Chocolate beer 3000 years old


mmm, chocolate

People were enjoying chocolate 3000 years ago, but in the form of alcoholic brews or beers drunk at births and weddings (Source: iStockphoto)

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People in Central America were drinking beverages made from cacao before 1000 BC, hundreds of years earlier than once thought, a new study shows.

These early cacao beverages were probably alcoholic brews, or beers, made from the fermented pulp of the cacao fruit.

These beverages were around 500 years earlier than the frothy chocolate-flavored drink made from the seed of the cacao tree that was such an important feature of later Mesoamerican culture.

But in brewing this primitive beer, or chicha, the ancient Mesoamericans may have stumbled on the secret to making chocolate-flavoured drinks, the paper says.

“In the course of beer brewing, you discover that if you ferment the seeds of the plant you get this chocolate taste,” says John Henderson, a professor of anthropology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and lead author of the paper.

“It may be that the roots of the modern chocolate industry can be traced back to this primitive fermented drink.”

The cacao bean played an important role in Mesoamerican civilisation, the native civilisation in parts of Mexico and Central America prior to the Spanish exploration and conquest of the 16th century.

The bean was a form of currency in Aztec society, and the frothed chocolate drink made from fermented beans or seeds was central to social and ritual life throughout Mesoamerica.

In the 16th century, invading Europeans acquired a taste for the beverage and brought it back to Europe, which led to the rise of the modern chocolate industry.

An elite drink

The archaeological evidence recovered by Henderson and colleagues from a site in Puerto Escondido in modern-day Honduras suggests that the beer that probably preceded the chocolate beverage was popular among wealthy people at least as early as 1100 BC.

Chemical analysis of residues found on fragments of pottery vessels recovered from the site tested positive for theobromine, a compound found in cacao trees that were limited to Central America.

The vessels were found in the “fancier, bigger houses” in the village of Puerto Escondido in the Ulua Valley in northern Honduras, says Henderson.

He suggests the elite members of society would have drunk the beverage to mark special occasions such as births and marriages.

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