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Chocolate as the Perfect Gift – When Did it Start?

December 14, 2012

The ancient Mayans (250-900 C.E.) are the first to have discovered how delicious cacao beans were when fermented, roasted, ground into a paste, then mixed with other ingredients (the Mayans used chili peppers and cornmeal, among others) to create a spicy chocolate drink. Sugar was unknown in ancient times.

When the Aztecs conquered the Mesoamerican lands in the 1400s, they, too, became enamored with the great cacao bean, and required that the people they conquered pay their tribute in cacao seeds. The Aztecs favored cacao beans above gold, and the beans soon became the society’s form of money.

Since the Mayans and Aztecs also used cacao beans, and the chocolate drink made from them, as gifts to their gods in religious ceremonies, you could say that the practice of giving chocolate as a precious gift originated here.

Used as it was in their religion, the Mayans and Aztecs considered the cacao bean and the chocolate drink made from it to be sacred. For this reason only the elite of their societies were allowed the privilege of drinking the beverage. These included the rulers, priests, and decorated soldiers, with an honored merchant occasionally included.

Enter the Spanish Conquistadors, who marched across Mesoamerica beginning in the first part of the 16th Century. Cortez had been sent by the Spanish king to seek out the gold known to be heavily used by the Aztecs. So Cortez and his men were surprised to find that the Aztecs did not use gold as their form of money, but instead prized the lowly looking cacao bean.

After watching the Aztecs enjoying a chocolate drink, the Spaniards indulged, became fans, and started shipping cacao beans back to Spain, resulting in Europe’s first contact with chocolate. Interestingly, although Columbus actually brought cacao beans back to the Spanish court years earlier, the Spaniards had no idea what to do with them, and it was left to Cortez to learn from the Aztecs the rich secret of cacao.

Anytime you are looking for the perfect chocolate gift, the perfect answer is Mayasa  – it’s  not only delicious but healthy chocolate, too!

Image Credit: maya-aztec.com