Cacao

MacLeod J Murdo. Cambridge World History of Food. Editor: Kenneth F Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas. Volume 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Origins, Varieties, and Cultivation

Cacao (Theobroma cacao), “the drink of the gods,” and its main by-product, chocolate, are derived from the seeds of a fleshy pod, the fruit of the cacao tree. This tree is a tropical plant, certainly American and probably Amazonian in origin. In the Amazon region it is sometimes still found in its wild state, an understory plant usually well shaded by taller trees with dense foliage.

Today, cacao trees are sometimes grown in direct sunlight, thanks to modern fertilizers and hormonal treatments that help the trees produce a dense upper foliage. Most cacao trees, however, still require shade, and this is often provided by the simultaneous planting of shade trees and cacao saplings. Lemon trees, tall palms, and banana plants are employed, but more common is the aptly named madre de cacao, or “mother of the cacao” (Gliricidia sepium), another American native now found in all tropical areas. Various acacias and the coral tree have also been used to shade cacao plantations.

There is another species related to cacao, Theobroma bicolor, which is now a garden crop, although its pods were collected in the forest from ancient times until late in the Spanish-American colonial period. It does not produce true cacao and is known in Mesoamerica as pataxte or patlaxtli. Spaniards at first thought patlaxtli was harmful, but later they used the pods as a minor food and, in a few places, the tree to shade cacao trees.

There is some disagreement among experts as to cacao types. Many identify two varieties, others three, whereas a few claim that such distinctions evolved within historical times and were brought about by human selection and cultivation. For what it may be worth, most students of the subject agree that there are three types.

The criollo or “native” cacaos—that seem to have been grown only in Mesoamerica prior to the arrival of the Europeans—are considered to be the finest. All cacao trees demand considerable care, but criollos are the most difficult to cultivate. They are fragile, plagued by many pests, and relatively low in yield, and their cultivation today is limited to Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, and the Caribbean islands. Criollo cacao is often used to upgrade the quality of chocolate or chocolate drinks, and connoisseurs place great stock in the percentage of criollo cacao in such confections.

Since the Spanish colonial period in America, forastero cacaos have been considered hardier and more prolific in yield, although of a lower quality than criollo cacaos. The meaning attached to the term forastero has varied, although it is always associated with wildness and alien origin. The plant may have spread from Brazil, but by the middle of the seventeenth century, it was thoroughly domesticated and widely cultivated in Ecuador and Venezuela. The Portuguese carried this variety from Brazil to São Tome and other offshore islands of West Africa, from whence it spread to the mainland. Today it is a leading crop in several African countries and in Southeast Asia.

The third variety of cacao, according to several authorities, is a crossbreed between the two original types, and because it was first widely grown on the island of Trinidad, it has acquired the name trinitario. This variety is now dispersed and can be found as far from home as Indonesia and other parts of Asia.

Indeed, it may well be that the original Amazonian wild cacaos have become so geographically scattered and modified by human agency that they now appear to be highly distinctive varieties. Experts tend to identify cacaos and their various differences and desired qualities by regions, soils, and kinds of processing, so that Guayaquil cacaos, Brazilian cacaos, and varieties from the Ivory Coast or Malaysia, for example, are all characterized according to aroma, sweetness, the shape and size of the bean, oil or “butter” content, and other attributes.

Domesticated cacao trees are seldom allowed to grow to more than 20 feet in height. They are pruned and topped frequently to keep them accessible and to protect the cacao pods from sunlight and entangled branches. The pods develop from flowers that are fertilized naturally by midges, or artificially, and have the shape and rough size of an American football, although the size can vary greatly. The pod develops on the bark of the trunk or on large branches, not at the end of branches or twigs. The inside of the pod contains the beans or “nibs” and a white pulp, which is consumed by birds, animals, and humans. Cacao trees, although delicate, have a useful life of up to 50 years, but this can vary widely according to care, soil, region, and other circumstances. The trees develop slowly, usually from seedlings, and seldom yield any harvest until the third or fourth year. They are very sensitive to cold and drought and require year-round water from rain or irrigation.

Because cacao trees are too delicate to be climbed, harvesting must be done from the ground. Long poles topped by a cutting implement reach the higher fruit. After the pods are split open, the nibs are separated from the sticky pulp (by machine on modern plantations). The discarded pods are employed as fertilizer or animal fodder. The nibs are then fermented and dried. The workers heap them up in a shaded area and turn them over frequently for several days. Once fermentation is complete—the timing of which requires considerable expertise—the nibs are spread in the sun or dried artificially for a week or more, with workers again often raking and turning them.

The cacao nibs are then graded (nowadays by machine), poured into large sacks, inspected, and shipped to the major markets and consuming countries, where they are transformed and manufactured into hard chocolate, cacao powder, cacao butter, and other products.

A History of American Cacaos

The remote history of cacao is disputed; many deny its Amazonian origin and believe that in its “wild” state, the cacao tree grew in a number of other parts of the Americas, including perhaps the Upper Orinoco flood plain. Because the nibs have a short fertile life, there was difficulty in transporting them elsewhere to plant new seedlings, especially before modern transportation. Thus, gaps between areas of cultivation and different varieties came into existence.

In any event, it is in Mesoamerica that the first recorded histories of cacao are to be found. The plant and its nibs were part of the most ancient mythologies there. The Olmecs knew cacao, possibly before 1000 B.C., and the word itself, or one like it, may belong to a proto–Mixe-Zoquean language probably spoken by the Olmecs. Cacao was also part of the material and cultural lives of the Maya and their predecessors, as well as the various other societies (including that of the so-called Aztecs) that were destroyed by the Spanish invaders of Mesoamerica.

The Maya were probably the first people to write about cacao via their now-deciphered hieroglyphics. There may have been some link between cacao as a drink and the sacrifice of human blood. Certainly, elite burials and tombs often contained elaborate vessels with cacao drinks in them. Some scholars believe, in fact, that the consumption of cacao was a privilege of the nobility, but to others this practice seems unlikely (or at least not widespread), given the extent of its cultivation in various Mesoamerican tropical lowlands. Probably cacao was drunk (there is, so far, little evidence that it was eaten as a hard substance among Mesoamericans) by people of all classes. The drink was very much a part of public ceremony and ritual.

Cacao beans were an important item in Mesoamerican trade and tribute long before the European invasions. Cacao’s climatic requirements, and the sophistication of state systems of trade and tribute, led to regional specialization—perhaps even monoculture—in a few places. In such areas as Guerrero, Colima, Veracruz, Tabasco, and the Gulf of Honduras, cacao was grown in plantation-like settings for export to distant centers. On his fourth voyage in 1502, Christopher Columbus in the Gulf of Honduras came upon a very large seagoing canoe that was transporting a varied cargo that included cacao beans. The most important growing areas, as far as present knowledge goes, were Soconusco (today the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico) and the Pacific coastal plains and piedmonts of present-day Guatemala and El Salvador. From these plantations, large quantities of beans found their way to the highlands as trade and tribute. Soconusco, though distant from Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), became a prized part of the Aztec conquests and paid tribute to Montezuma. Cacao beans were stored in great warehouses in the capital.

Money, therefore, “grew on trees.” Cacao nibs were used as coinage throughout Mesoamerica from ancient times, and at least as far south as Costa Rica during the colonial period, especially when there were shortages of official coinage. Our knowledge of this coinage before the arrival of Europeans, however, is sketchy. In Nicaragua, a distant periphery of Mesoamerica, beans were widely used as petty coins and may have had standard equivalencies, evidence of a formal and official coinage. Additional evidence can be found in a widely used serial system of measures that was based, not on weight, but upon the number of cacao nibs. There is also evidence of a thriving industry in counterfeit cacao beans, another sign of their monetary value. In some regions, however, the beans may have served only as substitute, specialized, or occasional coins.

Mesoamericans had many recipes for cacao drinks. Ground beans were mixed with hot or cold water and with maize, ground chillies, annatto, vanilla, and seeds, roots, and flowers of many kinds. Many of the dishes were soups, and the liquid chocolate, poured into or over many other dishes, was perhaps the ancestor of modern mole sauces. These peoples had a preference for chocolate drinks beaten to a froth, and to this end poured chocolate in a stream from one container to another. The upper classes and the pochteca, a kind of official merchant class, consumed large quantities of these soups and drinks at festivals and public banquets.

Hernán Cortés and his invading band noticed the many uses of cacao and captured stores of it in Tenochtitlan to use as money. They also saw the flourishing groves in such areas as Soconusco and Izalcos (in present-day El Salvador). In Soconusco, the harvests quickly attracted large numbers of mule trains and merchants. Some of the most lucrative encomiendas (grants of the labor and tribute of subject natives) in Central America were in Izalcos where cacao was generally the means of tribute-payment. But Spaniards usually did not try to seize legal ownership of cacao groves, perhaps because cultivation and care of the fragile, valuable trees was both a specialized business and hard work in a humid, tropical climate. Instead, they did their best to monopolize labor in the groves, not to mention the taxes cacao produced, and the cacao trade. Tribute to the crown and to private individuals continued to be paid in cacao long after the Spanish conquests, and large quantities were carried by sea and by land to central Mexico.

Gradually, the new colonial elites made changes in the “cacao economy”—not in the kinds of production or ownership, but rather in the intensity of cultivation and in patterns of distribution and consumption. Encomenderos (holders of encomiendas) and local royal officials forced native producers to intensify planting and harvesting, which may have been counterproductive for two reasons. First, the Native American population was already in severe decline because of the epidemiological invasion brought on by the arrival of Europeans and Africans. Overwork and other oppressions exacerbated this mortality, and replacements brought in from the highlands died just as quickly. By the late sixteenth century, many of the productive zones were suffering from severe labor shortages. Second, overplanting may also have been self-defeating. Shade trees were cut down, destroying the understory conditions needed by cacao trees. No doubt, labor shortages and changing agricultural conditions were related.

At the same time as production in Mesoamerica declined, consumption rose. If cacao had once been a food limited to the upper classes, itself a doubtful proposition, this soon changed. Shortly after the conquest, it was apparent to some of the enterprising interlopers that cacao consumption was very large indeed; impressionistic accounts describe Indians quaffing massive, almost unbelievable, quantities of chocolate. Trade—often long-distance trade—in the crop became important, and demand was such that suppliers from faraway plantations could pay expensive freight costs and still show a profit.

As Central American production declined, prices in Mexico rose, and even more distant producers entered the market. The fine Central American criollo cacaos retained, and still retain, a market niche because of their reputed quality, but the Guayaquil basin of Ecuador and the coastal valleys of Venezuela west of Caracas, along the Tuy River, and south of Maracaibo, replaced Central America, Tabasco, and Guerrero as the largest producing areas. We know little about the origins of this new competition. In both areas, growers used the more hardy and productive forastero cacaos.

At first, Venezuelan cacao dominated. From around 1670, as the native populations disappeared, plantations were worked by African slaves. Exports from La Guaira, Maracaibo, and smaller ports were carried on a fleet of small ships to Veracruz, and from there by mule to Puebla and Mexico City. The Venezuelan elite became known as the “grandes cacaos,” some of whom owned as many as a quarter of a million trees. In 1728, a clique of Basque entrepreneurs obtained an export monopoly called the Royal Guipuzcoa Company, or, colloquially, the Caracas Company. Between 1730 and 1754, exports nearly doubled to 3,800 tons per year, and a large part of the crop went no longer to Mexico but to Spain. Cacao also became part of a growing contraband trade, with smuggling by the Dutch especially important because of their colony at nearby Curaçao and because of a growing market for cacao in Amsterdam. In fact, Dutch traders dared to establish semipermanent trading depots in Venezuela well upstream on some of the rivers.

Guayaquil cacao plantations came into being at about the same time as those of Venezuela, and soon were shipping to Peru, Central America, and Mexico. Hardy varieties, plentiful water, good soils, and high yields contributed to the production of inexpensive cacaos, and Guayaquil prices, despite long trade routes, were able to undercut those of Central America and even Venezuela. Unlike the plantations in Venezuela, where African slaves were employed, Guayaquil cacao was worked by local laborers, often native migrants from the sierra.

Central American growers complained about the flood of inexpensive Guayaquil beans, and the Spanish crown, alarmed that a growing trade between Peru and Mexico would threaten its export trade in European goods to America, prohibited all South American ports—including Guayaquil—from trading with Mexico. Again, contraband and fraud flourished. By 1700, Guayaquil’s production rivaled or surpassed that of Venezuela. Later in the century, as free trade grew and faster ships became common, Guayaquil cacao began to reach Spain and other European markets, even though by the late eighteenth century, the region’s plentiful exports were satisfying about three-quarters of the Mexican demand.

Amazonian cacao was slow to develop. This area of Brazil was neglected by Portugal and had few settlers. Lisbon was not a large market, and most of the trees, at least at first, were scattered in the forests. By the middle of the eighteenth century, however, Marañón cacao, worked mostly by African slaves, commanded a share of European markets.

Venezuelan cacao plantations spread to Trinidad, where the hybrid trinitario developed. Other parts of the circum-Caribbean, such as the coast of Costa Rica, Grenada, Martinique, and Saint-Domingue, also enjoyed ephemeral booms before production sank back, giving them only minor places in the Atlantic markets.

Changing Tastes and New Markets

The first Spaniards to encounter large stocks of cacao quickly realized (and exploited) its lucrative possibilities, especially in Mesoamerica. Their own taste for chocolate, however, developed more slowly. Native peoples sometimes added honey, but most of their recipes were bitter—even biting—to Spanish palates, especially when chilli peppers were added. English pirates, who were even less familiar with chocolate, burned or dumped the cargoes of cacao they captured. Sugar, introduced to the Americas by Spain and Portugal, helped to change minds, as did vanilla and other flavorings, although part of the story of Spanish and Portuguese acceptance of chocolate is also, no doubt, one of acculturation and acquired tastes. By the late sixteenth century, Europeans in the Americas were drinking sweet chocolate with great enthusiasm and had elaborated intricate and expensive containers, cups, and molineros, or beating sticks, as frothy chocolate was still favored. So pervasive was the habit of drinking hot chocolate among Creole women that at least one bishop had to forbid it during Mass. An Englishman from Jamaica was amazed at the Spaniards’ craving for chocolate drinks, and claimed that they seemed unable to live without them (Hans Sloane manuscript 11.410, folio 321, British Library).

Cacao beans probably reached Europe as early as the 1520s, shortly after the conquest of Mexico, but it was late in the century before regular cargoes were shipped from Veracruz. At first, chocolate was an expensive drink, largely confined to the Spanish court and noble houses. From Spain, it soon spread to Italy and—via a royal marriage—to France, where Ana of Austria, daughter of Philip III, married the young Louis XIII. The next marriage between French and Spanish royalty was that of Louis XIV and the daughter of Philip IV of Spain, Maria Theresa, of whom it was said that her only passions were chocolate and His Majesty—probably in that order.

By the mid–seventeenth century, chocolate houses were common in Paris, although still patronized exclusively by the elite. They had also spread to London, where these establishments soon competed with coffee shops. During the life of Samuel Pepys, the English government official and well-known diarist, chocolate drinks passed from being a novelty to a regular luncheon beverage and a staple of public salons. The Dutch, who had captured Curaçao in 1634, began to send large cargoes of contraband Venezuelan cacao to Amsterdam, which became the great cacao mart of Europe. Ironically, by the late seventeenth century, even Spanish merchants had to buy there.

Chocolate, as a drink, is filling and quite nutritious, and so became popular among all classes in Catholic Europe, especially in the Mediterranean countries. But a problem arose: Was it to be considered a food or a beverage? Did the drinking of chocolate break a religious fast? In the 1660s, the Church decided that because wine—although nutritious—was considered a drink rather than a food, chocolate drinks would be treated the same way. Opinions differed as to chocolate’s merits and failings, and these debates continue today. For reasons not yet understood, chocolate became a drink for women and coffee a drink for men in some parts of western Europe.

In the eighteenth century, chocolate was known throughout Europe, and further regional variations developed, as did cultural and fashionable attitudes toward it and its consumption. It was usually sold as a fairly solid paste or block, and already by the early part of the century, these commercial products contained vanilla, sugar, cloves, and other spices. About this time, some drinkers began to add milk or wine. Frothiness was still appreciated, and numerous recipes stipulated the amount of heating needed and the best way of whipping the chocolate to provide the ideal frappé.

The eating of solid chocolate, while still far behind the drink in popularity, also gained acceptance, often in the form of the so-called Spanish sticks. In France, small chocolate pastilles gained favor. Cacao butter, used since the sixteenth century as a cosmetic to improve the complexion, now became of some importance for elite cuisine.

In much of eighteenth-century Europe, chocolate remained an elite and rather expensive drink, sometimes considered a stimulant, or even an aphrodisiac (what exotic substance has not been so imagined?). In England, however, both coffee and chocolate houses lost their upper-class cachet in the second half of the century, and chocolate houses, in particular, came to be associated with raucous behavior, licentiousness, and marginal social groups. But even then, chocolate remained expensive; although American production had increased to supply the growing demand, it had not increased enough to lower the price significantly. Moreover, processing techniques had failed to adapt. In the middle years of the eighteenth century, cacao was grown, harvested, elaborated, and sold much as it had been by Native Americans before Europeans arrived in Mexico.

Some innovations did appear. For example, Joseph S. Fry, who founded a company in England in 1728 (which lasted into the late twentieth century), created factory conditions for the mass production of chocolate products for the English market. Others in England and on the continent followed, but radical transformations in many other areas of the chocolate trade had to wait until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Industrial, Commercial, and Supply Revolutions

The Dutchman Coenrad Johannes Van Houten was the first in a line of inventors and entrepreneurs who modernized the manufacture of chocolate. He sought a better method for extracting the cacao “butter” or fats from the beans. He had started a factory in Amsterdam in 1815 and was unhappy with the traditional method of boiling the chocolate and then skimming off the fats. By 1828, he had invented and patented a dry press, which left much less butter in the end product. Van Houten then treated this “cocoa” powder with alkaline salts to make it more adaptable to various kinds of mixes, and very quickly, many of the older methods of manufacturing yielded to cocoa. Some twenty years later, an early form of “instant” chocolate had become widely accepted, and about midcentury, Joseph Fry and his sons seized upon this new cocoa powder and began to market the first commercial chocolate bars.

The Van Houten innovation was, historically and gastronomically speaking, just in time. By 1800, chocolate drinks had fallen well behind competing alkaloid beverages. In the West coffee dominated almost everywhere and has remained in the lead to the present day—except in England, where coffee first defeated chocolate and was then, in turn, defeated by tea. Chocolate was to survive and flourish, however, by going its separate way and leaving the field of adult drinks to its competitors. Except in a few of the Mediterranean countries and in parts of Latin America, where chocolate drinks retained popularity, chocolate now became cocoa, heavily sugared and drunk mostly by children and invalids, or chocolate bars and wrapped candy, devoured by all ages and classes.

The early great British rivals of the Fry Company were the Cadburys and Rowntrees. It was the firm of Cadbury, which quickly became the leading British confectioner, that first emphasized the connection between boxes of chocolate and romance. Chocolates and cut flowers became tokens of romantic love and soon were the typical presents given to a woman. Sales of chocolate in boxes and specialty chocolates soared, and increase even more so today, especially on Valentine’s Day, at Christmas time, and at Easter—the season for chocolate eggs.

After the breakthroughs of the Dutch and English pioneers, Swiss inventors and businessmen took over. François Louis Cailler and Phillipe Suchard opened modern factories in the 1820s. Henri Nestlé, a chemist who first elaborated powdered milk, and Daniel Peter combined their talents to produce milk-chocolate bars, and Rodolphe Lindt, yet another Swiss, invented a process by which cacao was made smoother to the palate, more homogenized, and of finer aroma. Lindt’s “conching” process, which he began in 1879, radically changed the manufacture of chocolate, and his smooth chocolates soon replaced the rougher and grainier ones of the past. Swiss chocolate became the world standard for the chocolate bar, and such companies as Lindt and Nestlé are corporate giants today.

The country that was the scene for Henry Ford’s genius now saw the rise of the great entrepreneur of chocolate manufacture and sale. Milton Hershey, like Ford, saw the great possibilities of economies of scale and uniformity in producing and mass marketing for the millions. A confectioner from his youth, Hershey became convinced after a journey to Europe that he should concentrate on chocolate. He built a model workers’ town (named after himself) in Pennsylvania, on a much larger scale than those of Cadbury and Rowntree in England. To supply his huge chocolate factory, Hershey also transformed other landscapes: He boasted that the enormous dairy farms surrounding his town supplied 60,000 gallons of milk every working day. In Cuba, vast sugarcane estates were laid out east of Havana, complete with their own railroads and port terminals. (The Hershey empire in Cuba was later nationalized by the Castro government.) The Hershey Company was a model of modern manufacture and merchandising and soon controlled a giant share of the U.S. market.

In spite of mass manufacturers such as Cadbury and Hershey, producers of fine chocolates managed to retain a respectable and profitable share of the market, which has increased in recent years. High-quality chocolates, such as Godiva of Belgium and Valrhona of France, are known worldwide. Chocolate has entered the world of great cuisine, too. Profiteroles, chocolate cakes and pastries, mousses, and humble chocolate ice cream all have fanatical addicts.

Just as Hershey’s chocolate for the masses created dairy farms and sugar plantations, it also led to the expansion of cacao production. Cacao has become a world commodity, grown in all tropical regions, and traded and speculated upon in the stock and futures markets of London, New York, Paris, and other financial hubs.

Venezuelan exports, which had seemed so well placed geographically and logistically to supply European markets during the Spanish colonial years, began to decline around 1800.The wars of independence there were enormously destructive, and Venezuelan producers found themselves less able to hold their own against both old and new competitors. Nonetheless, although coffee replaced cacao as the country’s main export after 1830, Venezuela retained a respectable place as a supplier of cacao until about 1900.

It was the Guayaquil plantations of Ecuador, however, that satisfied the largest part of the world’s needs in the nineteenth century. The Panama Canal opened, and Ecuador was fortunate (or unfortunate) to have an abundant, inexpensive labor supply from the highlands, where the failure of the textile industry in the face of British competitive imports had sent waves of unemployed workers to the coast. Cacao was promoted by early leaders of the newly independent republic, including its first president, Juan José Flores (1800–64), himself an owner of large plantations. There was a plateau in production—caused by civil war and yellow fever—between 1840 and 1870, but then output again accelerated, reaching more than 20,000 tons per year by 1900. In the first decades of the twentieth century, however, Ecuador’s predominance in cacao production finally yielded to two major factors. Witch broom disease destroyed many of the plantings in the 1920s, and the 1930s saw depressed world prices. As a consequence, new areas in other parts of the world began to compete.

The first threat to Latin American producers and exporters came from islands off the west coast of Africa, where cacao had been introduced to São Tome and Principe by the Portuguese. Development of the crop’s products, however, suffered considerable delay because the islands continued to concentrate on coffee growing with slave labor until that industry suffered a crisis brought on by the abolition of slavery in 1875. Chocolate then took over, although working conditions on the cacao plantations were little better than those of slavery. By 1905, the two islands were the world’s leading exporters of cacao beans.

This success aroused interest in the nearby mainland British colonies, although it was often the local people, rather than the colonial government, who developed the crop. By the 1920s, the Gold Coast (now Ghana) led the world in output, and Africa had passed America in cacao exports. The growth in demand during the first 40 years of this century was astonishing. World trade in the commodity went from about 100,000 tons in 1900 to 786,000 tons in 1939, a growth of nearly 800 percent! Nigeria and the Ivory Coast were now rivals of the Gold Coast in cacao production, and other colonies, such as Gabon and the Belgian Congo, were becoming exporters. By the 1990s, the Ivory Coast was the world’s leading producer.

Nonetheless, West Africa was losing its dominant position. It produced three-quarters of the world’s cacao in 1960, but just over half by the 1990s. Latin American plantings began to revive somewhat, especially on new establishments around Bahia, but the latest rival areas were in Indonesia, and, above all, Malaysia, which by the early 1990s was the world’s fourth leading producer of cacao, with annual exports of about 220,000 tons.

The world market in cacao remained impressive at about 2,500,000 tons per year in the 1990s, but that amount was much less than half of the total for coffee and represented just over 2 percent of the world trade in sugar. A constant problem with cacao has been a lack of price stability. Prices have fluctuated widely since World War II, and stabilization agreements have had little success. The United States is by far the leading consumer of cacao, followed by western Europe, Russia, and Japan. Per capita consumption in the United States and western Europe has doubled since 1945. The Swiss eat the most chocolate, followed by the British. The Norwegians and Austrians lead the world as drinkers of chocolate.

To what does chocolate owe its success? It is, for one thing, a well-rounded food, containing glucose, lipids, and proteins. It also provides significant quantities of important minerals, such as potassium and calcium. Of course, such additives as milk and sugar bring other qualities and calories. Cacao contains several stimulants, led by theobromine, then caffeine and serotonin.

Debates based on more impressionistic evidence have raged. Chocolate was long ago accused of being a cause of juvenile acne, but this now appears to be untrue. The argument that chocolate can elevate cholesterol levels has not yet been resolved. Is chocolate addictive? “Chocoholics” would certainly answer in the affirmative. So, we suppose, would the native peoples of sixteenth-century Mesoamerica. Recently, researchers reported that cacao consumption stimulates a mild, marijuana-like effect, reducing stress and encouraging a harmless euphoria. Debates and research continue, and meanwhile, the product’s market range expands. Attempts to find substitutes enjoy little success, and the “food of the gods” continues to delight the millions.