Posted in Kafevend Blog
Following on from our delve into cocoa from the Dominican Republic last week, today we're returning to the Americas with a look at the cocoa on offer from the small country of Belize. Belize is squashed up against the coast of the Caribbean sea with Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south. Despite its small size, it has a burgeoning cocoa industry- although it perhaps comes as no surprise when you consider its history, as it was once home to the Maya civilization.
Some 4,000 years ago, the earliest Maya settlements were being founded in the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, the blob of land that reaches out from Central America towards Cuba. By the time of their peak during the first millenium C.E., the Maya spread from the peninsula southwards all the way to the Pacific coast and the countries of Honduras and El Salvador, and west to the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas. Within this realm, cocoa became an important prestige crop which was reserved for the elite, something that was replicated by the Aztec in the middle of the second millenium C.E.- in fact, the two were contemporaneous for a while before the arrival of the Spanish and successively heavy handed European influence, to put it mildly.
Back then, Mesoamerican people such as the Maya and Aztecs consumed cocoa in quite a different fashion to how we do now. In fact, were we to try their favourite drink we would probably cough and splutter and wonder why they got so worked up about it. The Maya created their drink by mixing a roasted cocoa paste with water and flour, along with chilli peppers. This mixture was then poured back and forth from a height between two vessels in order to create a froth and heated before being drunk. This proto-hot chocolate was seen as an aphrodisiac and also said to give strength. Given the presence of theobromine and caffeine inside cocoa beans and their stimulating effects, it certainly makes sense that Mesoamericans thought this!
Although the amount of cocoa produced in Belize is quite small today, it is popular stuff. Four main companies work in the country, using the cocoa grown there to produce chocolate: Ix Cacao, Kakaw Chocolate, Goss Chocolate and Cotton Tree Chocolate. A large part of the produce however goes to the company mentioned below...
The legacy of Maya's cocoa history lives on in part thanks to Green and Black's, who we also had cause to mention in last week's blog. The first bar created by the company was called Maya Gold, made up of chocolate from Belize mixed with orange, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon, a combination inspired by that traditional Mayan drink. Thanks to Green and Black's ethically minded business practices, the Maya Gold bar was the first product in the UK to earn a Fairtrade award, back in 1994. Green and Black's continue to buy cocoa from Belize farmers which goes into the making of Maya Gold, so if you fancy a taste of some Central American chocolate, you know what to pick up the next time you go shopping!