Chocolate began in Mesoamerica, and was a sacred drink of the ancient peoples. Some historians trace the origins of chocolate to Belize, and call the country the “Cradle of Chocolate.”
The word “chocolate” is derived from the Maya world “Xocoatl” and was revered as the favored food of the Mayan gods. Cacao was believed to have numerous medicinal, spiritual, and aphrodisiacal properties, and cacao drinks were favored by the rich and elite class of both the Mayans and Aztecs. The cacao pods were so revered that they were even used as currency and as offerings for religious ceremonies of birth, marriage, and death.
Although now we associate chocolate with hard candy and truffles, for the majority of history, cacao was consumed as a drink. The Maya mixed it with ground corn, honey, and hot chili; and many other Mesoamerican cultures also favored a strong, bitter, and chili infused cacao drink.
The Maya prized a “head” on the top of their drinks, and would pour from a standing position into a vessel on the ground, creating air bubbles and the coveted foam. The cups they were poured into were symbols of wealth and rank, and the Mayan nobility’s cups were lavishly decorated.
After Cortes came to America and brought cacao (at first he disliked it, but after his men discovered that it was delicious when combined with sugar or honey) back to Europe, it became quite popular, and soon a high demand for cacao and sugar cane emerged in Europe.
Since that time the production of cacao has greatly increased, and now you can purchase chocolate in every continent in the world!
Although today most chocolate productions have been industrialized, there are still indigenous people that still farm, harvest, and make traditional cacao drinks and chocolate.
One of the draws of IZE Belize’s Blue Creek Rainforest Lodge is that we work with the local Maya people to show how chocolate production has been done for thousands of years. Our friendly staff and local guides are from Blue Creek Village, a settlement of Mopan and Kekchi Mayan descendants. They love sharing various parts of their culture with guests, among them chocolate production and jippa jappa weaving.