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Chocolate has been a Southwestern tradition for centuries

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Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe makes traditional chocolate elixirs, as well as such treats as chocolate-dipped chile de árbol — Photo courtesy of Kakawa Chocolate House

Today, cacao is a staple of Valentine’s Day chocolates, but the food is hardly a modern marvel. Indigenous peoples were consuming cacao in what is now the American Southwest more than a thousand years ago, long before it was shaped into truffles and packaged in heart-shaped boxes.

University of New Mexico archeology professor Dr. Patricia Crown led a team of researchers to two ground-breaking discoveries that placed chocolate in the Southwest centuries before it was thought to have arrived in the region.

Previously, the Spanish were thought to have carted it into the area in the 15th century. Crown and her team — which included W. Jeffrey Hurst, formerly of the Hershey Technical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania — found that the Hohokam peoples consumed cacao in what is now Arizona between 750 and 900 A.D.

Crown also traced chocolate consumption to today’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park, in western New Mexico, to around 900 and 1100 A.D. To discover this connection, the team looked for biomarkers for specific substances in centuries-old…

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