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Wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin takes us to a remote Mayan village in San Pedro Colombia, Beliz, where he witnessed the ancient ritual of chocolate making. He sends us an audio postcard for a taste of the process.
This audio postcard was produced with help from Michael Valasco.
Jeff Corwin: We're here in a cacao farm or traditional mine cookout plantation. I'm with Feliciano Pop, and your family has been producing chocolate for how many generations?
Feliciano Pop: Third generation. I am the third generation.
Corwin: And it goes back for how many years?
Feliciano Pop: Thousands of years, man.
Corwin: Thousands of years the people that live in these rain forest-topped hills have been making chocolate and growing cacao exactly the way we're about to do now.
Corwin: Can we see inside the pod? Feliciano's got his machete and he's carefully sliced away the part from the tree. With the machete, he's cracked it open and we see inside this amazing fruit. Feliciano, this does not look like chocolate.
Feliciano Pop: No. Looks like a lump of brain. But it is chocolate.
Corwin: Looks like a lump of brain.
Feliciano Pop: Yeah, a lump of brain. The human brain.
Corwin: And we see this sort of pulp fruit surrounding the individual cacao seeds. And when you taste it.
Feliciano Pop: Tastes good stuff.
Corwin: How would you describe the flavor?
Feliciano Pop: Fruity. Pretty fruity.
Corwin: It has the taste of melon, pineapple, banana — a sweet, sour, sticky fruit.
Feliciano Pop: Slimy.
Corwin: And it's delicious. In a hot day like this, it's refreshing.
Feliciano Pop: Absolutely. See all these beans right here? This will eventually — this will make the chocolate. But it still has to go through some process yet. We got to take these beans, ferment it properly. Sun dry it properly and then we roast it, crush to make hot chocolate drink and even chocolate bars.
Corwin: I've made my way to the cooking area of the Pop family home. I look above, I see a thatched roof. It's stained from generations of smoke. I look out and I see other thatched roofs. There are chickens and roosters, turkeys gobbling about, and above us we're rolling clouds coming in and it sounds like a thunderstorm is soon to pass. So we have this large grinding stone, like a flat mortar and pestle. It's got this incredible pestle right here this piece of stone. And this has been in your family for a long time?
Victoria Pop: Yes. It's passed on from generation to generation.
Corwin: Victoria's taking a handful of the nibs onto the stone. She's grinding it back and forth. And very quickly we see this amazing reaction, those powdery dry nibs, that smoky aroma being released is being converted into a paste as the oils and fats are released, causing this mixture to be bound together.
Victoria Pop: So now Jeff, we're going to dilute the paste with hot water to make our cacao drink.
Corwin: Hot water is poured in.
Victoria Pop: So now, Jeff, the drink is ready — cacao drink.
Corwin: Victoria's filled up a little calabash gourd — a squash gourd. And pours it into my little gourd cup. The smell is intense. Has a spiciness to it, a richness to it. And when you taste it, pure chocolate sings through. It's almost like drinking a liquefied time machine that takes us back to the age of the ancient Mayas, the people that lived in this rain forest landscape thousands of years ago, it's kind of what it was for them isn't it? This is what it tasted like when they drank it.
Victoria Pop: Pure.
Corwin: Pure. That's a great way to describe it. Pure. And what's most amazing is we go back in time, experience the ancient chocolate of the original Mayan folks that lived here and we're reminded of the great importance of chocolate back then, and as it is today, celebrated around the world. So for me my mission is complete. I have finally had a chance to experience chocolate in its pure, simplest form. Victoria, thank you so much for this experience.
Victoria Pop: You're welcome.
Corwin: Cheers to you.
This segment aired on July 17, 2017.