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Chocolate Ingredient Cacao Dates Back To 5,400 yrs Ago

A growing interest in cacao flavors, indicates a return to a time when chocolate wasn't just an ingredient buried in a candy bar.

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A worker holds dried cacao seeds at a plantation in Cano Rico, Venezuela. VOA

New research strengthens the case that people used the chocolate ingredient cacao in South America 5,400 years ago, underscoring the seed’s radical transformation into today’s Twix bars and M&M candies.

Tests indicate traces of cacao on artifacts from an archaeological site in Ecuador, according to a study published Monday. That’s about 1,500 years older than cacao’s known domestication in Central America.

“It’s the earliest site now with domesticated cacao,” said Cameron McNeil of Lehman College in New York, who was not involved in the research.

The ancient South American civilization likely didn’t use cacao to make chocolate since there’s no established history of indigenous populations in the region using it that way, researchers led by the University of British Columbia in Canada said.

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-A cacao pod hangs from a tree at the Agropampatar chocolate farm co-op in El Clavo, Venezuela. VOA

But the tests indicate the civilization used the cacao seed, not just the fruity pulp. The seeds are the part of the cacao pod used to make chocolate.

Indigenous populations in the upper Amazon region today use cacao for fermented drinks and juices, and it’s probably how it was used thousands of years ago as well, researchers said.

Scientists mostly agree that cacao was first domesticated in South America instead of Central America as previously believed. The study in Nature Ecology & Evolution provides fresh evidence.

Three types of tests were conducted using artifacts from the Santa Ana-La Florida site in Ecuador. One tested for the presence of theobromine, a key compound in cacao; another tested for preserved particles that help archeologists identify ancient plant use; a third used DNA testing to identify cacao.

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A light almond cream candy carries the initials for Russell Stover Candies in Kansas City, Kansas. VOA

Residue from one ceramic artifact estimated to be 5,310 to 5,440 years old tested positive for cacao by all three methods. Others tested positive for cacao traces as well, but were not as old.

How cacao’s use spread between South America and Central America is not clear. But by the time Spanish explorers arrived in Central America in the late 1400s, they found people were using it to make hot and cold chocolate drinks with spices, often with a foamy top.

“For most of the modern period, it was a beverage,” said Marcy Norton, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World.”

The chocolate drinks in Central America often contained maize and differ from the hot chocolate sold in the U.S. They did not contain milk, Norton said, and when they were sweetened, it was with honey.

 

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A worker holds cocoa beans at SAF CACAO, a export firm in San-Pedro, Ivory Coast, Jan. 29, 2016. VOA

By the 1580s, cacao was being regularly imported into Spain and spread to other European countries with milk being added along the way. It wasn’t until the 1800s that manufacturing advances in the Netherlands transformed chocolate into a solid product, Norton said.

Michael Laiskonis, who teaches chocolate classes the Institute of Culinary Education, said he’s seeing a growing interest in cacao flavors, indicating a return to a time when chocolate wasn’t just an ingredient buried in a candy bar.

Also Read: Consuming Cacao May Improve Vitamin D Intake, Says Study

He said he tries to incorporate chocolate’s past into his classes, including a 1644 recipe that combines Mayan and Aztec versions of drinks with European influences.

“It’s something that’s always been transforming,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

Quality of Food Plays Key Role in Deciding Kids’ Behaviour: Study

Poor gut bacteria may turn your kid into a problem child

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Kids behviour
Parents, it is time to check the quality of their food as microbiome in the gut plays a key role in deciding kids' behaviour. Pixabay

Parents, according to a latest health news if your kids throw attitude and do not listen to you despite repeated warnings at home, it is time to check the quality of their food as microbiome in the gut plays a key role in deciding kids’ behaviour, a novel study has found.

The study of early school-aged children (in the age group of 5-7) showed a connection between the bacteria in their gut and their behaviour, said researchers, adding that parents play a key role in their kids’ microbiome beyond the food they provide.

“Childhood is a formative period of behavioural and biological development that can be modified, for better or worse, by caregivers and the environments they help determine,” said microbiology and statistics researcher Tom Sharpton Oregon State University.

The gut microbiota features more than 10 trillion microbial cells from about 1,000 different bacterial species.

Kids behviour
The study of early school-aged children (in the age group of 5-7) showed a connection between the bacteria in their gut and their behaviour. Pixabay

The researchers, which included scientists from Stanford University and University of Manitoba, surveyed the gut microbiomes of 40 school-aged children.

The scientists collected stool from the children and parents filled out questionnaires on socioeconomic risk, behavioural dysregulation, caregiver behavior, demography, gut-related history (like antibiotic use) and a week-long diet journal.

They used a technique known as shotgun metagenomics to apply whole-genome sequencing to all of the organisms found in the subjects’ stool.

The technique gives insight into which microbes live in the gut and their functions.

“One of the novel associations we found was between Type VI secretion systems and behaviour,” said Keaton Stagaman of the OSU College of Science.

The findings, published in the journal mBio, are important because microbiome can shed light on which children are heading toward mental health challenges.

“Future studies will hopefully show whether these secretion systems have direct or indirect effects on the gut-brain axis and which organisms carry these systems,” Sharpton said.

Also Read- India Registers an Uptick in Diabetes and Thyroid: Report

The gut-brain axis, the reciprocal communication between the enteric nervous system and mood or behaviour, is a rapidly growing and exciting body of research.

The researchers said that future work should also take a close look at the impacts of diet on the microbiome and behaviour. (IANS)