Food of the Gods

Chocolate Illustration
Illustration courtesy of Carol Coogan

In the nineteenth century, Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa wrote, “Look, there is no metaphysics on Earth like chocolate.” This is one poet who was clearly on to something. Chocolate belongs to that short list of foods that are both decadent and healthy, depending on one’s discipline.

There’s a reason why chocolate belongs at the same table as red wine.

Ancient cultures, most notably the Mayans, regarded chocolate as a divine substance, even magical. It was prized as food, medicine, and a trading currency. And, because it was often considered a gift from their gods, Mesoamerican cultures used it in rituals, and extolled its virtues in hieroglyphs, songs, and drawings. Archeologists have found numerous ceramic and stone vessels with trace amounts of cacao alkaloids, dating as far back as 1900 BCE.

Cacao Tree
Image courtesy of Karunakar Rayker (

Chocolate actually starts as seeds in a cacao pod and is the fruit of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, which literally means “drink of the gods.” The cacao tree is a delicate-looking evergreen tree that thrives in the rainforest’s wet and humid climate and begins fruiting around the tree’s fourth or fifth year; less than 10 percent of its pinkish-white blossoms mature into fruit each growing season. The fruit itself looks somewhat like a long melon with tapered ends. The pods have a woody shell, with a husk and white fruit pulp inside.

Cacao’s metaphysical properties are shared by entheogens which, loosely translated, are substances that generate the divine within. Typically, only the vision-producing drugs traditionally used in shamanic or religious rituals are regarded as entheogens. However, the same idea can be broadened and applied to other drugs that induce a change of consciousness—including chocolate.

If you think of substances used in mystical or spiritual ceremonies (peyote, mescaline, mushrooms, cannabis), you get the idea of entheogens. But, if you’re looking to re-live that sort of experience with cacao, you’ll need to find the darkest chocolate on the market, anything that contains really high cacao content, and even then you might be better off taking the magic mushroom route to tap into your inner divinity. A Mayan-style chocolate from Antigua or Guatemala might be a start, particularly if it has an added cayenne kick; milk chocolate or white chocolate won’t cut it.

Cacao Pod
Image courtesy of the Agricultural Research Service

Keep in mind that a lot of sugar is added to chocolate to please the modern-day palate. This is why health experts typically encourage indulging in dark chocolate that has a high cacao percentage of at least 75 percent. Dark chocolate with high cacao content should be closer to bitter than sweet, and it’s that characteristic bitter and less-sugary flavor that’s more likely to give you an entheogenic high. It also helps if you don’t devour the chocolate bar (like I do!), in two minutes or less. Like any other food-tasting / appreciation ritual, savoring the moment is key for a real sensory experience.

Of course, we can enjoy chocolate without considering its god-like stature in the food pantheon, much less its Amazonian super-food qualities. (It could hardly be the food of the gods if it weren’t powerful, with off-the charts nutritional and medicinal value.) There’s something to be said for ignoring that bittersweet cacao percentage and taking adulterated pleasure in downing one or two of those creamy, silky Lindt milk chocolate bricks or that Holy Grail of junk chocolate, a Reese’s ® Peanut Butter Cup. Godliness is good; so is being a kid.

Thomas Washington is Head Librarian at the Albany Academy for Girls. He has been a Co-op member since relocating to Albany from Washington, DC in 2015.