It seems that long before Vianne Rocher entered the picture, chocolate has been a factor in the battle between life's pleasures and those who would deny them. The real life history of chocolate is filled with contradictory rumors and fairytales. There are those who have spoken of chocolate's mystical powers and healing qualities, and yet chocolate has also incited repression, moral judgements and even political banishment. Screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs delved into this rich and pungent history in order to give the character of Vianne a legacy steeped in mystery -- a legacy that goes all the way back to the Mayan Indians and a tree bearing a fruit known as "the food of the gods." Below are some highlights from this intricate history:
· Chocolate literally grows on trees, appearing in its raw state as pods on the 40-60 foot tall trees known botanically as "Theobroma cacao," which means "food of the gods." This widebranching tropical evergreen has grown wild in Central America since prehistoric times. It also grows in South America, Africa and part of Asia.
· The Mayan Indians of Mexico began using a form of chocolate as early as 600 a.d., at which point they worshiped the cocoa bean as an idol, a literal gift from the heavens.
· Cocoa beans were thought to have fearsome magical powers by the Maya and were carefully used in rituals, religious ceremonies and healings by priests. The Maya used cocoa medicinally as a treatment for fever, coughs and even discomfort during pregnancy.
· The Maya had a God, Ykchaua, who served as the patron of cocoa merchants.
· The Maya were the first to invent a cocoa drink, a hot, mostly bitter beverage made up ground cocoa pods and spices.
· Later, the Aztec Indians improved upon the recipe, sweetening it with vanilla and honey. They called their drink "xocoati" (pronounced similar to Chocolatl), meaning "bitter water."
· In Aztec myth, the god of agriculture, Questzalcoatl, traveled to earth carrying the cocoa tree from Paradise, because it would bring humans wisdom and power.
· Chocolate became so highly regarded by the Aztecs that it was used as a form of currency along with gold dust.
· The Florentine Codex, one of the main historical sources describing Aztec life, calls chocolate "The drink of nobles," and notes that it must be prepared with the meticulous care due to its powerful nature.
· Although Columbus returned to Europe with the first cocoa beans, no one knew what to do with them and they were dismissed in favor of other trade goods.
· Europeans got their first real taste of chocolate when Emperor Moctezuma met the explorer Cortes and his army with a foaming hot chocolate drink.
· In 1528 when Cortes returned to Spain from the New World, he brought with him the Aztec's chocolate drink making equipment and the trend began to catch on. But due to the drink's powerful reputation, the beans were sequestered away in monasteries and the formula for the drink kept secret, to be enjoyed only by the wealthiest of nobility.
· In the early 1600s Italian traveler Antonio Carletti carried the beans to the rest of Europe and for the first time, chocolate came to the common people.
· By the 1700s, so-called "Chocolate Houses" were all the rage, as popular as coffee houses. In England, Charles 11 tried to close them down, calling them "hotbeds of sedition."
· When chocolate first made its way to France, in the 18"' century, it was decried by authorities as a "dangerous drug."
· The idea of mixing chocolate with milk did not come until the 18th century. Sir Hans Sloane, personal doctor to Queen Anne, invented the secret recipe and later sold it to the Cadbury brothers who made a fortune with new confections.
· It was a Dutch chemist, Johannes Van Houten, who developed the modem cocoa process, inventing a hydraulic press that would produce a fine cocoa powder. Thus began the era mass-produced chocolate.
from the Miramax press release