By Barry Heifner of Western Institute for Lifelong Learning

SILVER CITY, N.M. — In Mesoamerica, beverages were produced from cacao seeds around 450 BCE. The belief was these seeds came from their god of wisdom. 

In the course “The History of Chocolate” offered by the Western Institute for Lifelong Learning, participants will learn that the drink was bitter and considered to be an aphrodisiac. Slowly, the seeds became so valuable they were used as a form of currency. Cacao also spread into many cultures including Chaco Canyon and the Mississippi cultures like Cahokia. Once introduced to European upper classes, cacao and sugar were combined and "Chilate" became the rage, presenter Ted Presler said Jan. 13. 

English, Dutch, and French colonizers introduced the planting of cacao into their possessions in Africa and Southeast Asia where climates were favorable with plentiful cheap labor," Presler said.

"This course will cover the earlier developments of xocolatl, its dissemination, production, and tastings of various types of chocolate products from French, Belgian, Peruvian, and other sources. This history, though, is not without blemishes, and we will explore those aspects that surround us to this day," he said. 

Presler has facilitated a number courses of various genres for WILL. In the case of chocolate, he worked for three decades in the world of industrial commodities, the majority of which was working with rubber plantations in Southeast Asia where cacao was planted as a secondary crop. Presler also studied under Michael Coe, who was considered to be one of the major experts on Mayan history, as well as having written a highly regarded book, “The History of Chocolate.”

The course will be held in four sessions, from 3 to 4 p.m., Thursdays, Feb. 17, 24, and March 3, 10. There are 10 seats available. Courses for WILL members for the spring semester were posted on the WILL website courses page Dec. 10, and registration began Dec. 17 and is continuing. Go to the website's Membership page to learn how to join WILL. 

COVID-19 NOTE: Members should be aware that there may be vaccinated and unvaccinated members in WILL courses. WILL has adjusted course capacities to ensure there is room for members to spread out in classrooms. Members MUST wear masks (WNMU requirement). Hand sanitizer will be provided for members’ use, along with masks to ensure that everyone who takes part in our courses has a viable and protective mask to wear.

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