Sunday, December 27, 2020

History of cocoa beans as barter currency

It was the first civilization of the Americas, the Olmec, living some three millennia ago in the humid lowlands of the Mexican Gulf Coast, who first domesticated the cocoa plant.

The cacao bean was so significant to the local cultures that it was used as a currency in trade, given to warriors as a post-battle reward, and served at royal feasts.

During the fourteenth century, the Aztecs conquered a large part of Central America and became the dominant power. In addition to enjoying chocolatl as a beverage, the Aztecs so prized the beans that they used them as currency. In an Aztec market, one bean could buy a tamale or a tomato; 100 beans could buy a turkey. A copper ax cost a whopping 8,000 beans.

A rabbit could be purchased for 10 cacao beans or a llama for 50 beans. A large successful household might be taxed 20 of the 50 Ziquipilli it produced in a year.

Aztec warriors were paid with cocoa beans and it was part of their regular military rations. The great wealth of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma was based on cacao currency.

The Mayan people of southeastern Mexico also used cocoa beans as currency, to buy anything from avocados to turkeys to sex.

In 1544, the cocoa industry at this time began to flourish with the help of Dominican Friars who were assigned to learn the secrets of the bean from the Mayans. Once they perfected their craft of processing the cocoa, the friars began to share their discovery with the wider world, leading to cocoa being used as currency in Europe as it once was among ancient Mayans and Aztecs.
History of cocoa beans as barter currency