When talking about good old traditional Belizean recipes, our traditional Belizean Mayan chocolate has stood the test of time, retaining its splendor at its rawest.
“There’s nothing like the oldschool and that is rightly so for chocolate as well”
So you’re a chocolate lover you say, but your idea of chocolate is the ubiquitous Nestle Quick, Snickers or kisses, and the like. While these are tasty variants of the real deal, a taste of our traditional Belizean Mayan chocolate will bring you to your knees in a chocolate-wasted stupor from which you will not wish to awaken. In order to grow a true appreciation for chocolate, you must have indulged in its rawness. This excludes the presence of sugars and other additives found in the mass-produced chocolates at your superstore. It may take a little getting used to but one thing’s for sure, Authentic traditional Belizean Mayan Chocolate will spark in you a love for chocolate, the lights of which you could never have imagined.
Chocolate’s history in the Ancient Mayan World.
It all started with the Classic Period Maya (250 – 900 C.E.) who were the first people to ever discover the cacao plant. Chocolate played an important Religious role in their lives. The Maya drank chocolate on special occasions and during religious events where the priest would also present the cacao seeds as an offering to their god. It was primarily a beverage for royalty; however, recent findings have encountered traces of chocolate in the potteries of the ordinary Maya households.
How the rest of the world discovered this royal food drink.
The Aztecs were known to have taken over a little part of Mesoamerica and traded with the Maya for cacao as well as used the cacao seed as a form of money. The Europeans first saw chocolate during their conquest of Mexico in 1521. by this time, everyone in the Maya and Aztec worlds was drinking chocolate. The Spaniards saw how the Aztecs drank it and readily noted the value of the cacao seed. They started shipping cacao seeds to Spain where the chocolate drink became a symbol for Europe’s upper classes for the next 300 years.
How the Ancient Maya preferred their chocolate drink.
The Mayan drink was very different from the watery hot chocolate of modern-day Europe and America. According to Spanish accounts, the Maya enjoyed their hot chocolate thick and foamy. How did they achieve this? While standing, the Maya poured the chocolate drink from one vessel to another on the ground. This was done repeatedly as the drop, together with the fatty cacao butter, produced a thick head of rich, dark, chocolate foam – the most coveted part of the drink. The creme de la creme. The Maya were also known to mix the cacao seed with cornmeal (maize), chili, and even honey to achieve that thick savory consistency. Sounds mouth-watering in contrast to today’s watery version right?
Why chocolate is so prevalent in Belize.
Belize is a melting pot of culture; meaning, we have just about every ethnicity in the world living in this one tiny piece of paradise and we all get along in harmony. We have three different types of traditional Mayas living in Belize. The Yucateca Maya in the north and west, the Mopan Maya in the west and south, and the Ketchi Maya in the South. These Maya groups account for 10% of Belize’s population. They have retained their traditional practices of farming and they take pride in their cacao plantations.
How Belizean Maya keep their Cacao craze alive.
Every Commonwealth Day Holiday Weekend (late May) there is an event to celebrate traditional Belizean Mayan Chocolate. This is the cacao festival and it spans for three days. This is a great place to try out various traditional belizean recipes featuring a traditional chocolate ingredient. The event takes place in Toledo (Southernmost District of Belize) also known as the chocolate capital of Belize. This year (2015) will mark the 7th festival and the first in its new guise as the Chocolate Festival of Belize. The name change from Toledo Cacaofest is a reflection of the growing awareness of Belizean chocolate and design to capture a wider International audience.
Belize has many natural chocolate museums throughout the country. Here’s a list of only a few of them.
AJAW Mayan Chocolate & craft – San Ignacio.
Here you’ll find chocolate bars made of 99% black chocolate and 1% sugar with no preservatives added. They offer tours to locals and tourists alike which involve Cultural, Mayan Cacao demonstration on an ancient grinding stone called “Metate”, where the cacao beans are ground into a fine chocolate paste. At this museum you are given a history of the cacao in the Mayan world and the cool part is that you can get hands-on in the grinding process. Basically, you make your own chocolate bars or chocolate drink and take home your creation or sample them on site. They are open from 8:00am to 6:00pm so you can drop by even after your day tours and still catch in on the fun.
Maya Cacao Museum – Esperanza Village.
Here you can get a similar experience to that you’d find at the AJaw Mayan Chocolate museum but don’t take our word for it. Feel free to read up on what they offer to differentiate themselves.
Che’il Mayan Chocolate – Maya Center Village in Stann Creek (Southern Belize)
Mr. Julio produces authentic Mayan chocolate bars and also offers a hands-on demonstration of the chocolate making process. There you can view the various machines that he uses in the chocolate making process from Grinders for grinding cacao beans in bulk into a paste, to a compressor for pulverizing the chocolate and making cocoa powder for hot chocolate drink. He even has a little tempered room where he stores the freshly made chocolate bars to achieve the right texture and end result. Mr. Julio gives you the option of taking only the demonstration tour which lasts about 45 minutes or you can couple that with a tour of the plantation farm to view how the cacao trees are farmed and harvest for another 45 minutes. Mr. Julio is planning on taking his knowledge of producing high quality chocolate to higher levels as he is currently exporting his chocolate bars nicely wrapped and bearing his logo to certain partners in the USA.
I encourage you to add this enlightening experience to your bucket list today!
After this delicious Maya chocolate enlightenment, I hope that the Belize Mayan Chocolate experience makes it into your bucket list. An experience which rewards bragging rights as you will have tasted a unique, all-natural chocolate right off the hands of a native, traditional Maya in the Mystical land of Belize, Just as they Maya did when their civilization flourished. No doubt, you’ll be leaving with a hand full of chocolate products and souvenirs for your friends and family back home.
Have you had any similar experiences with chocolate anywhere else in the world before?
Here’s a tip, if you’re planning a trip to San Ignacio, be sure to couple your chocolate museum tour with a tour of the Xunantunich Mayan Temple or the Cahal Pech Mayan Temple tour in a combo package. It’s a Must-See!
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