Chocolate: The Food of the Gods (Kristan Wilkins)
The great popularity in the saying, “life is like a box of chocolates,” comes from the mystery of the unknown and its correlation to certain views on life. Both the Mayan and Aztec civilizations took interest in their mysticism of chocolate as “food of the Gods” for gain or appeasement from the Gods. The invention of chocolate motivated and fueled religion and sacred beliefs that in turn create a valued economy based on cocoa beans and a huge trade network.
The history of chocolate began during the ancient Mayan civilization as early as 900 AD. The Mayans quickly realized that the cocoa pod beans from cacao trees could be harvested and made into a beverage. The word chocolate comes from the Mayan word xocolatl, which means “bitter water.” In the process of making xocolatl, you must first remove the cocoa beans from their pods to then ferment and dry out to ultimately come to roast. From there, the makers would remove the shells, grind the seeds and mix the paste with water, chili peppers, and cornmeal. The process of chocolate making would leave the product tasting bitter, from the lack of sugar.
In Mayan and Aztec cultures, chocolate drinks became integral in religious ceremonies and in various other occasions and transactions. Chocolate had a religious significance in its divine origin that became sacred in rituals of birth, marriage, and death. Many believed the cacao tree bridged the world of heaven and Earth. Therefore, human sacrifices became sacrifices of chocolate to appease their God. During the coming-of-age and marriage ceremonies, people drank cocoa beans under the belief that the god of learning, Quetzalcoatl, would give his wisdom.
It wouldn’t be long until civilizations incorporated cocoa beans as a means of currency, specifically for the Aztecs. They believe that cacao beans are given to them by the Gods and thus are considered more valuable than gold. Many classes in societies enjoyed cocoa beans, especially the people of the upper-class indulged in the special treat. Montezuma II, a ruler of the Aztecs, supposedly drank gallons of chocolate each day to boost energy. This kind of demand for cocoa beans produced a vast network of trade routes throughout the region. Following the Aztecs’ conquering of the Mayans, the Mayans were forced to pay “tributes,” or taxes, that could be paid using cocoa beans. Cocoa beans became so important that they were kept in locked boxes and even counterfeited.
The use of cocoa beans created a wide system of trade and currency in Mayan and Aztec societies under the basis of religious beliefs and practices. Under this guise, cocoa beans became valuable to the extent that it might be possible that money does grow on trees. Though chocolate does not have a use in terms of currency in today’s world, it is still enjoyed by almost all who consume it.
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