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Chocolate’s Popularity Began With Beer

A new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a government journal, has determined that ancient Mesoamericans, as long ago as 3,100 years, were using cacao — the stuff chocolate is made from — in a beverage that bears a remarkable similarity to beer. Pottery vessels not unlike the one below recently discovered in Honduras have been found to have residues inside them from cacao plant. It is believed that the beer-like drink was a status symbol used during celebrations in the ancient society.

From a Reuters article:

One of the researchers, anthropologist John Henderson of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said cacao beverages were being concocted far earlier than previously believed — and it was a beer-like drink that started the chocolate craze.

“What we’re seeing in this early village is a very early stage in which serving cacao at fancy occasions is one of the strategies that upwardly mobile families are using to establish themselves, to accumulate social prestige,” Henderson said in a telephone interview.

I think this is part of the process by which you eventually get stratified societies,” Henderson said.

The cacao brew consumed at the village of perhaps 200 to 300 people may have evolved into the chocolate beverage known from later in Mesoamerican history not by design but as “an accidental byproduct of some brewing,” Henderson said.

The style of the 10 small, elegant serving vessels suggests the cacao brew was served at important ceremonies perhaps to celebrate weddings and births, the scientists said.


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