Tuesday, November 13, 2007

No wonder chocolate is so addictive!

It started out as an alcoholic drink 3100 years ago!
Researchers testing residues in pottery vessels in Puerto Escondido, Honduras, dating back to 1100 BC have found traces of a chemical compound (theobromine)found exclusively in the cacao plant. This then makes it the earliest known use of cacao which is the basis of chocolate as we know it today.Before the current study, the oldest known use of cacao was marked by the discovery of a bottle containing traces of the material excavated from a grave in Colha in northern Belize. The bottle dated to 600 BC.
Image from here
news.au.com reports "The earliest cacao beverages consumed at Puerto Escondido were likely produced by fermenting the sweet pulp surrounding the seeds," the scientists wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.One of the researchers, anthropologist John Henderson, of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said "What we're seeing in this early village is a very early stage in which serving cacao at fancy occasions is one of the strategies that upwardly mobile families are using to establish themselves, to accumulate social prestige,"
Read more here
So, a chocolate based alcoholic drink served as a status symbol - doesn't sound that far fetched does it? A small group of people in the upper echelons, enjoying a commodity and appreciating it's "value" and denying access to the hoi polloi so that it gains all the more snob value. Well, we sure inherited those genes!
That article also goes on to say that, the style of the 10 small, elegant serving vessels suggested the cacao brew was served at important ceremonies perhaps to celebrate weddings and births. Classy!

Image credit: PNAS/National Academy of Sciences; pottery vessel from Honduras similar to the ones in which scientists found the earliest known evidence of the use of the cacao tree.

The chocolate beverage which was consumed by the Mayan and Aztec civilizations may then have come later, maybe as a by product of the brewing process - or even by accident. And even later,the Spanish conquerors (after decimating a whole civilization) brought cacao to Europe in the 16th century after which it evolved over the centuries into its present day form.

The researchers say that they are being conservative and further studies might even prove that they date upto a couple of centuries earlier.

Well, for those of you who drink, have you ever liked chocolate flavoured alcoholic drinks? I usually steer clear of any drink which has things like vanilla ice cream, pineapple,strawberry and other sweet stuff! But I know plenty of people who adore these cocktails and so obviously there must be some of you who would like, for instance, chocolate martinis?! If so, you are keeping up an ancient tradition! Cheers!


bee said...

i recently got some cocoa sticks in the mail. ocoa beans ground up and compressed into bars, in their purest form. i've been amkign savoury south american recipes with them.

Miri said...

Pure cocoa in savoury recipes? sounds completely exotic and something I would love. When are you going to post some of them?!