Chocolate is made from the ground beans of the cacao fruit, native to pre-Columban Latin America. There it was used in rituals and as cash – 100 beans could buy you a good sized turkey – also native to the region. Nervous victims of human sacrifice would be given a drink of the beverage then known as xocoatl, an unpleasant quaff, to European sensibilities. Italian traveler Giralomo Benzoni with the drink declared it fit only for pigs. Jesuit writer Jose de Acosta said that no one would like the drink if they hadn’t grown up with it, and expressed horror at the foamy top layer with “bubbles like feces.”
Legend creditted the snake-god Quetzalcoatl with giving chocolate to humans, for which the other gods punished him. He broke the rule that it was the exclusively food of the gods, hence its technical name Theobroma Cacao.
My own introduction to real chocolate, made from a traditionally pressed, theobromine-rich tablea at a restaurant on West Avenue, Quezon City, resulted in my brain gently floating towards the ceiling. It was mildly narcotic and very different to the beverage made with mere chocolate powder.
No wonder it was considered food of the gods.
When and how it reached Spain is unclear but occurred sometime between Columbus’s arrival in the America in 1502 and the visit by Guatamalan royalty at the Spanish court in 15441.
Spiced and honey-sweetened to make it more acceptable to European tastes, chocolate took Europe by storm.
It was in 1565, with the colonisation of what was to become the Philippine islands and the establishment of the Manila-Acapulco Galleons, that chocolate from Guayaquil, in the form of cacao beans arrived in South East Asia2. Initially, it was expensive and only for the elite and the friar missionaries, except for the Dominican order, which arrived in 1587, who were forbidden to drink it until it became so common it was regarded as a necessity to daily life.
It would be decades before the plant itself was grown in the archipelago and the fame of Philippine-grown chocolate grew its reputation for excellence.
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2 Mejia, Javier. (2019). The Economics of the Manila Galleon. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0839/1b0f79e07927148b269cf1602cfe77d3f0f9.pdf