The Columbian Exchange: Chocolate
During the time frame of 1450-1750, the Columbian Exchange was at its height of power and influence. Many products were introduced from foreign lands, like animals such as cattle, chickens, and horse, and agriculture such as potatoes, bananas, and avocados. Diseases also became widespread and persisted to distant lands where it wreaked devastation upon the non-immunized people. One such influential product during this time period was the cacao, or more commonly known as chocolate. First discovered and used in the Americas, cacao beans quickly traveled to and became a popular treat in European lands. It was valuable in the New World and even used as a currency by the Aztecs. Only the rich and privileged were allowed to purchase the valuable item in the beginning. Cacao was even used in religious ceremonies by the native people. When it moved to Europe and other lands, it also created a lot of stir. The cacao plant had quite a large impact upon the Columbian Exchange.
Chocolate or cacao was first discovered by the Europeans as a New World plant, as the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. In Latin, Theobroma literally means: “food of the Gods” (Bugbee, Cacao and Chocolate: A Short History of Their Production and Use). Originally found and cultivated in Mexico, Central America and Northern South America, its earliest documented use is around 1100 BC. The majority of the Mesoamerican people made chocolate beverages, including the Aztecs, who made it into a beverage known as xocolātl, a Nahuatl word meaning “bitter water” (Grivetti; Howard-Yana, Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage). It was also a beverage in Mayan tradition that served a function as a ceremonial item. The cacao plant is generally native to South America, and while it was not a staple crop, it had great importance politically, socially, and economically. The cacao bean was considered quite valuable, and used as a source of currency. It was considered a great luxury and only people of huge importance could drink the coveted recipe of spices and chocolate. The natives of South America even believed that chocolate had healing properties that brought down fevers, and was a mild aphrodisiac that helped impotence (Beezley, The Global Market from and to The Americas). Despite not being a major crop, chocolate was a popular novelty as it was brought to other lands.
After Columbus’s voyage to the Americas in 1492, he took back to Spain to present the King and Queen not just riches, but also new products that weren’t available in Europe. He took back to Spain the practice of drinking chocolate mixed with heavy spices. For nearly 100 years after the Spaniards were introduced to chocolatl, the coveted drink of the New World inhabitants, they kept the secret of its production to themselves. In the same years as Shakespeare wrote his final plays, the missionary and theologian José de Acosta wrote about cocoa from Lima, Peru, saying, “It is so much...