The Spanish Language Blog

Chocolate, which is said to be 4,000 years old and dates back to the pre-historic "Theobroma" cacao tree from the tropical rainforests of South America, has not always been the globally beloved, sweet treat of modern times. Rather, it was a bitter, yet luxurious beverage consumed exclusively by wealthy members of the communities of the ancient Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs. The history of chocolate is unknown to many, such as the fact that thanks to the voyages of Spanish settlers in the 15th and 16th centuries, mass-valued cocoa beans were brought to Europe. This was initially developed as a hot Spanish drink with a sweet taste and gradually evolved into the delectable refreshment consumed by millions worldwide today.

  • Cocoa beans used to be used as currency, people even paid their taxes with them.
  • Golden cups from which the chocolate drink was consumed were discarded after only the first use to continue to honor the value of the drink.
  • Thanks to the Spanish colonists, chocolate is now available worldwide and popular everywhere.

The History of Chocolate

Both the Maya and the Aztecs considered these cacao beans to be very valuable. Consequently, they were used as a form of currency among both communities, and the Aztecs even paid taxes to their emperors in the form of these seemingly incredibly valuable beans.

Although chocolate, or rather the cocoa beans used to make chocolate, are usually considered a consumer good, it took on a significantly larger role among the Maya and Aztecs. Not only were the beans used as currency, they had been given divine powers by the gods of the first inhabitants of Latin America, who used them in religious rituals. As a sign of love for the divine creation of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, the beans were exchanged between bride and groom during Mayan wedding ceremonies. In fact, the Aztec god supposedly came from heaven to recover the stolen cacao tree from paradise. The beans were sincerely treasured by the two pre-Colombian civilizations.

In addition to their financial and religious functions, however, the beans were also used in the more commonly known ways. The beans were the main ingredient in a thick, cold, unsweetened drink and produced a chocolate drink that was considered so valuable that the ancient elite, who were privileged enough to drink it, threw away the golden cups from which it was drunk after only the first use.

The many, and sometimes bizarre, ways of using chocolate also continued in Spain in the 16th century. According to Spanish colonist Hernán Cortes, chocolate was primarily intended as medicine. Chocolate was a highly valued remedy for curing the sick; it was prescribed for patients suffering from fever, indigestion and general, physical pain. The Spanish clergy recognized the nutritional value of chocolate, as it was recommended as a supplement during fasting. However, the Spanish aristocracy was not pleased that the sick could enjoy the rich chocolate drinks and, like the Aztec emperors before them, took great pleasure in their privilege of being able to consume newly-sweetened, sugarcane-based, rich beverages.

Chocolate in Spain

When it was finally seen as a food item in the 19th century, courtesy of the culinary expertise of Englishman Joseph Fry, pieces of chocolate gradually began to spread. Chocolate in Spain, however, is still best known in the liquid forms churros y chocolate and chocolate caliente. Tasting the taste of Spanish chocolate remains a popular tourist activity. Had the Spanish colonists not accidentally discovered chocolate more than 5 centuries ago, this delectable product might have remained a Latin American secret forever.

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