Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cocoa/Cacao/Chocolate: For Lovers

Happy Xocolātl Day!!!
The Earliest Love Potion

The earliest known potion associated with love was xocolātl or chocolate used by the Maya of Central America. Since the 19th century, February 14th has been popularized (beginning in England) with chocolate as an addition with a handmade card for St. Valentine's Day. The earliest Valentine was a Christian martyred by the Romans. After the 2nd Century AD, there were various revered male Valentines, some who gained sainthood.

Xocolātl (pronounced “shock-o-lat”), a Nahuatl word from the Mexica (Mé-she-kah or Aztec) of Mexico, meaning “bitter water”. Cocoa (ko-ko) 1. From the Nahuat (Aztec) word cacahuat  or cacao  seeds. 2. From the Mayan word cacahuaqucht  the “cacao tree”. 3. A variant of cacao. 4. A small tropical American evergreen tree cultivated for its seeds, the source of cocoa and chocolate. 5. The fruit or seeds of this tree. 6. A powder made from dried, roasted and ground seeds. 7. A color.
Chocolate (chok-ko-late) 1. From the Nahuat word tchocoat  “bitter water”. 2. A food prepared from the roasted, ground cacao beans. 3. A blood-red Aztec beverage made with ground cocoa beans, water, peppers, musk, honey, vanilla, and annato./achiote  4. A beverage of chocolate boiled in sugar-sweetened water, with milk or coconut milk added. 5. A candy or sweet with chocolate coating.Also:  6. A brownish gray color

The cocoa or cacao tree originated in the South American homeland of the ancestors of the Taino, the Amazon or Orinoco basins. The plant also grew wild in the rain forest of the Yucatan Peninsula of Central America. Its benefits have been appreciated for over 4,000 years also by the Maya who cleared land to establish the first known cocoa plantations. The Maya considered it an important item in their society. Cocoa beans were given as gifts at a child’s comming of age observance and in religeous ceremomies. Cocoa beans were used as food and money. For example, the rate of exchange of goods were as follows: A pumpkin was worth 4 cocoa beans, 10 for a rabbit, 12 for a courtisan  and 100 for a slave. Maya merchants traded cloth, jade and ceremonial feathers for cocoa beans. The Maya considered cacahuaqucht (the cacao plant) to be the tree of the gods. [1] “Ek Chuah, the mercghant god, was closely linked with cocoa and the fruits were used in festivals in honor of this god”. Their reverence for cocoa  was passed on to the Toltecs and Mexica (Mé-she-kah, or Aztecs).

In Mexica mythology the god Quetzelcoat, the Feathered Serpent, was the creator of the forest and the sacred cocoa tree. Cocoa beans were considered an aphrodisiac (a concept still ascribed to chocolate) and the tree was believed to bring fortune and strength. In Mexico , Hernan Cortez was greeted with mountains of cocoa beans instead of gold. Cocoa was ceremoniously used by the Mexica (Aztecs) and it was given as a drink by the Emperor Motezhuma’s servants to Cortez in 1519. Because of a Mexica prophecy which coensided with Cortes’s arrival, Motezhuma mistakenly thought that the Spaniard might have been the returning creator of the cacao, the god Quetzalcoat. Tchocoat, from which the word “chocolate” came, was a prized drink made from the dried and crushed cacao beans mixed with [2] chili pepper, musk, honey, vanilla and annato or achiote (which made the thick drink a spiritually significant blood-red color). Hernan Cortez, who was not fond of the Maxica recipe, saw the commercial value of the cocoa bean and took a large amount to Spain. In Spain chocolate was combined with pepper, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon or mixed with beer or wine. Other Europeans used this Mexica recipe of vanilla mixed with cacoa but added sugar and cream to suit their tastebuds.

Although Columbus recorded seeing the beans in the Caribbean and took some back with him, not much was made of cocoa in Spain until Hernan Cortez re-introduced it into that country in 1527. This was eight years after Cortez took his armed force to the heartland of the Mexica.

In 1502 on a voyage in the Caribbean , which took him to the coastline of Central America, Columbus came across a large trading canoe off the coast of today’s Honduras . The canoe was loaded with copper axes and bells and great quantities of cocoa. Maya trade routes by sea took them further distances along the Yucatan’s Caribbean coast than the short distance across to the Taino island of Cuba . Although historians stated [3] that cocoa was grown in the southern Caribbean island of Trinidad during precolumbian times it is not yet certain if the Island Caribs or the Orinoco basin ancestors of the Tainos brought the plant to the other northern islands. The Tainos played the Central American rubber ball games which, like the cocoa bean, had ceremonial and religeous significance. It is likely that they were also very fameliar with cocoa.

The cocoa tree is a Tropical American plant which only grows in humid climates along the equatorial belt. The tree reaches a hight of 26 feet. Its foot long leaves start out as light rose colored and mature to a shiney, leathery gark green. The plant flowers continually and produces more abundant buds twice each year. An unusual aspect of the cocoa tree is that its flowers grow in clusters directly on the trunk and lower branches. The flowers vary in color from bright red to pink, white, and orange with pink. Each tree produces 30 to 40 pod-like fruits each year. The American football shaped pods attain a size of one foot in length and 2 ½ to 5 inches in width when mature. The smooth or lumpy surface of the pod hardens and may become scarlet, yellow or various shades of green. When opened the pod contains a sticky, tangy to the taste,  pink colored pulp which envelopes 30 to 40 pink or light purple seeds called beans. When harvested the cocoa beans must go through a series of processes before it can be turned into edible cocoa or chocolate.

There are about 20 varieties of cocoa trees which are divided into two classes. South America sill produces one class of fruit which is the best quality of cocoa beans. “Fine flavor” cocoas are produced by Ecuador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago , Grenada , Jamaica, Siri Lanka, Indonesia and Samoa. A second lower quality of cocoa, which was transported to Africa, is produced there mainly for commercial purposes.

Cocoa processing follows prescribed sequences. The seed coat and germ are removed from the edible segment called the “nib”. The bean must be fermented for 5 to 6 days, sun-dried, sorted, roasted, cracked (to remove the shell) before it is ground. The shell is sometimes used as a fertilizer, cattle feed or a substitute for coffee. The roasting process removes the bitter tasting tannin and determines the color and flavor of the bean. The use of the bean for cocoa powder or chocolate determines the length of the roasting time. The roasted bean is then ground into a sticky paste called chocolate mass or chocolate.
[1] Cadbury's Chocolate History and the Growing of Cocoa, http://www.
[1] The Visual Food Encyclopedia, p. 640
[1]  The Indigenous People of the Caribbean ,1997