Chocolate, Chili, and Cochineal Label Copy


Main Labels

Chocolate, Chili and Cochineal

By the 1400s, peoples living on the continents we now call North and South America had developed complex cultures with extensive systems of trade and commerce. For centuries, peoples of the present-day Four Corners area of the American Southwest traded with indigenous peoples to the south in present-day Mexico for rich chocolate and brilliantly colored macaw feathers, and to the west for naturally beautiful seashells from the Pacific Ocean. The Southwestern peoples mined turquoise for jewelry, wove garments of cotton and sandals of yucca fibers, and hand-crafted elegant pottery to hold water and food and to preserve seeds for next year’s planting.

The Americas contained many plant species that were unique to those continents. Native peoples living here managed the natural environment intelligently and efficiently. Many of the seeds and live plants that Spanish conquistadors took back to Europe had a global impact that was significant and enduring. By the early 1700s, crops from the Americas were steadily making their way around the globe. Today, the world’s four principal crops include corn (or maize) and potatoes originally from the Americas, along with wheat originally from the Middle East and rice originally from China.

What would Italy be without tomato sauce, Belgium without chocolate, or France without French fries? Tomatoes, chocolate and potatoes were just a few of the foods the Americas offered to the world at large. In fact, some plants would become so strongly linked with their adoptive countries that their association with the Americas would be forgotten.



Chocolate combined with honey and vanilla formed an enticing delicacy that has been called “the drink of the gods.” Chocolate is derived from the cacao plant, indigenous to Mexico and South America. It was consumed by the Aztec elite, and cacao beans were traded widely. Cacao beans continued to be used as currency in the Americas as late as the 1700s.

In the rainforests of Mexico and South America, cacao trees grew as tall as 50 feet. Historically, the small unscented flowers of the cacao tree were pollinated mainly by a tiny midge fly. Less than 5 percent of the flowers yielded aromatic pods that held the bitter-tasting cacao beans. The aroma of the pods attracted birds, monkeys and other animals that ate the pulp, discarded the seeds and in the process scattered them, allowing other cacao trees to grow.

Cacao’s importance was documented in the Codex Mendoza, prepared by an Aztec artist for Antonio de Mendoza, the first Spanish viceroy of New Spain (Mexico). In the codex, large sacks of cacao beans were depicted along with other items that were valued, such as honey, cotton, feathers and gold. Both Christopher Columbus and Hernán Cortés took cacao plants to Spain. Cortés may have had a better understanding of the uses of cacao beans, since he observed the preparation of cacao drinks and consumed them in Montezuma’s court.

During the late 1500s and the 1600s, cacao was Spain’s most important export crop, and that country controlled its trade and consumption in Europe. In 1590, cacao plants were taken to an island off the coast of Africa and cultivated. Today, the Ivory Coast is the world’s leading cacao producer, harvesting 750,000 tons of dried cacao beans annually.

Switzerland leads the world in chocolate sales, with Norway, Britain and Belgium close behind. Several holidays, including St. Valentine’s Day, are commemorated with chocolate. Thousands of books about chocolate can be found on at any given time. Although most are cookbooks, some, such as the 1994 novel Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, only reference cooking. Chocolate is also deliciously depicted in Roald Dahl’s 1964 book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and both versions of the movie.



Of the more than 35,000 orchid species, vanilla orchids are the only ones that produce edible fruit. At least 1,000 years ago, the Totonacs, whose descendants live in the present-day Mexican state of Veracruz, figured out the methods of processing vanilla beans. It is surprising that they did, because neither the vanilla flower nor its fruit has a conspicuous scent or flavor until the pods are fermented.

In order for vanilla plants to bear fruit, the flowers must be pollinated. Historically, pollination was mainly done by a tiny bee found only in Mexico and a few species of ants and hummingbirds. Since vanilla blossoms last less than a day, pollination is somewhat fleeting. The Totonacs hand-pollinated flowers to increase the number of vanilla pods. Today, hand-pollination is employed worldwide in vanilla cultivation.

Hernán Cortés and the Spanish conquistadors were served a chocolate drink for the Aztec royalty made from ground cacao sweetened with honey and further enhanced with vanilla. The Spanish colonists took vanilla to Europe, where it became a popular flavoring agent as early as 1560. By the late 1500s, Spanish factories began producing vanilla-flavored chocolate powder.


Vanilla and More

Trees from the Americas

Sugar Maple

Imagine eating pancakes without maple syrup. The sugar maple tree is a hardwood tree from the Americas and is the primary source of maple syrup. The sugar maple grows as far north as Canada and as far south as Georgia and Texas. It is known for the brilliant fall colors of its leaves, which range from bright yellow to red-orange. A red sugar maple leaf is featured on the flag of Canada.

Native peoples living in northeastern North America tapped the trunks of the maple trees to catch the sap. Today, the sugar maple is the major source of sap for making maple syrup. Other species of maple trees can be used for syrup, but the sugar maple has a higher sugar content and produces a clearer syrup. It can take 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.


Before European settlements in the 16th century, pecans were widely consumed and traded by Native Americans in south-central North America and Mexico. Pecan is actually an Algonquian word. The first Europeans who encountered pecans were Spanish explorers in today’s Mexico, Texas and Louisiana. They took the pecan to Europe, Asia and Africa beginning in the 16th century.

Pecan trees belong to a species of hickory. Most of us generally call the edible part a nut, but technically it is a drupe, a fruit with a single stone or pit surrounded by a husk. Pecan trees may live and bear edible seeds for more than 300 years.

Black Walnut

Like pecan and maple trees, the black walnut tree is a large deciduous tree that can reach heights of 130 feet. It is native to the Midwest and eastern North America and was introduced into Europe in 1629. Today, much of the annual wild harvest of the black walnut comes from Missouri. The hard black walnut shell is used commercially in abrasive cleaning products, cosmetics and oil-well drilling.


Chocolate Recipe

In 1896, English chocolate manufacturer Richard Cadbury recorded this recipe used by the Spanish royalty in 1600 in his book Cocoa: All About It.

a hundred kernels of cocoa

two grains of chili peppers

a handful of anise

a dozen almonds and a dozen hazelnuts







a pod of campeche

powdered white roses and orange water

Of these 14 ingredients, only vanilla and chili peppers were flavorings used by the Aztecs, while 10 of the remaining ingredients originated in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.


Corn (Maize)

Corn can be traced back some 8,000 years. It was the main foodstuff for the Aztec, Maya and Inca civilizations a thousand years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Abundant crops helped to feed these nations, created wealth and leisure, and ultimately fostered a florescence of art.

Corn and other dried grains have been vital to all cultures. Grains are high in nutrients, are easy to transport and can be stored for long periods. A single ear of corn can hold as many as 1,000 kernels.

Corn is a diverse food that can be eaten off the ear, ground into a meal and baked into bread, or cooked as a mush. Attentive American Indian planters selected the best kernels and saved them to plant the following season. This selection process, combined with purposeful agriculture, increased the productivity of corn and other crops.

The Importance of Corn for Hopi Lifeways

The Hopi people are farmers in a land that receives less than 10 inches of precipitation in a good year. They grow corn, squash, melons, beans and fruit trees, and of these, corn is the most important. Corn is more than a staple food; it is deeply entwined with a way of life, a value system and beliefs. Virtues of humility, respect, caring for others and caring for the Earth all play a part in farming and the Hopi way of living on the Earth.

Every year, Hopi farmers plant their fields of blue corn, white corn, multi-colored corn and sweet corn. Each type of corn has a specific purpose in Hopi lifeways.

Piki is made from blue corn that has been ground into cornmeal and uniquely prepared into bread. Hopis eat it during ceremonies, at everyday meals and as a snack, making it an important food for the Hopi, while for other tribes it is considered a delicacy. A girl is first taught to make piki during her corn-grinding ceremony, also know as a girl’s puberty ceremony.


Chili Peppers

Unusual spices were also unique to the Americas. Spices were highly prized in 15th-century Europe, both for cooking and medicines. In his quest for spices, some of which were as valuable as gold, Christopher Columbus thought he had reached the Orient when he happened upon the Americas.

Varieties of peppers of the genus Capsicum were grown in the Americas, including cayenne, tabasco, jalapeño and bell peppers. Columbus encountered what we know as hot chili and sweet bell peppers, as well as allspice. He called the unfamiliar spices “pepper” (pimento), after the black peppercorn (pimenta), the unrelated spice he was seeking.

After Columbus carried these American spices back to Spain, chili peppers quickly spread to the Near East, Asia and East Africa. What would the regional cuisines and spicy dishes from around the world be like today without the many varieties of peppers that enhance them?



Potatoes were another staple crop that peoples from the Americas grew and harvested. Europeans initially viewed potatoes with suspicion, in part because they resembled a poisonous plant and were grown from tubers rather than from seeds. Spanish conquistadors would not eat potatoes until they saw American Indians eat the new foodstuff.

Slowly, Europeans began to grow potatoes as a staple. Potato farming became important not only because potatoes were high in calories, but also because potatoes could be grown quickly and on small plots of land. Some countries like Ireland became so dependent on potatoes that a devastating famine occurred in the 1840s when a plant disease, the potato blight, affected crops.


Tomatoes were another American plant grown by indigenous peoples. Europeans were perplexed by tomatoes because they resemble a fruit but are acidic rather than sweet. The tomato is a relative of the eggplant, and some Europeans at first thought it was a type of eggplant. Even in the late 1800s, tomatoes had not made their way into many kitchens.

A Spanish publication in 1590 suggested putting tomatoes in sauces based on American Indian preparations of the plant. However, it was not until 1692–94 that an Italian writer included the first published recipe for tomato sauce. It was the inclusion of tomato sauce in pizza in the 1800s that forever changed the use of the plant.

Object Labels


Anita Fields

Osage/Creek, b. 1951

Wa-Nó-Bre (Call to Eat), 2001

Mixed-media installation

The sharing of food is central to gatherings in all families and communities. Anita Fields wrote the following about her experiences and memories.

The familiar aroma of warm, fluffy frybread beckons friends and relatives to the feast. Guests gather to behold the clan names bestowed on babies and little children; to hear the announcements of marriages, graduations, birthdays, a soldier’s return; or to share the last meal of a departed loved one who is making their final journey home.

We come to the table, cedar smoke clinging to our hearts, to share the joys and sorrows of life, and in doing so we uplift and comfort one another. The table becomes a refuge where we are nourished, restored and connected to our culture.

The shadow and light puts us in the midst of nature and the unknown. We remember where we come from, and, like our ancestors before us, the simple act of sharing ritual food sustains us for another day.

—Anita Fields, 2013

Collection of the artist


Chocolate Vessel Case

Unknown artist

Ancestral Pueblo

Chocolate vessel from Chaco Canyon, A.D. 1000-1125


These rare cylinder jars had long been a mystery because of their unique shape and the fact that they were found only at the Chaco Canyon site of Pueblo Bonito in present-day northern New Mexico. The mystery seems to have been solved when traces of cacao or chocolate were found in the jars by archaeologist Patricia Crown and Hershey Company Principal Scientist W. Jeffrey Hurst. The chemicals identified were theobromine, caffeine and theophylline, which are found in cacao but not found in the same combination in other plants native to the Southwest.

It is probable that Ancestral Puebloans traded turquoise with the Maya and Aztec peoples from Mesoamerica in exchange for chocolate, macaw parrots, pyrite mirrors and seashells. The Maya also drank chocolate from cylinder jars with hieroglyphic text that often recorded the jars’ contents. The chocolate was poured from one cylinder jar into another in order to froth the drink.

Courtesy of the San Diego Museum of Man


Carmel Lewis Haskaya

Acoma Pueblo, b. 1947

Jar, 1996



The faces of Roxanne Swentzell’s clay people draw the viewer into their world of mystery, fun and pensiveness. Their lifelike expressions can reveal a depth of knowledge or mischievousness. Swentzell possesses an acute ability to observe and capture human emotions and to transfer them to the clay sculpture she creates.

Swentzell began making ceramic figures in the 1970s and ceramic masks with different facial features in the 1990s. These became the inspiration for the chocolates she later made.

Sara and David Lieberman Collection, Michelle Serra and Brad Tompkins Collection



Carmel Lewis Haskaya referenced the ancient chocolate jars from Chaco Canyon when she created this contemporary concept. Haskaya’s mother, Lucy Lewis, is credited with reviving the Ancestral Puebloan designs of abstracted black lines on white-slipped pottery in the 1950s.

Heard Museum purchase, 4114-1


Diego Romero

Cochiti Pueblo, b. 1964

Chocolate Jar, 2009


Diego Romero based this jar on the Ancestral Puebloan cylinder jars from Chaco Canyon. He used brown paint to reference chocolate and incorporated Coyote figures dancing around the jar. Above Coyote’s head we see the night sky. Romero often creates pottery based on the shapes of ancient jars and bowls and incorporates pop-culture elements inspired by ancient pottery designs.

Private collection


Chocolate Roxanne Case

Roxanne Swentzell

Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1962

Masks, 2000s


Roxanne Swentzell

Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1962

Chocolate molds, 2005

These chocolate molds were made from small ceramic masks created by the artist. For a period of about four years, Roxanne Swentzell made and sold chocolate candies based on the faces of her ceramic sculptures.

Collection of the artist


Roxanne Swentzell

Chocolate mask made from Swentzell’s mold, 2013


Corn Case – Baskets

Madeline Lamson


Basket with Katsinmana and corn designs, 1990s


Hopi people have been farmers for more than a millennium in a land that receives less than 10 inches of rain or snow annually. They grow corn, squash, melons, beans and fruit trees, and of these, corn is the most important. Corn is a staple food but is also entwined with a way of life, a value system and beliefs.

Gift of Jerome Harold and Adrienne Kay, 3992-5


Elizabeth Nuvayouma


Basket with Sa’lakwmana and corn designs, 1987


Gift of James T. Bialac, 4407-2


Corn Case – Large Katsinas

Unknown artist


Palhikwmana, 1900-1920

Cottonwood root, paint, shell, plants

The Palhikwmana wears a tableta (headdress) that has a depiction of corn at the center crown of the head. Unlike the other features, including the corn, the flat portion of this tableta is not original to the carving.

Gift of Senator Barry M. Goldwater, NA-SW-HO-F-402


Unknown artist


Palhikwmana, 1960s

Cottonwood root, paint, feathers, cloth

Hopi religion is a complex holistic belief system. The central theme throughout Hopi ceremonies is prayer for a lasting and harmonious balance in the universe for all life as well as the nourishment of corn, “mother corn,” the food of life.

Gift of Valley National Bank, NA-SW-HO-F-470


Corn Case – Katsinas and Silver Seed Pots

Orin Poley


Takurmana (Yellow Corn Maiden katsina, 1986

Cottonwood root, paint

Katsinam are the spirit messengers of the universe, bringing prayers for nourishment of the Earth, moisture and a long life for all mankind. Renewal ceremonies are completed each year to maintain the balance of harmony and nourishment for all life.

Gift of Ruth and Sidney Schultz, 4568-5


Roland Bahnimptewa


Katsinmana, 1994

Cottonwood root, paint

Heard Museum purchase, 3527-2


John Fredericks


Nuuva’mana (Snow Maiden) katsina, 1990s

Cottonwood root, paint

Bequest of Shirley H. McArdell, 4062-73


Lorenzo Tafoya

Santo Domingo Pueblo

Silver seed pot, 2007


Silver seed pots were first made by American Indian artists in about 1975. They are fashioned in the likeness of historic and ancestral pottery jars that were used to hold seeds for the next year’s plantings.

Gift of Norman L. Sandfield, 4593-14


Alex Sanchez


Petroglyphs, 2006

Coral and silver

The designs represent raindrops, the harvesting of corn, the Morning Star and a bear to signify strength, guidance and direction.

Gift of Norman L. Sandfield, 4511-39a,b


Darryl Dean Begay


Silver seed pot, 2006

Turquoise and silver

Corn is a motif that artists frequently depict on silver seed pots. Corn has been an important crop for Southwestern peoples for centuries.

Gift of Norman L. Sandfield, 4511-48


Dennis Tewa


Koyona (Turkey) katsina, c. 2003

Cottonwood root, paint

In addition to plants that were unique to the Americas, traditional katsinam also depict a range of indigenous birds and animals, the turkey being one.

Gift of the Estate of Les Goldberg, 4683-25


Dennis Tewa


Qa’ökatsina (Corn) katsina, 1990s-2000s

Cottonwood root, paint

In his left hand, the katsina holds corn and Douglas fir.

Gift of the Estate of Les Goldberg, 4683-10



Chili Shoes Case


Paula Rasmus Dede

Aleut, b. 1946

Clearly Red Hot Mama, 2009

Beads, glass, paper, plastic

The clear shoes create a platform to showcase the fiery beauty of the peppers, while Tabasco bottles represent the use and commercialization of indigenous foods. This juxtaposition of ancient and modern, organic and manufactured, helps to demonstrate the situation of Native American peoples, balancing the past with the present.

—Paula Rasmus Dede, 2013

Gift of the Max M & Carol W. Sandfield Philanthropic Fund of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation, recommended by Norman L. Sandfield, 4617-1a,b




Geronima Cruz Montoya (Potsunu)

San Juan Pueblo, b. 1915

Picking Chili, 1952


Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Oscar Thoeny, IAC296


R.C. Gorman

Navajo, 1932-2005

The Chili Picker, 1976

Lithograph, artist proof

Heard Museum Collection, IAC719




Romando Vigil (Tse Ye Mu)

San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1902-1978

Untitled, c. 1930


Heard Museum Collection, IAC622


Narciso Platero Abeyta (Ha So Deh)

Navajo, 1918-1998

Navajo Harvest, early 1980s


Gift of Duane and Jean Humlicek, Heard Museum Collection, 4460-11


Milland Lomakema

Hopi Pueblo, b. 1941

Untitled, 1968


Gift of Mr. Byron Hunter, Jr., IAC932


Photo Captions and Quotes


Chocolate Photo Caps/Quote


“Never mind about 1066 William the Conqueror, 1087 William the Second. Such things are not going to affect one’s life…but 1932 the Mars Bar and 1936 Maltesers and 1937 the Kit Kat—these dates are milestones in history and should be seared into the memory of every child in the country.”

—Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


A c. 1915-20 Hershey’s Club Cocoa label. Hershey’s Club Cocoa was marketed to commercial bakers and restaurants. It was packaged and sold in 5-, 10-, 25-, 50- and 100-pound tins. Photograph courtesy of Hershey Community Archives.

An assortment of dark chocolates, milk chocolates, pralines and truffles. Photograph by Ronald Sumners.

A sack of cocoa beans. Photograph by Luca Sage.

This assortment of chocolate bars, ground cocoa, cinnamon sticks and hazelnuts shows some of the ingredients used in a recipe for a chocolate drink from the 1600s.

A cocoa tree with pods. Photograph by Jerome Scholler.

Whole cocoa pods next to a sliced pod showing clusters of cocoa beans inside. Photograph courtesy of Wiboon Wiratthanaphan.

A group of cocoa pods from Ambanja, Madagascar. Photograph by Pierre-Yves Babelon.

The Codex Mendoza, c. 1541. This Aztec manuscript illustrates the payment of tribute. Bags of cocoa are depicted next to leopard hides. Photograph courtesy of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, England.


This aerial view of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico shows one of several prehistoric sites in the area. Photograph by Harvey Lloyd.


Maya, Escuintla, Guatemala. Earthenware incense burner with female figure holding a cacao pod, A.D. 450-650. Denver Art Museum Collection, Gift of Dr. M. Larry and Nancy B. Ottis, 1991.656a&b.


Roxanne Swentzell, 2008. Photograph by Julien McRoberts.


Tree Photo Caps

Birchbark container and carved wooden spoon used by the Menominee of Wisconsin for maple syrup. Photograph by Marilyn Angel Wynn.

Early-1900s Ojibwe woman making syrup by boiling away the water content over an open fire at the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota. Photograph courtesy of NativeStock Pictures.

A pecan grove in Arizona. Photograph by R/RF Stock.

Pecans. Photograph by Grafvision.

Black walnuts. Photograph by Frank van den Bergh.


Vanilla Photo Caps

Vanilla pods and blossoms depicted in an 18th-century French print. Photograph courtesy of Stapleton Collection, Corbis Images.

Vanilla beans. Photograph by Matka Wariatka.

Pollinating vanilla blossoms by hand is a necessity in most environments. Photograph courtesy of Environment Images/UIG.

In India, vanilla beans are measured by hand. Photograph courtesy of Kennet Havgaard/Aurora Photos, Corbis Images.

Dried vanilla, vanilla extract, ground vanilla and vanilla sugars. Photograph courtesy of Radius Images, Corbis Images.

A 1953 advertisement for vanilla ice cream and cake. Photograph courtesy of American Stock/Classic Stock, Corbis Images.


Corn Photo Caps

Southwestern corn. Photograph by Jerry Jacka.

Popcorn is a popular snack that has been served in movie theaters since the early 1900s. The technique of heating kernels of corn to make them pop, however, was discovered thousands of years ago by people living in Guatemala. Morgan Lane Photography.

Southwestern corn and sunflowers. Photograph by Julien McRoberts.

Elfreda Tewawina Holmes prepares piki bread at the 2000 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market. Photograph by Craig Smith.

This 1950s advertisement shows different ways to prepare corn products. Photograph by Barbara Singer.


Chili Photo Caps

Red bell pepper. Photograph by CreativStudio Heinemann/Westend61, Corbis Images.

An assortment of chili peppers. Photograph by Tim Hawley.


Chocolate/Chili Pepper Map

3000 B.C.

Chili peppers are cultivated in Mexico, although they originated in Bolivia or Brazil.

1900 B.C.

In Veracruz and Tabasco and the southern Pacific coast of present-day Mexico, the Olmecs and other indigenous peoples cultivate and consume chocolate from cacao plants.


Columbus takes chili peppers to Spain. The chili peppers were small and easy to transport, and the seeds remained viable for long periods of time.


Portuguese explorers trade chili peppers from the Spanish Main and Brazil, transporting them to western Africa. From there, chili peppers spread as far as Mozambique.


Europeans first encounter cacao nibs when some of Christopher Columbus’s sailors meet a Mayan trading canoe that is transporting goods.


Chili peppers from the Americas reach Indonesia.


Portuguese explorers export Brazilian chili peppers to India, where cayenne is preferred.


Spanish explorers living in Mexico colonize the Philippines. They take chili peppers and other plants with them.


Chili pepper seeds reach Germany through a trade route that starts in the Persian Gulf, crosses Asia Minor and leads to the Black Sea and into Hungary.


Chili peppers reach England and Antwerp from Lisbon or Seville.


Portuguese explorers reach Japan and initiate trade. Chili peppers are among the trade items. Japan also has some direct trade with present-day Mexico, offering an additional source for plants and foods.


American chili peppers are cultivated in China, reaching there possibly through trade and pilgrimage routes between China and India, between China and the Middle East, or through trade with Portugal.


Cacao seedlings are first cultivated outside Mesoamerica, in present-day Bioko (formerly Fernando Po), a small island off the coast of West Africa, where they had been taken by the Spanish.


Chili peppers travel from the Americas to Europe and back to America’s New England.


France begins cacao production in Martinique and St. Lucia in the Caribbean to gain a foothold in the market and reduce Spain’s agricultural and trade monopolies in cacao.


Spanish explorer Pedro de Laguna transports cacao seedlings from Acapulco, Mexico to Manila in the Philippines.


The Dutch intensify cacao production in Sumatra and Java in Indonesia. The Dutch Royal Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences offers a silver medal to the first person to plant 50 cacao trees successfully

Chocolate and Chili Map Sources:

Meredith L. Dreiss and Sharon Edgar Greenhill. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2008.

Nelson Foster and Linda S. Cordell, eds. Chiles to Chocolate: Food the Americas Gave the World. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992.

Cameron L. McNeil, ed. Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.


Chocolate Timeline

1900 B.C.

In Veracruz and Tabasco and the southern Pacific coast of present-day Mexico, the Olmecs and other indigenous peoples cultivate and consume chocolate from cacao plants.

A.D. 900

In Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, Ancestral Puebloans trade with Mesoamericans for chocolate. The closest source of growing cacao is 1,200 miles south of Chaco. Travel is by foot.

A.D. 400

The Mayans (in present-day Guatemala) make a frothy drink from cacao.


Europeans first encounter cacao nibs when some of Christopher Columbus’s sailors meet a Mayan trading canoe that is transporting goods.


In Mesoamerica, Aztec leader Montezuma serves a frothy chocolate drink to Spanish explorer Hernán Cortéz.


Hernán Cortéz takes cacao beans back to Spain for royal consumption.

Late 1500s

Spain controls cacao trade and consumption in Europe, making it the most important crop Spain took from the Americas.


Cacao seedlings are first cultivated outside Mesoamerica, in present-day Bioko (formerly Fernando Po), a small island off the coast of West Africa, where they had been taken by the Spanish.


The first chocolate house opens in London and is run by a Frenchman.


Chocolate usage is bolstered in France when Louis XIV marries Maria Theresa of Spain, a chocolate enthusiast.


France begins cacao production in Martinique and St. Lucia in the Caribbean to gain a foothold in the market and reduce Spain’s agricultural and trade monopolies in cacao.


Spanish explorer Pedro de Laguna transports cacao seedlings from Acapulco, Mexico to Manila in the Philippines.


Physician Hans Sloane develops a milk-chocolate drink in Jamaica that was initially used by apothecaries but later sold to the Cadbury brothers in 1897.


Apothecaries in Boston advertise chocolate as a remedy (“confection”).


In England, Nicholas Sanders blends chocolate with milk and makes hot chocolate.


Walter Churchman starts the first chocolate manufacturing plant in Great Britain.


France expands cacao production to Brazil.


Working in Sweden, botanist Carl Linnaeus gives cacao its scientific name, Theobroma cacao. The root words are Greek for “god” and “food.” Theobroma is a tree genus endemic to the upper Amazon and Orinoco river basins in Central and South America.


John Hannon establishes the first American chocolate mill in Dorchester, Massachusetts. In 1779 the company is named after Hannon’s financial partner, Dr. James Baker.


The Dutch intensify cacao production in Sumatra and Java in Indonesia. The Dutch Royal Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences offers a silver medal to the first person to plant 50 cacao trees successfully.


While stationed in the West Indies, the British Royal Navy adopts chocolate as its beverage of choice because of its nutritional value and low cost.


John Cadbury sells tea, coffee and drinking chocolate in Birmingham, England. He forms a partnership with his brother Benjamin, and in 1854 they receive the Royal Warrant as manufacturers of chocolate and cocoa to Queen Victoria.


The German company Jordan & Timaeus sells the first-known chocolate bar.


Ghana is the first country in mainland Africa to attempt full-scale cacao cultivation; it is the world’s leading cacao producer until about 1981.


Milton Hershey opens the world’s largest chocolate manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania. The town he established is named Hershey.


Chocolatier Daniel Peter of Vevey, Switzerland creates the first milk-chocolate bar, partnering with his neighbor, Henri Nestlé, to perfect the process. In 1879 they form the Nestlé Company.


Frank Mars founds the Mar-O-Bar Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The company later is renamed Mars, Inc.


The Ivory Coast is the world’s leading cacao producer, harvesting 750,000 tons of dried cacao beans annually.


Brazil is the world’s second largest cacao producer.


Switzerland leads the world in chocolate sales.


An average of 17.5 pounds of chocolate per person are consumed annually in Norway and Great Britain, making these countries second in chocolate consumption.


More than 14 pounds of chocolate per person are consumed each year in Belgium, Holland, Germany and Austria.


Hawaii is the only U.S. state where cacao trees are grown.


Main Labels-Cochineal


Cochineal, a tiny insect that feeds on the prickly pear cactus, was used to produce a dye in parts of Mexico and South America as early as the second century B.C. Andean peoples living in present-day Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador used cochineal to make deep crimson, purple or black dyes.

Cochineal is a scale insect from the superfamily Coccoidea. Other insects from Coccoidea were present in other parts of the world, but they fed on tree leaves and stems or roots of native grasses. Although these parasitic insects were also used to produce red dyes, none of the dyes made in the early 16th century could match the deep crimson color of the American cochineal.

After reaching the Americas in 1520, one of the items the Spanish took back to Europe was cochineal. For centuries prior, purple had been the color preferred by royalty, emperors and Roman Catholic cardinals. But purple dyes were becoming increasingly difficult to attain because the particular sea snail of the eastern Mediterranean Sea used to make the dye had become nearly extinct from overharvesting. Pope Paul II officially changed the official “Cardinal’s Purple” to red in 1464.

American cochineal was the answer to Europe’s increasing interest in red dye, and pounds of the tiny dried insects were exported in great abundance. Native peoples in Mexico and South America had been growing and harvesting the tiny insects for centuries. In 1587 alone, about 144,000 pounds (72 tons) of cochineal was shipped from Lima, Peru to Spain.


Cochineal in Northern New Mexico

Northern New Mexico is a culturally rich blend of peoples and cultures. It includes the descendants of the original inhabitants, the Native Americans, as well as the descendants of the Spanish who moved into the Southwest around 1540, were forced to leave, and then returned in 1690. Both cultures have centuries-old traditions that are manifested in works of art.

Two Spanish artistic traditions that incorporate cochineal are weavings and santos, or depictions of the saints. Santos, both paintings on wooden panels (retablos) and carvings in wood (bultos) are expressions of the spiritual lives of Hispanic New Mexicans. Santos were and continue to be placed in both public and private places of worship.


Object Labels – Cochineal

Unknown artist


Saltillo sarape, 1800-50

Cotton, wool with cochineal and other dyes

The word “Saltillo” refers to both a location in the Mexican state of Coahuila and a design motif. Saltillo sarapes were originally woven in Mexico from about 1700 to 1850. They are known for very fine yarns and tight weaves, as well as for complex designs that generally feature a central diamond motif. Many, like this one, contain yarns dyed with cochineal to accomplish a range of pink to red tones.

Fred Harvey Fine Arts Collection, Heard Museum, 198BL


A.J. Santero

Hispanic, Northern New Mexico

Bulto, Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1820s

Wood with cochineal, indigo and natural dyes

The A.J. Santero was so named because his initials were found on a retablo. Generally, he used indigo dye for blue, cochineal for pinks and purples, and a vegetal dye for browns and oranges. His use of thin mordant colors suggests that he had access to dyes used by Spanish Colonial weavers. Since the colors often look “washed” over the surfaces, the A.J. Santero may have been using the residual dye bath that remained after the weavers had colored their yarns.

—Charles M. Carrillo and Thomas J. Steele, A Century of Retablos: The Janis and Dennis Lyon Collection of New Mexican Santos, 1780-1880 (Hudson Hills Press, 2007).

Heard Museum Collection, 3280-6


A.J. Santero

Hispanic, Northern New Mexico

Retablo, Saint Michael the Archangel, 1820s

Wood with cochineal and natural dyes

Heard Museum Collection, NA-SW-SP-O-16


Charles M. Carrillo

Hispanic, Northern New Mexico, b. 1956

La Divina Pastora, 2007

Retablo painted with cochineal

Charles Carrillo is a santero, a carver and painter of images of saints, as well as a scholar and educator. Through his research, he became interested in the natural pigments that the early santeros used. He painted La Divina Pastora exclusively with cochineal.

Private collection


Kathleen Sais Lerner

Hispanic, Northern New Mexico, b. 1954?

Colcha embroidery, 2013

Wool dyed with cochineal

Although Kathleen Sais Lerner was always involved in arts and crafts, she made her first colcha at the request of her mother around 1995. For the type of colcha embroidery Lerner undertakes, she completely covers the piece with embroidery. This has been called Carson colcha and differs from another type where a hand-woven wool (sabanilla) is lightly covered with embroidery. Lerner has made more than 250 colcha embroideries, excluding the smaller Christmas ornaments she also makes.

Collection of the artist


Irvin Trujillo

Hispanic, Northern New Mexico, b. 1954

Anger/Transfer/Acceptance, 1994

Commercial wool with cochineal and other dyes

Irvin Trujillo is a seventh-generation weaver who learned weaving from his father, Jacobo. In 1982, Trujillo and his wife, Lisa, began a business at Centinela Ranch, the family-owned land near Chimayo north of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Trujillo began experimenting with natural dyes in about 1979. This was a departure from the yarns typically used by weavers at Chimayo at that time. One point of reference was Jacobo’s notes from his teaching days during the 1930s for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Trujillo has continued to expand his knowledge and application of natural dyes. He used cochineal for the red and pink tones in this textile.

Heard Museum purchase, 3508-1


Unknown artist


Small-style blanket, c. 1875

Natural white wool with cochineal and indigo dyes

Red was a favored color used in these Classic and Late Classicperiod textiles. The Fred Harvey Company purchased older, Classic textiles and displayed them in their main showroom at the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and at other sites. They also hired contemporary weavers to serve as artist-demonstrators at the Alvarado and at several of the world’s fairs and expos in the early 1900s. This blanket was purchased by J.F. Huckel for the Fred Harvey Company on May 13, 1903.

Fred Harvey Fine Arts Collection, Heard Museum, 1BL


Unknown artist


Small-style blanket, 1870-75

Natural white wool with cochineal and indigo dyes

The earliest examples of these small-style blankets date to about 1847. They may have functioned as children’s wearing blankets or as fancy saddle blankets. It is also possible that they were simply woven in a classic style but made for sale. Often, but not exclusively, they contained cochineal-dyed yarns.

This blanket was part of a larger collection formed by J.F. Huckel, the head of the Fred Harvey Company Indian Department and the son-in-law of the company’s founder.

Fred Harvey Fine Arts Collection, Heard Museum, 323BL

Unknown artist


Textile, 1860-70

Natural handspun and indigo-dyed wool; raveled wool with cochineal

This textile was purchased by the Fred Harvey Company 100 years ago in December 1913. Although it was 30 or 40 years old when acquired, it shows little signs of color fading. It was probably held in the storeroom at the Harvey Indian Department at the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Fred Harvey Fine Arts Collection, Heard Museum, 207BL


Unknown artist


Wedge-weave textile, c. 1875-80

Natural white wool with cochineal, indigo and aniline dyes

Wedge-weave textiles were woven only from about 1870 to 1900. The weaver forms a series of wedges with the weft fibers. Often, red is one of the colors employed, and this was accomplished through natural or aniline dyes.

Fred Harvey Fine Arts Collection, Heard Museum, 187BL


D.Y. Begay

Navajo, b. 1953

Palette of Cochineal, 2013

Natural white wool with cochineal and vegetal dyes

This landscape textile was created to showcase cochineal-dyed yarns in a range of colors, from soft pinks to red tones. D.Y. Begay is known for the artistry of all of her textile designs, but her landscapes have been featured extensively at the Heard and other museums. One of her landscape textiles served as the design for the ceramic mural at the east entrance of the Heard and the Ben Horin Garden.

Gift of the Heard Museum Council in honor of Werner Braum, the Max M & Carol W. Sandfield Philanthropic Fund of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation as recommended by Norman L. Sandfield, and the Bruce T. Halle Family Foundation at the recommendation of Diane & Bruce Halle and in honor of Harvey and Carol Ann Mackay


Unknown artist


Chief-style woman’s blanket, Second Phase, 1865-70

Natural gray wool with cochineal, lac and synthetic dyes

Women’s blankets are characterized by narrow rather than broad stripes and are generally smaller in size than the chief blankets. Red is frequently used as one of the colors of the stripes. Initially, the red color was accomplished by using cochineal or a dye from another scale insect, lac, or by raveling red flannel. After 1864, commercial aniline dyes became available and it was possible to get varying shades of red.

Chief-style women’s blankets are wider than they are long and were worn draped over the shoulders. The gender attribution may have been assigned by 19th-century merchants, as there is no photographic evidence to confirm that these were worn exclusively by women.

Gift of Al and Helen Wolfe, Heard Museum, 4644-2


Unknown artist


Chief-style blanket, Third Phase, 1865-75

Natural handspun wool with cochineal and indigo dyes

Chief-style blankets are wider than they are long and characterized by broad stripes of blue, brown and cream-colored yarns. These blankets were highly prized and widely traded. Three basic design phases exist. The First Phase style has the natural colors of wool plus indigo-dyed blue. In both the Second and Third Phase styles, red design elements are included. Red triangles and diamonds positioned at the corners, center, center top and sides are frequently seen in Third Phase styles.

Fred Harvey Fine Arts Collection, Heard Museum, 212BL


Cochineal Photo Caps and Quotes

“This is the first retablo for which I exclusively used cochineal and madder root dye…. I found it exciting to use the same kind of pigments that my ancestors used.”

—Charles Carrillo, 2013


“My passion is creating colors, capturing inexplicable palettes, and making pigments from natural sources and fragments…. As a weaver and dyer, cochineal dye is a valuable source to achieve brilliant shades of red and purple.”

—D.Y. Begay, 2013


British suit made with cochineal-dyed wool, 1750-75. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Isabel Shults Fund, 1986 (1986.30.4a-d). Image Source: Art Resource, NY.


“The nopal plant that is grown in America and produces grana (insect dye).” Reports on the History, Organization, and Status of Various Catholic Dioceses of New Spain and Peru, 1620-1649. Newberry Library, Chicago.


Over the centuries, indigenous peoples of Mexico cultivated cochineal, selecting the larger insects. The cultivated ones (Dactylopius coccus) were twice the size of the wild varieties and produced more dye.

It took as many as 70,000 dried insects to make 1 pound of dye.

Today, cochineal appears on European food labels as additive E120 and elsewhere as cochineal extract, carmine, carminic acid, and at times as “coloring added.” It can be found in candy, Popsicles, sausages, yogurt, fruit juice, ice cream, applesauce, pudding, cheese, cough syrup, blush, lipstick, eye shadow and Campari.



1. Cochineal-dyed yarns in a variety of hues along with a cake of cochineal, dried cochineal and cochineal ground into a powder. Mexico. Photograph by Adalberto Rios Szalay/Sexto Sol.

2. An illustration from a lithographic plate showing fabric being dyed with cochineal. United Kingdom, 1845. Photograph courtesy of Science & Society Picture Library, Getty Images.

3. Tapestries of wool and silk were colored with cochineal and other dyes in the 1700s. The Tapestry Room at Erddig Hall, Wrexham, Wales. Photograph courtesy of Visit Britain/Britain on View.

4. An illustration from a lithographic plate showing decorators painting wallpaper with paint made from cochineal. United Kingdom, 1845. Photograph courtesy of Science & Society Picture Library, Getty Images.

5. Grinding cochineal into a fine powder is one step in making the dye. Teotitlán del Valle, Mexico, c. 1997. Photograph by Allison Wright, Corbis Images.

6. American artist Mary Heebner holds flasks of cochineal dye. Coyotepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, 1980s-90s. Photograph by Macduff Everton, Corbis Images.

7. Dying yarn with cochineal. Oaxaca, Mexico, 2012. Photograph by D.Y. Begay.

8. Cochineal, indigo and other yarns from natural dyes. Arizona, 2010. Photograph by D.Y. Begay.


Modern Uses of Cochineal

1. Cochineal splashing in water. DSW Creative Photography.

2. Cochineal is used for the pink color in some U.S.-manufactured candies. Photograph by Marilyn Barbone.

3. Some candies made in the United Kingdom use cochineal to achieve red and pink colors. Photograph by Stephen Rees.

4. Carmine (from cochineal) is used for the red color in some lipsticks. CSA Images.

5. Some soaps and shampoos derive their colors from cochineal. Photograph by Ruzanna.

6. Cochineal is used for the red color in the apéritif Campari. Photograph by Victoria Pearson.

7. Some grapefruit juices use cochineal to enhance their pink color. Photograph by Ikonica.


Cochineal Harvesting

1. Opuntia Plantation cochineal farming in Nazca, Peru, 2012. Photograph by Istvan Kadar.

2. Cochineal farming in Oaxaca, Mexico, 2012. Photograph by D.Y. Begay.

3. Cochineal farming in the community of Guatiza on the island of Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain. Photograph by Lagui.

4. Cochineal and Lac Insects, c. 1754. Universal Images Group, Getty Images.

5. Prickly pear cactus with housing for female cochineal, Oaxaca, 2012. Photograph by D.Y. Begay.

6. Cochineal farming in Oaxaca, 2012. Photograph by D.Y. Begay.

7. Prickly pear cactus covered with cochineal infestation, Oaxaca, 2010. Photograph by Stephanie Wood.

8. Harvesting cochineal in Peru. Photograph by Cuan Hansen.

9. A cochineal beetle in the palm of a hand, Oaxaca, 2010. Photograph by Stephanie Wood.


Cochineal Map

2000 B.C.

Indigenous peoples in Mexico and Peru use cochineal as a dye.


A.D. 1464

Pope Paul II officially changes Cardinal’s purple to red. Throughout Italy, red is an expensive and regulated color; only certain people are allowed the privilege of wearing it.


By the time the Spanish reached Mexico, the Aztecs were demanding 9 tons of cochineal (more than 1 billion insects) a year from villages in present-day Oaxaca and the Mixteca region.


Hernán Cortés sends shipments of gold, silver, feathered cloaks and cochineal to the court of Spain’s King Charles V.


Luxury-textile production is an important business in Italy. A dyer living in Tuscany, Lapo da Diacceto, is one of the earliest to apply cochineal dyes to silk.

Early 1550s

The Tlaxcalans of Mexico cultivate and harvest large amounts of cochineal for the European market each year.


Seville imports about 50,000 pounds of cochineal annually and more than 150,000 pounds by 1574.


Two Italian merchant families, the Capponis of Florence and the Maluendas of Burgos, purchase most of Europe’s existing stock and new shipments of cochineal, substantially increasing the price of the dyestuff.


Ships carrying cochineal are the target of pirates, who see textiles as a key source of power, prestige and profit. The legendary English pirate Francis Drake is the son of a cloth maker.


Cochineal is used as a pigment by the Italian Renaissance painter Tintoretto. In the 1600s, Dutch painters Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens and the Flemish painter Sir Anthony van Dyck use cochineal in some of their paintings.

Some artists, like van Dyck, kept scarlet draperies in their studios to use as painting props.


In England, Dutch alchemist Cornelis Drebbel begins experimenting with cochineal using pewter (a tin alloy) and various acids as mordants to produce a brilliant shade of scarlet.


Dutch scientist Nicolas Hartsocker publishes the first treatise identifying cochineal as an insect and includes an engraved drawing of a magnified example.

Late 1600s-1715

Gold-embossed red robes and high-heeled slippers are favored by Louis XIV of France. Red quickly replaces black as the preferred fashionable color.


Under Oliver Cromwell, English army coats become red. Unfortunately, on the battlefields that makes British officers easy targets for sharpshooters.


French botanist Nicolas-Joseph Thiéry de Menonville smuggles cochineal-covered nopals (cactus pads) out of Oaxaca, Mexico, to Saint-Domingue, Haiti. Cultivation there is ultimately unsuccessful.


Mexican scientist José Antonio de Alzate y Ramfrez writes a comprehensive survey of cochineal biology and cultivation.


A British officer named Neilson smuggles cochineal-covered nopals from Brazil to Calcutta, India, where the insects thrive on a local cactus, the Bengal nopal. However, the Indian cochineal yield only about half the amount of dye of those cultivated in Mexico.

Late 1700s

British dyers use about 240,000 pounds of cochineal annually.


Cochineal is introduced in Guatemala, with exports reaching 45,000 pounds annually by 1830.


Cochineal is sent to Spain, but the more extreme Spanish climate hampers production.


Dutchmen smuggle cochineal from Spain to Jakarta, Java, where, in 1847, L. Monod de Froideville authors a manual for cochineal growers.


The Portuguese establish cochineal on Madeira, a Portuguese island off the coast of Africa.


Oaxacan growers harvest 900,000 pounds of cochineal annually.


Guatemalan cochineal exports reach more than 1 million pounds a year and more than 2 million pounds in 1851.


U.S. novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes The Scarlet Letter, furthering Victorians’ negative connotations of the color scarlet.


Exports of cochineal from the Canary Islands reach 1 million pounds.


In London, chemist William Henry Perkin develops a brilliant and durable mauve color in a synthetic dye, which is easier and quicker to apply, more consistent and less expensive than natural colors.


A German dye firm, BASF, develops synthetic alizarin, a light- and water-fast red dye. Cochineal sales plummet. By 1881, Germany produces almost half of the world’s supply of synthetic dye, and by 1900, 80 percent.


Oaxacan growers harvest more than 500,000 pounds of cochineal annually, Guatemala exports 1.5 million pounds, and the Canary Islands harvest 5 to 6 million pounds.


Worldwide, many textile manufacturers stop using cochineal and the harvesting of the insect declines.


Persia (modern-day Iran), wishing to safeguard its high-quality rugs, forbids the importation and use of chemical dyes.


Russian research indicates that one commonly used red dye, called amaranth or Red No. 2 in the U.S. and E123 in Europe, is a carcinogen. By 1990, cochineal growth is flourishing again, with world production reaching 1 million pounds.


Peru produces 80 percent of the world’s cochineal. Mexico, the Canary Islands, Bolivia, Chile and South Africa also export cochineal.

Map Source: Amy Butler Greenfield, A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.