Cacao comes from a rich history that stems from the Mesoamerican civilizations. We love cacao for a variety of reasons, but the history behind the famous bean helps us appreciate its value to the Mesoamerican culture before it became the chocolatey treat that we all know and love!
Where it all began
Mesoamerica encapsulates Latin America and a majority of South America. It is an ancient, historical region that consisted of civilizations that you might already be familiar with – the Olmecs, Maya, Izapan, Toltecs, Aztecs and the Incas. The oldest civilization, the Olmecs, were the first to enjoy cacao. In fact, the origin behind the word “cacao” comes from the Olmec word “kakawa”, which was used by them as early as 1000 BCE. .
It is difficult for historians to pin-point how exactly the Olmecs used cacao, but it is evident that they passed on their love and knowledge of cacao to the Maya civilization.
The Maya way
Image by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collections via https://collections.lacma.org/node/1903378
Cacao was viewed as a gift from the gods to Maya. The Popol Vuh, aka the oldest and sacred text of the Maya, even places cacao as an important part of the creation of the world.
According to this myth, cacao and maize (another highly revered staple of the Maya) comes from the “Sustenance Mountain”, which is believed to have aided in the creation of humans. Coming from the gods above, the Maya associate cacao with divine rulers and gods – especially in their iconography!
If you’ve ever been to an art museum, you may have seen images or artifacts that look like the vessel on the left. These cylindrical vessels were used by rulers to prepare and drink cacao!
The image portrayed on this particular vessel shows a ruler sitting on a throne, most likely about to partake of the cacao in front of him. This ceremonial drinking of the cacao by the ruler was a way to restore balance to the world and to the people.
Trading goods between civilizations were common and according to recent research published in Economic Anthropology, the value of cacao went beyond its religious use and even became a way of currency!Drinking cacao became a foundational use of the delicious bean that is still prepared by the Maya the same way that their ancestors did it. Hours of grinding fermented cacao beans until it becomes the right amount of frothiness is the traditional way that the Maya prepare it (who doesn’t love a good froth in their drink?). The ancient Mayans enjoyed their cacao raw and bitter! It wasn’t until the 15th century that cacao made its sweet way into the Western world.
From cacao to chocolate
The conquistadors of the 15th century brought cacao into the European countries. There are conflicting sides as to which conquistador discovered the cacao bean in the Mesoamerican regions and brought it to Spain, but nevertheless, the Spanish court became obsessed with cacao and they spiced their cacao drinks with cane sugar and spices. This sweetened drink, also known as our modern day hot chocolate, became a delectable treat!
The love for chocolate spread throughout Europe and ultimately became a delicate treat! The invention of the cocoa press expedited this process, creating cocoa powder that paved the way towards different chocolate creations. This led to the British chocolate company J.S Fry and Sons to create an edible chocolate bar in 1847. Over 50 years later, the United States followed suit with Milton Hershey’s invention of America’s favorite milk chocolate bar in 1900!
Now, you may be wondering: how did cacao evolve into cocoa? Our “Cacao vs Cocoa” article in our Education Center goes into great detail behind the differences between the two famous beans, so we’ll let you dive into the tasty details over there!
Cacao has come a long way from the ancient times to the modern day creation of chocolate. While we do love a good chocolate bar every once in a while, we appreciate the natural, traditional use and taste of cacao that maintains its high nutritional value.
Our Cacao + Morning Mushroom mix combines the energizing properties of cacao with an immunity boosting mushroom and superfood mix that will support your health in many different ways. You can mix with hot, steaming water and froth it up, just like the Maya! Check out our recipe page for delicious ideas to include cacao into your daily life.