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Mayan Chocolate

Jim Boxberger
Posted 2/24/23

  Last week I wrote about Mayan culture and a tour of a Melipona bee sanctuary and this week will be the chocolate portion of our tour with a visit to the Mayan Chocolate Company. Chocolate has …

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Garden Guru

Mayan Chocolate


 Last week I wrote about Mayan culture and a tour of a Melipona bee sanctuary and this week will be the chocolate portion of our tour with a visit to the Mayan Chocolate Company. Chocolate has been around for centuries and in Central America it has been around even longer with some records dating back to 1,500 B.C. 

Records and carvings found in excavations in Mexico City showed exchange rates for cocoa beans as early Mayan and Aztec cultures used cocoa beans as currency. Back in the day, five cocoa beans could buy you a chicken, thirty could buy a cow, one hundred beans for a slave and the list went on. 

Back then choclate was not eaten but rather it was turned into a drink. Not like hot chocolate we have today, but a bitter chocolate that was used mostly by the rich and powerful for ceremonies, weddings and such. Warriors were given this chocolate drink to prepare for battles and as reward for victory. As time went on and cocoa beans became more available to the masses and chocolate became even more popular and sought after. Families would make a simple chocolate paste by crushing cocoa nibs on a marble block, then adding a small amount of honey, allspice and paprika. The chocolate paste could be used as a spread by itself or added to other dishes. 

Our guide at the chocolate company made some of this paste right in front of us to try. It was not a typical Hershey's chocolate that was for sure. It was stronger, almost seventy percent cocoa, still slighty crunchy as not all of the nibs were crushed and the allspice and paprika added some unique flavors not found in American or European chocolate products. This type of chocolate is still being made today in Mayan kitchens throughout Central America. 

It wasn't until Spanish explorers came to Central America that chocolate was introduced to the world. At one point in history, there was an official exchange rate for cocoa beans and the Spanish Real (dollar). As Europe’s demand for chocolate grew, slave traders would bring Africans to Central America to work cocoa plantations. But in 1828, the introduction of the cocoa press, by Conrad Van Houghton of Amsterdam, increased demand for cocoa beans even more. 

As a result, huge cocoa plantations started in western Africa to profit from the greater demand and today western Africa supplies almost seventy percent of the world’s cocoa beans. 

Back in Central America, cocoa is still grown on small farms to provide local markets with cocoa beans for sale every day. Just like we may have an apple or cherry tree in the backyard for making pies or jam, families in Central America can have a cocoa tree in their backyard and produce delicious chocolate. And unlike our fruit that need to be preserved, cocoa beans can last years once they are roasted, just waiting for their time to be turned into some kind of delicious treat. 

The best part of our tour of course was the taste testing at the end, where they had twelve different types of chocolate for us to try. I tried most of the flavors, but our guide warned us about the chocolate mixed with chili and ghost peppers. My favorite ended up being a chocolate with coffee bean mixture that was like a smooth cup of coffee and hot cocoa at the same time. 

Cocoa beans have come a long way in the last thirty-five hundred years, and I learned so much more about the origins of chocolate and the important role it has played in history. Next week will be the last part of our tour, with a trip to a tequila distillery and the reason why Jose Cuervo is not your friend.


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