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When Chocolate was Medicine

In the 17th century, Europeans were introduced to new hot drinks from all over the world: tea from Asia, coffee from the Middle East, and chocolate from the Americas. The effects of these strange beverages concerned users, and eventually they were considered to be drugs.

Chocolate was the first of the three to enter the pharmaceutical annals in Europe via a medical essay published in Madrid in 1631: Curioso Tratado de la naturaleza y calidad del chocolate by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma. Colmenero’s short treatise dates from the era when Spain was the main importer of chocolate. Spain had occupied the Aztec territories since the time of Cortés in the 1540s — the first Spanish-language description of chocolate dates from the 1552 — whereas the British and French were only beginning to establish a colonial presence in the Caribbean and South America during the 1620s and 30s. Having acquired a degree in medicine and served a Jesuit mission in the colonies, Colmenero was as close as one could come to a European expert on the pharmaceutical qualities of the cacao bean. Classified as medical literature in libraries today, Colmenero’s work introduced chocolate to Europe as a drug by appealing to the science of the humors, or essential bodily fluids.

The explanation of how chocolate could be used to advance one’s health was nonsense even in the medical knowledge of the time, bordering on magic, but the promotion of chocolate as a cure-all (and aphrodisiac) was quite profitable. Connecting chocolate with tea and coffee promoted it as exotic, yet the inclusion of the Aztec culture’s contribution to pharmaceutical beverages was even more exotic than the slightly more familiar and civilized regions of Asia and Arabia. Read about the history of chocolate in Europe at the Public Domain Review. -via the Presurfer


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