It still boggles my mind that chocolate was a late introduction into the Old World from the New World after the Spanish Invasion and that it became such a fantastical wonderful TREAT for the entire world within a relatively short period of time after getting into the hands of the Italians and the French! Oh my!
Chocolate's finer qualities were not overlooked by New World afficionados, either, despite the absence of sugar to sweeten it. Aztec women used natural sweet starches in corn to do so, instead, and whipped their chocolate concoctions into a froth with wrist power! Now, new evidence as emerged for a different use of chocolate - as a sauce or condiment.
Article at The Washington Post
XICO CITY — Archaeologists say they have found traces of 2,500-year-old
chocolate on a plate in the Yucatan peninsula, the first time they have found
ancient chocolate residue on a plate rather than a cup, suggesting it may have
been used as a condiment or sauce with solid food.
Experts have long thought cacao beans and pods were mainly used in pre-Hispanic
cultures as a beverage, made either by crushing the beans and mixing them with
liquids or fermenting the pulp that surrounds the beans in the pod. Such a drink
was believed to have been reserved for the elite.
But the discovery announced this week by Mexico’s National Institute of
Anthropology and History expands the envelope of how chocolate may have been
used in ancient Mexico.
It would also suggest that there may be ancient roots for traditional dishes
eaten in today’s Mexico, such as mole, the chocolate-based sauce often served
“This is the first time it has been found on a plate used for serving food,”
archaeologist Tomas Gallareta said. “It is unlikely that it was ground there (on
the plate), because for that they probably used metates (grinding stones).”
The traces of chemical substances considered “markers” for chocolate were
found on fragments of plates uncovered at the Paso del Macho archaeological site
in Yucatan in 2001.
The fragments were later subjected to tests with the help of experts at
Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, as part of a joint project. The tests
revealed a “ratio of theobromine and caffeine compounds that provide a strong
indicator of cacao usage,” according to a statement by the university.
“These are certainly interesting results,” John S. Henderson, a Cornell
University professor of Anthropology and one of the foremost experts on ancient
chocolate, said in an email Thursday.
Henderson, who was not involved in the Paso del Macho project, wrote that
“the presence of cacao residues on plates is even more interesting ... the
important thing is that it was on flat serving vessels and so presented or
served in some other way than as a beverage.”
“I think their inference that cacao was being used in a sauce is likely
correct, though I can imagine other possibilities,” he added, citing
possibilities like “addition to a beverage (cacao-based or other) as a condiment
The plate fragments date to about 500 B.C., and are not the oldest chocolate
traces found in Mexico. Beverage vessels found in excavations of Gulf coast
sites of the Olmec culture, to the west of the Yucatan, and other sites in
Chiapas, to the south, have yielded traces around 1,000 years older.
But it does extend the roots of Mexican cuisine, and the importance of
chocolate, further back into the past.
“This indicates that the pre-Hispanic Maya may have eaten foods with cacao
sauce, similar to mole,” the anthropology institute said in a statement.
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