Through the history of chocolate, there have been many artifacts that have been relevant to the cultivation, harvest, processing, and consumption of cacao, but one of them stands as particularly interesting due to its complexity and specificity: the molinillo. The molinillo is a wooden kitchen utensil used extensively in Mexico and other areas or Latin America, particularly Colombia, as well as in the Philippines. It is formed by a long narrow stick with a thick head on one end, and by several rings that are placed around the main stick and fall next to the head. It is used by placing it between one’s hands and rotating it back and forth, making a rotational motion in the utensil that creates froth in hot chocolate or champurrado drinks. Some molinillos, as the ones shown below, are beautifully ornamented, with colors and carvings that are characteristic of Mexican culture, as well as additional loose parts that help in the frothing of the beverage (Bowman).
This is a particularly relevant tool in the history of chocolate because it represents Mexican culture to an extent that other utensils fail to achieve. Before the Spanish arrival to the Americas, cacao was consumed by the Mayans and Aztecs in cold drinks that were unsweetened. Instead of using sugar and cinnamon, the indigenous peoples of the Americas prepared cacao beverages and mixed them with chiles, corn, and vanilla. These drinks were of great importance to the people of these civilizations, but when the Spaniards brought cacao and some of its derivates back to Europe, they got rid of the spices and added milk and sweeteners instead. Suddenly, cacao drinks went from spicy and cold to hot and sweet, and they occupied a privileged place in the tables and kitchens of the European high classes (Mintz).
Just like the current Mexican civilization is the product of mestizaje, due to the interaction between Spanish colonizers and indigenous people who already inhabited the lands, the beverage of champurrado represents the adaptation of ancient Mayan and Aztec cacao techniques to the costumes of the European colonizers, who modified them into a sweeter type of beverage that was meant to be consumed hot. This type of beverage was assimilated into Mexican society to the extent of creating a different recipe
—champurrado—and the tool that went along with it to assist in its preparation: the molinillo. Although the invention of this utensil is attributed to the Spaniards around the year 1700, it happened on what is currently considered Mexican lands, and it was mostly used by the novohispanos.
Its integration to common Mexican culture is such that there are even nursery rhymes that describe the preparation of champurrado with a molinillo, such as “Bate, bate, chocolate,” which is commonly sang by older members of the family to toddlers and young kids in order to celebrate the act of drinking a beverage made with chocolate, and thus cacao (TSL; Fain). During the chorus of the rhyme, children rub their palms together and pretend to be preparing champurrado. This situation makes one reminisce of the original meaning of the Mayan word chokola’j, which literally translates to the verb “to drink chocolate together.” The social component of cacao beverages is enhanced by the specificity of the tools utilized in their preparation, and the particular processes that go into it, such as the turning of a molinillo in a pot to create the characteristic froth of champurrado. A kitchen utensil turned into a nursery rhyme provides the tool with a whole different social dimension of cultural integration and identification, as well as socialization and preservation of traditions.
Preparation of champurrado using a molinillo.
Bowman, Barbara. “Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer).” Gourmet Sleuth. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.
“El Día De Los Niños/El Día De Los Libros.” Texas State Library and Archives Commission. N.p., 20 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.
Fain, Lisa. “Mexican Hot Chocolate and a Molinillo.” Homesick Texan. N.p., 26 Dec. 2006. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.
“Molinillo: Hot Cocoa Frother | Mexico, Wooden Stick, Traditional Hot Chocolate Grinder, Frothing Stick, Molinillos.” RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.