Chocolate, a commodity with a long history of cultivation around the world, has become one of the most popular indulgences of our time. The cacao bean has had a long history that extends back to the ancient civilizations, before the Spanish arrived in conquest of these areas. Ancient Aztecs believed that chocolate was the “food of the gods”, and was only consumed by kings.
Similar to wine, cacao beans develop certain flavors depending on the climate and soil that they are in. Over the years, many cultures have celebrated the various tastes of chocolate and have added their own spin to creating unique versions of this treat. For example, in Southeast Asia, chocolate sometimes exhibits a smoky, earthy flavor, due to being dried by fire during the rainy seasons. Many people around the world distinguish the chocolate from this area as tart and fruity. In Peru, its chocolate beans can be traced back through history. Many people covet the flavor of these beans, as the chocolate itself boasts aromas of earthy vegetation. On the other hand, Colombian chocolate exhibits a roasted flavor, similar to that of a toasted marshmallow. Due to influence of the Aztecs, chocolate in Belize has a lighter color and mild, fruity essence with nutty undertones, and in Mexico, chocolate tends to have an assortment of spices in it. In Africa, chocolate from Cameroon is known for its mild, fruity flavor, and in Ghana, chocolate exhibits a bold, bitter and rich taste. Lastly, in Europe, chocolate in Italy tends to include many caramelized nuts, Belgium is known for its rich, milk chocolate and French chocolate is characterized by its creamy center and dark flavor. It wasn’t until chocolate reached Europe that it was mixed with sugar and a new craze for the sweet candy began.
In addition, chocolate holds different meanings in several cultures, and is used for different occasions around the world. Before the Spanish conquest, it was initially used as a common currency around Central and South America. Today, it has become an icon for celebrating holidays in the United States, such as Valentine’s Day, Halloween and Easter. In Mexico, chocolate is used as an offering on the Day of the Dead, in the form of beans or prepared as mole. In the Dominican Republic and Panama, chocolate is used for medicinal purposes. In these cultures, it is believed that chocolate drinks can cure bronchitis, fight fatigue, lessen pain and lower the risk of heart disease or cancer. In the past, it was also believed that cacao beans could heal malaria and similar diseases. Additionally, chocolate has been used for spa and relaxation treatments.
No matter the use or taste of chocolate, it is always the best treat to get you (or a loved one) through the day!