I’d heard a little about the origins of chocolate before traveling in Southern Mexico and Belize last summer. Before the conquest of Mesoamerica by Spain, chocolate was highly prized and exclusively drunk by the aristocracy. It was so valued that the seeds were used as currency by native peoples like the Mayans and Aztecs.Even today in Mexico, while of course you can buy milk chocolate candy like Snickers, the chocolate that is processed and served here is most often served as a drink, like hot chocolate. You can go to a little chocolate restaurant, get a cup, and dip some churros in it.
Down in the markets of Oaxaca and elsewhere, you can buy solid dried balls of cocoa for making hot chocolate. You cook it with milk and sugar and it’s excellent.
But last summer in Belize I met a guy who was volunteering at a cacao processing plant. He gave me a handful of raw cacao seeds from one of their many big burlap bags. The huge fruit is broken open, the seeds are laid out to dry, and later the seeds are cooked and processed into cocoa powder for chocolate.
But, according to him, the raw seeds are full of nutrients. They are a super food. And if you are like me and don’t mind bitter flavors, then they are delicious. They are a little hard to peel at first, but once you get the hang of it you can break three or four open for a snack anytime. If you can get over the bitter flavor, they taste like dark chocolate but with no milk or sugar. I bought big bags of them in the market and have a few every morning, either in something like oatmeal or just as they are. So it is possible to enjoy chocolate and be extremely healthy at the same time!