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Mayan Chocolate

US scientists have discovered residues of cacao from which chocolate is made in ceramic vessels found at the Maya archaeological site at Colha, Belize in Central America.

Most of the ceramic vessels were found in the burial sites and were manufactured during the period 900 BC to AD 250. This pushes back the earliest chemical evidence of chocolate use by about 1,000 years.

Residues from 14 jugs were sent to Hershey Foods in Pennsylvania for analysis. Jeffrey Hurst of the chocolate company used a combination of high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to analyse the tiny 0.5-gram samples and found traces of cocoa in three of the jugs. Hurst reports the scientists were surprised by the findings but added that the chocolate company had no interest in reviving the Mayan's chocolate recipes. "...the recipe is nothing like the chocolate taste we gravitate towards today."

The evidence suggests chocolate was not eaten as an occasional snack or used as a sweet ingredient. Instead, it was consumed with most meals, usually mixed with another ingredient, such as water, maize, chilli and/or honey. The jugs would have been used to pour the liquid from a spout, in the same way we use a teapot today. Documents written at the time of the Spanish Conquest suggest liquid chocolate was agitated to produce a foam.

The research appears in the July 18 issue of the journal Nature.



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