Before the world was as we know it today, cacao (or chocolate) was already among us under the protection of the Maya god Ek Chuah. Learn more about this delicious product that has conquered the world with its great taste.

Cacao is of Mexican origin, and since ancient times has been a fruit of great value (and flavor) for the Aztec and Maya civilizations. It was used by the Maya as currency, being a key element in the commercial exchange between peoples. Imagine carrying cocoa beans in your hand and being able to buy food and other merchandise with them!

Being a product of great importance, cacao had the protection of the god Ek Chuah (“black scorpion”) who also symbolized acts of war and provided protection to merchants. Let us take a moment to remember the duality of many Maya deities: this god could be represented with black tones, like the color of war, with a spear in his hand and in full combat action; or, with a bundle of merchandise on his back, like the image of someone on the street, constantly trading and traveling.

As god of war, Ek Chuah’s link with cacao is still important, because in times of conquest the newly dominated territories were asked for cacao beans as tribute, or tax. Meanwhile, the merchants invoked the protection of their patron with a ceremony in which they offered the sacrifice of animals and the use of incense, in such a way that all those who dedicated themselves to the distribution of dry cacao beans in the region could trust that there would be no problems on their travel route.

Its consumption used to be reserved for the upper classes and its energizing and stimulating properties were known, either through the seed or prepared in liquid form, so it was greatly appreciated. There are many versions of how its use and production expanded in México; what is certain is that with the Spanish conquest the seed was taken to Europe and from there a whole chocolate tradition was born in countries like Belgium and Switzerland.

Let’s return to our beloved Maya lands; here cacao continued to grow as a small and generous tree that requires a warm and humid climate, like that of the Yucatán Peninsula. It reaches greater size if it is in the shade of other big tres; in general it usually produces approximately 20 pods that contain the greatly valued seeds that will end up as chocolate.

Particularly in Yucatán, hot chocolate has always been prepared from homemade tablets dissolved with a hand mill and served in a “lek” or in a pewter cup. Some families still continue making and selling the homemade tablets, roasting the beans in a comal, mixing them with flour and cinnamon, and then grinding them in a small table mill to obtain a paste that is sold to neighbors in circular tablets on pieces of kraft paper. There are also commercial brands from Yucatán (ki´Xocolatl, Imperial Chocolate) and national brands (La Abuelita) that are sold as tablets in supermarkets.

As a personal anecdote, a few decades ago, when I was the youngest in the family (the “xtup”), one of my duties in the “freezing” months of December and January, was to go to Doña Luisa every afternoon to buy the chocolate tablets that she made at home. I still remember the combination of smells coming out of her kitchen while she handed me the order…I must confess that the full tablets did not always arrive; on my way home it was irresistible to eat a piece of that bitter and concentrated chocolate.

Today, to know everything about the origin of cacao in Yucatán and its relationship with the Maya is possible at Choco Story Mexico, the museum located in Uxmal that has a tour of a plantation of organic cacao, as well as gardens, orchids, a serpentarium, and rescued animals. At the end of this experience you can also taste a delicious chocolate drink. Widely recommended for a family outing.

Visit also the ki’Xocolatl stores in Mérida, there you will find unique chocolate products produced in Yucatán, with various versions with different percentages of cacao, mixed with spices, nuts, and more.

Sweet or bitter, cacao remains a delicious currency that we inherited from the Maya, with which we can acquire new sensations on the palate and unique moments, thanks to its nutritious and stimulating properties.

Chocolaterías en Mérida y alrededores:

ki´Xocolatl: Santa Lucía, Altabrisa, Galerías Mérida, El Pocito
www.kixocolatl.com

Choco Story Uxmal Museo del Cacao
www.choco-storymexico.com/uxmal.html

Chocolate Imperial
www.chocolateimperial.com

By Violeta H. Cantarell

 

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