“Do you like chocolate?”, somebody asks and suddenly you remember that sultry flavor and smile. “Of course I do”, you say. Well, then you should know that the best place to learn about chocolate is Mexico’s southeast region, where the Mayan developed their culture. The Mayan people were the first producers and consumers of Theobrama cacao, the meal of the gods, the sacred cocoa.
Cocoa’s history is similar to that of maize all over Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America): the farmers chose and planted the best seeds in order to enhance its quality, thereby giving them the best plants and the best fruits. Only the Mayan royalty were able to drink chocolate or kakaw. They used to blend the toasted cocoa seed with corn, chilli and local spices in order to get a spicy yet sour drink. Sometimes thy added psychotropic plants, so they could use it in rituals to talk with their gods and ancestors.
When the Spaniards came to America in the 16th century, the pre-Hispanic chocolate was transformed into a sweet and exotic delicacy thanks to the addition of cow’s milk and sugar. Chocolate crossed the ocean and quickly conquered the palates of European kings. It became the main excuse to meet in the afternoon. The Europeans reacted to chocolate in the same way that the Mayans did: they designed beautiful cups to enjoy this powerful and delicious drink. A new ritual was born around chocolate in the old continent.
From that point, along with vanilla and some other local fruits, chocolate became one of the biggest treasures from Mexico most desired by the rest of the world. The way in which chocolate was adapted by other cultures and incorporated into their culinary traditions gave it a worldwide personality. In the following centuries Africa became the main cocoa producer and it maintains that position to this day. Fifty percent of the world’s total production comes from that continent.
But Mexico still keeps a Mayan and Aztec secret: a very local kind of cocoa named “criollo”, which is considered the best of the world. Most of the “criollo” cocoa is produced in Tabasco state and exported to Europe. But when you visit the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan peninsula, you get your chance to taste this delicious dark treasure: the “criollo” cocoa transformed into delicious chocolate.
Chocolate is an important ingredient of pre-Hispanic history, it is not only a sweet legacy, it was sacred meal, a coin, and it even had a guardian god: Ek Chuak, who was also the trade god among the Mayan. Nowadays, all over the Yucatan peninsula and the Riviera Maya, local people are rediscovering this meal and providing visitors with a new way in which to learn about chocolate and enjoy it. Ask your tour guide during your 4WE private tour!