Cacao

Ripe cacao pods just before harvesting. Photo by Medicaster.

Ripe cacao pods just before harvesting. Photo by Medicaster.

Cacao was a trade item, a symbol of wealth, and an important ingredient in rituals, since it was believed to be one of the foods the gods bestowed on the Maya. The temperamental cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) will only bear fruit when grown no more than 20 degrees above or below the equator, in lands that receive at least 60 inches of rain annually, and where the temperatures do not dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That the tree could grow in Chama's environment helped the site achieve greater importance than other villages along the Chixoy River.

The bitter beverage drunk by the Maya bears little resemblance to modern sweet, milky, chocolate drinks. The Maya mixed the ground cacao-seed paste with water and various flavorings.