The Aztec and Mayans of Central America cultivated cocoa trees long before the arrival of European explorers. These Mesoamerican Indians were the first to create a drink from crushed cocoa beans mixed with water and flavorings such as chili peppers, vanilla, and other spices. It was a special beverage reserved for Mayan rulers and special ceremonies.
The word cacao itself derives from the Nahuatl (Aztec language) word cacahuatl. The Mayan used cocoa beans also as currency.
The Maya believed that the kakaw (cacao) was discovered by the gods in a mountain that also contained other deletable foods to be used by the Maya.
The invading Spaniards learned about cocoa from the Aztec Indians in the 1500s and brought this fascinating “new” food back to Europe.
Chocolate slowly spread across the royal courts of Europe, and by the 17th century it was an expensive luxury reserved for the upper class.
The cacao plant was first given its botanical name by Swedish natural scientist Carl von Linné (1707-1778), who called it “Theobroma (Food of the gods) cacao”.