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  • Writer's pictureMafer Chocolate

Cocoa does not taste like chocolate.

At least not without human help. And this was what the original peoples of Mesoamerica discovered and perfected. The oldest and strongest evidence so far is in the archaeological site of Takalik Abaj, located in the southwest of Guatemala. Recent studies have found fascinating evidence that its ancient inhabitants fermented the cacao they produced on well-planned plantations as early as 400 B.C. and that the structures where they did it had a preponderant importance. Even in moments of great political, social, and economic instability, the production and fermentation of cocoa never stopped.

But what does fermentation consist of and what does it have to do with the flavor of cocoa and chocolate? Contrary to the fantastic but untrue stories about cocoa flavors coming from the surrounding vegetation, the variety of flavors depends on factors less romanticized by tourists and more on science and technology discovered and developed by the American people.

Cocoa in its natural state, without human intervention, only has two flavors and one sensation: acid, bitter and astringent. And these characteristics are always present in all cocoas. The degree of each one will depend on the genetics and the post-harvest processes to which it is subjected. The first of these processes is fermentation, the second is drying, and the third, which is often forgotten or seen as less important, is storage.

Today we will talk about historical and modern fermentation, since it is in it that the flavors and aromas of cocoa are biochemically developed, which are later expressed and enhanced during roasting to make chocolate and other products. One of these aromas is the one that we all identify with modern chocolate, the most important that is present in fine and aromatic cocoa. The range of flavors and aromas is infinite in the world of cocoa and this variety is what makes it so interesting as a raw material and as an element of pleasure when tasting it.

Cocoa goes through aerobic and anaerobic fermentation to reach the best quality. The number of days and the order of the turning can vary depending on the genetics, which was changing in Mesoamerica as evidenced in the oral tradition of various original peoples, and that in another blog post we will tell you so that you know how they explained certain phenomena. and how important cocoa has always been for our people.

Takalik Abaj, according to the archaeological investigations of Dr. Marion Popenoe, dedicated a large area to planting cocoa, planted remarkably like the traditional plantations of the South Coast and flat areas of the country. Close to that cultivation area, they found more than four hundred grinding stones (kaa' in Protomaya and other languages ​​of that root such as K'iche', or metate in Nahuatl spoken by the Mexicas who accompanied the Spanish during the conquest). This, together with the moments of war that happened while the production and fermentation process of the grain in enormous quantities did not stop.

But the most compelling evidence, although at the beginning it was quite an enigma for archaeologists, is what they thought was a plaza next to the cultivation area on the last platform of the place. As Dr. Popenoe recounts in the video, upon contemplating that this area was not a square but a cocoa fermenter, they realized that it is consistent with the characteristics of modern fermenters, only on a huge scale. The area has a slope and a drainage so that the liquids coming from the cocoa mucilage come out. It also has holes where the columns that supported the roof of the fermenter were. What is interesting is that the research discovered that it is the same technique and fermentation elements that are used in the world, and that it comes from the ancestral knowledge of the inhabitants of Mesoamerica in the Preclassic and Classic Mayan Periods.

That is why it is fair to say that it is the center of sophistication and technology of cocoa, both in agricultural production and in the post-harvest of cocoa and consumption of beverages made with cocoa, especially chocolate.

You can see the entire exhibition by Dr. Marion Popenoe at this link:

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