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The Medicinal Use of Chocolate in Early North America

July 7, 2010

Sacred Cacao God using a Molinillo

Sacred Cacao God using a Molinillo

“Chocolate is a unique food in that many of its perceived properties are opposites within the humoral classification system. The tannins inherent in chocolate are astringent. At the same time, chocolate melts at body temperature and offers a smooth sensory property in the mouth. Theobromine keeps consumers alert. The high fat content of chocolate satiates the consumer and creates a feeling of fullness lending itself to slothfulness. Adding spices and aromatics to chocolate further complicates chocolate classification into hot/cold and wet/dry quadrants. Whether the beverage was based on cocoa (defatted) or chocolate made with vanilla and/or spices, mixed with milk or water, steeped with shells for a tea, or frothed into a fancy concoction a constant throughout the centuries was that the beverage based on cocoa beans was used to treat illness. This tradition that contemporary scholars trace to originating in Mesoamerica continued in 18th century North America after European settlement. Evidence to support chocolate’s sustained medicinal use repeatedly appears in 19th and early 20th centuries newspapers”

“The medicinal use of chocolate has a long history in North America dating back to the 16th century. From Mesoamerican Codices and European Treatises scholars have determined that for hundreds of years the beverage called chocolate was administered to the sick and prescribed homeopathically to prevent illness. Yet, little scholarship exists that focuses on medicinal chocolate usage in early North America (18th – 19th century). This paper examines medical practices during this era and associated medicinal norms with special attention given to chocolate/cocoa usage. Given the current scientific attention on the relationship between dark chocolate consumption and heart disease attenuation it is timely to investigate and chronicle America’s medical forebears’ understanding of, and practices related to, the medicinal use of chocolate. Indeed, there is a signif icant amount of literature to suggest that chocolate was used for wellness and to treat illness.”

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