The Shared Influence of European and Native Cultures On Chocolate (And On Each Other)

During the violent clash between the cultural, idealogical and linguistic attributes of European colonialism and the cultures of the Aztec and Maya, a forced melding took place and irreversibly impacted both cultures. Between the Spanish unwillingness to understand the Nahuatl language, with many refusing to adopt the essential grammatical indicator of stressing “Nahuatl words on the next-to-last syllable” (History of Chocolate 116), to the slow crossing of the European and native “ethnocentric taste barrier(s)” (115), European colonialism incited a two way sphere of unavoidable influence that has shaped the adoption, acceptance and idealogical underpinnings of chocolate as it is expressed and distributed today.

Girolamo Benzoni’s initial impression of chocolate, “a drink for pigs” (110), encapsulates the alien impressions and ignorance western pallets initially exhibited in the face the presentation and textures of “cacahuatl” (117), or “cacao water” as it was known in to the Aztecs. Along similar lines, an example of the cultural exchange and linguistic tweaking taking place is the Spanish adoption of the term “chocolate” as a opposed to the native “cacahuatl”. Aside from the above mentioned difficulty with pronunciation and comprehension, another linguistic barrier was the “caca” of “cacahuatl”, which resembles the often crudely referenced fruit of the act of human defecation in Spanish. The Spaniard conquerers most probably sought to avoid the daily practice of referring to a dark, frothy drink as such, though this hypothesis is ultimately one of several on the subject of the etymological origin of the word chocolate in European vernacular.

The adoption of Chocolate, and its process of expression and influence on European aristocracy, was an a cultural phenomena in Europe that borrowed from and adjusted the Native process and application of chocolate. From the almost immediate adoption of chocolate as a hot drink with added cane sugar, compared to the original cold drink Montezuma drank, “chocolate arrived in Europe with the aura of an exotic luxury” (The New Taste of Chocolate 26). Yet, despite adding and changing to the native process with European ideas, tools and names like “metates”, a stone slab used for crushing beans, lived on. While the physical European applications for chocolate present a far more diverse spread of names and mechanisms, the cultural influence of the Native’s on Spaniard tastes slowly pervaded everywhere. “Chocolate thickened pinole” (25), a porridge dish made from a blend of new world crops and spices that Native Americans created, became popular with Spaniards. And it can easily be presumed that a profound impact on the quick spread and popularity of chocolate stemmed from native women who married Europeans. Jesuit Jose De Acosta once remarked on how “the Spanish men…and women” (History of Chocolate 114) were completely “addicted to the black chocolate”. The constant use of chocolate in the households of Spanish conquerers residing in the New World of a substance daily used by their native wives and children must have done much to break the ethnocentric taste barriers initially disgusting Europeans — though their addition of added sugar and heat did much to break in the drink with their tastes.

Another large aesthetic and textural barrier separating European tastes and the Aztecs was the frothiness of their “cacahuatl” drink. The “molinillo” is an excellent example of a European invention developed to adapt to or enhance the process of chocolate as it was practiced by the Aztecs. Molinillos are devices that possess wood rings that serve to beat up “a froth on the drink” (The New Taste of Chocolate 26) — to offset some of the fat that develops at the top of the drink. The Aztecs accomplished this by pouring one container of chocolate into another, but the addition of the European device, the molinillo, clearly borrows from the Native American process while adding European technological additions that appeal more the the pallets of Europeans. The very name of the molinillo bears creolized influence. Nahuatl noun that is “derived from the verb molinia, “to shake, waggle or move”…is likely to be a progenitor of molinani” (History of Chocolate 120), which means “something which moves or waggles”. The physical act of using a molinillo resembles this motion, and it’s interesting that a European invention retained a word etymological roots in Native American culture, despite the grand disregard Spaniard culture exhibited toward cultures and languages of the New World.

The mutual impact between native cultures and western ones is pervasive the history and expression of chocolate. Etymological, technological and cultural influences between the colonial powers and the native denizens of the New World were an assured given, and it should be noted that the huge, pervasive power of these forces never became more evident than when they stood in conflict with each other, as they sat at the edge of conflicting worlds.

Works Cited:
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History Of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.
Presilla, Marciel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.


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