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Chocolate. Origins. Cacao tree probably originates from the Amazon basin. It reached Central America between 4000 and 5000 years ago. Will only grow within 20˚ of the equator. 2 varieties of cacao – criollo and forastero. Cacao. Etymology.

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Cacao tree probably originates from the Amazon basin.

It reached Central America between 4000 and 5000 years ago.

Will only grow within 20˚ of the equator.

2 varieties of cacao – criollo and forastero.


Botanical name for cacao is Theobroma cacao, which is Latin for ‘food for the Gods’.

Origins of the word ‘chocolate’ are disputed. 3 possible hypotheses: 1) ‘chocolate’ is a Spanish distortion of ‘cacauatl’, the Aztec term for the substance; 2) ‘chocolate’ is a hispanicised version of the Maya term ‘chocol hua’; 3) ‘chocolate’ is a combination of the Maya word ‘chocol’ and the Aztec word ‘atl’, which means water.

17th-century British traveller Thomas Gage: ‘this name chocolate is an Indian name, and is compounded from atte, as some say, or as others atle, which in the Mexican language signifies ‘water’, and from the sound which the water, wherein is put the chocolate, makes, as choco choco choco, when it is stirred in a cup by an instrument called a molinet or molinillo, until it bubbles and rises into a froth.’
the maya
The Maya

Maya thought to have cultivated cacao on the coasts of Tabasco, Campeche, Belize and the Gulf of Honduras from at least the 6th or 7th century AD.

They prized the cacao beans very highly, according them a central place within their culture.

They used them not only as a food but as a form of currency and they had a cacao God


Aztecs also liked chocolate.

Used it for money.

Extracted it from the tribes that they conquered as a form of tribute, particularly from the region of Soconusco.

Had cacao beans transported to Tenochtitlan by canoe and on foot.

Maya and Aztecs ate cacao pods raw and ground the beans with maize to form a flour called cacahuapinolli.

They created a chocolate drink by dissolving ground cacao beans in water and mixing them with various other ingredients like honey, vanilla, chillies and axiote.

They poured chocolate from a height to create a froth, and usually drank it cold.

ritual significance
Ritual significance
  • Deceased often given vessels of chocolate to sustain them in the afterlife.
  • Maya mentioned chocolate with reverence in their sacred book, the Popul Vuh.
  • Women ingested chocolate during the menopause and childbirth.
  • Chocolate drunk on important ritual occasions such as betrothal and marriage ceremonies, festivals and warfare, as well as during sacrifices to deities.
  • Drinking of chocolate confined to the nobility and warriors – and elite drink.
González: ‘On the eve of the Spanish conquest, cacao was the most important commercial crop in Mesoamerica, and one of the most significant articles of trade with the West Indies and South America, to the extent that only maize could overshadow its economic and cultural importance’.
  • Naturalist Francisco de Hernández (1570): ‘[Chocolate is] held in higher esteem [by the Aztecs] than any other is chocolate’.
  • Bishop of Yucatán, Diego de Landa: ‘[The Maya] make of ground maize and cacao a kind of foaming drink which is very savoury, and with which they celebrate their feasts’.
  • Conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo: Aztec emperor Moctezuma is served with ‘fifty large jars’ of chocolate ‘all frothed up’, in the course of a banquet.
spanish encounter
Spanish encounter
  • Columbus was the firstEuropean to encounter chocolate. He likened the cacao beans to almonds. He stated that the Maya ‘seemed to hold these almonds at a great price, for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods , I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen’.
Girolamo Benzoni: ‘It [chocolate] seemed more a drink for pigs than a drink for humanity. I was in this country [Mexico] for more than a year, and never wanted to taste it, and whenever I passed a settlement, some Indian would offer me a drink of it, and would be amazed when I would not accept, going away laughing.’
Spanish started to like chocolate.
  • Spanish conquistador: ‘This drink is the most healthy and sustaining food of all those that are known in this world, since he who drinks a cup of it, even if he does gruelling work, can last the day without eating anything else’.
  • Dominican missionary Bartolomé de las Casas: ‘[Chocolate is] very substantial, very cooling, tasty and agreeable.’
Spanish experimented with the composition of chocolate.
  • Usually drank it hot, rather than cold.
  • Added new flavourings like almonds, eggs, spices like cinnamon, ginger and aniseed, and, most importantly, sugar.
  • Stirred their chocolate with a kind of wooden beater, known as a molinillo.
  • Drank chocolate from a special cup called a jícara, a word deriving from the Nahuatl word ‘xicalli’
Italian traveller Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri enumerated (1697): ‘Cacao and vanilla, as everyone knows,are the principal ingredients of chocolate. The Europeans add a pound of sugar for each pound of cacao and an ounce of cinnamon…The drink is very ancient and was used by the Indians before the Spanish conquered their country, but the diligence of the Spanish has brought it to perfection.
Chocolate was adopted by Spanish colonists. Poorer creole families drank it once or twice each day. Richer creoles consumed it up to 5 times per day.
  • Chocolate was consumed on numerous social occasions. It was given as a gift to travellers and drunk by mourners during night wakes.
  • Chocolate very popular with monks and nuns. One convent at Santa Clara de Puebla spent 290 pesos on chocolate in 1710.
  • Chocolate imported to Mexico from Venezuela and Guayaquil.
17th-century foreign visitor: ‘The use of chocolate in this kingdom is so frequent that even the poorest inhabitants have it as a food’.
  • Chronicler José de Acosta: ‘[Chocolate] is the preferred drink [in Mexico], and the aliment that they offer as a gift to those who come to or traverse their land. The Indians and the Spanish, and still more the women born in the land, will die for black chocolate’.
introduction to europe
Introduction to Europe
  • Chocolate presented to Philip II by a delegation of Maya Indians.
  • First shipment of cacao beans arrived in Seville from Veracruz in 1585.
  • By 1801, 4000 tonnes of cacao were shipped to Spain at the cost of 2 million pesos.
150 chocolate grinders operating in Madrid in 1772.
  • Cárcer: Chocolate has been introduced in such a way that there is scarcely a street [in Madrid] where there is not 1, 2 or 3 stalls where it is prepared and sold; and in addition to this, there is not a sweetshop or a stall in the calle de las Postas and in the calle Mayor, and others, where it is not sold...As well as the men who are occupied in stirring and seasoning it, there are many more, and women too, who walk around selling it at private houses, in some of which it is also made.
  • Spanish plan to introduce cacao to Spain following the loss of their American colonies in the 1820s.
  • Franceso Redi: ‘In the court of Tuscany, a certain I know not what of exquisite gentility [has been given to chocolate by blending it with] the fresh peel of citrons and lemons and the very genteel odour of jasmine, which, together with cinnamon, amber, musk and vanilla, has a prodigious effect upon such as delight themselves in taking chocolate’.
  • Francesco Arisi: ‘[Some people] perfume their tobacco with cocoa…[Chefs] stuff it in their pastries and fill a thousand little boxes with candies made from cocoa’.
  • Chocolate reached France in mid-17th century.
  • Cardinal Richelieu’s elder brother, Alphonse was supposedly the first Frenchman to ingest it, using it ‘to moderate the vapours of his spleen’.
  • Marriage of Louis XIV to the Spanish princess María Teresa popularised its consumption at court, since she was accustomed to drink chocolate on a regular basis.
  • French used chocolate in cakes and pastries.
  • French invented the chocolatière.
  • Chocolate reached Britain in 1650s.
  • Sold in coffee houses.
  • Spanish emigré Mr Calero, advertised his chocolate as ‘more wholesome [and] 3 times cheaper than tea’, providing regular customers with ‘a new invented mill and boiler by which chocolate is prepared as in Spain, and the whole strength and flavour is retained’.
mass production
Mass production
  • Began in 19th century, making chocolate available to all.
  • Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten, patented a process for manufacturing powdered chocolate in 1828.
  • Bristol-based firm Fry’s produced their first chocolate bars in 1849.
  • Cadbury’s further commercialised chocolate, becoming one of the leading producers of confectionary by the end of the century.
  • The Swiss, created the first milk-chocolate bars in 1879, and a number of other processes revolutionised the production of chocolate.
  • Today’s chocolate bars contain on average about 47% sugar, as well as a large amount of milk.
medicinal virtues
Medicinal virtues
  • Chocolate believed to possess many valuable medicinal properties.
  • Thought to be good for kidney stones and digestive complaints, and its energising qualities were seen as good for the intellect.
  • Francisco Hernández: ‘[Chocolate] warms the stomach, perfumes the breath...[and] combats poisons, alleviates internal pains and colics’.
  • Royal hospital in Santiago, Guatemala, ‘spent 11.5 reales on chocolate for patients’ in the early 17th century’.
  • Chocolate seen as an aphrodisiac.
Thomas Gage: ‘When I was in Mexico, I drank between 4 and 5 cups [of chocolate] each day, and with this custom I lived for 12 years in those parts healthy, without any obstructions or oppilations, not knowing what ague or fever was’.
  • Antonio León Pinelo: ‘For phlegmatic people [chocolate should be drunk] without axiote, and with more aniseed, cinnamon and chile than normal, and it should be taken hot’.
  • Italian physician Dr Giovanni Batista Felici: ‘Among the many disorders which the intemperance of mankind has introduced to shorten their lives, one of the greatest, in my opinion, is the use of chocolate…I know certain serious and taciturn persons, who by virtue of this Drink, become for a while the greatest chatterers, some lose sleep and get hot-headed, others become angry and shout. In children it awakens such an agitation that in no way can they be quiet or sit in one place.’
  • Parisian noblewoman Madame de Sévigné: ‘[Chocolate is] the source of vapours and palpitations…The Marquise de Coëtlogon took so much chocolate during her pregnancy last year that she produced a small boy as black as the devil, who died’.
  • Is chocolate a drink or a food? Can it be consumed during Lent?
  • Mexican friar Servando Teresa de Mier: ‘An ounce of chocolate sustains more than an ounce of meat’.
  • Antonio León Pinelo (1634): ‘The Indians invented chocolate in the form of a drink, and they used it as food and sustenance; the Spanish received it in this manner from the Indians and they added to it edible materials, therefore chocolate itself is food, even though we drink it, and it breaks the ecclesiastical fast.
  • Pope Lorenzo Brancaccio (1667): Chocolate can be consumed during Lent.
female deviance
Female Deviance
  • Women accused of consuming too much chocolate.
  • Chocolate used as a poison.
  • Women of Chiapas drink chocolate in church during services.