The Ancient Origins of Chocolate Etymologists can trace the origin of the word "chocolate" back to the ancient Aztec word "xocoatl". This word referred to a bitter drink which was brewed from raw cacao beans harvested in the area. The Latin name given to the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means "food of the gods" and it certainly was treated as such. 1400 BC The history of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica which is what the area of Mexico and Central America at the time was referred to as. In 2007, anthropologists announced the discovery of cacao residue on pottery excavated in Honduras that could date back from 1400 BCE (before common era) or even 1700 BCE. The sweet pulp of the cacao fruit was apparently fermented into an alcoholic beverage of the time. Not really chocolate but what it does is establishes that the trees were present and known of. The problem with cocoa is that the flesh of the fruit is sweet and delicious and the cacao seeds are poisonous to humans as well as being bitter with no flavour. What would possibly have to happen is a mass consumption of the cacao fruit took place, the seeds were all dumped in a big pile and fermented. Someone noticed the smell and checked the beans and noticed the membrane was gone and they smelled different and perhaps some animal ate them or something. Somehow the link between fermenting the seeds and changing flavours happened and suddenly the beans became palatable to consume in a drink. In order to be able to get to the chocolate we have today, we have to traverse eons but first we have to get to a point where people are indeed using or eating cacao. In the publication Antiquity Vol 81 Issue 314 December 2007 we find reference to the possibility of 'cacao' being used or at least stored. It states: "The Mokaya archaeological site of Paso de la Amada on the Pacific Coast of Chiapas, Mexico, and the Olmec archaeological site of El Manatí on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico, have each yielded one ceramic vessel that contain residues from the preparation of cacao beverages during the Early Formative (1900-900 BC) period. That analysis looks specifically for markers which could be present if something was simply stored in a vessel and of course it could have been part of the funerary rites that this wonderful fruit was left as an offering." Their analysis, they assert, showed that chocolate (Theobroma cacao) was consumed by the Mokaya (the local population) as early as 1900 BC (though this cound be disputed based on the method of dating used) and by pre- Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BC *if* we accept the results of the tiny sample analysis), pushing back the chemical evidence of cacao use by some 700 years *if true*. This is no proof of the consumption of chocolate, cacao or anything more than the fact it was around and important enough to be stored in a pot. There is, of course, other evidence around the consumption of cacao as a drink which the researchers are using to extend the theory that chocolate was consumed as a beverage at this time. Importantly, what the research does not point out is whether the other elements commonly included were present such as honey residue or spice residue. The lack of mention could be due to limitations in the word count of the article or because it wasn't tested for. There is also the chance the residue contained only the cacao they were looking for. While a romantic notion that chocolate has been enjoyed for millennia, it is difficult to justify that assertion simply based on the findings. While the tree itself was around, making it a natural inhabitant of the environment, the manipulation of the cacao seeds through the fermentation process, drying, roasting, conching and tempering to bring us our current chocolate is very much further down the line. Passionate about chocolate, Holly reads this chocolate blog researches chocolate and attends industry meetings where possible.
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