Overview of the Nutritional Benefits of Cocoa and Chocolate John R. Lupien
Chocolate has a long and rich history dating back much further than its introduction to Spain and then the rest of Europe by the Spanish explorers Christopher Columbus and Hernando Cortés in the early 1500s. The Mayas of the Yucatán and the Aztecs of Mexico cultivated cocoa and the Aztec emperor Montezuma is said to have regularly consumed a preparation called chocolatl, a mix of roasted cocoa nibs, maize, water and spice (1). In fact, cocoa beans comprised a kind of unified monetary system in the middle Americas of the Aztecs and Mayas (2). There are ancient records chronicling price lists at that time. Although the first Latin name of the tree Amygdalae pecuniariae meant 'money almond' in recognition of its status as currency, it was the Swedish botanist Linnaeus, himself a regular consumer, who named the genus Theobroma, which translates as 'food of the gods'. This was prompted by natives' belief that the cocoa tree was of divine origin; this also resulted in a holy ritual being performed whenever cocoa trees were planted. The Mayas had a god of their own who was worshipped, together with the sacrifice of a dog having a cocoa brown colored patch on its skin, to ensure a rich crop. The farm workers responsible for planting the beans were kept away from their mates for several days in order to harness their sexual energy for the growth of the plant, and the actual beans were exposed to moonlight for several nights before planting.
When the Spanish became interested in cocoa, some 20 years after it had been brought back by the early explorers, its consumption was confined to the nobility. Predictably, because of its scarcity, many claims were made about this new drink, one of which was its being an aphrodisiac. Interest in it grew dramatically, and it is said that when Pope Pius V tasted a cup of chocolate, he was so disgusted with the taste that he gave up all thoughts of banning it under church rule, believing that no one would habitually consume such a product. Notwithstanding further attempts by the clergy to prevent its spreading, cocoa became popular across
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