We’re gearing up for The Maritime Museum of San Diego’s Chocolate Festival, May 3rd-5th. This festival will not only offer wine tasting and sample delicacies for adults but a number of activities for kids as well! For most of us, chocolate is undeniably one of life’s great pleasures. The decadent sweetness can be found everywhere from dessert trays to supermarket check out lines. It seems that people just can’t get enough of the humble cocoa bean, which was the logic behind The San Diego Natural History Museum’s (or The Nat’s): Chocolate: The Exhibition. The exhibit was on display from October 12th 2012 -March 10th 2013. Now, thanks to the web, we can revisit it anytime we please!
Enter through the doors, made up to look like the storefront of a quaint, European chocolate-shop, and discover the untold story behind one of the world’s favorite treats.
From Tree To Tabletop
We start with chocolate in it’s most primitive form, dangling in a seed pod from the cacao tree. Talk a stroll through a verdant, tropical rain forest, and witness the journey of chocolate from pod to plate.
Inside these pods are the cacao seeds, which are ground and roasted to release their flavor. This has been the way since the time of the Ancient Mayans. Mayans were an indiginous people of Westrern South America, who knew chocolate as a frothy, spice infused beverage. Surprisingly, this drink looked nothing like the mug of hot cocoa we might enjoy today. Instead, it was a white, foamy concoction, zested with chile peppers.
Never the less, this version of chocolate was so beloved by the Mayans that they fashioned special cups from which to drink it. Scientists today have been able to trace the chemical residue in ancient pots to determine that they were used to prepare and serve chocolate. This beverage was the preferred treat of kings and nobles. Priests would prepare chocolate for religious ceremonies and present the drink as an offering to their gods.
The Aztecs, an indigenous people of Central America who came on the scene well after the Mayans, still used chocolate to appease their god, Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. This mug depicts Quetzalcoatl, and was used to hold such offerings.
It was the Aztecs who introduced Chocolate to Hernán Cortés and the Spanish conquistadors upon their arrival in the Americas in the 1500′s. Regrettably, the Spanish would later bring about the fall of the Aztec empire, but chocolate would survive to become all the rage in Europe. Now introduced to the tasty treat, and having reformulated chocolate into the sugar infused sweet stuff we know today, European nations would seek to colonize lands near the equator where chocolate grew. Soon, these nations were importing chocolate and shipping it all around the world.
Just as the Mayans and Aztec had before them, Europeans began to craft special vessels to hold and serve chocolate. Chocolate was the drink of the elite. Well to do chocolate lovers would frequent upscale chocolate houses in Europe to sample different recipes.
To sustain the demand for chocolate, slave labor became enforced. Chocolate was considered so valuable that just one teaspoon full was considered equivalent to one day in the life of a slave. This was not a proud time in the history of chocolate.
The industrial Revolution would change the way chocolate was processed. Now, factories were established and chocolate was refined by machines and employees who packaged chocolate into bars, powders and various other forms that could be widely distributed throughout the world. Today, we still depend on factories, but major efforts are underway to preserve the quality of life for cacao growers and the rain forests in which the crop is grown. Gone are the days of slavery and colonization of whole areas to take control over chocolate exportation.
Below is a beautiful piece of Latin American pottery, depicting skeletons drinking, what else, chocolate! The taste has inspired both beautiful and terrible things from humanity. It’s strange to think that something so simple could hold such sway over people!
For more chocolatey goodness, stay tuned for video and a full report on The Maritime Museum of San Diego’s Chocolate Festival, May 3rd through the 5th. For more info, please visit: