Scientists have discovered that chocolate was invented at least 3,100 years ago in Central America and not as the sweet treat people now crave, but as a celebratory beer-like beverage and status symbol.
Researchers identified residue of a chemical compound that comes exclusively from the cacao plant - the source of chocolate - in pottery vessels dating from about 1100 BC in Puerto Escondido, Honduras.
This pushed back by at least 500 years the earliest documented use of cacao, an important luxury commodity in Mesoamerica before European invaders arrived and now the basis of the modern chocolate industry.
...."The earliest cacao beverages consumed at Puerto Escondido were likely produced by fermenting the sweet pulp surrounding the seeds," the scientists wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
One of the researchers, anthropologist John Henderson of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said cacao beverages were being concocted far earlier than previously believed - and it was a beer-like drink that started the chocolate craze.
"What we're seeing in this early village is a very early stage in which serving cacao at fancy occasions is one of the strategies that upwardly mobile families are using to establish themselves, to accumulate social prestige.