New research puts the origins of domesticated cacao in South America — 1,500 years earlier than previously believed.
It’s Halloween, which means for a lot of us, it’s time to eat a lot of soon-to-be-extremely-discounted fun-size chocolate bars. And just in time for the occasion, a team of researchers with an excellent sense of seasonal timing have shed some new light on the origins of chocolate — challenging a lot of long-held beliefs about where the so-called “food of the gods” comes from.
As archaeologists have generally understood it, chocolate goes back to the Aztec and Mayan people, who first domesticated cacao in what’s now Central America about 3,900 years ago. But new research suggests it’s older than that — about 1,500 years older. And it didn’t originate in Central America, either.
According to a new paper published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, domesticated cacao — the raw ingredient for chocolate — can in fact be traced farther south, to the upper Amazon in South America.
For the average contemporary chocolate eater, this might seem like merely an interesting historical detail: We thought chocolate was old, but in fact, it is very old! But according to Sonia Zarrillo, an anthropological archaeologist at the University of Calgary and one of the lead authors on the study, the findings have significant implications for our understanding of ancient cultures — and may hint at the future of chocolate production.
Geneticists have long suspected cacao might have been domesticated in the Amazon — but there wasn’t proof
Of the 22 species of cacao trees, only one has really been domesticated. And while there are different varieties of domesticated trees, they’re