Pataxte: Cacao’s Cast-out Cousin

        Theobroma bicolor also known as pataxte is another form of cacao found in Mesoamerica. Additionally, pataxte goes by balamte, jaguar cacao, and a host of other names depending on the group using it. For consistency, pataxte will be used here. Although not as well-known or as well respected as theobroma cacao, pataxte occupies an important place in history alongside T. cacao.

Theobroma_fruits
The Theobroma bicolor or pataxte pod (second from left) takes on an alien appearance when compared to Theobroma cacao (far right) with its smoother skin. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

       Pataxte differs from T. cacao in its chemical makeup given that it consists of less caffeine than theobromine (Presilla, 2009). Pataxte pods are more textured than T. cacao and are green in color (Presilla, 2009). However, when it comes to foamy drinks, pataxte delivers and is still prepared today for this special quality. Authors Dreiss and Greenhill describe pataxte’s use today in Mexico’s Oaxaca Valley. They reveal,

There, a secretive process is passed down from generation to generation among women. They bury pataxte beans within layers of soil and mats in the ground, watering them for six full moons. The result is a calcified, powdery-white bean called cacao blanco. When ground and mixed with regional chocolate atole drinks, these expensive beans create a bodacious head of foam (Dreiss & Greenhill, 2008).

This highlights how pataxte is prized because it works in compliment of other chocolate beverages.

Mexico_Oaxaca_Tamazulapam_SantoDomingoPetapa.svg (1)
Oaxaca Valley Mexico (shown above) where the tradition of pataxte use lives on thanks to the work of generations of indigenous women Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Not only has pataxte been used among local populations for generations, the famous Popol Vuh myth document mentions both T. Cacao and pataxte in its contents. More specifically it states,

And so they were happy over the provisions of the good mountain, filled with sweet things, thick with yellow corn, white corn, and thick with pataxte, arid cacao, countless zapotes, anonas, jacotes, nances, matasanos, sweets—the rich foods filling up the citadel named Broken Place, Bitter Water Place. All the edible fruits were there: small staples, great staples, small plants, great plants (Coe & Coe, 2013).

This indicates that pataxte was just as important as T. Cacao in its ritual and ceremonial usage among the indigenous Maya. There is even some interpretations of the Popol Vuh that suggest humans were physically made from both T. Cacao and pataxte. Dreiss and Greenhill write, “Despite the ambiguous nature of the Popol Vuh text, all of these foods, including cacao, appear to have formed the flesh and corpus of human beings” (Dreiss & Greenhill, 2008). Despite this equality in level of importance, the Spanish were quick to dismiss pataxte in favor of T. Cacao. Although it is unclear as to why this occurred, succeeding generations across the continents have come to know and to have developed a taste for the T. Cacao variety of chocolate.

In her book titled A New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, Maricel E. Presilla suggests gendered associations between the two cacao varieties. She explains that pataxte is associated with masculinity while cacao is thought to represent femininity. Presilla offers that, “Even today, pataxte has masculine associations, perhaps because its reticulated surface is like that of scrotum. Cacao seems to be the feminine side of the pairing because the pod resembles a woman’s breast” (Presilla, 2009). This still begs the question as to why T. Cacao has become the more popular variety. One possible explanation is the prevalence of women’s bodies being freely available for consumption. Representing fertility, a breast-shaped fruit provides nourishment both physically and metaphorically. At a time when women were dressing in ways in which would repress their own feminine features (think corsets) and religion was king, fruit bearing pods resembling the breast would be a tame way to indulge in the forbidden. This could also account for the supposed aphrodisiac properties readily affixed to cacao.

Despite the historical preference for T. cacao, this does not mean pataxte use has suffered complete abandonment by the West. Modern chocolatiers are beginning to incorporate pataxte into their chocolate recipes. ChocoSol, a Toronto-based company makes chocolate using pataxte as an ingredient. According to its website, “ChocoSol is proud to be part of a small cadre of chocolatiers, chefs, farmers, and artisans participating in the regeneration of the jaguar cacao, both through seedling planting and intercultural encounter, dialogue, and exchange, as well as through recipe development and intercultural learning” (ChocoSol, 2016).  Given its continued use among indigenous groups in Mesoamerica it can be argued that no ‘regeneration’ is needed. Pataxte (jaguar cacao) has simply always been.

Chocosol
ChocoSol Traders is a modern chocolate company that makes chocolate with pataxte. ChocoSol’s white chocolate made with pataxte (shown above).

While some chocolatiers are now experimenting with pataxte, it has largely escaped the widespread hybridization and continued manipulation for the burgeoning Western chocolate market unlike its more popular cousin T. Cacao. As a result, pataxte has in some ways become cacao for “the people” meaning that having been left behind by Europeans it has been allowed to remain of and for the indigenous people of Mesoamerica. As it grows in popularity, it remains to be seen what will become of pataxte, the habitually cast-out cousin of T. Cacao.

References

ChocoSol Traders. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2016, from http://chocosoltraders.com/

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate.

Dreiss, M. L., & Greenhill, S. (2008). Chocolate: Pathway to the gods. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Presilla, M. E. (2001). The new taste of chocolate: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Images:

Bateman, R. (2012, March 24). File:Theobroma fruits.jpg. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Theobroma_fruits.jpg
Brelson. (2008, September 14). File:Mexico Oaxaca Tamazulapam SantoDomingoPetapa.svg. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mexico_Oaxaca_Tamazulapam_SantoDomingoPetapa.svg
ChocoSol. (2015, November 8).  It’s baaaack: ‘white’ chocolate made from cacao blanco, theobroma bicolor, pataxte. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from https://twitter.com/chocosoltraders/status/663453239413751808

 

 

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