Map of Central American chocolate-growing
Map of Central American chocolate-growing regions
Source: Chocolate Class Cacao Transformed
The cacao tree first developed in the Amazon rainforests of South America relatively recently in around 15,000 BC. Indigenous people initially bred the tree for the sweet pulp in its pods, rather than the cacao seeds themselves. People traded the plant with neighboring communities over thousands of years. By the time of the Olmec civilization (approximately 1500 BC) cacao was likely grown from today’s Peru in the South to Mexico in the North. Chocolate evidence has even extended as far north as today’s Arizona and New Mexico. You may be wondering what this rainforest plant was doing all the way up in the desert. Archaeologists see this as evidence of extensive trade throughout the Americas. Chocolate has been a transcontinental product for thousands of years!