The Spanish Secret Known as Cocoa Beans

Yes, we all learned in school that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. What is not commonly known is that among the treasures that he brought back from his fourth trip to the New World was the cocoa bean. The story goes is that Columbus presented his treasures to the King Fernando, and Queen Isabel of Espana. Among the items in the treasure was the cocoa beans, but the other items such as gold drew their attention. Thus the cocoa remain unnoticed

Approximately twenty years later, Hernan Cortés popularized the cocoa bean, and chocolate drinks. At first the Spanish court did not appreciate the loathsome looking drink, and only after sugar was added to the chocolate did it become popular with the nobility. Of course, the cocoa bean due to the tremendous cost of production was used as currency.

Spain first shipped cocoa seeds commercially in 1585 from Veracruz to Seville. The Spaniards planted the cocoa seeds in their tropical colonies and created a monopoly on chocolate that lasted until the late 16th century, when Spain began to decline as a sea power. The cocao plantations in the New World was utilized to "grow money". The secret of chocolate was held by having the monks in monasteries grind the beans and by forbidding the export of cocoa and chocolate. These monks kept secret of chocolate for over a century before it spread to the rest of Europe. However, in 1615 when the Spanish Princess Maria Theresa became engaged to Luis XIV of France, she gave her fiancé a gift of chocolate in an elegant chest.

The secret was so well kept that during the Spanish armada’s battles with England and Holland, captured cargo vessels containing cocoa were frequently sunk as having no value. This was because the rest of Europe was not privied to the heavenly chocolate drink. Eventually, in the 1600’s after the gift of chocolate to Luis XIV, chocolate made it to chocolate houses across Europe.

Although the original intentions of the Spanish was not to share the cocoa bean with the world, we are glad that Maria Theresa spilled the beans on the secret. Obviously, the real credit goes to the Mayans, and not the Aztecs for the original discovery.

Little did the indigenous people of present day Mexico, and the Europeans knew, but the cocoa bean has changed the world for the better. The humble bean has created a multi-billion dollar chocolate industry. I thank the Mayans for discovering the bean, and the Spanish for spreading it.

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