Saturday, March 13, 2010


Chocolate is one of my favorite weaknesses or treats (depending on how you look at it), and I am not alone. It has long has been heralded as an aphrodisiac and is said to raise the serotonin levels in the body, thereby helping to chase away the blues. Dark chocolate has recently beenclassified as an antioxidant, meaning that it reduces the free radicals in the body.
That is certainly more than a mouthful to say of this gastric delight.
But, have you ever wondered how this pleasurable sweet came to be?
Dating back more than 2,000 years ago, to the time of theancient Aztecs and Mayans who occupied what is now Central America, chocolate was cherished even back then. The Mayans were the first to discover that they could make a frothy, slightly bitter, beverage from crushed cacao beans. This beverage was reserved for royalty, priests, and the highest levels of society. The Aztecs created a warm drink from the beans called chcoclatl, meaning "warm liquid," and they so valued cocoa beans that they used them as currency.

Christopher Columbus was the first to bring cacao beans back from the New World, but it was not until the conquistador, Hernando Cortez, actually tasted chocolatl in 1519 that the pleasures of chocolate were truly experienced by someone from the "civilized" western world. Cortez was the one to add sugar cane to the cocoa to soften the bitter taste.
And upon his return to Spain, he re-introduced the modified chocolate beverage to the Spanish court.
The drink was such a hit that it led to the agricultural production of cocoa beans in Jamaica, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru. Spanish monks were even pressed into service to process the beans, and a new agricultural industry was born. The joys of chocolate spread throughout Europe, and the rest is history! Today chocolate is a highly popular treat for all and is served in numerous forms.

So, the next time you indulge in a chocolicious treat, say a little thank you to the Aztecs and Mayans who discovered the first cacao beans and to Hernando Cortez who made it all possible.
You might also want to add a thank you to the scientists who have found all kinds of wonderful benefits to enjoying a chocolate treat.