CASKE 2000

Cacao, the Drink of the Gods

Harvesting and Preparation in Blue Creek (Belize)

PHOTOGRAPHS AND TEXT BY JEAN-PHILIPPE SOULE 1999

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History

In ancient Mayan culture cacao was revered as the drink of the gods. Only the elite of Mayan society could afford to drink it as the seeds were used as currency. Only rich people can afford to drink their money. Colonists discovered the cacao drink and brought it back to Europe where it became a fashionable drink among the high society. In the present cacao is sold worldwide as the main ingredient in chocolate and hot cocoa powder, but the Mayan still prepare it and drink it the way their ancestors used to.

Harvesting

Cacao comes from the seeds of a fruit pod. The pods grow on trees sprouting directly from the trunk or main branches. It is a large oval fruit which is green when young and yellow when ripe. Both the green and yellow fruits can be harvested. The flesh of the green one is harder but already a bit sweet while some compared the soft flesh covered seeds from the ripe pods to sourball candies . Children and adults alike enjoy sucking on the sweet flesh (I loved it too).

Drying Process

After eating the fruits, or washing them off in the river, the seeds are set to dry on a metal sheat or wood board set in the sun. Depending on their  stage of maturity, they will approximately be left to dry for 7 days after which they will turn to a dark brown color. If chewed they taste similar to a bitter cacao powder (although I also thought that the taste was a bit similar to coffee beans). Once dried, they are ground dry or mixed with a dash of water to form powder or paste respectively.

Grinding the seeds into powder

This is done on a flat stone mortar and pestle. Sometimes Mayan people add a few grains of black pepper to add some taste. Once the powder is obtained, a little bit of water is poured from a calabash bowl to make a paste.  The paste is mixed in a bowl of water consumed hot or cold and with or without sugar according to preference. We both enjoyed the drink with sugar it was very similar to the hot cocoa we know (minus the milk), but nither of us fancied the bitter beverage made without the sugar.

Chocolate and cocoa powder Preparation

Mayan people don't know the process which was developed in Europe. Factories receive cacao seeds or powder and add milk and many other ingredients to make the chocolate or cocoa powder you find in the stores.

Photos

Green Cacao Fruit  ;  Collecting ripe fruits   ;  Open fruit  ;  Adults like it  ;  Kids love it  ;  Seed removing  ;  Seed drying 1  ;   Seed drying 2  ;  Seed drying 3  ;  Seed drying 4  ;  Grinding into powder  ;  Making a cacao paste 1   ;  Making a cacao paste 2  ;   The drink is ready  ;  All the steps

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