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Cacao: An example for the movement of plants and food cultures across the early modern Pacific

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In the mid-sixteenth-century drinks containing cacao were still described as “better fit for pigs than for men”. But already in the later sixteenth century cacao and chocolate evolved as a popular ‘food drug’, soon conquering all echelons of society in and far beyond the American continent. Cacao trees (Theobroma cacao) were, for example, eventually transplanted in the Philippines. The cacao was supposed to serve as nutritious food and drink and as cash crop, to pay for all the imports from China, limiting, thus, the drain of silver from the Spanish world to China and making the Philippines economically more independent. My presentation will especially focus on uses of this originally American plant in the Philippines and China, but also seek to provide insights into specific features of the transpacific transhipment and related trans-Pacific knowledge transfers.

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This talk is part of the Wolfson College Humanities Society series.

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