FIRST USES OF CACAO When and how exactly chocolate made its debut in the food world is unclear.
However, choolate’s origins do go back as far as 450 BC. Cacao trees, the fruit which contains pods with approximately 35 cacao seeds and is used to make chocolate, are native to Central and South America.
Hence, it was abundantly cultivated and used in Mesoamerica (a historical region between modern-day central Mexico and northern Costa Rica), historically. The Olmec civilization from Mesoamerica is said to have used cacao, either in the form of cacao beans or the pulp of the cacao pod, to make a ceremonial drink. Evidence shows that cacao may have been fermented here, to create an alcoholic beverage in the years of 1400 BC. Traces of theobromine found in intricately made bowls led archeologists to believe that cacao may have been a luxurious commodity, only afforded by the wealthy in Mesoamerica. In ancient Guatemala, Mayans also consumed cacao. It was considered sacred and often identified with gods and deities. Cacao is said to have been more common of a commodity with Mayans than it was in Olmecs. Cacao was accessible to the everyday person and may have been consumed with meals daily. Mayans prepared chocolate as a drink, by mixing cacao paste made out of roasted cacao seeds with chilli peppers, water and honey. It was then made frothy by pouring the fluid between two containers repeatedly. Mayans also used cacao as a form of currency to buy a variety of products and services. When the Aztec Empire took power over a portion of Mesoamerica, they too continued to enjoy chocolate. Cacao was believed to be gifted by their gods, particularly a god named Quetzalcoatl, who was believed to be deplored by other gods for sharing the sacred substance with humans. Aztecs are said to have taken it either hot or cold, prepared by adding spices, flowers and vanilla pods. Cacao was a delicacy reserved for those with a higher status in the Aztec empire, while the average person enjoyed it during special occasions and festivities. It was also consumed as an aphrodisiac and some rulers gave their cacao to their soldiers.
CHOCOLATE’S APPEARANCE IN EUROPE Chocolate didn’t make its appearance in European households until the 1500s. It is said that Christopher Columbus, during one of his voyages to America, brought back some cacao beans to Spain around 1502. Hernan Cortes, a Spanish conquistador, wrote about his observations of the consumption of chocolate by the Aztecs. Sun Dried Cacao Thereby, by the end of the 16th century, chocolate was admired by the Spanish. The French and the Italians also learnt about chocolate during their trips to Central America and brought it back to their lands. With the demand for chocolate beginning to increase, soon there were chocolate plantations around Europe where its production was the work of slaves. People in Europe prepared chocolate concoctions in ways that better suited their palate, by modifying the original recipes created by the Aztecs. Sugar, cinnamon and other flavours were added to make hot chocolate.
CHOCOLATE’S EVOLUTION IN AMERICA Chocolate was first introduced to modern-day America in the 1600s. By the 1700s, cocoa beans had become a common colony import from Spain, used and loved by most Am
ericans alike. Chocolate was even used as a ration and as a form of remuneration to soldiers. Chocolate went through a series of transformations. Many of the major chocolate companies revered today, played a vital role in its revolution: Henri Nestlé contributed to the creation of milk chocolate, Rudolph Lindt helped enhance the taste of chocolate, the company Cadbury became a coveted chocolate box producer in the UK and Hershey’s chocolate-coated caramels were gaining popularity in America. Like so, chocolate went from its original form of consumption being mostly a drink to a solid food item. Chocolate, which was mostly affordable by the higher classes soon became cheaper and more accessible to people from the middle class and was manufactured across the globe, including in Asia and Africa. Today, the vast majority of the world’s cocoa comes from Western Africa.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF RAW CACAO AND CACAO PASTE Chocolate Truffles From The Fall Collection
Chocolate may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think “healthy”. Despite the latest iteration being known as a sweet, indulgent snack, chocolate in its rawest form has a plethora of health benefits. An easy and delicious way of enjoying the benefits of cacao is through cacao paste. It is made by fermenting cacao seeds for up to a week, then sun-drying them for a few days, to ultimately grind them into a smooth liquid-like paste. Hence, cacao paste is not processed in any way, has zero added sugar and perfectly preserves all the nutrients of its rawest form. Due to no milk being added – as it is to standard store-bought chocolate, cacao paste (or raw cacao powder) is completely plant-based.
Cacao is rich in antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be helpful in boosting the immunity system. Moreover, quite surprisingly, it can help regulate your weight thanks to its ability to regulate your body’s energy use and reduce appetite. Due to its caffeine content, it can help boost your energy too. Moreover, possibly due to the presence of flavanols in cocoa, some studies show that it can help improve moods and reduce stress. These flavonoids may also aid in dilating blood vessels and arteries, which can help regulate blood pressure levels and contribute to reduced chances of heart attacks and stroke. Cocoa is also rich in polyphenols, which can help improve brain function and blood flow to the brain.
To truly prove how you can stay healthy while still indulging in chocolate, here is a flavour-packed, delicious truffle recipe that’s completely raw, gluten-free and Raw Vegan Chocolate Truffle.