It’s Chocolate Day. 6 bitter facts about the history of chocolate

It wasn’t usually sweet; it didn’t melt in the mouth, and it sometimes came mixed with human blood.

The history of chocolate is as bitter as the Aztec’s original drink: heady, bitter, fiery and spicy.

Bean of the Gods

In one annual Aztec ritual, a beautiful male slave was forced to wear the jewels of the gods over 40 days.

After 40 days of wearing finery and enjoying fine food and drink, he was informed of his impending demise.

Then, he was expected to dance.

If his dancing wasn’t cheery enough, he was made to drink a gourd of chocolate (tinged with the blood of previous victims), before himself being sacrificed.


Chock full of money

The Aztecs used cacao beans as currency. 10 beans would buy you a rabbit or a prostitute. 100 beans would buy you a slave.

Fraudsters even made fake beans from bits of avocado stone and wax.

The beans were still used as currency in parts of Latin America until the 19th century.

Drink for Pigs

Chocolate didn’t suit foreigners’ taste buds at first (for foreigners, read Spanish invaders).

They hated it.

One writer eloquently called it “more a drink for pigs than a drink for humanity.”

Once mixed with honey or cane sugar, it quickly became popular throughout Spain.

Chocolate ‘Shrooms

The chocolate of the Aztecs was mostly a drink rather than a food, and as much a drug as a treat.

Bernardino de Sahagún, a Spanish missionary, compared Aztec chocolate to hallucinogenic mushrooms and wrote:

“This cacao when much is drunk, when much is consumed, especially that which is green, which is tender, makes one drunk, takes effect on one, makes one dizzy, confuses one, makes one sick, deranges one.”

Chocolate Columbus

In 1502, Columbus and his son, Ferdinand, were in Latin America.

Coming across a laden canoe, they captured it and ordered the natives to carry the loot on board their ship.

Somebody spilled some cacao, and the natives ran for the beans “as if an eye had fallen from their heads,” according to Ferdinand.

Columbus could have made chocolate history, but he blew his chance by forgetting all about the incident!


The Rations of War

Chocolate was so valued during the American Revolutionary War that it was included in soldiers’ rations and used as wages.

In fact, at the start of the Revolutionary War, there were more factories making chocolate in the colonies than there were in England.


For more on the bittersweet history of chocolate, check out the Smithsonian Magazine.

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