The original home for cacao

All started in Ecuador.......

As you may know, Latin America is widely known as the birthplace of cacao (Theobroma cacao), however, according to recent archaeological research, cacao’s original homeland is Ecuador.

Things have recently been getting a twist in the origins of cacao. A unique ceramic pottery was found near a small town called Palanda in the province of Zamora Chinchipe, a southern region of the country, containing ancient remnants of cacao dating back to 3,300 BC. This has led researchers to determine the origin of cacao in Ecuador. Thus, Ecuador rewrote the history of chocolate, as cacao beans have been grown and eaten in Ecuador for over 5,300 to 5,500 years.

The history of the Ecuadorian origin of cocoa

Archaeological research in Ecuador indicates that Theobroma cacao, or simply cocoa, was first cultivated in the upper Amazon region. The Santa Ana-La Florida site, associated with the Mayo-Chinchipe culture, provided evidence for this discovery. The oldest cacao beans in the world were discovered on the site in Palanda, Ecuador, 1,040 meters above sea level.

In October 2018, a scientific article entitled “The Use and Domestication of Theobroma Cacao during the mid-Holocene in the Upper Amazon” was published in the journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution”. The research was conducted by 19 researchers from Canada, France and Ecuador. The article describes the early domestication and use of cacao in Ecuador, based on analysis conducted at the University of Calgary, Canada. The analysis was done on a two-handled bottle depicting the Spondylus shell giving rise to a human’s double image, found at the Santa Ana-La Florida site. Starch granules from cacao were discovered inside the bottle, which belonged to the Mayo-Chinchipe culture, with a carbon-14 test dating back to 3500 BC to 3330 BC, or 5300 – 5500 years ago.

The Mayo-Chinchipe culture used processed cacao as a significant social and symbolic component of their diet, interacting with the Andean region and Pacific Coast civilizations, through which Amazonian cacao was introduced to the Ecuadorian coast and eventually transported to Mexico and Mesoamerica, along with the Spondylus shell. The available evidence suggests that the Mayas and Aztecs of Mexico used cacao from Ecuador to make a beverage known as “Xocolatl” in the Nahuatl language, marking the beginning of chocolate’s history.

The Mayo-Chinchipe culture played a significant role in domesticating and distributing cacao, leading to its widespread consumption around the world and allowing us to indulge in the delightful taste of chocolate.


This article was written by Anna Popper and edited by Juan Andres Santelices

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