Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Theobroma cacao - Cocoa - The Food of the Gods

Theobroma cacao - The Cocoa Tree, 
Here showing the Cacao pods, 
each pod contain between 20 and 40 cocoa beans 
photo by PJ 2011

I am going to describe cacao, also known as cocoa, from an aspect as a food of deep cultural, religious and medicinal origin in Mesoamerican culture. Cacao has been cultivated in Mesoamerica for almost 4000 years or perhaps even longer, though its origin is more likely to be from the Amazons. Some would even say the gods themselves were advanced aliens, extraterrestrials or ultra-terrestrial visitors.

The Mayans and the Olmec before them referred to cacao as kakaw, and their stories tell how it among other foods were brought from a mountain by the gods. It was believed in their mythology that the tree itself was thought to be first grown in the Garden of life, and its name literally means “Tree of the Gods”. The Aztecs had one ceremonial drink made of cacao called cacahuatl, meaning bitter water in nahuatl. This drink was only consumed by men as they thought it to be dangerous to women and children.

Cultivated Theobroma cacao The Cacao Tree Photo by PJ 2011

There was another drink made of cacao used by the Aztecs, which was spiced with vanilla, chili and honey. This drink was described to be used in curing black blood, something European scholars thought to mean depression, though I believe the Aztecs meant this more literally. The Aztecs had significant medical knowledge and herbal lore compared to the conquistadors and others in 16th century Europe. And with an extensive practice of blood sacrifice of theirs and other people’s blood, they knew how cacao could cure black blood, and I actually know one case where this was used in curing black blood caused by metabolic lactic acidosis.  (When My Life Flashed Before My Eyes)

Theobroma cacao - Close up of cocoa beans, Dry cacao beans was even used as currency by the Aztec.

The pulp of the Cacao pods is edible and one can make a sweet juice from it. On the other hand, how the cocoa bean was discovered to be a tasty and palatable food if fermented and processed in a complex chain is a mystery, unless one accepts the explanation that the Mesoamerican gods came down from the mountain and showed them how to make it into a food, which I have myself tasted the pulp and the raw beans and found the bean to taste horrible while the cacao pod pulp tasted good with fruity sweet taste.

Dark Hawaiian macadamia nut chocolates Photo by PJ 2011.

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