Cacao was domesticated in Central America about 3,000 years ago. Linguistic findings suggest the word “cacao” is comes from the word kakawa in Mixe-Zoquean, believed to have been the language of the Olmecs, the oldest civilization of the Americas (1500–400 B.C.). The chocolate legacy passed from the Olmecs to the Maya, one of Mesoamerica’s most advanced civilizations. Drinking vessels elaborately decorated with chocolate illustrations discovered by archaeologists contain traces of ceremonial chocolate drinks dating from 250 to 900 A.D.
Cacao beans were so valued in ancient Mexico that the Maya and later Toltec and Aztec civilizations used them as currency to purchase small household items and pay for various services: a large tomato was worth one cacao bean, a rabbit 10 beans, and a slave 100 beans. Taxes levied against conquered tribes were also paid in cacao beans.
Typically Mexican chocolate is made with roasted and ground cacao nibs, sugar and cinnamon; other spices like nutmeg and allspice can also be added.