ORIGIN OF CACAO
Cacao was already cultivated by the Mayas for more than 2500 years.
The Aztec learned of the Mayan the cultivation and use of cacao. The cacao was called “cacahuat”; the aromatic beverage obtained from its fruits was called “xocolatl”. Back then, the “xocolatl” was appreciated as a restorative that gave strength and woke up sexual appetite.
In the Empire Aztec, Moctezuma received part of their taxes in cacao seeds, because their seeds were used as coins. As a beverage, Moctezuma received annually 400,000 countles, equivalent to 160 million cacao berries, useful for 50 daily cups of chocolate, for personal consumption.
Cacao seeds were also used as coins, habit that lasted long after the Spanish colonization. In fact, Hernan Cortes paid his soldiers with cacao.
Cacao was used as currency in ancient Mesoamerica:
In several rural places of Mexico, still used the unit zontle as a unit for wood, firewood, fruits, etc. The load was the weight of cacao than a tlameme Indian could carry on his back. In the market, cacao usually valued from 60 to 80 grains for a Royal. Naturally, there were fluctuations according to the year’s harvest.
The largest ‘currency’ was a sack with 24,000 grains. Some of the “prices” were:
- 10 grains = 1 Rabbit
- 100 grains = 1 slave
It is curious the fact that cacao, a currency after all, wasfalsified. The story tells that the viceroy Antonio de Mendoza sent Carlos V, in 1537, samples of such forgery, consisting of shells from seeds of cacao emptied of their pulp and returned filled with beans from other genres or with mud.
In Mexico, cacao crops were scattered throughout the warm and hot areas of the country. From the province of Tabasco, to Michoacan, Colima, Chiapas and Campeche.
The most appreciated cacaos were from the provinces of Tabasco and Soconusco, or Xoconocho, for its large, oleaginous seeds and good taste.
With the colonization of America, they began to introduce numerous American food in Europe, and already in the 16th century, began to be known the drink made from cacao, restricted only to the aristocratic elite.
HOW WAS CHOCOLATE MADE?
Molding of roasted cacao beans produces a dark, bitter and oily paste that is pure chocolate. Liquefied by heat, sweetened and flavored with vanilla, it was like the Aztecs were taking it. Europeans used sugar to sweeten and cinnamon for flavoring.
FROM CACAO TO CHOCOLATE
The beans or seeds from the cacao pods must go through the process of fermented, dried, cleaning, husked, roasted and ground, after what is obtains the Pasta or cacao liquor. This paste is then pressed for cacao butter, which is the natural slightly yellow fat of the cacao. With what is left in the press, usually called “torta de cacao”, the cocoa (cacao powder) is obtained.
There are different varieties of cacao, although traditionally are considered as the main 3: Creole, the Forastero and the Trinitarian (hybrid). Each of them has different acidity and flavours:
Criollo cacao is a high quality cacao, with little tannin and reserved for the development of the finest chocolates. It represents the 10% of the world production, as a maximum.
The Forastero is the most cultivated. It´s a normal cacao, with much tannin, that requires a higher toasting. So many chocolates have certain aromas and burnt tastes.
The Trinitario cacao belongs to the hybrids. I.e., it is a crossbreed between the 2 previous varieties. Quality is similar to the Forastero, however it has a delicate flavor, closest to the Criollo cacao.
PROPERTIES OF THE CACAO
The cacao seeds has 1,200 identified chemical compounds, making it one of the most complex food substances.
Cacao contains PHENYLETHYLAMINE (of the family of amphetamines) compound attributed with anti-depressant qualities and possibilities of reducing stress. The presence of alkaloids like THEOBROMINE, is a stimulant of the nervous system (similar to caffeine). Eating chocolate can stimulate brain functions because it contains stimulation substances like phenylethylamine and Theobromine.
Chocolate and all its derivatives are rich in POLYPHENOLS, compounds that help prevent oxidation of cholesterol and have been related to the prevention of cardiovascular disorders and stimulation of the body’s defenses. It also contains FLAVONOIDS which have antioxidant properties. It also contains vitamin P which helps to strengthen capillaries and blood vessels.
Chocolate is very rich in minerals such as potassium, phosphorus and magnesium, carbohydrates, fats, proteins and essential nutrients that provide energy to the body.
Fats provided by chocolate come from cacao butter which contains a large proportion of stearic acid; an acid saturated fatty that do not increase the cholesterol level in the blood. It is said that
two tablespoons or 20grs of dark chocolate (bitter) a day, have the same benefit that an aspirin to reduce the clotting of the blood and prevent heart attacks.
The agave is created from the liquid sap that is obtained from the inside of the “penca”.
This first extraction is called mead and is consumed by the natives as a natural refreshing and fortifying drink
From the land of Totonacapan in Veracruz, vanilla has led its flavor and aroma to the world.
The Aztecs used vanilla to flavor xocolatl prepared with vanilla and cacao.
In any region of the world, salt has always been necessary for human survival.
The mexican Lords and their hegemonic cultures as the maya and the Aztec used the salt for their political intentions.