Mayan Chocolate: The Birth and Invention of Chocolate
Discover the true origin of your favorite dessert by diving into the history of Mayan chocolate!
Sweet, creamy, and delicious are all words you might associate with delectable chocolate. But, who invented chocolate and where did this delicious dessert come from?
To answer these questions, we have to go back to Antigua, Guatemala during the age of the Maya.
Read on to uncover the birthplace of chocolate, its importance in Mayan society, and the many uses of chocolate throughout history.
I also provide key chocolate vocabulary to help you prepare for your very own trip to the authentic ChocoMuseo!
The Birthplace of Chocolate
When you ask yourself who invented chocolate, Mayans might not be your first answer. Many people associate chocolate with European countries like Switzerland and Belgium. However, that sweet and delicious treat you love was actually first created in Mesoamerica!
Looking at the history of chocolate, Mayans and Aztecs were some of its first consumers.These empires covered modern-day Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, and Honduras. Archaeologists have uncovered cacao (the bean used to create chocolate) remains and vessels with cacao residue in these areas.
Cacao use can be dated as far back as 1500 BC!
Although the Aztecs and Mayans spanned throughout Latin America, Guatemala is the country with the title “the birthplace of chocolate.” This is because it housed the capital of the Mayan civilization: Tikal.
Additionally, with its numerous chocolate shops, a Chocomuseo, and cacao-filled pastries, it’s no surprise that tourists flock to Guatemala for a taste of this history.
Changes in Chocolate Over the Years
Mesoamerican chocolate was very different from the sweet and creamy treat of today! During the Mayan period, people usually consumed chocolate as a bitter and spicy drink. This is because rather than adding sugar, they added cornmeal and chillies to the cacao to get the spicy flavor. Not quite the same as a Hershey’s bar!
Was corn and chocolate important to the Mayans? The answer to this question is a resounding yes! These two foods were both highly symbolic and very useful for the Mayans. Maize was an essential food, and as a result, its growth symbolized the cycle of life. Cacao provided medicinal effects and was used in religious ceremonies. Eventually, maize and cacao became a significant culinary combination, one which is still enjoyed in modern Mexico.
Another key difference between the chocolate of today and of the past is health. People used to consume this chocolate drink for health and vitality rather than think of it as a forbidden dessert!
This comes from cacao’s ability to reduce blood pressure, boost energy, and treat ailments like respiratory issues. Today, however, chocolate doesn’t have the same health benefits due to modern changes in ingredients and production.
Chocolate and Its Mayan History
Mayans used chocolate for more than just eating! It was also an important symbol and key part of Mayan culture. Here are just some of the many uses of cacao during the Mayan civilization.
Status and Celebration
Cacao drinks had a close association with high status and special events. The elite (such as priests, nobles, royals, etc) had much easier access to chocolate drinks, and considered cacao the “food of the Gods”. Celebrations like initiation rites for young men, end of year parties, and marriages often included cacao beans or drinks.
Archaeologists have discovered many ancient Mayan artifacts decorated with paintings or etchings of cacao beans or people consuming cacao. They have also found vessels filled with cacao remains and statues of gods holding cacao seeds.
Food of the Gods
The Maya deemed chocolate the “Food of the Gods.” The Maya worshipped the cacao tree and cacao bean. They even had a chocolate goddess named Ixcacao who they prayed to for fertile land and successful harvests.
In addition to being called the “Food of the Gods,” cacao also became an integral part in many religious rituals. Chocolate sealed marriages or served as a dowry. Mayan brides and grooms exchanged the cacao drink as part of the ceremony. Mayans also anointed young children with ground cacao beans mixed with flowers during their baptismal rites.
Mayans filled the tombs of deceased Mayan rulers with cacao beans and vessels or utensils associated with cacao.
Similar to how Romans used salt for economic exchanges, cacao served for material functions in Mayan society. Mayans used cacao beans for chocolate currency, and the seeds were so valuable that they were even counterfeited!
How Did Mayans Make Hot Chocolate?
While chocolate bars are the most popular way to consume cacao today, the Mayans actually preferred to make cacao into a chocolatey drink! They often consumed it at the end of meals or during celebrations. When they wanted a sip of hot chocolate, Mayans didn’t have factories or machines they could turn to. Instead, they used the sun, grinding stones, and other resources that they had available to them.
There is another important distinction with regards to hot chocolate: ancient Mayans actually served it cold! It wasn’t until the 1500s, when the Europeans took the Mayan chocolate drink to their continent that they served it hot for the first time. This is also where it underwent its transformation from a spicy and bitter health drink to a creamy and sweet hot chocolate.
The first step in creating the Mayan chocolate drink was to harvest the seeds from cacao trees. The Mayans then fermented, dried, and roasted the beans. They could then remove the beans from their hard outer shells and grind them into a fine paste. Much of this process remains unchanged to this day!
The next step combines the cacao paste with water, cornmeal, chili peppers, and other spices or flavors to create a spicy and bitter mixture. Mayans would rapidly pour this mixture back and forth between two containers until it made a frothy foam on top. This signaled that the hot chocolate was ready to drink!
Guatemala’s Famous ChocoMuseo
Travel to Antigua, Guatemala and visit its authentic Chocomuseo for some of the best chocolate you will ever taste. This chocolate museum has everything from chocolate tours to creating your very own chocolate creations!
Prepare for your trip in just 5 short months with this Spanish Travel Guide!
See and touch real cacao beans and pods as staff detail the history behind this special seed at the free museum. By the end of the museum, you will have learned the entire process of making chocolate, from harvest to production.
Sign up for the Mini Chocolate Workshop for a short but sweet chocolate experience! This workshop is perfect if you have young kids since the quick timeframe will keep them engaged and excited. Walk away with your own personalized chocolate bar!
For a more in-depth experience, try the Bean to Bar Workshop where you’ll make chocolate straight from the cacao beans! You also get to prepare and taste authentic Mayan chocolate drinks.
Who doesn’t love free stuff? The Chocomuseo offers free chocolate and cacao tea samples that you can try. There is also a multitude of chocolate and cacao products available for purchase. Get your chocolate fix on everything from crepes and truffles to body creams and chapstick!
Now that you know about Mayan chocolate history, you can discuss your new knowledge with this tasty vocabulary list! Study up on even more yummy food vocabulary.
|cacao beans||los granos de cacao|
|dark chocolate||el chocolate oscuro|
|hot chocolate||el chocolate caliente|
|milk chocolate||el chocolate de leche|
|The Maya||Los Mayas|
Example Spanish Sentences
Los mayas inventaron el chocolate.
The Maya invented chocolate.
El chocolate oscuro es mi favorito.
Dark chocolate is my favorite.
¿Dónde se inventó el chocolate?
Where was chocolate invented?
Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Prepare yourself for an unforgettable trip to Antigua, Guatemala by signing up for a free Spanish class! Come visit Antigua’s stunning natural landscapes, its authentic Chocmuseo, and its rich Mayan history.
Our certified native speakers come directly from Guatemala so they will be able to teach you the most essential vocabulary and phrases. With over 20 Spanish speaking countries in the world, speaking this language opens up the door to numerous travel opportunities. Sign up for your free trial class today and explore the birthplace of chocolate!
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