Now that we find ourselves between two major chocolate holidays, Valentine’s Day and Easter, many of us have a candy and sweet chocolate hangover that will last until next year. Chocolate will always be a go-to sweet indulgence, but we discovered that that the infamous cacao beans has not always been served sugared and sweet, has long been thought to hold mystical powers, and was sought as more than just an edible treat.
Mesoamericans and Savory Chocolate
The cacao bean has long been thought of as a magical and highly desired food item. The Mayans are mostly credited with the discovery of the illustrious beans, but it is widely thought that the Moyaka, a pre-Olmec culture, were devouring chocolate drinks dating as far back as 4,000 years ago. But it was not until later, around 600 BC that the cacoa bean became a very important part of entire cultures and empires.
Both the Mayans and the Aztecs fell in love with the rich and bitter flavor, and mostly served chocolate as a drink made by fermenting the beans for a few days. The beans were then cracked and roasted in a comal (a kind of griddle), then crushed with a large stone to create cocoa nibs. The beans were then placed in a volcanic stone slate, where they were ground by hand into a paste. Finally, spices, dried flowers, water, and sometimes honey were added to create a frothy and sensual elixir. The Mayans served their drink hot, while the Aztecs preferred cool.
The Mayans served the drink to royals and celebrated marriages with chocolate. They also gifted their deities with cacao, were buried with the beans, and used them as a form of currency.
The Aztec’s similar use of chocolate is even more clearly documented than the Maya. Believing cacao was a divine gift from the gods, they used it for celebrating births, memorializing deaths, and for trades and payments. The Aztecs are credited for introducing chocolate to the Spanish, who brought the beans to Europe.
It is said that Aztec king Montezuma introduced Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez to his treasured sipping chocolate concoction. Although he was not an immediate fan of the drink as he described it in his writings as “a bitter drink for pigs,” he brought the beans back to Spain. It took a while for the Europeans to catch on to the unusual, dark, bitter and heavy flavor. Soon they began to add sugars and honey to the drink and it became a highly desired and fashionable drink. This is the beginning of what we know today as sweet chocolate.
The Mayans and Aztecs were onto something serving the chocolate without sweeteners– Have a break from the sweet stuff that we are guilty of having too much of, and take advantage of chocolates depth, silkiness, and mysterious flavor by trying it in an unsuspecting savory dish.
Emperor Montezuma drank 50 golden goblets of hot chocolate, dyed red and flavored with chili peppers, every day.
The word “chocolate” comes from the Aztec word, “Xocolatl,” which ironically means “bitter water.”
The smell of chocolate increases theta brain waves, which trigger relaxation.
The creation of the first modern chocolate bar is credited to Joseph Fry, who in 1847 discovered that he could make a moldable chocolate paste by adding melted cacao butter to Dutch cocoa.
Dark chocolate contains many antioxidants that help the cardiovascular system by reducing blood pressure. Eating dark chocolate every day reduces the risk of heart disease by one third.