Sunday, March 16, 2014

Aztecs Love for Chocolate

Aztec Woman mixing Chocolate
Chocolate is hunted by many sweet lovers. Beneath the dark color of this sweet, it gives color to many children, lovers, and anyone from all walks of life. Chocolate came from a bean known as a cacao. Today, the largest producer of cocoa bean is the country of Cote D’Ivoire in Western Africa. Although the largest producer came from the African continent, its roots of chocolate that popularized cacao are not in the continent. The beginnings of chocolate is across the Atlantic Ocean, to America.

In the Central American region. A great empire rose and dominated the whole region. Many cities and tribes bowed to their domination. The Aztecs were feared by many. Because to stand against them, meant death. However, that death was not a death by simple slash of sword. Once defeated, the enemy is parade across the center of the empire - a manmade marvel, a floating city in the middle of Lake Texcoco, the city of Tenochtitlan. The Empire spread its grasps up to the nearby Mayan civilization. The Mayans had no choice but bow before the Aztecs. To foster peace with the Aztecs, the Mayans sent tributes to Tenochtitlan. Among the tributes given by the Mayans to the Aztecs were beans that don’t grow in the Mexico Valley, Beans that were treated by Aztecs like gold in Europe. The beans are known as cacao beans.

The cacao beans were seen by the Aztecs as a food of the Gods. They highly valued it and treated it as a precious commodity. It was said by the Aztec that the cacao beans were gifts from their God, Quetzalcoatl. It was brought down to mankind as a blessing. Quetzalcoatl taught the Aztec how to take care of it. Ever since then, they treated the cacao beans with respect and high value. It was so high valued that it was even made use to buy food and items from the market. It became virtually a currency for the Aztec Civilization. Because it was given by the Gods and it was scarce and therefore very precious, only the rich and powerful could acquire such beans. The more plenty of beans owned, the richer and higher the status of the person in society. So it was not surprise, that the most powerful man in the Aztec Empire, the Emperor, owned so much cacao beans. When the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortez arrived and took over the royal palace, they were shocked and baffled of the large amounts of cacao beans stored by their prisoner Emperor, Montezuma II.

The cacao beans serves also off course the purpose of being processed and be eaten or drank. In the Aztec civilization, wealthy and powerful Aztecs would drink a bitter tasting drink called xocoatl. It was not surprise that its taste matches its name because xocoatl meant bitter water. To make xocoatl, the seed inside the beans were processed. They dry them under the sun, pulverize it to make into powder. Then the cacao powder were formed or made into small cakes. This cakes could either be eaten, which in case in Aztec army, or mixed with water to make the xocoatl. To some Aztecs the bitter taste was not suiting, they decided to look for sweet ingredients that could make it taste bearable. Thus, they began adding sweeteners like honey and vanilla to go with their xocoatl. Some, however, wanted to spiced it up a little, so some began to add chilis and cinnamon to their xocoatl.

Drinking xocoatl, similar to the cacao beans, signify status in Aztec society. Drinking xocoatl could mean two things. First, the person was affluent. Royals and nobility could drink xocoatl because they have large amounts of cacao beans as said above. Emperor Montezuma II was said to have drank over 50 cups of xocoatl, perhaps knowing its aphrodisiac tendencies. The second meaning of drinking xocoatl could mean that you are meant to be sacrificed. Chocolate drinks were by priests to slave or prisoners of war before they climb up the pyramid and their heart to be taken out.

The cacao beans also meant highly for the Aztec religion. Besides xocoatl being given to the sacrifice, the cacao beans were highly associated with the human heart. The human heart was the center of the human sacrifice, being offered to the Aztec gods. The cacao beans could be associated with the human heart perhaps because of the similarity of the shape.

The cacao beans, played a vital role in the Aztec society. From religion, to the economy, to society, and to conquest, the cacao beans played role on Aztec lives. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, they brought the idea of xocoatl back to Europe and thus the start of the spread of it. Eventually, Europeans used the word xocoatl to form the present name of the product of the cacao bean – chocolate.

See Also: 
Dark Gift From Spain to France Louis XIV
Aztecs and Adultery

Bibliography:
Keoke, Emory Dean and Kay Marie Porterfield. Encyclopedia of American Indian Contribution to the World: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations. New York: Checkmark Books, 2003. 

Marty, Lisa. Ancient Aztecs.  USA: Milliken Publishing Company, 2006. Newall, Katherine. History 6. Dunstable: Folens Publisher, 2005. 

Van Tuerenhout, Dirk. The Aztecs: New Perspective. California: ABC - CLIO, Inc. 2005.

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