General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 27 Feb 2021/4 Dog
Text Size:

Search the Site (type in white box):

Article suitable for Top Juniors and above

Professor Susan Toby Evans

Question for February 2021

If you were under 52, were you ever allowed chocolate? Asked by Oak Farm Junior School. Chosen and answered by Professor Susan Toby Evans.

Cacao beans being used as money in a Mexica market; illustration by Gerardo del Olmo L.
Cacao beans being used as money in a Mexica market; illustration by Gerardo del Olmo L. (Click on image to enlarge)

It was pulque [fermented cactus juice] that was reserved for elders; the nobles thought that chocolate was too powerful for the commoners, too stimulating. But most commoners regularly did menial work in the palaces as part of their tribute obligation - cooking prep work and general cleaning - and in cleaning up after a feast they no doubt drained any dregs out of the chocolate cups. It was also freely sold in the market, from cacao beans to frothy drinks. So probably most commoners had a taste of it some time.

Dr. Anastasia Kalyuta adds:-
Sure, if you took at least 4 prisoners in Atlixco, Cholula or Huexotzinco. Moreover, in some seasonal festivals and banquets like Hueytecuilhuitl in the summer you could taste chocolate to appreciate the generosity of your tlahtoani [ruler]. It was a hard time for farmers (old crops had ended) and the tlahtoani was expected to feed his macehualtin [commoners] as their true mother and father. Chocolate was served at merchant banquets and weddings and I don’t remember any age restrictions in these cases.

Jug with cacao as a ritual offering; Codex Vindobonensis pl. 18 (detail)
Jug with cacao as a ritual offering; Codex Vindobonensis pl. 18 (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

Professor Barbara Mundy adds:-
Yes, but foamy chocolate was a very special treat, mostly because cacao beans were also used like coins as money. The cacao beans look like big almonds, and if you peel off the outer brown skin, you find the bitter dark cacao inside that was used to make chocolate. Eating your cacao meant eating your money!

Professor Patrick Johansson adds:-
The privilege to drink chocolate was not a matter of age but rather of nobility.

Picture sources:-
• Market illustration: image scanned from Ce Acatl: Revista de la Cultura de Anáhuac no. 26, 31 March - 19 April 1992
• Image from the Codex Vindobonensis scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1974.

Explore our History of Chocolate section

Professor Susan Toby Evans has answered just this one question

Comment button