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Rich History of Chocolate
By: Celeste Yates

Originally chocolate was a bitter beverage, created by the ancient people of Mesocamerica. They used it in their religious and social lives. This was back in 250-900 AD, known as the Classic Period.

The Mayan people used to harvest the bean from the rainforest that grew around their city. They called the cocoa tree "Cacahuaquchtl" and the chocolate "xocoatl", translated it means "bitter water". They used to ferment and roast the beans. From this they create a paste. By adding water, chilli peppers, cornmeal and other substances, they created a spicy chocolate drink.

The Aztecs then adopted the cocao when they started to dominate Mesoamerica. They used the beans as a type of currency. Soon chocolate became an integrated part of the Aztecs lives as well. The drink became reserved for mostly royalty and the likes for the Mayan people, while the Aztecs kept it for their rulers, priests, honoured merchants and decorated soldiers.

The Aztecs believed that power and wisdom came from eating the fruit or beans. They were the first to believe that cocoa beans had aphrodisiac qualities. In 1492, Columbus returned from America with cocoa beans in hand, although they didn't attract any attention at this point. Westerners recognised that the beans could be used as currency when more frequent quests went to America.

By this stage, the Aztecs had changed the old Maya name "xocoatl" into their name "chocolatl", translated "warm liquid." In 1519, Hernando Cortex Begin created the first plantation of cocoa trees. He created the plantation in the name of Spain. In 1528 the Spanish King, Charles V, had his first drink of the spicy chocolate. Soon it became a delicacy. This was enhanced when Hernando started experimenting by blending the beans with sugar. Soon nutmeg, vanilla, cloves and cinnamon, become part of the variations.

However only Spanish nobility were allowed to indulge in the drink. They did not share their knowledge with people from other countries. It was the Spanish monks, who were cultivating the beans that informed the rest of the world. Soon afterwards, chocolate spread throughout Europe. The beans were still used for currency is some parts.

Since then chocolate has slowly spread throughout the decades and centuries, to become the delicacy it is day. Although the original sacred brew does not hold the same status as it once did as a religious drink or for royalty only, it has over time improved in taste.

It is still debatable whether chocolate is an aphrodisiac, however recent research does prove that the dark cocoa does have good qualities which are healthy for the body.

Celeste writes for The Post House which is a chocolaterie in Greyton South Africa.


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