4 Bizarre Items You Won’t Believe Were Once Used As Currency

Published September 11, 2017
Updated October 10, 2018


Cacao Beans

Wikimedia CommonsRaw, whole cocoa beans.

A favorite among many with a sweet tooth, chocolate, or more specifically, the cocoa bean, was a hot commodity among colonizers and traders in the 16th-century Americas, but things didn’t start out that way.

First grown by the Aztec peoples of Mesoamerica, cocoa was used in religious ceremonies as locals believed the small beans to be gifts from Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. The Aztecs used chocolate in religious ceremonies and consumed the refined beans into a bitter drink mixed with water, spices, and sometimes corn puree.

When Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes and his forces overtook the area, the cocoa bean was quickly used as a form of currency, made valuable by its difficulty in growing and low yield of fruit. In fact, a 1545 price list indicates the value of cocoa beans, in which a good turkey hen was worth 100, its egg worth three, and an avocado or tomato was worth only one.

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