What A Single Cacao Bean Was Worth In The Ancient World

Forget kale, forget spinach, forget whatever other fad food comes up in the next couple of months. The real superfood should be chocolate. It's delicious, it makes you happy, and it can even combat the effects of dementors. It's so great you may wonder why it's not worth its weight in gold.

Well, if you go back far enough, cacao beans were worth quite a bit more than mere gold. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, ancient and powerful South American cultures knew cacao to be of great spiritual significance, as well as a monetary one. Notably, the Aztec and Maya cultures used cacao beans in their products as part of religious rituals for their most sacred customs. Important ceremonies involving births, marriage, sacrifices, and death all included the use of cacao beans and cocoa products ('cacao' refers to the raw and unprocessed version of 'cocoa'), giving the cacao bean a nearly divine status.

Beans for money and money for beans

Since the cacao beans were both incredibly useful for food and had cultural significance, they were very sought-after products, and as such, they warranted similarly significant monetary value, per The World Cocoa Foundation. These ancient civilizations did not have a centralized currency or coinage but rather used barter systems. Cacao beans were sometimes used as standardizing currency in trade transactions, as rewards for great warriors, and as extravagant gifts to and from royalty.

In fact, cacao beans could even be traded in for other items, according to the Smithsonian Magazine. Archaeological findings from an Aztec record-keeping document from the 16th-century list one cacao bean as equal in value to one tamale and 100 cacao beans as equal in value to an entire turkey hen. As European colonizers came and appropriated the production and love for cacao products, chocolate found itself in every corner of the world. And although it may not be worth quite what it used to be, chocolate will still give you a great bang for your buck.