|March 2019, Multimedia Essay 1,|
Around 1500 BCE, the Olmecs discovered cacao, which was later introduced to the Maya and Aztecs and eventually reached Europe and the United States (Coe & Coe, 2007). The way in which chocolate was made throughout time remained relatively similar; however, the ingredients that were used in the different regions and time periods differed. Depending on where one lived and the geographical and economic conditions of that region, the specific ingredients aside from the cacao pods were unique. While some individuals added more flowers and/or chili, others added more cinnamon and/or milk. This continuous addition of different ingredients slowly transformed chocolate to what we know it as today (Coe & Coe, 2007).
Maya and Aztec Chocolate:
Earlier civilizations such as the Maya and Aztecs placed great importance on the froth-producing process. By transferring the liquid from one vessel to another at a specific height, foam would be produced. The foam was considered to be the most favorable part of the chocolate drink (Coe & Coe, 2007). The image depicted below, as well as other evidence from the period, demonstrates that both the early and late Maya and Aztecs highly valued the foam making process.
The Maya typically consumed their chocolate hot rather than cold. Two essential ingredients that the late Maya incorporated into their drinks were vanilla and ear flower. In the Americas they also incorporated chili (Capsicum annum), achiote, flowers, sugar and vanilla, which touched upon different taste types, such as spicy, sweet, floral, unammi, nutty and starchy (Sampeck & Thayn, 2017). Because of the economic situation and lack of resources in some regions, not all individuals were able to use a variety of different ingredients to make the drink. However, they still were determined to create a chocolate drink, so they instead substituted some of the more expensive ingredients for others that they could afford. For example, the Batido made by the Guatemalan Indians included vanilla, achiote, ear flower and ground sapote kernels which was then mixed with black pepper and cacao. However, because this region did not have the financial means to purchase and consume a large amount of true cacao, communities learned to preserve the cacao and conceal the flavoring of their drinks with the addition of black pepper. In the Batido, there was much more black pepper added compared to cacao (Coe & Coe, 2007).
The Aztecs shared similar practices with the Maya but differed in the ingredients and the way in which the drink was consumed. Similar to the Maya, the Aztecs treasured the foam that was produced from the drink, stating that the foam was the healthiest part of the chocolate drink (Coe & Coe, 2007). However, instead of consuming the chocolate drink hot, this beverage was usually served cold.
The Aztecs, just as the Maya, began adding a variety of different ingredients which would then be used for different occasions and given to different individuals. There was never one single form of chocolate recipe but rather a large variety of different recipes and ingredients that would be used to make them. Some of these ingredients included maize, seeds from the Ceiba tree, vanilla, and flowers (Coe & Coe, 2007). Among this wide range of ingredients, the Aztecs highly valued three essential ingredients: Hueinacaztli, Tlilxochitl, and Mecaxochitl. Hueinacaztli was the ear-shaped petal from the flower of Cymbopetalum penduliflorum, Tlilxochitl was the black flower, which today we refer to as vanilla, and Mecaxochitl, the string flower, was related to black pepper. (Coe & Coe, 2007).
In the late 1500s, the Spanish, who were fascinated by the chocolate drink made by the Aztecs and its potential, brought chocolate back to their country (Editors, 2017). Soon after, they transformed the cold and bitter drink that was once consumed by the Aztecs into a much more rich and desirable drink. They followed the processing techniques created by the Maya and Aztecs but used different tools to make and serve the chocolate. Rather than pouring the chocolate from one vessel to the next, they would use the molinillo to gather the foam from the liquid. As more European countries such as Italy, France and Britain began exploring different parts of Central America, these countries also brought the product back home (Editors, 2017). Because of their geographic diversity, power and economic stability, Europeans continued to add a variety of different ingredients that were unheard of to the Maya or Aztecs. Some of these included cinnamon, almonds, hazelnut, nutmeg, clove, citron, lemon peel, achiote, musk, orange blossom, and jasmine petals (Coe & Coe, 2007). Some of the most commonly used ingredients were sugar, vanilla, anise, and cinnamon.
The recipes used to make chocolate were adapted from various different parts of Europe, and the British especially were considered to have some of the richest tasting chocolate. Antonios CoMenero de Ledesma’s 1644 recipe illustrates the diverse use of ingredients in the Europeans chocolate drinks:100 cacao beans
- 100 cacao beans
- 2 chillis (can substitute for black pepper)
- Hanful of Anise
- Ear flower
- 2 Mecasuchiles
- 1 Vanilla
- 2 oz cinnamon
- 12 almonds
- ½ lbs of sugar
- Achiote to taste
(Coe & Coe, 2007)
In addition to making a chocolate drink, the Europeans began to incorporate chocolate into other food cuisines. For example, black polenta was topped with chocolate bread crumbs, butter, almonds and cinnamon, pieces of liver dipped in chocolate and a chocolate soup which included cacao, milk, sugar, cinnamon and egg yolk mixed together and eaten with toast (Coe & Coe, 2007).
Although the production of chocolate has remained relatively similar throughout history, the specific ingredients that have been added has allowed each time period and geographical location to reflect a unique version of a chocolate drink. Today, the chocolate we consume has a greater amount of sugar and milk than what was once used. For example, Hershey’s chocolate similarly places great importance on the manufacturing and processing of the beans, but another large component is the addition of milk. The milk is combined with sugar and then mixed with chocolate liquor and cocoa butter (D’Antonio, 2006). Milk has become the essential ingredient for Hershey’s chocolate bar, which in some way hides the flavor of the true cacao beans that are used. However, without milk, Hershey’s chocolate would not be what it is known as today.
It is interesting to note the stark contrast between the chocolate used by the earlier civilization and the chocolate that is consumed today. What once required a minimal amount of ingredients to retain a unique taste now requires a variety of different and overpowering ingredients to make it appealing to the consumer. One would imagine that with technological improvements and refined processes available today, we would accentuate the true flavor of cacao; however, this is not necessarily true. The addition of ingredients such as sugar and milk have concealed the power of the cacao beans that the Maya and Aztecs cherished. The production process may have remained the same, but the quality of the products created has changed.
- Coe, S ., & Coe, M. (2007) . The True History of Chocolate.
- D’Antonio, M. (2006). Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126
- Editors, H. (2017). History of Chocolate. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-americas/history-of-chocolate#section_5
- Sampeck, K., & Thayn, J. (2017). “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” pp. 72-99
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