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  • Asian Cocoa


Updated: Apr 26, 2023

In the appendix of their 2015 book Chocolate and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition and Therapy, Philip K. Wilson & W. Jeffrey Hurst propose a timeline that shows how cocoa – and chocolate, has been perceived over the centuries since its discovery by the Europeans in the early 16th century.

One can read, for example, that in 1575 Girolamo Benzoni, an Italian merchant who spent 15 years in what was called at that time the New World, called Mexican chocolate “more a drink for pigs than a drink for humanity.”

At the same time, as early as 1590, the Florentine Codex, an ethnographic research made in Mesoamerica by the Spanish friar Bernardino de Sahagun, identifies medicinal uses of chocolate. From there on, the medicinal benefits of cocoa – as a drink during these times - kept being emphasised.

In this image from the Codex, one can see two people consuming cocoa. Sahagun mentions that one can use the tree-bark, cocoa leaves or beans in order to benefit from various medical treatments based on cocoa.

The first books dedicated to chocolate were published in the early 17th century in Europe, and these publications never stopped.

From the end of the 19th century, some negative effects of chocolate were underlined: irritant, hard to digest, yet it has been largely associated with healthy habits, and highly recommended for sick children.

For sure, this image of chocolate has contributed to its integration in the European culture.

In Asia, we cannot find such accounts, and only cocoa beans were produced there. Were the Jesuits valorising the benefits of chocolate among their Asian communities? Probably not. Western companies did not advertise the virtues of chocolate either, perhaps because they have never seen in Asia a potential market.

“The concept that cacao yields health benefits is not new. Even though its consumption as chocolate was popularized by Europeans, cacao was an important part of Mesoamerican native culture for several millennia.

Cacao possessed a high value among the Mayans as it was used not only as a key element in food and beverage preparation, but also as currency and for commercial exchanges. Mesoamerican Indians also used cacao as part of their traditional medicine. For example, they drank it to alleviate dyspepsia and intestinal colic, diarrhea and dysentery, fever, asthenia, angina and convulsive episodes, amongst other uses. Cacao was also utilized in combination with other ingredients to trat diverse maladies. For instance, cacao ground together with dried corn beans and a flower called tlacoxochitl was consumed to mitigate fever.”

in Chocolate and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition and Therapy, ed. By P. K. Wilson & W. J. Hurst Royal Society of Chemistry; 2015, 134)

Timeline chocolat science
Download PDF • 79KB

Appendix 1: Brief Historical Timeline of the Early Mentions of Chocolate in terms of Science, Nutrition and Medicine


Chocolate and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition and Therapy, ed. By Philip K. Wilson &W. Jeffrey Hurst, 2015 e-book collection

Image: Jean-Etienne Liotard, The Chocolate Girl (1743)

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