Man's 2,600-year-old love affair with chocolate

Our love affair with chocolate began 1,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to a chemical analysis of a cooking pot used by the ancient Mayans in about 600BC.

Our love affair with chocolate began 1,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to a chemical analysis of a cooking pot used by the ancient Mayans in about 600BC.

The pot, unearthed at an archaeological site in northern Belize in Central America, contains a residue left over from when the vessel was used to make a frothy chocolate drink.

Scientists found that a rock-hard residue sticking to the bottom of the pot contained a chemical signature unique to the beans of the cacao plant, which can be roasted and ground into cocoa powder and made into chocolate.

Jeffrey Hurst, a chemical analyst at the Hershey chocolate company in Pennsylvannia who led the research team, said that the findings amounted to the earliest evidence of chocolate being drunk.

"Based on this evidence it seems that the Maya [people] harvested the cacao, they may have even fermented it, they certainly roasted and shelled the beans to make a ground powder which they might have mixed with water, corn or spices," Dr Hurst said.

"It doesn't sound terribly tasty to me but I'm not a Mayan. I guess the closest we can get to it today is putting cocoa powder in a blender and mixing it with water and some spices – not horribly appetising," he said.

Archival documents from the time of the Spanish conquest suggest that the Maya and Aztecs preferred to consume chocolate as a frothy drink made by pouring the liquid from one vessel into another. The chocolate was consumed with most meals and may have been mixed with chilli or honey in different proportions to make a variety of refreshing drinks.

The chemical analysis for the cooking pot's residue, published in the journal Nature, was able to distinguish the tell-tale signs of cacao among the approximately 500 different compounds that are unique to the plant.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower