February 3, 2009

Evidence Of Earliest Use Of Chocolate In North America

Historians say the use of chocolate goes back some 1,000 years in what is now the United States.

University researchers worked along side the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition on a special report about chocolate's history published in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report said evidence of chocolate has been found in Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, N.M., the earliest indication of the tasty substance north of Mexico.

Patricia L. Crown of the University of New Mexico said drinking chocolate was associated with a variety of rituals in ancient Central America, including weddings, but she is not sure of its exact uses in her area.

The recent find suggests trade was under way between the Chaco Canyon residents and cacao growers in Central America between A.D. 1000 and 1125.

However, Crown said the nearest cacao plantation would have been more than 1,000 miles away, making the material difficult to import.

"Chocolate was probably something not consumed often," she added in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.

She suggested chocolate also probably tasted bitter compared with what is available today. Central Americans didn't sweeten their chocolate and sometimes mixed in hot peppers. Honey might have been available in New Mexico but Crown said she didn't know if it was used.

A discussion about cylinder jars initially prompted the study, when Crown was told the Maya used the jars for drinking chocolate.

Crown acquired several pieces of ceramic that appeared to come from similar jars, so she had them tested for residue. The tests soon revealed theobromine, an indication of chocolate.

"This illustrates the importance of collections in archaeology," Crown said, "that we can return to material with new techniques and find out new things. Every artifact has a story to tell."

History indicates that chocolate was used in rituals in Central America as early as 1500 B.C. and was even a form of currency during the Aztec civilization.

The National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, University of New Mexico and the Hershey Technical Center supported the new research.


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