The Cacao Products of this tropical tree have played many roles through the centuries. In 1753, Linnaeus designated the tree Theobroma cacao, which translates to “cacao, food of the gods.” Several hundred years later, chocolate lovers would agree with this appellation although, for the Maya, who honored a cacao god, the term had a more literal and spiritual meaning. The Aztecs used cacao beans as currency and as food and drink for the privileged. Spaniards introduced the drinking of chocolate to Europe where, in the medical system of the time, those who could afford it used chocolate as a tonic and remedy. The purported health benefits of chocolate are once again creating a buzz as industry sponsored research suggests that dark chocolate might possibly lower blood pressure and provide antioxidant benefits.

Cacao cultivation is restricted to the hot, humid belt 10 to 20 degrees north and south of the equator. As the popularity of chocolate spread, European countries quickly established plantations in these regions.

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