Thursday, 14 September 2017

Chocolate - Gift of the Gods

Are you a chocaholic?  I sure am!  And I love it that chocolate was considered a gift of the gods in ancient Aztec and Mayan times!  (who says anything has changed?!)

But seriously, back in the day when the Aztec believed that cocoa beans were a gift from God, chocolate was A LOT different!  See this statue below?  He's holding a cocoa pod.  I had no idea that they were that big!

Here's what the pods look still on the tree: 


And this is what the cocoa beans look like when you cut open that pod:

Yuck!  Hard to believe that this can end up as delicious, decadent chocolate, isn't it!

Well, here's what happens to these pulpy beige-coloured seeds inside the pods:  First, they are taken out of the pods and allowed to ferment for several days, and then dried for another week or two.  By the end of this stage, the beans have turned dark brown.

This is how you get cocoa beans if you're going to make your own chocolate from scratch, but the Aztecs and Mayans prepared their chocolate in a very different way.  They made a drink out of the cocoa beans, added lots of chilli and some corn flour to make it frothy  - which resulted in a very spicy and bitter stimulant.  Basically, it was like a drug - perhaps like strong coffee in our day which gets your heart racing and adrenaline pulsing!

And it was bitter because no sugar was added, and if you've ever had a block of 80% or more cocoa dark chocolate, you might be able to imagine that part of it.  Adding chilli to chocolate isn't as far out as it sounds because they actually go together quite well.  Not sure about the frothy corn flour though!

This is a Mayan cup that was used to drink the cocoa.  Chocolate is now known to be a cardiovascular stimulant, and it has other good properties, too (as long as not too much fat and sugar are added, that is!)  So no wonder the Ancients thought it was a gift from the gods!

My Urban Fantasy series is set in the ancient world, and in the first book, Rhuna, Keeper of Wisdom, cocoa is mentioned many times in the section where Rhuna learns about the Atlan civilization (based on Atlantis)

Here's a short excerpt:

“Look here,” said Mala Mahuni, taking off the lid of one of the large urn-shaped vessels. “Rice!  And over here is a special treat:  cocoa!  Excellent!  It’s one of the great Atlan delicacies, and do you know what I’ve done?” he asked with a mischievous grin.  “I’ve cooked the rice in sheep and goat’s milk, added honey, spices and some cocoa!”

Rhuna looked at him blankly.

“Sit and let us enjoy!” he said as he ladled the sticky creamy-brown food into large bowls.
They sat down on comfortable cushions and Rhuna picked up a mouthful with her thumb and two fingers.  Once on her tongue, the food exploded into wonderful taste sensations she had never experienced before, then slowly melted and left a sweet, yet slightly bitter residue. 
“Oh!” she said after the first mouthful, and Mala Mahuni looked expectantly at her.
“You should say ‘mmm!’” he said.
“Mmm!” said Rhuna.
Mmm!”  They began to laugh.
“Is it good?” asked Mala Mahuni after his second quick mouthful.
“It’s excellent!” said Rhuna, still in a laughing mood, and they both laughed some more as they ate.  Rhuna thought that it felt like they were doing something a little mischievous, and wondered what Tozar would say about it.

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