We are sitting in an ancient stone sauna at the remote ruins of Malpasito, build by the ancient Zoque. The ancient Zoque, and their forefathers – the Olmecs – were brilliant minds and they can be compared to the Greeks of Europe. They were stargazers and they kept an advanced calendar, they invented the sauna and a ball game – and then they invented a cacao drink that they considered to be sacred. The word cacao also stems from their language as they named the fruit kakaw, a word that was later adopted by the ancient Maya.
The Selva Zoque is the only place in the world that can claim 4000 years of uninterrupted cacao farming and consumption, making it a hotspot for flavourful cacao strains that have been selected and perfected by various civilizations. What we like to call the Tabasqueño cacao, is a local and wild hybridization of ancient criollo cacao that dates back thousands of years, dispersed throughout the wilderness of Mesoamerica by Spider Monkeys and ancient civilizations like the Olmec, Mokaya and Maya, and an amelonado cacao from the Amazon that was brought to Tabasco by a French family in the early 1900’s. Here, in the rainforest-clad Selva Zoque, a wild hybridization has taken place for more than a century.
To me, the Tabasqueño cacao is a map – of flavours – to the ancestral land and traditions of the Zoque and Tzotzil peoples. Used as a sacred ingredient in their culinary traditions for millennia, this cacao is an essential part of their cultural and ecological heritage. The flavours of the Tabasqueño is indebted to its lush and diverse terroir and its ancient genetic criollo traits – and its depth and fruity character makes it a great representative of Mexico’s ancient cacao culture.
This is also the place where chocolate began its journey as a food for the soul and body, when the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés, in 1519, was offered a sacred aphrodisiac by the Aztec ruler Moctezuma – a foamy, bitter, spicy and maize-based cacao liquor. With the first cacao beans that crossed the Atlantic ocean, cacao became Mesoamerica’s gift to the world.
Photos by: Jacqueline Dersjant – PHTGRPHR