Chocolate is a delicacy that was produced and enjoyed long before it became moulded into a bar and packaged for our supermarkets.
Dating back to ancient Mesoamerica, it's thought that cocoa beans have been used for consumption from as early as 1900 BC. Mayan hieroglyphics decrypted by historians suggest that they used chocolate in their everyday lives and even grew cocoa trees in their back gardens.
It was during the 15th Century that cocoa began to evolve into the commodity it is today. Most of Mesoamerica was taken over by the Aztecs, who immediately adopted chocolate into their culture. Whilst they differed from the Mayans in how they liked to prepare their drinking chocolate (cold and seasoned with honey or vanilla rather than hot and frothy), their appreciation for cocoa was just as ardent. There is even an Aztec deity by the name of Quetzalcoatl who is said to have been banished by the gods for sharing the secret of chocolate, meant to be the food of the gods, with humans. Chocolate quickly became so revered that ancient Aztec hieroglyphics can even be seen to compare the removal of the cocoa pod to the removal of the heart from the body.
It was in the Aztec Mesoamerican empire that cocoa started to gain significant value. Due to unsuitable conditions, cocoa could not grow in the Mexican highlands which were home to many Aztecs. As a result, cocoa beans became an imported luxury, and the surrounding communities who had the conditions to grow it would offer it to the Aztecs as tax. Before long, cocoa became a widely accepted currency. It's thought that a slave or a turkey would cost about 100 cocoa beans, while a a rabbit would cost 10 and a pumpkin about 4 beans. It's telling that chocolate, although not vital to human survival like water or nutritious food, was valued so highly that it became currency.
The last act in the Mesoamerican history of chocolate takes rather a dark turn. Chocolate was known to be used in association with human sacrifice and would frequently be mixed with blood and drunk by the natives. Around the time that Christopher Columbus discovered a canoe full of cocoa beans, resulting in the popularisation of cocoa in Europe, a Spanish traveller named Oviedo made a haunting and bizarre discovery. In Nicaragua, he found that the natives would mix their chocolate drink with a shrub called achiote as it would make the drink red and blood-like. He explained that they would do this because they were so fond of drinking human blood.
From the first-ever drinking chocolate back in ancient Mesoamerica to the chocolate we produce here at Islands, the Aztec's so-called 'food of the gods' has been enjoyed by humanity for millennia and isn't going anywhere any time soon.