'Chocolate: The Exhibition' brings the history of the bean to New Mexico - Albuquerque Journal

‘Chocolate: The Exhibition’ brings the history of the bean to New Mexico

ON THE COVER: The Aztec believed that by consuming cacao, they gained the wisdom and knowledge of Quetzalcóatl. (Courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science)

Chocolate lovers rejoice.

The New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science opened “Chocolate: The Exhibition” on June 17.

It’s been a two-plus year journey to get the exhibit up and running.

“We were able to purchase the exhibit from the Field Museum in Chicago because they were going to retire it,” says Abigail Eaton, New Mexico Museum of Natural History Foundation executive director. “It’s something that we wanted for a long time. The museum owns it and once it premieres it will travel the state.”

After its run in Albuquerque, the exhibit will begin to travel the state, with its first stop in Hobbs at the Western Heritage Museum.

The exhibit traces chocolate from its origin in the rainforest to status as a global economic commodity.

Visitors will be educated on chocolate’s impact on human cultures and tropical ecosystems through scenic elements, original video, interactive pieces, rich imagery, and graphics, and over 150 objects of interest that tell the story.

The entrance to “Chocolate: The Exhibition” at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. (Courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science)

Eaton says museum visitors will learn how the small cacao bean, indigenous to the tropical rainforest, began to create an impact over 2,000 years ago when the Mayans, who were the first to grow and taste cacao, identified it as a drink of the kings and queens.

Later the Aztec culture valued the sacred cacao bean as currency due to not being able to grow the bean in their climate. As legend has it, the cacao tree was brought from “a god” to the Aztecs.

During the period of conquest in the 1500s, the precious bean was brought to Spain where chocolate meets sugar – a recipe that changed the world.

The museum will present educational discoveries of the explosion of manufacturing inventions that made mass production possible and chocolate available to all during the Industrial Revolution, to the ultimate resource of the chocolate economy and how hundreds of farmers rely on the crop all while protecting the rainforest and all its inhabitants.

Visitors and school children will learn about the importance of this plant in many varied immersions from experiencing tactile elements, audio-visual environments, vivid imagery and the tantalizing scent of chocolate.

Mexicans and Mexican Americans sometimes mix corn, rice, and other ingredients with their chocolate (just like the Mayans and Aztec) to make a drink called atole. (Courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science)

From a replica of a cacao tree with its seed pods to the complexity of rainforest ecosystem that supports the healthy growth of this remarkable plant.

“Visitors will be able to learn about the myths and realities of chocolate’s effect on health,” Eaton says. “Traveling 2,000 years to current times where chocolate is enjoyed today through cooking, eating and celebrating.”

During the run of the exhibition, visitors will see expert chocolatiers share their chocolate curiosities, explore the chemistry of chocolate, and cast chocolate fossils.

The museum is planning an extensive series of chocolate educational offerings. Look for adult nights, a stimulating chocolate lecture series, additional Family Days, in-exhibit demonstrations, hands-on classes, summer camp days and more.

“Our museum team is exploring the wide world of chocolate including topics ranging from the history of chocolate to the use of chocolate as currency,” says Deb Novak, director of education at NMMNHS. “The programming will arouse our scientific senses by teaching about the different types of chocolate, how they have been used, and how historically chocolate was consumed as a drink before it was a bar.”

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