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If there is one food which we eat to feel good, and to give us comfort, it has to be chocolate. It is creamy, luxurious, and sweet; it somehow gives you a feeling of pleasure by just eating it. Chocolate also, for some reason, makes you feel just a little guilty and naughty, but it is nice to feel naughty some times isn’t it? But have you ever wondered how we came to find out about this wonderful food? Where did it originate? Who first thought of eating it? Well let’s find out.

The cocoa tree has grown in Central America since prehistoric times. It’s real name, Theobroma Cacao, is Greek for “food of the gods” I’m sure that this is no coincidence, because isn’t chocolate a food for the gods? Well it is heavenly, isn’t it?

The cocoa beans grow in pods about the size and shape of an American football, but not quite as pointed at the ends. The beans are green when unripe and turn orange when ready to harvest. The pods are harvested all year round and each pod can contain up to 50 cocoa beans. The beans at this stage are not brown as you might expect, but they are white and taste very bitter.

The first people to make use of chocolate were the Maya, an ancient people who lived in the Yucatan Peninsula in South America, around 600 A.D. The actual word chocolate is derived from the Mayan word XOCOLATL, which literally means, bitter water. The Mexican word chocolate comes from the term CHOCO (foam) and ATL (water), because this perfectly describes how chocolate was consumed for centuries, as a drink.

The Mayans used cocoa beans as currency; beans could buy you anything from food to slaves. They also made a drink – xocolatl, it was made from cocoa beans, water and spices. This bitter tasting drink was used to treat coughs and fever, among other things.

Some Mayan merchants travelled as far as Mexico, the land of the Aztecs, to trade and sell beans. The Aztecs held the cocoa beans in esteem; they believed their god Questzalcoatl travelled to earth on the beam of the morning star, carrying a cocoa tree from paradise. They believed that wisdom and power could be gained by eating the fruit of the tree. Xocolatl was also consumed by the Aztecs in the form of a drink. Made from beans which had been finely ground, they used chilli water, aromatic flowers, vanilla and wild bee honey to make a drink that was far more luxurious than the drink made by the Mayans.

In 1502 Columbus had actually discovered the bean being used as a currency by the Aztecs. Due to being unable to translate, he did not know the beans he was given were money, or that they made a highly valued drink. Columbus did take some back to Europe on his return, but the were seen to be of no significance, and were overlooked in favour of other treasures he had brought back from his travels.

Don Cortes, thankfully, did bring the beans to Europe. Europeans added sugar to the drink, and it was taken this way for some time. The Europeans went crazy for this drink; through time the drink became less expensive and more accessible, so even more people were able to enjoy this wonderful drink. Someone eventually worked out that you could get solid chocolate from it, and this process has been refined down through the ages, until it had developed into the type of chocolate that we know and love today.

Chocolate is still as popular today as it has ever been. New flavours and new ingredients are added to make chocolate even more appealing. People today still use chocolate as a comfort food, to give us that feeling of pleasure that we humans so desire.

How lucky we are that these days we are all able to sample that exquisite taste, and we can feel like a King or a Queen when we eat the food of the gods.