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Aztec Technology That Still Sweetens Our Taste-Buds and Outlasted the Conquistadors
Any serious student of history is always amazed at the products and techniques invented and discovered in the ancient world that we take for granted today. Paint, gunpowder, weapons, cement, arrows, alcohol, silk, papyrus, champagne, and many others are at the center of modern society and commerce in one way or another. Two of the most beloved ancient creations are among the most popular consumer products in modern times, chewing gum and chocolate.
Chocolate was first harvested and converted into a drink by the Aztecs in Mexico. Before the Aztecs, the cacao bean was considered a destructive plant that neither animals nor humans would eat. Tough, bitter, tough, and inedible, cacao is the plant that seems least likely to have an upside-down commercial fate.
The Aztecs took the cacao bean and mixed the flesh of the plant with peppers, sugar cane and various liquids to make a drink that was consumed strongly as a fun tonic. The cultivation of cacao became an important industry in Mexico and the beans represented a type of currency that activated the trade.
When Hernando Cortes conquered Mexico, he and the Spanish who conquered him were disgusted by the cacao drink that the Aztecs consumed in abundance. They spit it out and written accounts indicate their aversion to strong, bitter-tasting beverages. However, through experimentation, they found that by removing the pablano peppers and other Mexican herbs and substituting pure sugar together they made a delicious dessert that was either a drink or a candy.
Unwanted cacao beans have been found to be the main business niche. Samples of the plant were brought back to Spain and soon the popularity of chocolate spread throughout Europe. The cultivation of cacao trees spread throughout parts of Africa and Asia as demand increased and plantations were needed to produce cacao in large quantities.
The Aztecs were also central to the discovery and trade of chewing gum. In remote areas of southern Mexico, trees release a type of sap called chicle. The Aztec’s harvested this chicle resin and developed a chewable paste that can be imbued with herbs, sweets and spices. For hundreds of years the use of chicle as a precursor to modern chewing gum was common throughout Mexico and parts of Central America.
Hernando Cortes however did not just defeat the Aztecs. It destroyed their society and culture. The southern origin of chicle was unknown to the Spanish and thus lost for centuries. In 1870, Thomas Adams, exploring the southern-most part of Mexico also discovered the ancient chicle resin. Soon after, William Wrigley found the source and the first chewing gum war soon began.
Adam’s most popular brand of chewing gum is Chiclettes. Wrigley launched the Juicy Fruit and Spearmint brands. Both were very successful, though Wrigley came to be a symbol of Chicago’s commercial and social life. The company he founded, in addition to the famous Wrigley Tower and Wrigley Field, has cemented Wrigley’s name as one of America’s great brands.
Unexpectedly, the discovery of new sources of chicle in Southern Mexico has led to the discovery of many ancient Aztec and Mayan cities where the forest was consumed. Until today scientists are working diligently, discovering lost tombs, pyramids and ruins that could not have been brought from under the forest without the love of the chicle business that works as prod apex for discovery.
The Conquistador’s were not interested in food. They lust after gold, silver, jewels and wealth. However, after plundering Mexico and Central and South America of all the loot they could and shipping it to Spain they never knew the real treasures they had discovered.
Many types of plants, vegetables and fruits were introduced to Europe and the world as a result of the Spanish Conquistador’s invasion. These unexpected side effects of the Spanish invasion of the New World were, at the time, considered the greatest benefits of the conquests. Indeed, the production of chocolate and chewing gum has provided the modern world with many of the most satisfying products of life and satisfaction.
Cadbury, Nestle, Mars and Hershey are global behemoth brands that provide sinful flavor and pleasure to mankind at an incredibly affordable price. Hundreds of companies, large and small, all over the world produce amazing drinks based on the Aztec discoveries of chicle and chocolate. Today, we are the beneficiaries of the Aztec genius for taking unwanted products from the forest and turning them into amazing concoctions that make our mouths and tongues water with delight.
The Aztec property would be great even without the expensive gifts of chewing gum and chocolate. But when I look at a child eating chocolate ice cream, or a Snickers bar, or blowing bubbles, I know that the world is a happier place as a result of this ancient wisdom.
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