Chilli chocolate

When we think of chocolate, it is as an indulgence—a decadent bar, a box of little sea shells shapes or something wrapped in colourful foils. We can even drink a bit of hot chocolate to warm us up in the winter.

One of my favourites chocolate indulgences is chilli chocolate, it gives you a double hit—one from the tingle of the chilli and the other from the sugar. Lindt is one of the few companies that make it and it is available in supermarkets here (in Australia).

While chilli chocolate might seem like an odd contradiction, it’s much closer to the original way of consuming chocolate from the cacao bean than how we consume it nowadays. The story of chocolate takes us into the history of the word itself and into the earliest civilisations of Mexico and Central America before they were conquered by the Spanish conquistadors in 1521 and chocolate taken to Europe.

Word history of chocolate

Word historians (etymologists) trace the origin of the word “chocolate” to the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which referred to the bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The scientific name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, comes from the Greek “Theos” for god and “broma” meaning food ,and hence “food of the gods”.

“Cacao” is the Spanish word for the cocoa bean, which was adapted from the Aztec “cacahuatl”. The English spelling of cocoa (for the hot drink made from the cacao bean) originated from a printing error in Dr Johnson’s dictionary (1755) which has never been undone. Cocoa is often used in English instead of cacao, which can get confusing. Australians tend to drink hot chocolate compared to the English who drink cocoa. Although both use cocoa as an ingredient they have different ingredients with the cocoa drink being less sweet, for instance.

History of chocoholicism

Linguistic evidence of chocolate consumption goes back almost four thousand years to the Olmecs (from an Aztec word meaning the rubber people as they were growers and traders), and then to the Mayans and Aztecs. The Olmecs consumed chocolate as a drink. They brewed it with spices, chilies, and other ingredients that gave it a complex, bittersweet flavour.

Anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007 found cacao residue on pottery excavated in The Honduras, possibly dating as far back as 1400 B.C.E. They suggest that the sweet pulp surrounding cacao beans was once fermented into an alcoholic beverage. Even in modern times the pulp is used in some countries to prepare juices and sweets. Recently the distillation of the fermented pulp into alcohol has been revived.

“Chocoholic” the word used humorously to describe people addicted to chocolate was first used in 1968 (it is obviously a construction based on a chocolate alcoholic).

Remember the chocolate tradition

So I suggest that you start eating chilli chocolate to remember a tradition that dates back thousands of years. We should also give a little toast to the Aztecs who gave us the word and to the Olmecs who were the first chocoholics.