We all love chocolate, let’s be honest. I mean, who doesn’t? It’s one of the most popular sweets of all time. Women crave it, men hoard it, and Aztec kings were said to have been the first to eat it. Chocolate melts in your mouth, and tastes like heaven. But, do you know the history of chocolate? Where it actually comes from?
Cacao is the original source of natural chocolate. It comes from seeds of the fruit of the cacao tree. It has been around for so long that historians have a hard time dating the origins when humans began cultivating it. It is possible that it originated in the Amazon River Basin and was carried north, but it may also have originated in southern Mexico and was carried south.
It is believed that the first to grow the beans as a crop were the Olmec Indians, from 1500-400 BC. By 600 AD. The Mayans who had migrated to the northern regions of South America took cacao with them and established plantations.
The true birthplace of cacao remains unconfirmed.
Cacao was considered a luxury its consumption was restricted to the society’s elite. It was typically prepared as a drink which sometimes included maize, chili, vanilla, peanut butter and honey, however many variations of mixtures were possible. Cacao was also considered to have medicinal qualities, both as a primary remedy and to deliver other herbal remedies. Cacao beans also became a currency and were frequently used for trading.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to encounter cacao in 1502 when he seized a load of cacao cargo. He sent samples back to King Ferdinand, however having only witnessed its use as currency, it went largely unnoticed. 20 years later, Cortez recorded its use in the court of Emperor Montezuma. Decades later, Dominican friars took Mayan nobles to visit Prince Philip of Spain, and brought gifts of cacao drink, mixed and ready to drink.
It gained popularity as a medicine and aphrodisiac in Spain and Portugal, but it would be almost a century before it would be exported to the rest of Europe.
The first shop opened in London in 1657 with a price that made it a beverage for the elite. It was 25 years before it was prepared as a food. In the subsequent years, cacao became a commercial crop and plantations were established in the Caribbean, its use also spread worldwide.
Today, when most Americans think of cacao, they think of milk chocolate, however this is a very refined form of cacao with milk solids, sugar and other additives to preserve shelf life. Few have ever tasted the original, raw cacao of legend, which retains all of its beneficial qualities and phytonutrients.
Many people may not know it, but there are actually numerous health benefits of cacao. It is a great source of fiber. Not only that — cacao is good for your heart and brain. Both the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and the Journal of Internal Medicine found that the frequency of stroke and heart attack in human subjects declined with an increase in chocolate intake. This could be attributed to cacao’s anti-inflammatory properties.
Cacao contains compounds called polyphenols. Studies have shown that if your blood cholesterol is somewhat elevated, cacao polyphenols may lower your low-density lipoprotein, LDL or bad cholesterol, and raise your high-density lipoprotein, HDL or “good” cholesterol levels.
Control blood pressure and glucose: A clinical study in Food and Function cited that blood pressure and blood glucose were lowered by a cocoa-fiber-rich product. Additionally, cacao has more antioxidant flavonoids than any food tested so far. In fact, it is believed that it has up to 4 times the quantity of antioxidants found in green tea.
It is important to note that cacao in its purest form contains the most nutrition and preserves the most health benefits. This form is in whole raw cacao beans or nibs.
YUUGA Kemistri has since autumn 2013 taught over 600 people to use products of the cacao bean to make raw chocolate recipes. We are now starting a new class in November where we will make raw chocolate from scratch with simple yet delicious recipe including healthy sweetener which supports the flavor of the raw ingredient. For further info contact firstname.lastname@example.org