Adam Siegel and Axel Borg

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

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While the role of Theobroma cacao L. in the Atlantic economy has been overshadowed by other commodity crops such as coffee and tobacco, it has played as significant a role in the Atlantic economy as it did in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, when cacao seeds (beans) were used as currency, capital, and tribute, befitting their status as “food of the gods.” Cacao or chocolate has been a staple of Atlantic trade, as its postcolonial cultivation has expanded and extended along coastlines on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. For the sake of brevity, the term “chocolate” will be used here to refer to all derivatives and comestibles derived from the cacao bean, its pulp, or its pod, unless otherwise noted. Chocolate was carried to the Old World in the immediate post-contact era; its earliest mention in European sources is in accounts of Cortes and Diaz del Castillo. A number of European observers recorded Mesoamerican recipes for the frothy drink prepared from cacao and consumed by the Aztecs. Most European literature on chocolate in the 17th century is devoted to its healthful or medicinal properties. The expansion of cacao plantations by the Spanish and Portuguese and other colonial powers accompanied the increasing importance of chocolate as a trading commodity; this led to a sharp growth in consumption and a concomitant expansion in the material culture associated with chocolate. The Industrial Revolution allowed for the large-scale production of chocolate products (grinding, milling, emulsifying), which led to the rise of the great chocolate concerns still with us today (e.g., Cadbury, Hershey, Nestlé, etc.). Another great scientific revolution of the 19th century, in anthropology and archaeology, led to a rediscovery and reassessment of the role of chocolate in Mesoamerica (see Cacao Cultivation). In the 20th century, scholarship on chocolate has continued to focus on its origins and pre-Hispanic cultivation and use, both ritual and medicinal, as well as on the salubrious properties of chocolate. In the 21st century, the cultivation of cacao has expanded: while Central America and the Caribbean (Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago) still generate annual yields in the tens of thousands of metric tons, South America (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, the homeland of the plant) and West Africa (Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and São Tomé and Principe) produce the greatest amounts; Indonesia is the main producer in Asia (see Business and Industry from the 19th Century). This annotated bibliography highlights the most significant publications devoted to chocolate since Cortés.

Article.  5644 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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