The Maya Aztecs & Origins Of Chocolate

Unknown to many , but to most chocolate purists all true “chocolate”  comes from the ground seeds of the “Theobrama Cacao” , a topical tree that needs lots and lots of both rain and humidity , and generally grows very close to the earth’s equator.

Origins of the Cacao Tree:
The cacao tree is believed originally to be native to Mesoamerica .  Quoting the source Wikipedia – “ Mesoamerica (Spanish: Mesoamérica)   is a broad cultural and geographic area which spans from central Mexico down to what is now the country of Costa Rica.  Historically and anthropological proof includes residue  found in a pot dating to 400 B.C. , which would suggest that the Maya Indians  may well have been the first group and civilization to make use of the wild cocoa beans.  These were then put to good use and cultivated extensively  by the Maya during what is referred to as the “Classic Mayan period”.
The Maya’s Appreciation of Chocolate as a Beverage:
The Maya’s appreciation of chocolate itself  extended far beyond  everyday indulgence; various recipes of the drink were used for religious  and royal ceremonies  and at weddings. This drink was indispensable to a good meal and its energy value was well known and appreciated within the Maya and Mayan cultures.
The Aztec Civilization & Chocolate Beverages:
Next in line , the Aztec civilization also held cacao in high regard telling of the myth of the Quetzalcoatl, the “Feathered Serpent God” who was punished by the other gods for revealing the secret of cacao to human beings.   Indeed the very word “cacao”  comes from  cacahuatl, a word in the Aztec language of Nahuatl.  It can be said that overall the Aztec chocolate was identical  to the Mayan in basic overall preparation, but the difference and distinction being that the Aztecs often added in black pepper, vanilla beans  and the seed of a local tree called achiote. Interestingly the addition of these local achiote seeds dyed the drink in a very distinctive fashion a very bright red color. Such red color branded Aztec chocolate beverages  were reserved for use in specific important rituals of the Aztecs.
Varieties  of Cacao Seeds / Beans:
Lastly there are overall three main varieties of theobromo cacao , ground seeds.   These three main varieties are  criollo, forastero y trinitario and lastly what could be might be called historically local “hybrids”  of the previous two. Overall in commerce prices and quality levels of the beans vary tremendously in today’s global marketplaces.  The most prized variety and varieties  are the pure criollo, which is characterized by white beans when fresh.  Yet true and pure criollo cocoa beans represent only 5 % of all grown cacao.
Chocolate Lovers Owe a Debt of Gratitude to the Maya & Aztecs:
All of us including chocolateaholics and even those enjoying either a simple chocolate beverage or “Chocolate Milk”  owe a debt of gratitude to the ancient Aztecs and Maya.
Sylvia Lopez
Sylvia is a well known local resident of Puerto Morelos who is both an expert on local Mayan mythologies as well as food and cuisine of Cancun & Yucatan regions of Mexico