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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

When You Engage in ‘Hedonic Consumption’? Read Here To Find Out

"Emotional consumption is usually food because it's easily accessible and available to most people,"

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Some research suggests "hedonic consumption" doesn't help because it could lead to a vicious cycle of eating unhealthily and its associated guilt factors. Pixabay

If you start binging on fast food, savour dark chocolates or can’t resist that ice cream, this may be because of an emotional event like a recent break-up as there is science behind this behaviour, says a study.

Reacting to emotional events like break-ups, tends to involve reaching for the nearest unhealthy snack which is called “hedonic consumption”, said Nitika Garg, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of New South Wales’ (UNSW) at Sydney Business School.

“When you engage in ‘hedonic consumption’, you always have some kind of emotion attached to it,” she added.

When you’re sad, you tend to go for overconsumption – hedonic consumption – as therapy.

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“We tend to focus on sadness and what it does to consumption but there’s also this unexpected good effect of happiness,” Garg suggested. Pixabay

“Be it ice cream or a luxury handbag, there are always emotions attached,” Garg said.

Research shows when people are made aware of emotion effects, they go away.

“One of the mechanisms to curbing hedonic consumption is making people aware of the behaviour by providing nutritional information,” Garg noted.

On the flip side, experiencing happiness actually curbs the consumption of unhealthy food products.

“Happiness is shown to increase the consumption of products people believe to be healthy,” said the professor.

In her research, the UNSW academic offered both M&M chocolates and sweet dried fruit sultanas to happy and sad people.

She found that happy people don’t eat M&Ms but they do eat sultanas a lot more.

“We tend to focus on sadness and what it does to consumption but there’s also this unexpected good effect of happiness,” Garg suggested.

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When you’re sad, you tend to go for overconsumption – hedonic consumption – as therapy. Pixabay

Some research suggests “hedonic consumption” doesn’t help because it could lead to a vicious cycle of eating unhealthily and its associated guilt factors.

Also Read: “Worn-of-Women”: US Based Firm To Manufacture Female Condoms

“Emotional consumption is usually food because it’s easily accessible and available to most people,” said Garg who received a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad.

“People go for what seems easiest to them in terms of familiarity and in terms of accessibility for ‘hedonic consumption’,” the professor added. (IANS)