Monday, February 4, 2019


Food of the Gods and Love:

A rediscovery of a 4,000-year-old potion
© 2019 by Michael Auld

Known as Valentine’s Day, it is the amalgamation of three cultures, the Mayans, the Romans, and the English. The occasion is the coming together of two “pagan” erotic traditions, one Mesoamerican and the other European. All three were steeped in blood sacrifice (animals, humans and the “Blood of Christ”), dominated by a martyred Christian saint, all in the name of love

Left: “Symbols of love”, Heart-shaped Cacao and Heart held in Victorian Cupid’s hands; R; Top- Interior of a cacao pod with sperm-like seed covered membrane, medicinally used in making cocoa butter; Middle; Cacao pods hanging from the trunk of a cacahuaqucht (cacao) tree; Bottom; Assorted box of Cadbury (England) chocolates, first commercial Victorian Valentine’s gift box


Yet it is also the only holiday that is based on an ancient love potion originated among Amerindian lovers who discovered the ingredient in Mexico over 4,000 years ago. It represents the holiday we now call Valentine’s Day. The holiday’s most important icons are a heart and Tchocoat, a condiment borrowed by Europeans only 400+ years ago, who re-branded it as an expression of their romantic love.

Valentine’s Day was an ancient pagan Roman tradition co-opted by the Victorian era. The amorous practice was ascribed to a mysterious Christian priest, Valentine, who broke Emperor Claudius II’s law by secretly marrying young lovers. Claudius II had banned young marriages because he believed that young unmarried men made better soldiers.

However, the practice of Saint Valentine was instituted at the same time as the old pagan Roman priest’s observance of the celebration of February as the month of romance. The middle or ides of February (the 14th) was the celebration of a fertility festival of Lupercalia. “Lupa’ means wolf and is associated with Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. The festival would begin with the sacrifice of a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purity. Strips of the goatskin would be dipped in its blood and acceptingly rubbed on women in the street as a hope of fertility for the coming year. During the festival, young women would place their names in an urn in the city and young bachelors would pick the name of the one that they would live with for the year. “Matches often ended up in marriage.” [ -History of Valentine’s Day] The fertility festival was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of agriculture and also associated with aphrodisiac Tchocoat served the same purpose. During the European Middle-ages, Valentine’s Day became increasingly associated with romance. Added to this, the Victorian Era had access to the byproduct of the Tchocoat or the cacao bean.

The tradition of giving a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day began in England in the 19Th Century by Richard Cadbury “the scion of a British manufacturing company.” [] The Company had developed a method of manufacturing a variety of chocolates. "Cadbury pounced on the opportunity to sell the chocolates as part of the beloved holiday." [ibid.]

 The Eastern Hemisphere never had cacao before 1492. They would not have known how to process it before 1519. The knowledge of the amorous qualities ascribed to the cacao bean was learned from the Aztec Empire of Mexico. Upon meeting Hernán Cortez in 1519, Emperor Montezuma offered him the sacred tchocoat drink. Cortez’s arrival at the time of the Mexica calendar date of the predicted return of the main (bearded) god of the cacao, Quetzalcoatl, no doubt influenced Montezuma to offer the tchocoat drink and mounds of cacao beans to the unusual man that he mistakenly thought was the returning Quetzalcoatl. Disappointed, Cortez had expected gold. In Mesoamerica, cacao was more revered than gold.

With its export of cacao to Spain, the world became addicted to a revered bean, from the Tree of the Gods, which was also a love potion. The chemicals in the cacao tugged on the erotic heartstrings of Mexica (Mé-she-ka) lovers. To the Mexica or Aztec, cocoa beans were considered an aphrodisiac (a concept still ascribed to its byproduct, “chocolate”). The tree on which the bean pods grew was also believed to bring fortune and strength.  Manufactured and adapted for Valentine's Day, today no better gift is as revered as is chocolates.

Cocoa (ko-ko-ah) Cacao (or ka-ka-o)
1. From the Nahuatl (Aztec) word cacahuat or cacao seeds. 2. From the Mayan word Tchocoat and the Ca-ca-hua-qu-cht  the "cacao tree". 3. A variant of cacao. 4. A small tropical American evergreen tree cultivated for its seeds, the source of cocoa and chocolate. 5. the fruit or seeds of this tree. 6. A powder made from dried, roasted and ground seeds. 7. a color.
Chocolate (chok-let)
1. From the Mayan word tchocoat, meaning 'bitter water'. 2. Food prepared from the roasted, ground cacao beans. 3. A blood-red Aztec beverage made with ground cocoa beans, water, peppers, musk, honey, vanilla, and annatto/achiote. 4. A beverage of chocolate boiled in sugar-sweetened water, with cow’s milk or coconut milk added. The first chocolate milk was made in Jamaica.
5. A candy or sweet with chocolate coating. 5. A brownish gray color.

How to make Mexica (Aztec) XOCOLATL?

  1.                             Remove beans from cocoa pods.
  2.                             Ferment and dry them.
  3.                             Roast them on a griddle until done.
  4.                             Remove the shells and grind the seeds into a fine paste.
  5.                            Mix paste with water, chili peppers, and cornmeal.
  6.                     Pour the resulting concoction back and forth from pot to cup until frothy             foam develops on top.
  7.                               Serve with pride in finely decorated earthenware cup.


The cocoa or cacao tree originated in the South American homeland of the ancestors of the Taíno, the Amazon or Orinoco basins. The plant also grew wild in the rain forest of the Yucatan Peninsula of Central America. Its benefits have been appreciated for over 4,000 years and the Maya cleared land to establish the first known cocoa plantations. The Maya considered it an important item in their society and was the “food of the gods.” Cocoa beans were given as gifts at a child's coming of age observance and in religious ceremonies. Cocoa beans were used as food and money. Cocoa was often consumed during marriage celebrations. For example, the rate of exchange of goods was as follows: A pumpkin was worth 4 cocoa beans, 10 for a rabbit, 12 for a courtesan and 100 for a slave.

Maya merchants traded cloth, jade and ceremonial feathers for cocoa beans. The Maya considered cacahuaqucht (the cacao plant) to be the tree of the gods. "Ek Chuah, the merchant god, was closely linked with cocoa and the fruits were used in festivals in honor of this god". Their reverence for cocoa was passed on to the Toltecs and Mexica (Me-she-ka, or Aztecs).

Above: Ek Chaufg, Ek Chuah or Ek Chauj, the merchant and Cacao god of the Maya. He is always depicted in black and white. It is obvious that the Maya were consummate traders. He was the patron god of merchants and cacao. Cacao was one of the most important products traded by Maya merchants and it was often treated as currency.


In Mexica mythology, the god Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, was the creator of the forest and the sacred cocoa tree.” The tree was believed to bring fortune and strength.” This belief that chocolate was an aphrodisiac was transferred to Europe with the cocoa bean. There, in the 16th century, the Catholic Church banned its use for that reason.

In Mexico, Hernán Cortez was greeted with mountains of cocoa beans instead of gold. Cocoa was ceremoniously used by the Mexica and it was given as a drink by the Emperor Montezuma's servants to Cortez in 1519. “The beans themselves were used to make hot or cold chocolate drinks. Both the Maya and the Aztec secular drinks used roasted cocoa beans, a foaming agent (sugir), toasted corn and water.”—International Cocoa Organization.  


Above: Codex illustration of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, god of agriculture and Tchocoat or cacao.

Because of a Mexica prophecy which coincided with Cortes's arrival, Emperor Montezuma II, mistakenly thought that the Spaniard might have been the returning creator of the cacao, the god Quetzalcoatl. Tchocoat, from which the word "chocolate" came, was a prized drink made from the dried and crushed cacao beans mixed with chili pepper, musk, honey, vanilla and annatto (or, achiote, which made the thick drink a spiritually significant blood-red color) [see another recipe above].

Above: Sculpture of Quetzalcoatl related to gods of the wind, of the planet Venus, of the dawn, of merchants and of arts, crafts and knowledge. Traditionally, as among other Central American cultures, he was a part of legends of a bearded, possibly "white men", thus, the confusion with Cortez.

Hernán Cortez, who was not fond of the Maxica recipe, saw the commercial value of the cocoa bean and took a large amount to Spain. With Spain chocolate was combined with pepper, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon or mixed with beer or wine. Milk and milk chocolate came later. Other Europeans used this Mexica recipe of vanilla mixed with cocoa, but added sugar and cream to suit their taste buds.

Although Columbus was the first European to record seeing the beans in the Caribbean and took some back with him, not much was made of cocoa in Spain until Hernán Cortez re-introduced it into that country in 1527. This was eight years after Cortez took his armed force to the heartland of the Mexica.

In 1502, on a voyage in the Caribbean, which took him to the coastline of Central America, Columbus came across a large trading canoe off the coast of today's Honduras. The canoe was loaded with copper axes and bells and great quantities of cocoa. Columbus’ ship got stuck on a sand bar, blocking the route of the Maya canoe, whose captain angrily waved Columbus off.

Maya trade routes by sea took them further distances along the Yucatan's Caribbean coast than the short distance across to the Taíno island of Cuba. Although historians stated that cocoa was grown in the southern Caribbean island of Trinidad during pre-Columbian times it is not yet certain if the Island Caribs or the Orinoco basin ancestors of the Taínos brought the plant to the other northern islands. The Taínos played the Central American rubber ball games which, like the cocoa bean, had profound ceremonial and religious significance. It is likely that they were also very familiar with cocoa.

The cocoa tree is a Tropical American plant which only grows in humid climates along the equatorial belt. The tree reaches a height of 26 feet. Its foot-long leaves start out as the light rose colored and mature to a shiny, leathery dark green. The plant flowers continuously and produce more abundant buds twice each year. An unusual aspect of the cocoa tree is that its flowers grow in clusters directly on the trunk and lower branches. They vary in color from bright red to pink, white, and orange with pink. Each tree produces 30 to 40 pod-like fruits each year. The American football-shaped pods attain a size of one foot in length and 2 1/2 to 5 inches in width when mature. The smooth or lumpy surface of the pod hardens and may become scarlet, yellow or various shades of green. When opened the pod contains a sticky, tangy to the taste,  pink colored pulp, which envelopes 30 to 40 pink or light purple seeds called beans. When harvested the cocoa beans must go through a series of processes before it can be turned into edible cocoa or chocolate [see recipe above].
There are about 20 varieties of cocoa trees which are divided into two classes. South America still produces one class of fruit which provide the best quality cocoa beans. "Fine flavor" cocoas are produced by Ecuador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Jamaica, Siri Lanka, Indonesia, and Samoa. A second lower quality of cocoa, which was transported to Africa, is produced there mainly for commercial purposes.

Cocoa processing follows prescribed sequences. The seed coat and germ are removed from the edible segment called the "nib". The bean must be fermented for 5 to 6 days, sun-dried, sorted, roasted, cracked (to remove the shell) before it is ground. The shell is sometimes used as a fertilizer, cattle feed or a substitute for coffee. The roasting process removes the bitter tasting tannins and determines the color and flavor of the bean. The use of the bean for cocoa powder or chocolate determines the length of the roasting time. The roasted bean is then ground into a sticky paste called chocolate mass or chocolate liquor. Chocolate mass or liquor contains 53% cocoa butter, which is a yellow fat. Further processing produces a cocoa powder which contains 10% to 25% fat. Cocoa butter is also used as a cosmetic with skin healing and sun blocking properties.

Cocoa plantations were established in the Caribbean and West Africa and the Spanish monopolized the trade for almost a century. The French used the drink as an aphrodisiac while 17th and 18th century England opened popular chocolate houses which rivaled the pub. Once highly valued by Central American civilizations as a potent beverage, chocolate is still universally appreciated as a hot cocoa drink. The bean contains carbohydrates, protein, and fat. One pound of chocolate has twice as many calories as a pound of beef or a dozen eggs. It has theobromine, a stimulating alkaloid similar to the caffeine found in tea and coffee. Biochemists have isolated the compound anandamide from cocoa powder and chocolate, which acts as a narcotic stimulant. Actually, it is the chemicals in the raw bean that stimulate the senses and heighten feelings of joy and pleasure. Other substances in chocolate may create a high or have an addictive effect. The term "chocoholic" is lightly applied to persons on who chocolate may have a psychoactive effect.  

In its pure form a hot chocolate drink has a very strong flavor and retains its heat for a long time when the freshly roasted and the ground bean is boiled in water, then sweetened and milk added. Of the world's top three hot beverages (tea, coffee, and cocoa) cocoa is the most versatile. Valued as a soothing drink, it is also prized by confectioners as a solid candy bar or as a sweet or a bitter chocolate coating for nuts, fruits, and other exotic fillings. Chocolate candy is considered as an appropriate expression of affection.

The art of using chocolate as confection was developed in Europe and excelled in by the various nationalities. The first chocolate bar was produced in England by J.S. Fry and Son in 1847 and was too dry. In 1876 Henri Nestle and Daniel Peters added milk and sugar and invented the first milk chocolate. In 1894 Milton Hershey was the first to mass produce chocolate and sold the Hershey Bar for five cents. Chocolate can be divided into four categories. Unsweetened chocolate consists of the crystallized mass which is too bitter to be eaten on its own. In this form, it is used for baking. Dark chocolate is both bittersweet and semisweet and consists of 35% to 70% chocolate liquor, sugar, and emulsifiers. Milk chocolate has milk powder, sugar, vanilla, and cocoa butter. This type of chocolate is mainly for candy. White chocolate has no chocolate liquor and is made from cocoa butter, milk, sugar, powdered milk, and vanilla.


It has already seen that chocolate is believed to be an aphrodisiac. What makes it an erotic stimulant?

“Nowadays, scientists ascribe the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate, if any, to two chemicals it contains. One, tryptophan, is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal. The other, phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, is released in the brain when people fall in love.”
-- Jul 18, 2006, New York Times

Promoting chocolate as a sexual stimulant is attributed to its chemical makeup. Not just a Valentine gift, now on the Internet, the praises of chocolate as a love potion is being advertised.

Above: Chocolate balls as advertised aphrodisiac balls that brings out the libido in the bedroom.

Above: British research on the erotic effects of chocolate-"found an interesting result in a study with 20 participants.".

"When it comes to tongues, melting chocolate is better than a passionate kiss, scientists have found."-

Chocolate as candy is one of the most exotic sweets, as a flavoring, it is used in drinks, ice cream, and baked goods. Washington, D.C. was affectionately called "Chocolate City" because of its high percentage of “chocolate-colored” African Americans resided.

1 comment:

Hugh said...

Michael, yours is fascinating account of something whose history most of us have little appreciation for and only indulge in as a sweet.

As you note, Aztecs associated cacao with the god Quetzacóatl. I found an account of cacao's origin that asserts the Aztecs, believed Quetzacotl had been condemned by the other gods for sharing chocolate with humans and only the royalty were allowed to drink cacao as a tea. Unlike the Mayans of the Yucatán the Aztecs drank it cold as an aphrodisiac or as a treat for men and men only, and only after a banquet. It was also included in the rations of Aztec soldiers. I conclude in thinking it was too dangerous a drug to be given to women.