Using a Milk Frother

Using a Hand Blender

Using a Blender

The tools have changed, but the work of roasting and grinding fermented cacao beans, and mixing them with water to create a vitalizing food is a practice that goes back to early Mesoamerican civilizations. The Aztecs prepared chocolate by pouring the drink high up from one vessel to another, raising the foam of the beverage that was so prized for them.

For thousands of years, chocolate had been sipped, not eaten, since that Mexican Indian first turned cocoa beans into "the food of the gods."


The origins of cacao, or chocolate, are traced back in the New World among the Olmec, Maya and Mexica (Aztec), and diffused to Europe in the mid 1500s. The word cacao is derived from Olmec and the subsequent Mayan languages (kakaw); the chocolate-related term Xocolatl is Nahuatl (Aztec language).

Cacao figured into pre-modern Maya society as medicine, as precious food, as a sign of prestige, social centerpiece, and cultural touchstone. In addition to its loftier role in ritual and celebration, cacao also served decidedly material functions, cacao beans were used as currency, and the seeds were so valuable that Aztec rulers accepted cacao as tribute payments.

Cacao grown and consumed by the native people in Chiapas in southern Mexico, is the type of cacao that the Spanish first encountered, and this is the type of cacao that has generally been held in high regard ever since.

Worldwide, three major species variations of Theobroma Cacao are cultivated: Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario. The most prized, rare, and expensive is the Criollo group -an ancient variety that produces “fine or flavor” beans, which are the scarcest and most highly regarded for their complex flavor and aroma, arguably less bitter and more aromatic than any other bean.



Our story opens in Mexico and Central America, thousands of years before the Spanish Conquest. The European invaders had to name the plants, all new to them, that they had "discovered", and then struggle to fit them into schemes of classification and into the health theory of the time.

The face-off between the two worlds is nicely illustrated by the scientific name of our tree: Theobroma Cacao, given to it in 1753 by Carlvon Linné, the 18th-century Swedish scientist who invented the binomial system by which we now classify all living things.

The first part of this particular binomial, the name of the genus to which cacao (the "chocolate tree") belongs, is from the Greek and means "food of the gods".



It has become a convention in American English, that the plant and all its products before processing are referred to as "cacao". After processing, the seeds (whether in liquid or solid form) become "chocolate."

"Cocoa," which in British English is often used to refer to what Americans call "cacao" and "chocolate," in American English refers only to the defatted powder invented by the Dutchman Coenraad Van Houten in 1828.



Over half the weight of the cured, dried nib (as the shelled and degermed bean is called) is made up of fat, although the exact proportion fluctuates according to the variety of cacao and the growing conditions. The fat that is obtained from the nibs is called "cacao butter" or "cocoa butter"; the cacao solids that are left are "cocoa."

The culinary destination of this cacao butter depends on the good, or not so good, intentions of the manufacturer. If the goal is the making of fine chocolate, it will be added to other superior-grade chocolate being processed, to further enhance its deliciousness; sometimes double the amount is added in the interests of smoothness (but true connoisseurs are more concerned with the percentage of cacao solids).

If the intentions are not so benevolent, what up-scale chocolatiers refer to as "junk chocolate" will be manufactured, with only 15 percent of the product consisting of cacao solids (really fine chocolate has up to 85 percent), the remainder being sugar, milk solids, lecithin (an emulsifier), and sometimes cheaper solid vegetable fat; the valuable cacao butter is taken out and sold elsewhere.

Cacao contains antioxidant flavonoid -quercetin-, known to have not only antioxidant but also anti-inflammatory activity. Each cacao bean contains two alkaloids: Theobromine and caffeine; serotonin, and phenylethylamine are chocolate compounds that make it a tonic, and an anti-depressive and anti-stress agent, enhancing pleasurable activities.

It has very little caffeine: in a typical fine chocolate bar with at least 50 percent "cocoa solids," and weighing 100 grams (3.5oz), there is no more of this alkaloid than in an average cup of American-style coffee. It is true that cacao butter is mostly saturated fat, but this largely consists of stearic triglycerides, which have been shown to have no effect on blood cholesterol levels; there is no direct link between chocolate consumption and the development of heart disease.

Dark chocolate does not cause diabetes, dental caries, or acne, or produce headaches, as sometimes has been alleged. As for obesity among so-called "chocoholics," this would probably be the result of overindulgence in milk chocolate, which has high levels of sugar.

Theobromine, the other alkaloid in chocolate, is mood-enhancing, and is a known stimulant, vasolidater, and diuretic. While it is easily metabolized by humans, it is poisonous to (and even lethal to) dogs and cats. Care should be taken that they do not have access to dark chocolate in any form.

MAYANA Cacao Elixirs are crafted with the highest quality botanical ingredients available, through fair trade and organic sources exclusively.