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mikey

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The Rich Heritage of the Cocoa Bean
« on: January 11, 2009, 03:41:40 PM »
The Rich Heritage of the Cocoa Bean
Origins in the New World

Cocoa beans were an important part of ancient South American cultures. The Mayans created a ritual beverage made from the ground cocoa beans mixed with water, black pepper, vanilla and spices. The beverage was shared during betrothal and marriage ceremonies, providing one of the first links we know of between chocolate and romance.

Cocoa beans also served as money in South American civilizations and were only consumed as they wore out. A horse, ancient records show, could be purchased for ten beans.

For nearly a hundred years after the Spaniards discovered chocolatl, the coveted drink of New World inhabitants, they kept the secret of its production to themselves. In the same years as Shakespeare wrote his final plays, the missionary and theologian José de Acosta, wrote from Lima, Peru, of cocoa, “It is so much esteemed among the Indians (yea, among the Spaniards), that it is one of the richest and the greatest traffickes of New Spain.”

Chocolate Goes Mainstream

After a century, Spain lost its monopoly on the European chocolate market. By the mid-1600s, the drink made from the little brown beans had gained widespread popularity in France. It was praised as a delicious, health-giving food enjoyed by the wealthy. One enterprising Frenchman opened the first hot chocolate shop in London and by the 1700s, these “chocolate houses” were a common sight in England.

By the 18th century, every country, from England to Austria, was producing confections from the fruit of the cocoa tree, called in Latin Theobroma Cacao. That name tells us a lot about cocoa’s place in our culture—translated literally, theobroma means “food of the gods.”

The introduction of the steam engine during this century mechanized cocoa bean grinding, reducing production costs and making chocolate affordable to all.

Chocolate Today

Today, people around the world enjoy chocolate in thousands of different forms, consuming more than 3 million tons of cocoa beans annually. Each country still has its own preferences and distinctive blends for candy and desserts— think of German chocolate cake, Swiss cocoa, and French chocolate truffles. Even the brands are blended differently for different consumers: try a particular chocolate from Europe, and then the same chocolate made for the American market.

Throughout its evolution, from the first bitter beverage to the thousands of different ways chocolate is enjoyed today, one thing has remained constant—chocolate has never lacked an avid following of people who love the “food of the gods.”


 

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