When the Spanish conquistadores invaded Mexico 500 years ago, they found the emperor Moctezuma drinking a exotic beverage called xocóatl with his breakfast. Made from ground cacao beans that had been boiled in water, spiced, and beaten to a froth, it was literally the drink of kings, permitted only to rulers and other high aristocrats.
Until now, it has been believed that chocolate was consumed in ancient Mexico only in the form of a beverage and not as a food or condiment. However, that belief has been challengted by the discovery in the Yucatan of a 2,500 year old plate with traces of cocolate residue.
The discovery, which was announced this week by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, suggests that present-day Mexican dishes, like the chocolate-based mole sauce often served over meats, may have ancient roots.
Previous excavations have revealed traces of chocolate on drinking vessels used by the Olmecs and other early Mexican cultures as far back as 2000 BC, but this is the first find involving plates.
The fragmentary plates were unearthed in 2001 but only recently subjected to tests at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi that revealed a “ratio of theobromine and caffeine compounds that provide a strong indicator of cacao usage.”
“This is the first time it has been found on a plate used for serving food,” explains archaeologist Tomas Gallareta. “It is unlikely that it was ground there (on the plate), because for that they probably used metates (grinding stones).”
Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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