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Although Nicaragua may be commonly known worldwide for its diverse, beautiful landscape, it is also the biggest export of cocoa in Central America. Urban myth has it that it was on this very land that cocoa first touched Christopher Columbus’ lips, and constant innovations continue to make it a cocoa-producing paradise. In celebration of International Chocolate Day, Culture Trip visits Nicaragua to find out what makes the country a haven for chocolate enthusiasts.
Originating deep in the tropical rainforests of Latin America, chocolate was once worshipped as a sacred food by the ancient Maya and Aztecs of Mexico.
Although the origins of chocolate are fiercely debated, recent genetic studies suggest the cacao bean, the main ingredient in chocolate, was first cultivated by humans for food in the Ecuadorian jungle some 5,000 years ago. Traded along the coast of Central America, it made its way to Mexico, where the ancient cultures began using the product as a currency.
For the ancient Maya and Aztecs, cocoa was considered a gift from the gods and was used in healing and rituals. They believed it could reduce fever and agitation, ease childbirth, boost energy, increase longevity—and even clean teeth. It was also seen as a powerful aphrodisiac. To avoid disappointing any of the ladies in his harem, for example, the Aztec Emperor Montezuma would reportedly drink up to 50 cups of a frothy elixir of cacao whisked up with water and spicy chillies, vanilla and aromatic flower petals.
Today, chocolate is a luxury food we crave and can all afford. But despite its reputation as a guilty pleasure, there are more ways to enjoy chocolate—healthier, less-calorific, and more sensual.
While nothing says “I love you” better than a heart-shaped box of chocolates, as any modern-day Romeo would tell you, cacao’s links to sex and romance also seem to be based on science, as cacao contains the so-called “love drug” phenylethyamine, which stimulates the release of feel-good neurochemicals such as endorphins and serotonin.
Now science is proving that good-quality chocolate made from premium cocoa is also rich in health-giving minerals like zinc and potassium, as well as flavonols and antioxidants. And now, Latin American chocolate connoisseurs are developing fuller, richer chocolate experiences designed to stimulate more than the taste buds.
True chocoholics can now enjoy a total immersion—literally—with an indulgent chocolate massage. To get a feel for this cocoa experience, Culture Trip headed to the charming colonial city of Granada in Nicaragua, Central America, where the Mansion del Chocolate showcases the country’s award-winning heirloom cocoa varieties.
Located in a 19th-century mansion converted into a boutique hotel, the venue offers a supremely relaxing, refreshing, and rejuvenating full-body chocolate massage that stimulates all the senses at once. At the Mansion del Chocolate’s on-site spa, a creamy mix of ground cocoa and cocoa butter is used to gently exfoliate, stimulate, and moisturize the skin before your body is wrapped up in plastic like a Belgian bon-bon and you spend a pleasant half-hour basking in the rich aroma of warm, drizzled chocolate as it hits the pleasure points in the brain. Culture Trip‘s Video crew takes us on a mouth-watering, virtual tour.