Theobroma cacao

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"The Food of the Gods"





Think about this: Do you like chocolate? What kinds of chocolate-flavored things do you eat? Can you imagine a time when only rich people had chocolate? Who were the first people to use chocolate? How is chocolate made? After reading these articles, you will know a lot more about one of your favorite foods!

 1. Read article ONE "Chocolate History and Cocoa." ( Write short answers or definitions for:

a. the origins of chocolate

b. a much prized spicy drink

c. he brought the first cocoa beans back to Europe around 1503.

d. the explorer who first realized the commercial value of cocoa beans

2. Read article TWO "Cocoa and Maya Civilisation." ( )Write short answers or definitions for:

a. the Maya still live there

b. the date cocoa was "discovered"

c. wild cocoa trees grew there

d. chocolatl was made from these

e. other uses of cocoa beans (4)

f. number of cocoa beans needed to buy a rabbit.

3. Read article THREE "The Aztec Empire." (

Scan the article and write short answers or definitions for:

a. the name of the Aztec city

b. the description of chocolatl

c. How did the Aztecs obtain cocoa beans?

d. What is tribute?

e. the Aztec god particularly associated with cocoa beans

f. What did the ancient Indian myth say about this god?

g. Who did the Aztecs think that Cortes was?

4. Read the article FOUR "Don Cortes." (

A. Fill in the following paragraph.

"The voyage which led ______ to discover ______ and the ______ began in ______ when he set sail from _____ with ___ships and ___ men, all seeking fame and fortune in the _____ ______.Landing on the Mexican ______ near ________, he decided to make his way to______________ to see for himself the famed riches of the ________ __________ and _______ empire."

B. Complete the following:

1) Moctezuma served chocolatl in a _______ ________.

2) The Aztec civilization fell to Cortes in _______.

3) Cortes returned to Spain in_______.

4) Chocolate became a fashionable drink in Spain enjoyed by _______.

5. Read the article FIVE "Chocolate Across Europe." (

a. A Spanish version of the chocolate drink was devised by __________.

b. The Spanish version included ______, ______, ______, and omitted _____,

and was served ______.

c. The recipe was a closely guarded secret for a _____________.

d. Chocolate was established in 1606 in __________, in 1615 in __________,

in Holland during the _____ century, in 1646 in __________ and in the 1650's

in __________.

7. What new information about chocolate surprised or interested you the most?

 8. Which language connects the Aztec term chocolatl to the English word chocolate?

Article One "Chocolate History and Cocoa."

History of Chocolate

The origins of chocolate can be traced
back to the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations in Central America, who first enjoyed 'chocolatl'; a much-prized spicy drink made from roasted cocoa beans. Chocolate was exclusively for drinking until the early Victorian era, when a technique for making solid 'eating' chocolate was devised. Throughout its history, whether as a cocoa, a drinking chocolate beverage or confectionery treat, chocolate has been a much sought after food.

The story of cocoa begins with cocoa trees, which, for thousands of years, grew wild in the tropical  rain forests of the Amazon basin and other tropical areas in Central and South America. Hundreds of years before cocoa was brought to Europe, the Maya Indians and the Aztecs recognized the value of cocoa beans both as an ingredient for their special drink and as currency.

Article Two “Cocoa and Maya Civilization”

It was the Maya Indians, an ancient people whose descendants still live in Central America, who first discovered the delights of cocoa as long ago as 600 AD.

The Maya lived in the Yucatan Peninsula; a tropical area in what is now Southern Mexico, where cocoa trees grew wild. They harvested cocoa beans from the trees in the rain forest, then cleared areas of lowland forest to grow their own cocoa trees, in the first known cocoa plantations.

Chocolate was made from roasted cocoa beans, water and a little spice: and it was the most important use of cocoa beans, although they were also valued as a currency. An early explorer visiting Central America found that:

  • 4 cocoa beans could buy a pumpkin

  • 10 could buy a rabbit, 100 a slave.

Because cocoa beans were valuable, they were given as gifts on occasions such as a child's coming of age and at religious ceremonies. The Maya had complicated religious beliefs, with many gods. Ek Chuah, the merchant god, was closely linked with cocoa and cocoa fruits were used at festivals in his honor. Merchants often traded cocoa beans for other commodities, and for cloth, jade and ceremonial feathers.

Maya farmers transported their cocoa beans to market by canoe or in large baskets strapped to their backs. Wealthy merchants travelled further, employing porters, as there were no horses, pack animals or wheeled carts in Central America at that time. Some ventured as far as Mexico, the land of the Aztecs, introducing them to the much-prized cocoa beans.

Article Three “The Aztec Empire”

The Aztecs were an ancient nomadic people who founded a great city in the Valley of Mexico in 1325: Tenochtitlan. In 1521 this prosperous city and its culture were destroyed by the Spanish, who later rebuilt it and renamed it Mexico City.

'Chocolate' (in the form of a luxury drink) was consumed in large quantities by the Aztecs: the drink was described as 'finely ground, soft, foamy, reddish, bitter with chilli water, aromatic flowers, vanilla and wild bee honey'.

The dry climate meant the Aztecs were unable to grow cocoa trees, and had to obtain supplies of cocoa beans from 'tribute' or trade. ('Tribute' was a form of taxation paid by provinces conquered by the Aztecs in wars.)

By the time the Spanish invaded Mexico in the 16th century, the Aztecs had created a powerful empire, and their armies conquered Mexico. Tributes in the form of food, cloth and luxury items such as cocoa beans flowed into Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs were superstitious: they had many gods and believed that their world was constantly threatened by catastrophe. One god, Quetzalcoatl, creator god and provider of agriculture, was particularly associated with cocoa beans. Great temples were built to honor him in Tenochtitlan; Moctezuma, Emperor of Mexico and ruler of the Aztecs in the early 16th century particularly revered him.

Quetzalcoatl is further linked with the story of cocoa and chocolate. An old Mexican Indian myth explains that he was forced to leave the country by a chief god, but was lovingly remembered by his devoted worshippers, who hoped he would return. Until then they still had his legacy: the cocoa tree. When Don Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador, arrived in 1517 with his fleet of galleons, the Aztecs thought that he was Quetzalcoatl returning: they were soon to realize he was a cruel conqueror.

Article Four “Don Cortes”

The voyage which led Don Cortes to discover Mexico and the Aztec civilization began in 1517 when he set sail from Cuba with 11 ships and 600 men, all seeking fame and fortune in the 'New World'. Landing on the Mexican coast near Veracruz, he decided to make his way to Tenochtitlan to see for himself the famed riches of Emperor Moctezuma and the Aztec empire.

It was Moctezuma who introduced Don Cortes to his favorite drink, 'chocolatl' - served in a golden goblet. Moctezuma is said to have consumed several goblets of 'chocolatl' before entering his harem, leading to the mythical belief that it had aphrodisiac properties.

In May 1520 the Spanish attacked a peaceful Aztec festival and Moctezuma was killed: by July the Aztecs had forced the Spanish out of the city of Tenochtitlan. But after regaining their strength, the Spanish and their allies held the city siege for 75 days, and its fall marked the end of the Aztec civilisation.

Cortes was made Captain General and Governor of Mexico. When he returned to Spain in 1528 he loaded his galleons with cocoa beans and equipment for making the chocolate drink. Soon 'chocolate' became a fashionable drink enjoyed by the rich in Spain, but it took nearly a century for the news of cocoa and chocolate to spread across Europe, as the Spanish kept it a closely guarded secret.

Article Five “Chocolate Across Europe”

Christopher Columbus is said to have brought the first cocoa beans back to Europe from his fourth visit to the 'New World' between 1502 and 1504. However, the many other treasures on board his galleons were far more exciting, and the humble cocoa beans were neglected.

It was his fellow explorer, the Spanish Conquistador Don Hernan Cortes, who first realised the commercial value of the beans. He brought cocoa beans back to Spain in 1528 and gradually the custom of drinking chocolate spread across Europe, reaching England in the 1650s.

Once Don Cortes had provided the Spanish with a supply of cocoa beans and the equipment to make the chocolate drink, a Spanish version of the recipe was devised. Monks in monasteries, known for their pharmaceutical skills, were chosen to process the beans and perfect the drink to Spanish tastes.  Cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar were added, the chilli pepper was omitted and it was discovered that chocolate tasted even better served hot.

Cocoa beans were in short supply, so for nearly a century the special chocolate drink recipe was a closely guarded secret.

English and Dutch sailors, who found cocoa beans in the Spanish 'treasure' ships captured as they returned from the New World, failed to recognise their importance. The precious beans were thrown overboard by angry sailors reputed to have thought them 'sheep's droppings'.

An Italian traveller, Francesco Carletti, was the first to break the Spanish monopoly. He had visited Central America and seen how the Indians prepared the cocoa beans and how they made the drink, and by 1606 chocolate was well established in Italy.

The secret of chocolate was taken to France in 1615, when Anne, daughter of Philip II of Spain, married King Louis XIII of France. The French court enthusiastically adopted this new exotic drink, which was considered to have medicinal benefits as well as being a nourishing food.

The supply of cocoa beans to the French market greatly increased after 1684, when France conquered Cuba and Haiti and set up its own cocoa plantations there.

In the 17th century, the Dutch, who were great navigators, broke Spain's monopoly of cocoa when they captured Curacao. They not only brought cocoa beans from America to Holland, where cocoa was greatly acclaimed and recommended by doctors as a cure for almost every ailment, but also enabled the trade in cocoa beans to spread.
Chocolate probably reached Germany in 1646, brought back by visitors to Italy. The secret of the aromatic chocolate-flavoured drinks finally reached England from France in the 1650s when they became very popular at the court of King Charles II.

Up until this point all chocolate recipes were based on plain chocolate. It was an English doctor, Sir Hans Sloane, who - after travelling in South America - focused on cacao and food values, bringing a milk chocolate recipe back to England. The original Cadbury Milk Chocolate was prepared to his recipe.

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