Chocolate, Chili and Cochineal: Changing taste around the world

Display of dried cochineal insects and Carmine Naccarat dyestuff at the the Crossroads Gallery in Heard Museum. Cochineal is a tiny insect that feeds on cactus, was used to produce dyes in some parts of Mexico and South America. (Photo by Ryan Liu)

Display of dried cochineal insects and Carmine Naccarat dyestuff at the the Crossroads Gallery in Heard Museum. Cochineal is a tiny insect that feeds on cactus, was used to produce dyes in some parts of Mexico and South America. (Photo by Ryan Liu)

Do you know the origins of chocolate and chili? How about potatoes, avocados and zucchinis?

The Heard Museum’s Chocolate, Chili and Cochineal exhibit have the answers to the questions. You will be surprised to find out how many familiar foods have been commonly mistaken of its origins.

A view of the Crossroads Gallery in the Heard Museum. The gallery covered educational and informational contents on the early live of the Natives.  (Photo by Ryan Liu)

A view of the Crossroads Gallery in the Heard Museum. The gallery covered educational and informational contents on the early live of the Natives.
(Photo by Ryan Liu)

Many would have assumed that chocolate originated from Belgium or Switzerland because of its popularity and availability. Little did you know, chocolate originated from the New World and is derived from cacao trees in Mexico as well as Central and South America.

Also featured in the exhibit is the cochineal insect that has been used as a red dye for centuries. A long time ago, the Native peoples of the Americas discovered that the cochineal insect could be used as a red dye. Cochineal was used in historic textiles and Santos.

Display of a rug dyed with Cochineal bugs at the the Crossroads Gallery in Heard Museum. Cochineal is a tiny insect that feeds on cactus, was used to produce dyes in some parts of Mexico and South America. (Photo by Ryan Liu)

Display of a rug dyed with Cochineal bugs at the the Crossroads Gallery in Heard Museum. Cochineal is a tiny insect that feeds on cactus, was used to produce dyes in some parts of Mexico and South America. (Photo by Ryan Liu)

During that period, red dye was difficult to obtain and even more difficult to maintain. Because of that, the Natives managed to improve their lives by trading the dye along with other raw materials that were impossible to get elsewhere, public relations manager at the Heard Museum, Mark Scarp said.

“This is a real educational exhibition. Some things are just pretty to look at, but they really provide you with some valuable knowledge,” Scarp said.

The exhibit will be available for visiting though Nov. 2.

For more information on this exhibition, visit the Heard Museum website at http://heard.org/exhibits/chocolate-chili-cochineal

 

Reach the reporter at jmoo1@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @moojuliet