Central Americans were drinking beverages made from the cacao plant before 1000 BC, 500 years earlier than previously thought, say archaeologists.
These early cacao beverages were probably alcoholic brews, or beers, made from the fermented pulp of the cacao fruit, rather than the frothy chocolate-flavoured drink made from the seed of the cacao tree that was such an important feature of later Mesoamerican culture.
... in brewing up this primitive beer, or chicha, the ancient Mesoamericans may have stumbled on the secret to making chocolate-flavoured drinks, report experts in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
"In the course of beer brewing, you discover that if you ferment the seeds of the plant you get this chocolate taste," said John Henderson, a professor of anthropology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and lead author of the paper. "It may be that the roots of the modern chocolate industry can be traced back to this primitive fermented drink."