Cocoa comes to Europe

Cocoa comes to Europe
  • In 1518, Hernan Cortes, a Spanish soldier and explorer reached the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (in the territory that is now Mexico).
  • He and his men drank “chikolatl”, a bitter drink that contained roasted, crushed and then boiled (in water with spices and chilli) cocoa beans.
  • They did not like it, but they knew that the king of the Aztecs, Montezuma II, consumed the drink around 50 times a day. So Hernan Cortes understood the potential of cocoa and brought it back to Spain following his conquest.

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The Aztec cocoa
  • The cocoa we know now is very different from the one that first arrived in Europe from South America (in the 16th century).
  • The Aztecs consumed cocoa as a drink and they believed it had great cultural and therapeutic value. They believed it could cure fever, diarrhoea, fatigue, angina and even tooth decay.
  • The cocoa was perceived as an elixir sent from Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of wind and wisdom.
Chocolate: the taste we know today
  • After they reached, Europe cocoa beans were crushed and mixed with honey and sugar, becoming a popular drink among the elites.
  • Joseph Fry and Sons made the first chocolate bar in the 19th century, creating what we know as chocolate today.
  • Dark chocolate and cocoa products containing at least 200mg of cocoa flavanols (bioactive compounds) can improve blood vessels elasticity, which helps with blood flow.
  • Consuming cocoa flavanols frequently boosts the ability of blood vessels’ to dilate or expand and this aids the body to regulate blood pressure and blood flow to organs.
  • Cocoa flavanols can also increase blood flow to the brain and this can improve cognitive performance.

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RELATED IDEAS

Not really good for your health

The biggest health claim is that cocoa lowers blood pressure, but no study has proven that it reduces the risk of heart disease or attacks. And considering the added sugars it probably does more harm than good. 

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IDEAS

There is a dark side to chocolate making, with children working in hazardous conditions in cacao farms.

Widespread destruction of forests (deforestation) is also a grave concern.

Big Chocolate companies work behind the scenes to lobby and squash any laws that work against their interests.

Savoring Chocolate: Touch

Try to notice the texture of your chocolate. Is it smooth? Gritty? Is there texture? Rub your fingers on the chocolate and feel it.

Some chocolates that are silkier have more cocoa butter in them and those that have a rough feel might have been stone-ground.

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