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Monday, February 9, 2009

The Path of Chocolate: Raw Cacoa

Ahhh...chocolate. Almost everyone loves it. It makes us happy and blissed out; some may say it’s better than sex or an almost religious experience. Yet are we really eating the true, delicious chocolate? Where does it originate from? What path has chocolate taken from being discovered as a delicious drink used in cultural and religious rituals, to finding itself in stores across America wrapped in a little foil as one of the 80 million kisses that are made each day by Hershey’s?

While no one is sure as to when chocolate was first consumed by humans, the path to discovery looks a little something like this: Mesoamerican societies found that the pulp around cacao beans was edible. Some Mesoamerican archeologists believe that people were eating the pulp from the wild-growing South American cacao tree as early as 1500 B.C., but the Maya are the ones that discovered that the beans yielded...chocolate.

The Maya discovered that they could grind the beans into a powder. It was quite a long time before the solid form of chocolate was created. First, it was a delicious drink revered for its rich, unsweetened/bittersweet taste. The drink made by the Mayans was a mixture of ground cacao, spices, chilies, and water. It was not a common drink. At that time, cacao had a cultural and religious significance; it was used in religious and cultural ceremonies such as baptism, and was even used as medicine and currency. Cacao and cacao drink recipes written on pots have been found in burial vessels in Guatemala.

It is thought that Christopher Columbus was the first person to bring cacao to the Old World. First, it was kept a secret among the royal court, but eventually it started spreading. Then, during the Industrial Revolution, the first solid chocolate that you could actually eat, instead of drink, was born. Funny enough, no one knows who combined the melted fat that occurs in the cocoa beans with cocoa powder and sugar – but it changed the face of chocolate. In 1907 the Hershey’s kiss was born.

Today we find chocolate everywhere, usually made with milk instead of water, and filled with processed sugar. Unfortunately, milk coats the tongue and lessens the rich flavors. All is not lost, natural, unprocessed, raw cacao is making a huge comeback. While many think that the addition of spices and chilies is a new, delicious invention, it dates back to the Mayans and the original cacao drink.

Want to try some raw cacao for yourself? Check out these websites:

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