Having done lots of research about chocolate and its history and some theology studies, I have found its just about impossible to separate chocolate and religion, right from the ancient beliefs of Mokaya, Olmec, Maya Aztec civilisations, to the Catholics, Muslims Quakers, and Jews it clear that Chocolate and religion have had a relationship sometimes close sometimes not.
Cocoa, tomato, corn, potato and pumpkins, all originate from the New World, first grown and used by the indigenous people of Central America, who in the case of cocoa roasted and then ground the seeds of the tree into a coarse paste.
But the earliest known use of cacao was in southern Mexico around 1900 B.C where small pot was found with cocoa residue inside. we think it dates to the Mokaya people, (corn people) a pre-Olmec community who lived in the Soconusco region which is now southern Mexico and Guatemala.
The Olmecs used cacao for a unsweetened drink, and also brewed it into an alcoholic drink.
It was adopted by the Maya people, and then by the Aztecs. who called it xocolatl, which means bitter water?
The Maya consumed it for a treat but also used it in religious ceremonies. It was not merely a sacrifice to the gods, but they believed that it gave life intelligence, wisdom and strength to the drinker.
Life Blood was very sacred to the Maya and Aztec, and xocolatl, was seen as a life-giving force that empowered human blood. Its consumption was a sacrament, which gave life to the consumer. It has also been said to be used by the Aztec emperors as an aphrodisiac, to place their wives in a good mood for romance.
It was used in all areas of life from a birth offering to death as accompaniment to nourish in the afterlife.
The Aztecs were great warriors and the dominant force in central Mexico, they imported cocoa from the mountain areas making it a luxury item. they were happy to extract tax from their defeated neighbours, and cacao beans were a perfect currency.
Three cacao beans would buy an avocado, ten got you a rabbit or a wife and a hundred for a slave or fresh turkey.
When Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World on his fourth voyage of discovery, he encountered xocolatl, but didn’t like it so didn’t take any great interest in it.
The first European to taste the frothy elixir xocolatl, was Hernan Cortez, the real conqueror of the Aztec peoples, who noticed the great emperor Montezuma II drinking it from golden goblets after a banquet. Cortez apparently liked the stuff a great deal and after pillaging the Aztec empire made sure that he got the cacao beans as well as the Aztec gold and lands fruits art gems.
From the conquistador, it came into the hands of the Franciscan friars who had come to convert the native Indians and help relieve them of their gold. The Franciscans were converted to power of xocolatl in the process, and they brought it back to the Spanish court.
Where the nuns added sugar or honey to the drink and then nutmeg and vanilla. The rest, we may say, is history.
Chocolate has overcome not only a thousand-mile journeys from its original cacao trees and centuries of evolution in preparation styles but also a grand battle with the Catholic Church.
Catholic Christianity in those days had a great many more fasting days than today. Fridays and often other days of the week were meatless and required abstinence from pleasures, like Lent and Advent.
Did chocolate violate the fast day? The religious authorities of the day debated the issue.
If it was a food, it violated a fast. But if was a drink, like water, it didn't. Chocolate at this time was still a thick sludgy drink,
The debate went all the way to the highest levels and in 1662, Pope Alexander VII settled the debate over chocolate and fasting with a single sentence:
“Liquidum non frangit jejunum [Liquids which would have included drinking chocolate do not break the fast].” and the faithful could consume it on Fridays and even during Lent.
Chocolate spread across Europe and the modern world and today is a vast industry with songs books and movies some telling religious stories.
in the book Chocolat, later a film starring Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, In the film, Vianne Rocher, comes to a provincial French town where she opens a chocolaterie, just as Lent is about to begin. Chocolate was not deemed sinful in Mesoamerica, it was in a pre-Lent, Catholic context. Vianne tries to “rekindle the passion” in this town, and because of this she is at odds with the town Mayor, Comte de Reynaud. As it turns out, his wife has left him, and he breaks down by giving into the temptation of chocolate symbolises his repressed humanity being unleashed.
More than $50 billion a year is made in chocolate,
Europeans are the largest consumers of chocolate, eating or manufacturing more than 45 percent of all chocolate. West Africa, has overtaken the Americas, is now the largest producer of cocoa. It is sadly still has issues with child labour in parts of West Africa, but we can purchase fairtrade chocolate. Fifty million people make their living from the chocolate industry.
And chocolate has never entirely left the religious sphere, as so many children know about chocolate selection boxes, Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies (not entirely Christian)
Where would the Jewish home be without gold-wrapped chocolate coins for Hanukkah gelt won with a swift turn of the dreidel? And as for the chocolate given by young men to their dates on St. Valentine’s Day — well, I think Montezuma ll would have understand why they give it.