Guatemala has designated its beloved hot chocolate a ‘national patrimony’ in an effort to recognize its historical importance and protect the labor-intensive traditional preparation of the beverage. The country’s Cultural Ministry has made this move in order to “to promote centuries-old customs” and highlight the complicated and intensely manual process involved in making the beverage.
Chocolate has been made in the Mixco region of Guatemala in the same way for over 500 years. Traditionally, preparation of the beverage has been entrusted to women who manually remove the seeds from cacao pods before slow roasting and then grinding them. The process is still passed down from one generation to the next and is not taught in any formal setting. Although it can be sold in supermarkets, distribution of the beverage also remains largely traditional, with peddlers traveling around the country to sell it at local markets and homes.
Chocolate enjoys a rich history in the region and has been a vital part of the economy, at one point the cacao bean being used as currency. The cacao tree from which chocolate is made is thought to have originated in South America, but local Central American varieties are especially prized and the tree has always held an important place in indigenous Guatemalan culture.
‘Chocolate is really a symbol of the Mixco region, and the Spanish colonizers always said this was the world’s best chocolate,’ said Osberto Gomez, from Mixco’s culture office. This decision will ensure hot chocolate is protected as an integral part of indigenous culture.