Scientific name: Theobroma cacao
The world-acclaimed cacao (or chocolate) we consume today looks radically different from the roasted and fermented one Aztecs and Mayans drank hundreds of years ago. Popular among Mesoamerican cultures, these godly beans were mostly consumed by the elite—reserved for special occasions, festivals, and religious rituals, such as the end of the Mayan calendar. The cacao beans were also used as currency in commercial trade, or as dowry in wedding ceremonies.
Cacao’s ancient, aphrodisiac, and medicinal praise became well-known to the Spanish Conquistadores in the 16th century, who eventually spread this high-priced crop across the rest of Europe.
Today, most chocolate is consumed in sweetened, butter, or powder versions with added flavoring or fillings. Modern research has also found that cacao is rich in minerals, flavonoids, and other health-supporting antioxidants. Studies has shown that cacao may help support brain health, protect nerves from inflammation and injury, plus help lower blood pressure and heart disease risk.