Chocolate

This weekend kids will be running around the lawns hunting Easter eggs. Others will be eagerly chomping down on chocolate Easter bunnies. None of them will even wonder where all of that good stuff came from.

It has been a while already, but the museum hosted a wonderful exhibit on chocolate. It told the story of the origin of the cacao tree (northern South America), and how it made its way into Mesoamerica, into the Maya and Aztec cultures. We also learned how the Spaniards brought the substance to Europe, and added sugar, rather than the chile peppers once used in Mexico. More people were able to drink it we were told, as consuming chocolate was the prerogative of the elite in the New World. 

Or so we thought. As someone once said, that’s not entirely accurate. Enter Pueblo Bonito, New Mexico.

 
Aerial view of Pueblo Bonito, December, 2009. Image Wikipedia  (Bob Adams photographer)

Excavations conducted in 2009 at Pueblo Bonito, New Mexico, showed that chocolate beverages were consumed at the site. At that time, 2009, this constituted “the first proof of chocolate use in North America north of the Mexican border.” In a recently released update on the project we read that out of 75 drinking vessels found at the site, no less than 50 still had minute traces of theobromine in them. What makes all this even more interesting, aside from claims of “first proof of chocolate use”, is that this consumption was not limited to the upper crust of society.

Here is another question that comes up right away. How did the chocolate get up there? New Mexico is too cold for cacao trees to grow, unless, of course, you use a greenhouse. It turns out that Pueblo Bonito was part of a trade network extending from the Southwest all the way south into what we call Mesoamerica. Another wonderful exhibit, called the Road to Aztlan explored commercial exchanges between these two culture areas. Parrots were sent north, turquoise was sent south. Now it seems that in addition to the parrots (much prized because of their feathers, it is thought), chocolate was also shipped north.

All of this dates back to about the 11th through 14th centuries AD, a time when some of the Classic period Maya had experienced their infamous “Collapse.” Sites like Chichen Itza and Mayapan traded places as the centers of power in Yucatan. The site of Tula, rather than Teotihuacan (already in ruins) and Tenochtitlan (a bit too early still for them to manifest themselves as a powerhouse) ruled the roost in Central Mexico. Maya chocolate aficionados were imbibing as early as the 11th century BC, maybe even earlier.

The glyph for “kakaw”  appears on many Maya pots and inscriptions. One of the pots is a chocolate drinking vessel found at Rio Azul, Guatemala. What makes this vessel so incredible is that it has a screw top. Notice in the images below: the neck of the vessel has a groove, the lid has two protrusions allowing one to place the lid onto the pot and then twist it to close it.

 
Rio Azul cacao vessel on display at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología,
Guatemala City. (Photograph by Dirk Van Tuerenhout).
 
Lid for the Rio Azul cacao vessel on display at the
Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Guatemala City.
(Photograph by Dirk Van Tuerenhout).

For the Love of Chocolate

Truffles
Creative Commons License photo credit: Frank_BB

In light of the upcoming Valentine’s Day festivities, I thought we should all take a moment to learn something new about a traditional Valentine’s Day gift. I’m talking about chocolate, of course! Did you know…

Chocolate syrup was used as the blood in the famous shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “Psycho.”

A quote for you (I think this soldier liked chocolate a little bit): “Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea and universal medicine.” – Geronimo Piperni, quoted by Antonio Lavedán, a surgeon in the Spanish army, 1796.

A chocolate history legend states that the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl brought cacao to earth and was thrown out of paradise for giving it to man; it was believed that only the gods were fit to drink chocolate!

In the 1500s, when chocolate first made its way in to Spain, it was considered a health food and a medicine! Many doctors of the time prescribed it for curing fevers, cooling the body, aiding in digestion, and alleviating pain.

DANGER! Chocolate is poisonous to dogs (and other domestic animals); the Theobromine found in chocolate is a stimulant, especially affecting the heart muscles, and can be too much for small animals. So be careful if you have pets.

The melting point of chocolate is just below normal body temperature, so it literally melts in your mouth! Mmmmm…tasty.

Smarties: Inverted Double Spiral (-1,2)
Creative Commons License photo credit: gadl

In 1940, M&M’s were invented by the MARS Company for soldiers going to WWII.

The biggest bar of chocolate ever made was made in Italy in 2000 and weighed over 5,000 pounds. The largest slab of fudge weighed over 2,000 pounds and was made in Canada.

Currently, 40% of the world’s almonds and 20% of the world’s peanuts are used by chocolate manufacturers. One pod from a cacao tree (the plant from which chocolate is derived) contains about 30-50 almond-sized seeds. This is enough to make about 7 milk chocolate bars.

And, finally, 63% of Americans buy chocolate for themselves when buying it for someone else. So go splurge on your sweetie! But don’t forget to grab a treat for yourself, while you’re at it.

This Valentine’s Day, be sure to pick up some chocolate for your special someone, and don’t worry if you don’t have any extraordinary plans. Come on down to Love Bugs, the Museum’s Valentine’s Day bash!

And if, perchance, you are spending this February 14th alone, you should still go out and grab your favorite chocolaty treat; studies show that chocolate has anti-depressant qualities and mood-boosting goodness.