Chocolate Was More Than Just Dessert
Aztec chocolate was something that was highly prized. It had religious basis, social basis, and financial basis. Cacao seeds could be used as money, and one single cacao seed could be traded for a tomato, three beans, an avocado, a rabbit, 200 beans, and a turkey cock. It was highly prized, because getting authentic cacao was hard since it was only harvested in the Mayan lowlands.
The Aztecs saw the cacao as a symbol for sacrifice, as the seeds spilling out of the pod were thought to resemble blood spilling out of the body when the heart was torn out. In turn, some of the chocolate drinks made by the Aztecs would be dyed red to represent blood. One yearly ritual had a male slave wearing the jewels of the gods for 40 days, during which he drank chocolate mixed with blood from sacrificial knives and danced. At the end of the 40 days, the man himself would be sacrificed.
The Aztecs never consumed chocolate in bar form like is common today. Instead it was more of a cold drink. One Spanish missionary reported that the Aztecs became intoxicated when they drank too much of it. This has led some to wonder if the drink was fermented or mixed with alcohol. There was one drink that was made from fermented green cacao pulp as well. The flavor of the chocolate was much different as well, it was bitter, strong and spicy, nothing like the sweet treat it is today.
Chocolate was also a status symbol, meant only for nobles, merchants, and warriors. If a commoner was seen with chocolate, it was believed to be a bad omen. The Aztecs would serve it with tobacco after a banquet and emperors would be served copious amounts in golden cups. The chocolate drink was also said to lead to “success with women.”