Chocolate: Food of the Gods

Publication Year: 
1984

Linnaeus - you who brought order out of botanical chaos-- a million chocolate lovers salute you. You spent much of your 18th-century life methodically renaming the world's plants, but when you faced the cacao tree, the source of chocolate, detachment suddenly gave way to a burst of lyricism.
You gave cacao the gorgeous name of Theobroma--"food of the gods."
And why not? Long before your time the beans of that equatorial tree nourished imagination and body.
Cacao, as rich in history as in flavour, is said to have originated in the Amazon or Orinoco basin at least 4,000 years ago. Christopher Columbus, in 1502, was the first European to run across the beans, on his fourth voyage to the New World, but he virtually ignored them.
Two decades later Hernán Cortés sipped the bitter, spicy beverage, and when he returned to Spain in 1578, he took some of the wondrous beans back to his king, Charles V.
He was a man with his eye on a golden doubloon, this Cortés, much impressed by the fact that cacao beans were used as Aztec currency (about a hundred beans would buy a slave.) So when the Spaniards left the Aztec empire, they took cacao beans with them, seedling "money plantations" on Trinidad, Haiti, and the West African island of Fernando Po, now Bioko. Later one pod was brought from that island to the mainland; from it grew the huge cacao trade now dominated by four West African nations.
The Spanish then added water and cane sugar (another New World import) and heated the brew. Soon chocolate was a favoured drink of Spain's nobility. Meanwhile, British and Dutch sea raiders were dumping "worthless" bags of the cacao beans off captured Spanish ships.
The money plantations of Cortés gave imperial Spain a virtual monopoly of the cacao bean market for almost a century. Still, the sweet reputation of the drink began to drift throughout Europe.

- Text from Chocolate: Food of the Gods, National Geographic 1984, Young, Gordon
- Image from; http://www.eyeonspain.com/blogs/iwonderwhy/12401/The-divine-food-of-Empe...

chocolate, aztec
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