Chocolate: from Beverage to Haute Cuisine

Chocolate, as we know it today, has drifted far from its Mesoamerican roots and transformed in many different ways since the original Maya/Aztec preparation of the food as a drink. The Late Maya, around the 9th century, prepared a hot chocolate beverage, sometimes adding local flavorings such as vanilla and “ear flower” (Coe and Coe 62). After the collapse of the Classic Maya, the mode of chocolate preparation changed dramatically, as evidenced by the 16th century Spanish accounts of the cold frothy chocolate beverage prepared by the Aztecs. The Aztecs also introduced new flavor combinations to their chocolate beverage, often mixing maize, chilis, a variety of flowers and seeds, and even allspice (Coe and Coe 86-94). However, it was not until cacao traveled to Europe that chocolate became experienced as more than just a drink. As chocolate was being introduced to the masses upon the dawn of the industrial revolution, technological advances and increased access to chocolate spurred individual creativity which led to chocolate permeating cuisine as a primary ingredient, no longer as just an unadulterated frothy drink.

The first recorded evidence of chocolate as a primary ingredient comes from late 17th century Italian recipe books, where it is used in pastries, cakes and even pasta and meat dishes (Coe and Coe 217). Once published, these recipes gained popularity in other parts of Italy throughout the 18th century, though mainly in upper class homes and royal kitchens. Outside of Italy, another savory chocolate dish was developed in Mexico – the mole poblano sauce, which is often paired with pavo (turkey), pollo (chicken)¸ and even enchiladas. Although the stories of its origin are contradictory, some describing the addition of chocolate into the sauce an accident, it seems to have been created sometime in the 17th or 18th century by nuns in the region of Puebla (Coe and Coe 215). This dish is popular even today, and the following cooking tutorial describes the process of making pollo con mole poblano:

 

            Today, the preparation of this dish includes “sweet” ingredients, such as sugar, and chocolate, which we know associate with sweet, as well as savory pieces, like Mexican rice, and chicken (Cadena). Even now, the dish calls for traditionally Old World ingredients, such as a variety of chilis and plantains, a reflection on the hybridization that allowed this dish to come to fruition. Back when this dish was created, chocolate was not yet mass produced, but the fact that the recipe has survived the test of time demonstrates that it was well received enough for cooks to acquire the chocolate and pass down the recipe over generations. Now, this video recommends the use of Ibarra Mexican chocolate, manufactured by Mexican company Ibarra, which is easily purchased throughout the Americas (Chocolate De Jalisco).

The Ibarra Mexican Chocolate tablets take the form of the early Spanish wafers, which the Spanish had originally developed in order to transport chocolate across the ocean while retaining the rich taste.

Experimentation in the 17th and early 18th centuries was limited, however, due to the limited supply of affordable chocolate that could easily be used in cooking. When chocolate began to be produced using machines, in mid-18th century America, the culture of chocolate completely shifted from being consumed as a luxury drink by high class patrons to being affordable to everyone, of all classes (Bostonian Society). One of the first instances of machine-produced chocolate was a factory in Dorchester, MA, started by John Hannon and Dr. James Baker in 1765. This small water-powered mill would grow to become the Walter Baker Company, a popular provider of baking chocolate in the markets today (Coe and Coe 228).

In the beginning, the Baker Company focused on grinding chocolate to sell to other businesses as well as unsweetened chocolate mainly for the sole purpose of preparing the chocolate beverage. However, as they began to look for new avenues to market their product, they began to experiment. From 1880-1885, the Baker Company distributed 1 million recipe books featuring their chocolate as an ingredient to the American public. The cookbook cover, and a chocolate recipe from this cookbook follows.

Walter Baker Company Recipe Book, 1880.
Excerpt from Walter Baker Company Recipe Book, 1880.

These recipes with chocolate as a primary ingredient are reminiscent of cake recipes today, and may very well still taste as good. Besides just guiding the reader through recipes, this book and Baker’s chocolate itself put the power of experimentation in the hands of the everyday consumer. Because chocolate was now widely produced and sold, wives and homemakers, the target audience of this book, were encouraged to try out any of its pre-tested recipes as well as their own, spurring on the chocolate creativity in each individual kitchen.

The development of the chocolate manufacturing industry enabled more people from all social backgrounds to access chocolate, leading to more creativity in the kitchens and was a large factor in the shift from chocolate’s perceived role as a standalone beverage to the primary ingredient it plays in cuisine today.

Works Cited

The Bostonian Society. “Sweet History: Dorchester and the Chocolate Factory.” Boston History. The Bostonian Society, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. < http://www.bostonhistory.org/sub/bakerschocolate/ >.

Cadena3VidayHogar. “Cómo Preparar Pollo Con Mole.” YouTube. Youtube, 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <https://youtu.be/S27gI4r0ePk&gt;.

Chocolate And Cocoa Recipes and Hand Made Candy Recipes. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/coldfusion/display.cfm?ID=choc&PageNum=12&gt;.

Chocolate And Cocoa Recipes and Hand Made Candy Recipes. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/coldfusion/display.cfm?ID=choc&PageNum=1&gt;.

Chocolate De Jalisco. “Chocolatera Ibarra.” Chocolatera Ibarra. Ibarra Chocolate Group, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://chocoibarra.com.mx/productos-ibarra.php?i_d=aW5n&gt;.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Digital image. http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/chocolate/images/ibarra-150.jpg. Lifestyle Direct, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Michigan State University, Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project, February 23 2003. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/html/books/book_61.cfm&gt;.

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