Synonyms: Cacao theobroma, Chocolate, Cacaoyer
Long before Columbus and Cortes set foot in the Americas, the civilizations of Central and South America were cultivating the
seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree. During one of his campaigns in Mexico, Cortes observed that the local Maya brewed a delicious chocolate beverage made from these seeds, and decided to send some back to his king in Spain. The Spanish then re ned the seed into what is now commonly known as chocolate.
In its raw form the cacao seed is densely nutritious, containing high concentrations of sulfur and magnesium, among other miner- als. The phenylethylamine contained in cacao produces strong and enduring sensations of elation and happiness in the brain. Another common effect of cacao is an enhanced ability to focus for prolonged periods of time.
In many ways, the history of cacao in the Americas symbolizes the deep understanding that the indigenous cultures had of the plant kingdom that ourished around them. Chocolate is just one of the many horticultural innovations that Europe borrowed from a civili- zation they considered “savage”. Cacao was so cherished by cer- tain kingdoms of Central and South America that it was used as currency, sometimes in place of precious metals, due to its unique ability to either be traded for goods or consumed as a product in and of itself.