Lecture explores how Europe savors America

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Joe Baker, cocoordinator of Native American Arts Week, talks with Dr. Patricia Crown, Anthropology Professor at the University of New Mexico, before her lecture on Chocolate and Macaws in Meso America. Photo by Sally Hedberg

What do macaws and chocolate have in common? This was the topic of the lecture by Dr. Patricia Crown, professor of anthropology, University of New Mexico, delivered at the Idyllwild Arts Academy during Native American Arts Week. The Mayans and Aztecs discovered the nutritious and culinary value of the nut from the cacao tree in the rainforests of Central America. Eventually this jungle nugget gave the world one of its most enjoyable pleasures.

The inside of the tree’s pods are similar to a coconut and contain a gooey white sweet substance. But it was the beans inside the pod that proved to be the real find — chocolate. Ancient people roasted and ground the beans, making a powder that mixed with some starch made a flat cake and lasted several months. The same powder mixed with water and some sweetener, probably honey, made a seductive and addictive chocolate drink. The Emperor Montezuma reportedly drank 50 cups a day. Mugs were specially made just for chocolate drinks. The Mayan glyphs show how froth was added to the drink resembling a latte or espresso today.

Dr. Crown uncovered some of these vessels in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. Chaco contains the oldest pueblo ruins and was a major cultural center of the pueblo people from 900 to 1150 A.D.

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