While we’ve already gone over wine and chocolate in some detail, for World Chocolate Day, we will look at a small window of the history of chocolate, specifically a time when chocolate was as good as gold.
A brief history:
Way, way back in the day, long before the time of Cameron Hughes, consumption, cultivation, and fermentation (yeah you read that right, Chocolate Wine! – not really, but it was fermented) of the cacao tree was in the going ons in Mesoamerica. It is believed that the sweet pulp encasing the bitter beans was possibly the first part of the plant to be consumed, before the value of the seeds, both as coin and culinary, was appreciated.
Now that we got that out of the way, show me the money!
It was believed amongst the Aztecs that cacao beans were a gift from their god of wind and wisdom, Quetzalcoatl, who in the god realm was punished for showing humans the delicacy. While their empire was vast and advanced, they could not grow cacao trees themselves, and thus were forced to import it. Well, import it is a way of saying it, really, the areas they conquered were forced to give it to them in tribute. From the demands and passings of cacao, the beans began to retain a value as currency. Writings from the Spanish conquistadors set the value of 100 bean as equal to a turkey or a canoe full of fresh water.
In these times, chocolate as we know it (candy, fudge, bars, squares) was not made.
Despite the high monetary value of the beans, they still ended their lives in human consumption. They were used largely for a chocolate drink, bitter, sometimes spiced, sometimes fermented, flowered, or even infused with vanilla bean. The Maya drank it warm, the Aztecs drank it cold. It was given as a part of the rations for the Aztec army, it held medicinal uses, was a Mayan wedding offering, and used as a ritualistic element in ceremonies.
We speak a lot about respecting your wine, winemakers, a respect and knowledge for the regions which it comes from, but it’d be incredibly hard (not entirely impossible) to go to a store and buy groceries whilst paying with a bottle of Screaming Eagle at checkout. Not going to happen. Not unless someone shares the same level of respect for the wine as you do that is. Now imagine trying to pay in chocolate bars. Seems like an action reserved for only the craziest of individuals. Think then how far the respect for chocolate has diminished culturally. Or, maybe one man’s crazy is another man’s gold?
Philosophical thoughts aside, respect the history, and enjoy some good ‘ol chocolate today!