There is great popularity in the saying, “life is like a box of chocolates,” because of the mystery of the unknown and its correlation to views on life. This basis is seen in both Mayan and Aztec civilizations in their mysticism of chocolate as “food of the Gods” for gain or appeasement. The invention of chocolate was motivated and fueled by religion and sacred beliefs that would in turn create a valued economy based on cocoa beans and a huge trade network.
The history of chocolate is believed to have begun during the ancient Mayan civilization. They 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, there is a removal of cocoa beans from their pods to then ferment and dry out to ultimately come to roast. From there, they would remove the shells, grind the seeds and mix the paste with water, chili peppers, and cornmeal. This process would leave the product tasting bitter, from the lack of sugar.
In Mayan and Aztec cultures, chocolate drinks were used in religious ceremonies and in various other occasions and transactions. Chocolate had a religious significance in that it was a divine origin that was sacred in rituals of birth, marriage, and death. The cacao tree was believed to have been a bridge between the world of heaven and Earth. Therefore, human sacrifices were given in forms of chocolate to appease their God. During the coming-of-age and marriage ceremonies, cocoa beans were given to drink under the belief that the god of learning, Quetzalcoatl, would give his wisdom.
It wouldn’t be long until cocoa beans were incorporated as a means of currency for the Aztecs. They believed that cacao beans were given to them by the Gods and thus were considered more valuable than gold. Cocoa beans were enjoyable by all in the society, but was mostly an upper-class indulgence. 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 Aztec 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. It was under this guise that cocoa beans became valuable to the extent that one is lead to believe that money does grow on trees. Though chocolate isn’t used as a means of currency in today’s world, it is still a treat enjoyed by almost all who consume it.
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