The Mayans of South America are believed to be the first to discover cocoa as early as 900 AD. They learned that the beans inside the cocoa pods could be harvested and made into a liquid that would become a treasured Mayan treat.
Mayan chocolate was very different than the chocolate we know today. It was a liquid made from crushed cocoa beans, chili peppers, and water. (There was no sugar in South America.) They poured the liquid from one cup to another until a frothy foam appeared on top. In fact, the word ‘chocolate’ is said to come from the Mayan word ‘xocolatl’ which means ‘bitter water.’
It may have been bitter water, but it was held in such high esteem that Mayans called it the “food of the gods.” Cocoa was so revered that images of cocoa pods were painted on the walls of stone temples and Mayan artifacts have been found that show kings and Mayan gods drinking chocolate. Cocoa was often consumed during religious ceremonies and marriage celebrations. All Mayans could enjoy cocoa, regardless of their social status.
Chocolate is not only a food, but also a medicine. Preparations are well documented by the explorers who came in contact with cacao during their travels. Cacao medicinal properties were noted to alleviate fever, anemia, poor appetite, metal fatigue and poor breast milk production, as well as tuberculosis, gout, kidney stones and low virility. This delicious bean was famous for healing the nervous system and improving digestion and elimination.
Jump to the modern day and numerous studies celebrate the many virtues of chocolate. Research confirms that chocolate helps to relieve emotional stress. Cacao mass also contains potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium which contribute to cardiovascular health. Chocolate has the ability to trigger the release of dopamine and the endorphin phenylethylamine, both of which soothe the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and depression. Due to its high valeric acid content, cacao has stress relieving properties despite the presence of the stimulants theobromine and caffeine.