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THE SWEETEST THING

How did people living in the Amazon basin roughly 3,500 years ago work out that if they ground down the bitter purple beans of the cocoa plant, they could transform them into a sticky and delicious paste? It’s one of the great mysteries of chocolate – now one of the most desirable treats in cultures from all round the world.

The Mayans, whose civilisation flourished in Mexico between 250 and 900AD, made a drink from crushed cocoa beans, chili peppers, cornmeal and water which they called ‘xocolatl’ or ‘bitter water’. The Mayans revered it as ‘the food of the gods’. It was consumed during weddings and believed to have special healing properties.

The Aztecs used cocoa  beans as currency, and believed it to be an aphrodisiac of such potency that it was forbidden to women. King Montezuma drank 50 cups a day - and

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