The Cacao tree (Theobroma Cacao ‘theo bro ma Kaw Kaw) flourishes in tropical climates and rain forests near the Equator because of the humid conditions. Most of these areas experience short dry seasons which creates the perfect environment.
The word Theobroma Cacao was coined by a Swedish Scientist, Caroulus Linnaeus in 1737. This term literally means ‘food of the gods’ and is in reference to Mesoamericans. Societies like the Mayan and Kuna Indians used Cacao as money, medicine and those who were of royalty status were privileged to consume this bitter food on a regular basis.
The Spanish introduced Cacao to the Europeans sometime around 1500 A.D. and by the mid 1600’s the Europeans were prescribing cacao as medicine to treat conditions which became their ‘cure all’. Some of the ailments that it was used for were an effective aid in healing colds and coughs, digestive tract problems, to enhance mental clarity, help reduce inflammation and assist in healing various diseases. They found great health benefits from consuming this amazing food.
Cacao in its raw unprocessed form is very bitter yet it holds great medicinal properties as displayed by those societies like the Maya and Kuna’s because their mortality rate was very low and there was very little disease as we know it today.
Sometime in the 1800’s those who had suffered with asthma and bronchial troubles found relief by consuming Cacao. Theobromine which is a natural occurring ingredient found in raw Cacao helped to relax breathing muscles and was non-addictive. By the 19th Century doctors carried Cacao in their medicine bags when they made house calls and used it as an effective tool to treat patients. A little Cacao was just what the doctor needed to help just about anyone who was not feeling well. Cacao was expensive and it was generally not available to anyone.
Between the 18th and 19th Century the Industrial Revolution began and was changing the ways of manufacturing, farming, transportation just to name a few. During this time manufacturers wanted to make Cacao available to as many others as they could and they began to process chocolate by adding other ingredients that were less expensive. There was a Dutch chemist named Coenraad Johannes van Houten who began to add alkaline salts to chocolate which changed the flavor and removed some of the bitterness that was not palatable to many. As other manufacturers began to see how profitable this could become, they began to create inexpensive candy and boxed chocolates. The industry had just begun to be tapped and it became quite lucrative for those who chose to become a ‘candy’ manufacturer. During the Great Depression this was one line of business that withstood the economic fall as it was a comfort food that helped people feel happy.
In the mid 1900’s the medical properties of chocolate had been completely washed away from Dutch processing. Adding refined sugar, heating the Cacao and adding so many other ingredients changed a healthy whole food into something that was actually not good for the body.
In today’s world we are more health conscious, looking for ways to stay healthy and to eat better. There are manufacturers who are taking the ‘bad’ out of ‘candy’ by taking us back to a time of the Maya and Kuna societies which are bringing us back to better health and a better quality of life. There are also companies who are creating gourmet healthy chocolates and taking the bitter component of Cacao out sweetening it with organic products.