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Global Passport: Soconusco, Chiapas, Mexico

Global Passport: Soconusco, Chiapas, Mexico

Although chocolate may conjure images of the famed chocolatiers of France and Belgium, these are a great distance from cacao’s ancient origins. Indeed, cacao’s story begins thousands of years in our past, in the land of Mesoamerica, in the heart of modern day Mexico.

Between the Nineteenth and Fifteenth Centuries B.C. in southern Mexico (including Chiapas, where this month’s chocolate originates), the Olmecs were the first to domesticate, ferment, roast, and grind cacao beans for drinks and gruels. Cacao’s first use was a ceremonial one, and for medicinal purposes. The Olmecs, as one of the first great civilizations of Mesoamerica, developed numerous cultural and religious traditions that were later used by the Mayans, Aztecs and other civilizations of the region. Not the least of which was cacao…

Centuries later in 600 B.C., the chocolate narrative spread to the Mayans, the famed civilization of the Yucatán Peninsula that revered chocolate as the drink of the gods. Cacao was an inextricable component to Mayan culture and identity, utilized as a sacred food, sign of prestige, a social centerpiece, and even as currency. Mayans followed a similar cacao regime as we do today: they removed the beans from the pod, fermented the beans in containers, laid them out to dry, and then ground them. Thereafter, they added liquid and chile peppers to produce a thick, bitter, and frothy beverage. To round out this profile, the Mayans did not use sugar, but instead added vanilla, cornmeal, and magnolia, among other ingredients. In fact, the word chocolate may be derived from the Mayan word “xocolatl,” meaning “bitter water.”

If the Mayans loved chocolate, the Aztecs, the last great civilization of Mesoamerica, were obsessed with it. They believed that the vibrant colored “Xocatl” tree was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl, who had been condemned by the other gods for sharing chocolate with humans. What’s wrong with sharing with humans?? The Aztecs enjoyed chocolate as a refreshing beverage, an aphrodisiac, and even to prepare for war. It is indisputable that no one enjoyed the frothy ancient beverage more than the Aztec Emperor Montezuma, who consumed it at a staggering pace of 50 jars per day. Benevolently, he spread the chocolate love, offering thousands of pitchers per day for members of his household and for his army before and after battle. He even kept a storage room full of beans that he acquired through trade, tax, and military conquests. Now that is a guy we need on our subscription list!

Spanish conquistadors eventually brought chocolate from Mesoamerica to Europe, where it flourished and turned into a global commodity. However, it is in the heart of ancient Mexico and Central America does cacao find its truest identity. This month, we tip our cap to cacao’s most ancient origins with our Mexico Chiapas bar! This bar explodes with juicy cranberry, raspberry, and Marion berry, followed by earthy flavors, fresh tobacco, and peanut. Acidity, sweetness, and bitterness share the show in this excellently-balanced bar. From start to finish, the Mexico bar is one of our favorites!

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