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Mexico Began the World’s Love Affair with Chocolate

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Cocoa Pods Tabasco, Mexico
Credit: Keith Paulson-Thorp

Mexico began the world’s love affair with chocolate. Once it was known how to grow cacao and use it in many different ways – currency, delicious beverage and symbol of wealth – every village and town in Mexico was anxious to have it, plant it and take the best out of cacao in all its ways.

However, cacao or “Xocoatl” does not bloom in the Altiplano (plains in the center of Mexico) anymore, only in the lands where the luminous god spent his last moments on earth, now the States of Veracruz, Tabasco, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Chiapas.

Cacao was divided into different types according to order and size. Each had the same properties, however. The type of cacao that was preferably used to prepare the beverage was the smallest, known as “Cacao Humilde” (humble cocoa) or “Tlacacahuatl.”

The rest of the species was essentially used as a currency. Because of their enormous value, cocoa beans were stored in large amounts. For example, Emperor Moctezuma stored up to ninety-six million cocoa seeds in vessels so big that six men could not surround them. Such wealth inspired great greed among the conquerors and the storehouses were subject to great looting.

Sophie and Michael Coe are the writers of the book “La verdadera historia del chocolate” (“The True Story of Chocolate”). In their book, they take us through the adventures – in time and throughout the world – of the fruit of the gods: the fruit of Theobroma cacao, a name given to the plant that produces cocoa beans.

We can trace its origins back to the year 1500 BCE in the plains of the Gulf of Mexico. The Toltecas were the first to cultivate it and use it. After the Tolteca people, the Mayas cultivated cacao. They called it “Kakaw.” One of its main uses among the Mayas was at the funerals of the most important people. They brought the cacao mainly from Chiapas and sold or traded it with the people of Teotihuacán. At that time, its value was more than gold.

The most important growing and harvesting location in Chiapas was Xoconochco. Later, this zone was known as Soconusco. The cacao coming from this zone had the best quality in all of Mexico.

When cacao became known among the Aztecs they began using it as a currency and as a drink, which was reserved only for the royal class who were called the “Pochteca” (the merchants who traveled big distances), warriors and soldiers who were at war.

The Aztecs gave cacao a very profound meaning gastronomically and economically, which we can find in engravings made on vessels and hieroglyphs.

During the “Porfiriato” (the term used for the period when Porfirio Diaz was the president of Mexico), there was a golden era in Mexican confectionery. Following that, there was a long pause because of the Mexican Revolution. But in the 1920s, the production of chocolate began once more. It was served in the most sophisticated restaurants in Mexico City, like La Flor de Lis, Lady Baltimore and Sanborns, which it’s still open today.

Cacao is very environmentally-friendly and the tree is so domesticated that it requires both humans and monkeys for its reproduction. It is hard to cultivate and doesn’t provide much fruit. The best environment for its growth is in the humid tropical forests between the 20° latitudes in the shadows of bigger trees.

Currently, Mexico is the eighth largest cocoa producer in the world, behind the #1 producer Ivory Coast.

In Mexico, we have celebrated the consumption of chocolate each year, since 2010 with El Festival de Chocolate in Villahermosa, Tabasco. An event that you should go to if you are a chocolate lover. The festival usually takes place at the end of November.

We thank with all our heart, the courage of the god Quetzalcóatl for disobeying the rule of the gods to share with us this truly “fruit of the gods” for our joy and enjoyment.

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