec in the Mexican State of Tabasco.
The history of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica. Chocolate, the fermented, roasted, and ground beans of the Theobroma cacao, can be traced to the Mokaya and other pre-Olmec people, with evidence of chocolate beverages dating back to 1900 BC.
The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the God of wisdom, and the seeds had so much value they were used as a form of currency. Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter, frothy liquid, mixed with spices, wine or corn puree. It was believed to have aphrodisiac powers and to give the drinker strength.
After its arrival in Spain in the sixteenth century, sugar was added to it and it became popular through Europe, first among the ruling classes and then among the common people. In the 20th century, chocolate was considered a staple, essential in the rations of United States soldiers at war.