Ancient Chocolate Discovery Dates Back to Mayans

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Archaeologists have found traces of chocolate 2,500-years-old on an ancient plate in Mexico that might have belonged to the Mayans.

The chocolate traces were found in the Yucatan peninsula. The initial theory was that chocolate was used as a beverage in pre-Hispanic cultures, either by mixing them with liquids or crushing up cacao beans.

Some claim such a drink was reserved for the tribal elite.

But Michael Oleaga with Latinos Post notes the latest discovery suggests the chocolate was used as a condiment or sauce because the chocolate traces were found on a plate, rather than a cup.

“This is the first time it has been found on a plate used for serving food. It is unlikely that it was ground there (on the plate), because for that they probably used metates (grinding stones),” said Archaeologist Tomas Gallareta of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.

The fragments were later subjected to tests with the help of experts at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. 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.

Oleaga claims the plate fragments found at the Paso del Macho archaeological site in Yucatan, are reported to date back about 500 B.C., but are not the oldest chocolate traces found in Mexico.

“The oldest title goes to beverage pots found in excavations of Gulf coast sites of the Olmec culture and other sites in Chiapas, which traced around 1,000 years older.”

“These are certainly interesting results,” said John S. Henderson, a Cornell University professor of Anthropology and one of the foremost experts on ancient chocolate.

Henderson 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 options like ‘the addition to a beverage (cacao-based or other) as a condiment or garnish.”

Modern Mexicans eat a chocolate-based sauce known as mole, often with chicken — suggesting that many of the traditional dishes eaten in Mexico today may have their roots in ancient Mayan culture.

Health Benefits

Besides the alluring taste, the Mayans may have included chocolate in their diets because they were aware of the health benefits.

William Li, president and medical director at the Angiogenesis Foundation, claims dark chocolate, among other foods, have ingredients that stifle cancer by cutting off the blood supply to tumors via the angiogenic inhibitors.

A Harvard study found that eating small amounts of high quality chocolate three times a week can prevent heart failure in women. Dark chocolate has flavonoids which work as antioxidants in the body.

And though it may be hard to believe, Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, at the University of California, claims eating chocolate about five times a week helps people to stay thinner.

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Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper

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