An age-old obsession 1

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* Confectionery history has a record of at least 4,000 years, when Egyptians displayed their pleasures on papyrus. Sweetmeats were being sold in the marketplace in 1566 BC. Yet chocolate didn't appear on the scene until the ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures discovered the value of the cacao plant. It is reputed to have originated in the Amazon or Orinoco basin.

* In 600 A.D. the Mayans migrated into the northern regions of South America, establishing the earliest known cocoa plantations in the Yucatan.

It has been argued that the Mayans had been familiar with cocoa several centuries prior to this date. They considered it a valuable commodity, used both as a means of payment and as units of calculation.

* Mayans and Aztecs took beans from the "cacao" tree and made a drink they called "xocoatl." Aztec Indian legend held that cacao seeds had been brought from Paradise and that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the cacao tree.

* Ancient chronicles report that the Aztecs, believing that the god Quetzalcoatl traveled to earth on a beam of the Morning Star with a cacao tree from Paradise, took his offering to the people. They learned from Quetzalcoatl how to roast and grind the cacao seeds, making a nourishing paste that could be dissolved in water. They added spices and called this drink "chocolatl," or bitter-water, and believed it brought universal wisdom and knowledge.

* The word "chocolate" is said to derive from the Mayan "xocoatl"; cocoa from the Aztec "cacahuatl." The Mexican Indian word "chocolate" comes from a combination of the terms choco ("foam") and atl ("water"); early chocolate was only consumed in beverage form. As part of a ritual in twelfth-century Mesoamerican marriages, a mug of the frothy chocolate was shared.

* Arthur W. Knapp, author of The Cocoa and Chocolate Industry (Pitman, 1923) points out that if we believe Mexican mythology, "chocolate was consumed by the Gods in Paradise, and the seed of cocoa was conveyed to man as a special blessing by the God of the Air."

* Ancient Mexicans believed that Tonacatecutli, the goddess of food, and Calchiuhtlucue, the goddess of water, were guardian goddesses of cocoa.

Each year they performed human sacrifices for the goddesses, giving the victim cocoa at his last meal.

* Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) was dissatisfied with the word "cocoa," so renamed it "theobroma," Greek for "food of the gods."

* Christopher Columbus is said to have brought back cacao beans to King Ferdinand from his fourth visit to the New World, but they were overlooked in favor of the many other treasures he had found.

* Chocolate was first noted in 1519 when Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez visited the court of Emperor Montezuma of Mexico. American historian William Hickling's History of the Conquest of Mexico (1838) reports that Montezuma "took no other beverage than the chocolatl, a potation of chocolate, flavored with vanilla and spices, and so prepared as to be reduced to a froth of the consistency of honey, which gradually dissolved in the mouth and was taken cold." The fact that Montezuma consumed his "chocolatl" in goblets before entering his harem led to the belief that it was an aphrodisiac.

* In 1528 Cortez brought chocolate back from Mexico to the royal court of King Charles V. Monks, hidden away in Spanish monasteries, processed the cocoa beans and kept chocolate a secret for nearly a century. It made a profitable industry for Spain, which planted cocoa trees in its overseas colonies. * It took an Italian traveler, Antonio Carletti, to discover the chocolate treasure in 1606 and take it into other parts of Europe.

* "With the decline of Spain as a power, the secret of cacao leaked out at last, and the Spanish Crown's monopoly of the chocolate trade came to an end. In a few years the knowledge of it had spread through France, Italy, Germany, and England." (The Nestle Company, Inc., White Plains, New York, The History of Chocolate and Cocoa, p. 2.) * When the Spanish Princess Maria Theresa was betrothed to Louis XIV of France in 1615, she gave her fiancé an engagement gift of chocolate, packaged in an elegantly ornate chest. Their marriage was symbolic of the marriage of chocolate in the Spanish-Franco culture.

* The first chocolate house was reputedly opened in London in 1657 by a Frenchman. Costing 10 to 15 shillings per pound, chocolate was considered a

beverage for the elite class. Sixteenth-century Spanish historian Oviedo noted: "None but the rich and noble could afford to drink chocolatl as it was literally drinking money. Cocoa passed currency as money among all nations; thus a rabbit in Nicaragua sold for 10 cocoa nibs, and 100 of these seeds could buy a tolerably good slave." Submitted By CHARLENE DEERING On 03-13-95

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