The Mayans (main ruling period 200-950 A.D.) came before the Aztecs (established 1200 A.D) but they developed strong trade, whereby cacao was a main commodity and an influential part of both civilisations. Cacao in Mesoamerica was not available to the masses. It was a produce of immense wealth and cocoa beans were on many occasions used as money. Emperors and upper-class individuals would use cocoa beans as a currency, and in many cases to buy slaves. They were also the only ones that drank the chocolate and its wealth was a hierarchical classification for the Aztecs.
The Mayans and Aztecs did not eat chocolate, but rather they drank it. “For about 90 percent of chocolate’s long history, it was strictly a beverage, and sugar didn’t have anything to do with it” (Bensen, 2008). Chocolate was not actually eaten until it entered Europe and was modified with their finding of sugar. The drink associated with cacao was known as ‘xocolatl’ to the Mayans, and ‘cacahuatl’ to the Aztecs. Xocolatl and cacahuatl translate to “bitter water” and the biological name of chocolate Theobroma cacao to “food of the gods”. Many people commonly recreate this drink today, but the way in which it is made has altered greatly. The bitter taste is not something we associate chocolate with today. From our experience, chocolate is known as a sweet, sinful commodity, but for the Mayans and Aztecs, bitterness was a strong trait of the chocolate they produced. The recipe for the original chocolate drink contains solely crushed cocoa beans mixed with water and chillies, and sometimes cornmeal and vanilla. It would be frothed and then drunk at room temperature. This frothing process took place by pouring the drink from one container to another from a distance or using a molinillo. The picture depicts a man frothing the drink by transferring it from one cup to another.
When the Spanish came with the European product of sugar, they used this, as well as adding cinnamon and replacing the water with milk. This created a sweeter, unhealthier version of the drink. In the modern era today, the drink is warmed and closely resembles hot chocolate.
Not only was the drink seen as a wealth status, but it also was believed to have medicinal benefits. Compared to the sugary chocolate we eat today, unsweetened cocoa has surprising health benefits. Xocai is a company that sells online “healthy” chocolate. They do not alkalise their chocolate, avoid artificial flavouring and add natural sweeteners.
This promotional video by the company sells the chocolate as a weight loss food and its basis on chocolate production is the way in which the Mayans and Aztecs approached chocolate. It is where they also take their company name, Xocai. They avoid sugar and milk that add unhealthy components to the chocolate.
The idea of the spicy chocolate flavouring has revolutionised even further. When researching the drink online, I stumbled across a company, suitably named Bittermens. They create non-alcoholic bitters that can be added to cocktails or other alcoholic drinks to add flavouring. One of their flavours is the “Xocolatl Mole™ Bitters” (Bittermens, 2013) with primary flavours of chocolate, cinnamon and spices. I was even more interested when I found out that the company was started locally; “Bittermens started production in Somerville, MA at a commercial kitchen that we leased from Taza Chocolate” (Bittermens, 2013). Since their intial start-up they moved to Brookyln, NY in 2011, and most recently New Orleans, LA, in 2013.
“A Brief History of Chocolate.” Smithsonian. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.
“Bittermens, Inc. – The Home of Bittermens Bitters.” Bittermens Inc The Home of Bittermens Bitters. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.
changeyourchocolate. (2012, Sep 26). Xocolatl – Xocai Healthy Chocolate – MXI Corp. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXXe9NjgpJc
2011. Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/53199286@N00/5628548282/. Web. 21 Feb. 2014