Chocolate history: exquisite aroma and flavor of Mexico for the world

Cocoa, one of the plants domesticated by the native peoples of Mexico, has been cultivated since pre-Hispanic times in our country, and reaches to the present day with its exquisite presence of chocolate all over the world.

Chocolate also provides environmental benefits, as being grown in the shade, it favors the development of a large number of plants, animals and fungi. Image: Wkimedia
Chocolate also provides environmental benefits, as being grown in the shade, it favors the development of a large number of plants, animals and fungi. Image: Wkimedia

The pre-Hispanic peoples of Mexico transformed the seeds of the cocoa cob (Theobroma cacao) into chocolatl, or chocolate, and gave it an extraordinary value by elaborating a product of delicate aroma, flavor, and nutritional, cosmetic and medicinal properties, which is enjoyed all over the world.

Although scientific research situates the wild origin of this small tree between six and ten meters high, in the Amazon basin, it was not in that region where the added value was given to the "food of the gods", but in our country, where today the indigenous communities of Chiapas and Tabasco, mainly, cultivate cocoa.

The Mexico Cocoa Foundation indicates that the Olmecs (1500 to 400 B.C.) were the first humans to taste the cocoa drink: "They ground the cocoa beans, mixed them with water, and added spices, chilli peppers and herbs, and the Olmecs were also the first to cultivate cocoa in Mexico. Over the centuries, the culture of cocoa spread to the Mayan civilization (600 B.C.) and the Aztec civilization (1400 B.C.).

The cocoa tree takes on different names, depending on the ethnicity that mentions it, for example, kakawa in the Mixe-Zoque voice of the ancient Olmecs; kaj (bitter), kab (juice) in the Mayan language; and with the passage of time it became the drink cacáhoatl and xócoatl, in the Náhuatl voice.

What is still not known exactly is how and when the plant arrived in our lands, whether through insects or other pollinators, or was introduced by humans already as a plant.

In addition, this species of the Malvaceae family provides multiple environmental services, as cultivated in the shade favors the development of large numbers of plants, animals, and fungi. In addition, it is suitable for reforestation of areas that have been cleared and maintains vegetation areas that provide greater connectivity of habitats.

Despite Mexico's ideal climatic conditions to cultivate it, our country ranks as the tenth-largest producer in the world. And of the national volume, Tabasco produces 66% and Chiapas 31%. The remaining 3% is cultivated in Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Veracruz, according to data from Fundación Cacao Mexico.

The consumption of chocolate has always been associated with health benefits, such as greater strength, resistance to hard work and low temperatures.

Mexico, recognized as one of eight plant domestication centers, is a producer of cacao, a delicacy that added to vanilla, another plant domesticated by our native peoples, adds a delicate touch to beverages and chocolate bars.

About the domestication of plants in Mesoamerica, particularly in our country, Alejandro Casas and Javier Caballero write in the Revista de Cultura Científica de la Facultad de Ciencias de la UNAM that "the experience of Mesoamerican domestics in the use and management of these resources constitutes an important stretch in the knowledge and use of the country's biological diversity.

Chocolate history. Stock image
Chocolate history. Stock image

Therefore, they consider that "one of the main tasks of ethnobiology is to rescue, for the entire society, the immense culture disseminated in the regions and towns of Mexico. Among this knowledge is the domestication of the cacao plant and the creation of chocolate, which is the legacy of our native communities.

Source: Semarnat

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