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A Curious Treat, a Marvelous Defeat, Both Hot and Cold, for Cacao is ever Bold

With the same force as Lord Nelson’s ships at the Battle of Trafalgar, a once unknown pod fruit from the jungles of Central America emerged on the forefront of 17th-century Spanish medicine. The epic academic and scientific war waged between Seville’s Santiago de Valverde Turices and Madrid’s Antonio Colmenero brought out the full potential of cacao, with Colmenero’s treaty departing the battlefield victorious. Colmenero’s recognition of cacao as a health supplement was a revolutionary addition to the medicinal application of cacao advocated by Turices and other Sevillan medical specialists, derived from the study of humoral theory and practical medical experience. In their curious pursuits towards discovering the humoral effects of cacao, Turices and Colmenero became prominent figures, spearheading the European cacao explosion.

Humoral theory, an ancient theory of the body (explored below) was the ‘industry standard’ during the time that Turices was publishing his treatise, and the scientific community as a whole was a closed system. The introduction to Un Discruso del Chocolate consists of four extensive declarations from Sevillan governmental officials in support of this treatise.

The doctor don Rodrigo de Narvaez, providor, vicar general of | Sevilla, your honorable archbishopric, by the illustrious, and reverend elder of | Luis Fernandez of Cordova my senior, Archbishop of Sevilla, of Coresejo | Of your Majesty, etc. I license for this chocolate speech, | Made by Doctor Santiago Valverde Turices, without incurring any penalty | To be printed. In Sevilla 1st October 1624 | Doctor don Rodrigo de Narbaez | By the order of senor Provisor D. Diego Cortes, Secretary (Turices, 17, our translation).

The simple fact that one would receive a “penalty” by publishing an unlicensed piece of work shows the governmental oversight by Sevillan officials. The remaining three declarations proceed with a very similar tone, all making sure to include the various titles associated with their position. In such a regulated system, the content and number of declarations establish that Turices’ findings on chocolate were deemed very important by the government and the public alike.

In fact, Turices’ 1624 treatise presents the first extensive discussion of chocolate in relation to humoral science. The science of humoral theory, based on the idea that the body is made up of fluids (humors) that have to be in balance for health to be sound seeks to achieve equilibrium among the humors within the human body. Unlike the modern breakdown of medical treatments, humoral theory categorized illnesses and their treatments as hot or cold and dry or wet. Turices’ assessment of the cacao bean through the lens of humoral theory is that at its base it is a cold substance, as opposed to hot, and dry as opposed to wet, which was thus best applied to hot and humid illnesses.

He was the first to declare chocolate an effective European medicine, but was very caution about its use in Europe, as opposed to the tropics, where a cold/dry remedy made sense. He was especially concerned that the drink made from it, hot chocolate, was hot due to the addition of things like pepper. When a person was deemed healthy, an addition of “cold” ingredients would have to be added to hot chocolate to balance its “hot” nature for Europeans. Again, it was a very delicate balance. Lastly, in order to fully impact his audience, Turices create the façade of experiential knowledge, when in fact, he had not traveled to New Spain and had limited experience with cacao and its properties.

This leads us to the focal point of Colmenero’s work in 1631 in contrast to Turices: Colmenero proclaimed that cacao appeals to all of the humors due to its malleability into a variety of forms, and is “cordial” in effect (meaning healing or medically viable). Humoral theory served as the backbone of all medical research for Colmenero and his peers, but Colmenero goes further. In his analysis of cacao, he invokes a more complex understanding of humoral theory:

We have already proved, that all the parts of Cacao are not cold. For wee have made it appeare that the unctuous parts, which are many, be all hot, or temperate: then, though it be true, that the quantity of the Cacao is greater than of all the rest of the Ingredients, yet the cold parts are the most, not halfe so many as the hot. (Colmenero 17)

In line with his analysis of humoral theory, Colmenero’s use of the word “unctuous” describes clearly and concisely how cacao serves as a ‘hot’ agent. More than simply ‘oily’, the word ‘unctuous’ gives a more natural, medical, and biological description to the cacao butter. Colmenero’s ability to accurately break down cacao into parts, where the bean itself contained multiple humoral properties (dry and wet, cold and hot) that could be brought out in different balance through preparation raised chocolate science to a whole new level and placed him on the scientific forefront of the chocolate beverage.

Up until this point, one might assume that the aforementioned research took place in the comfort of a Spanish castle; this is not the case. Not only did the cacao come from Central America in the first place, but Colmenero also made the long voyage himself:

By experience, I say, that in the Indies (as is the custom of that countrey) I comming in a heat to visite a sick person, and asking water to refresh me, they perswaded mee to take a Draught of Chocolate; which quencht my thirst: & in the morning (if I took it fasting) it did warme and comfort my stomack (Colmenero 12).

His experience proved as important to his theory of cacao as the authority of humoral medicine. Many ideas contained within Colmenero’s treatise derive from his own personal experiences with the beverage outside of the medical library. Hiking through the hot and humid jungles, taking a “draught of chocolate” provided relief to his ailments, thus confirming his research in a very real-world situation akin to the daily usage of cacao by the locals. Turices never had any true field experience during his career, and indeed Colmenero understood the uses of cacao in a more immediate way than his contemporaries.

Aside from these differences in experience that led to very different scientific assessments of cacao, the two treatises also differ on their wisdom about the uses of hot chocolate as a medicine and its effects on the body. Turices believed chocolate should remain a traditional medicine and only be used in cases of imbalance that cause excessive heat, concerned that it would be dangerous to try and take it without a specific need. However, having never seen the indigenous population use and create this chocolate, he had not much evidence to support his claim, tipping the argument in Colmenero’s favor. Colmenero advocated its common use across a whole spectrum of ailments and even simply for the maintenance of good health.

His coup de grace in the battle for renown as the lead medical expert on chocolate was to suggest it not only as a medicine, but also as a thirst quencher, a quality beverage, and something to enhance overall health. He then goes on to say how the additives mixed with the cacao make the concoction even more desirable:

The Cinamon is hot and dry in the third degree; it provokes Urine, and helps the Kidneys and Reynes of those who are troubled with cold diseases; and it is good for the eyes; and in effect, it is cordiall... (Colmenero 11)

It restores the bodily levels, and both his praise of cacao and the positive side effects from partaking of it stem from his real-world experience.

Chocolate in the 21st century has evolved into a consumer good that would be unrecognizable by both Turices and Colmenero, yet their research served as the earliest catalyst for that very evolution in Europe. Through their writings and public support of cacao, it became widely adopted by the upper classes first as a medication and eventually as a culinary delicacy that spilled down the social ladder. However, at the early 17th-century finale of this great battle of cacao pioneers, Colmenero proved himself to be the triumphant professional and a key facet in the European accommodation of chocolate through his logic, first-hand experience, and willingness to challenge the norms of medical wisdom. Colmenero did not simply put cacao into dialogue with humoral theory; he used the modern experience of cacao to rethink the ancient theory of the body. While Turices gave the first hard and accurate information on the foreign beverage (along with excellent points on its use), Colmenero came out the victor when his treatise was widely translated and cited by scholars across Europe for more than a century. He will forever be known as the European godfather of that bold and unique treat known as hot chocolate.


Colmenero, Antonio. A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate (1631). Trans. James Wadsworth. London: J. Okes, 1640.

Lippi, Donatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food.” Nutrients 5.5 (2013): 1573–1584. PMC. Web. 17 May 2016.

Turices, Santiago de Valverde. Un Discurso Del Chocolate. Seville: J. Cabrera, 1624. N.p. HathiTrust. Web 17 May 2016.

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