History of Cacao 3, Maya 2

Hello my fellow chocolate lovers,


I am Takanori Chiwata, the chocolate engineer of COCONAMA CHOCOLATE.


In this post, I would like to talk about how Mayans enjoyed cacao, a special fruit that even played a role in their myth.


Now, the important part here is how I mentioned “enjoyed” instead of “ate”.


Actually, cacao was not a food, but it was a drink for the Mayans. It was only back in 1849 when we started consuming chocolate as a food, like the chocolate bar we know today. In Mesoamerica, it is believed that people drank cacao around 2000 BC, so people enjoyed cacao as a drink for about 3800 years. It’s kind of hard to believe that the chocolate we know today is only about 200 years old, isn’t it? Let me discuss about this great invention on another post, so stay tuned!


Since cacao is very nutritious, it is believed that people drank it as a medicine. However, it was not just a medicine, and Mayans had a special procedure to savour its delicious flavour.


First of all, what they believed to be the most important was the “foam”. As shown on the image below, they slowly poured cacao from high up in order to create a foam. In a Mayan dictionary used in yucatan peninsula, terms like “yom cacao”(chocolates foams) and “takan kel”(to roast chocolate well enough for it to create foams) are listed, indicating that they used these terms daily.



Well, what was the ingredient? Needless to say the cacao, but it was also vanilla and cymbopetalum that was important. I am sure you are all familiar with vanilla, a plant that is native to the American continent with sweet aroma, and it really refines flavour of chocolate!

Cymbopetalum is a fruit which belongs to the family of Annonaceae. This Central and South American fruit has a sticky pulp, so maybe it was useful for them when creating the foam.


They also used achiote,

seeds of zapote, black pepper, and etc.



Considering all the ingredients, the cacao drink must have been a super foamy and red drink. This recipe was not too different in the Azteca civilization as well, and it is recorded that the redness of this drink really creeped out the Spanish.



This drink was for the nobles, so of course the commoners couldn’t drink this on an everyday basis. It appears that they drank a super diluted version of this drink with a lot of black peppers in it.




They used a bowl called “kirishikala” (image below) to drink the cacao. It looks very cute with its cacao carvings. We have the actual “kirishikala” in our store, so come have a look!


Well, what other ways/reasons did the Mayans use cacao for?


There were 5 ways/reasons overall.


First, as I mentioned above, for medical purposes due to its rich nutrition.


Second, the record shows it was a form of a currency. It seems that they were used in Nicaragua too, so it is very likely that cacao was used as a currency all over Mesoamerica. It is also recorded that one rabbit was worth 10 cacao beans, and one slave was worth 100 cacao beans.




Third, they served cacao at banquets. Those who got wealthy with trades and the nobles occasionally held banquets, where they prepared roasted chickens, breads, and a lot of cacaos.


Fourth, the last but the most important, for Mayan rituals. It was used for a child’s baptism and at a wedding.


The record shows that they’ve rubbed a special cacao melted with holy water on child’s forehead, face, and in between fingers and toes.


It was also used at a wedding ceremony. The bride and groom exchanged 5 cacao beans and made vows to each other.


I hope you were able to get a grasp of how the Mayans harvested cacao, and how they used cacao in various occasions, from medical purposes, to currency, and in rituals.


This post concludes the relationship between the Mayan civilization and cacao. In our next post, I would like to talk about the Mesoamerican period after Maya.


With hopes that you will be able to encounter the perfect chocolate just for you,


Takanori Chiwata