Chocolate is one of the most popular food items in the world—especially as a gift for a special sweetheart or friend! Do you know that this delicious flavor originated in Latin America? In Mexico, Central and South America, cacao beans have been cultivated for at least three millennia. Chocolate is a raw or processed food produced from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree that is native to the region.
The earliest documented use of chocolate dates back to around 1100 BC. The majority of the Mesoamerican people, including the Aztecs, made a chocolate beverage known as xocolātl, a Náhuatl word meaning “bitterwater.” The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste and must be fermented to develop the flavor.
Chocolate played a special role in both Maya and Aztec royal and religious events. Priests presented cacao seeds as offerings to the gods and served chocolate drinks during sacred ceremonies. The bean was also used as currency and unit of measurement. At the time of the wars between the Aztecs, Mayas, and Chimimeken, the latter used the bean as a tax on the conquered areas. For these civilizations, cocoa was a symbol of abundance.
When the Europeans arrived in the Americas (the word “discovered” is intentionally not used), they extracted natural resources, like chocolate. They sweetened and fattened the chocolate by adding refined sugar and milk, two ingredients unknown to the Mexicans. In the 19th century, Briton John Cadbury developed an emulsification process to make solid chocolate, creating the modern chocolate bar. Although cocoa is originally from the Americas, today Western Africa produces almost two-thirds of the world’s cocoa, with Côte d’Ivoire growing almost half of it.
So, when you buy that next box of your favorite chocolate sweets, remember the history this special Mexican treat!
Boynton, Sandra: Chocolate: The Consuming Passion, Workman Publishing, New York, 1982
For more information about Ixtapa Zihuatanejo and surrounding areas, see: