Tag Archives: chocolate drink

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;.


Chocolate as Medicine: Spanish Physicians Approve the Food of the Gods

When chocolate arrived from the Americas the Spanish posed a crucial question: was chocolate beneficial to one’s health? Health was a central concern for the Spaniards, who were beholden to an outdated and mostly ineffective collection of medical theories that dominated Western medical practice for nearly two millennia.[i] For chocolate to be judged suitable for consumption it would have to fit within the widely accepted theory of humors. Hippocrates (460-377 BC) is credited as the inventor of the humoral theory of disease and nutrition.[ii] According to Hippocrates the body is comprised of four humors including blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.[iii] These humors are derived from the elements, including earth, air, fire, and water.[iv] Each fluid is associated with a different organ, and each is correlated with different physical principles: warm and moist, cold and dry, warm and dry, and cold and moist.[v] Like the Classical Greeks, the Spanish believed one’s bodily and mental health depended on a proper balance among the four bodily humors.

Each food was thought to include warm, cold, moist, and dry principles in varying degrees. However, chocolate’s uniqueness made it difficult to classify. In 1570 Philip II of Spain sent his Royal Physician Francisco Hernández to classify the plants of Mexico as hot, cold, dry, or wet.[vi] From 1572-1577 Hernández resided in Mexico where he studied the plants of New Spain; he later used this knowledge to craft comprehensive descriptions of over 3,000 plant species. Just as the Aztecs interpreted chocolate as cold, Hernández also classified the cacao seed as “temperate in nature” with “cold and humid” qualities.[vii] At the time, “cool” cacao drinks were often consumed in hot weather and to temper fevers.

This image features a page from Francisco Hernández’s incredible work Quatro libros de la naturaleza, y virtudes de las plantas, y animales (Four Books on the Nature and Virtues of Plants and Animals for Medicinal Purposes in New Spain). Francisco Ximenez translated Hernández’s work from Latin to Spanish in 1615. This image can be viewed online in the Biblioteca Digital of the Real Jardin Botánico, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas.
This image features a page from Francisco Hernández’s incredible work Quatro libros de la naturaleza, y virtudes de las plantas, y animales (Four Books on the Nature and Virtues of Plants and Animals for Medicinal Purposes in New Spain). Francisco Ximenez translated Hernández’s work from Latin to Spanish in 1615. This image can be viewed online in the Biblioteca Digital of the Real Jardin Botánico, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas.

In his 1591 discourse Problemas y secretos maravillosos de las Indias (Enigmas and Wondrous Secrets of the Indies) Dr. Juan de Cárdenas described plain cacao as a conglomeration of contradictory qualities, including warm and moist, warm and dry, and cold and dry.[viii] Cárdenas identifies three parts to chocolate including a cold, dry, and earthy part, an oily, warm and humid part, and a hot and bitter part.[ix] The cold and dry quality in cacao solids was thought to produce problems such as “anxieties and melancholy fits.”[x] Like Hernández, Cárdenas suggested chocolate drinks sweetened with honey or sugar to cool overheated individuals.[xi]

The flavorings added to chocolate could also be categorized by temperature and were believed to enhance chocolate’s medicinal benefits. For example, Hernández identifies mecaxochitl, from the hoja santa plant’s flower, as a naturally “hot” spice that “warms the stomach” and “combats poisons, alleviates intestinal pains and colics.”[xii]

This image features a close-up representation of the Mecaxochitl, which is probably Piper amalgo or piper sanctum, both pepper plants used to flavor chocolate. Hernández, an expert on medicinal botany, linked plants with one or more of the bodily humors.
This image features a close-up representation of the Mecaxochitl, which is probably Piper amalgo or piper sanctum, both pepper plants used to flavor chocolate. Hernández, an expert on medicinal botany, linked plants with one or more of the bodily humors.

Cárdenas mentions “hot” native flavors such as hueinacaztli, or “ear flower,” which aids digestion and calms the liver.[xiii] In addition to hueinacaztli and mecaxochitl, Cárdenas also believed vanilla and achiote could counter the harmful effects of cacao.[xiv] Cárdenas cautioned that “green” chocolate harms digestion and causes irregular heartbeats but, once cacao is toasted, ground, and mixed with atole gruel, it can aid the digestive process.[xv] Thus, according to Cárdenas, the addition of native spices and atole could transform raw cacao’s harmful effects into dietary merits. Besides digestion, chocolate was also purported to excite the venereal appetite. Hernández offers a recipe that contains flavorings prized by the Aztecs, including the aforementioned hueinacaztli (“ear flower”), tlilxochitl (“black flower”, or vanilla), and mecaxochitl (“string flower”).[xvi]

The top image shows the stem of the çoçoyatic plant with its leaves and flowers. The Latin phrase for this plant is “De Çoçoyatic, seu herba Palmae simili.” The bottom image shows the Mecaxochitl plant with its roots, leaves, and flower or fruit.
The top image shows the stem of the çoçoyatic plant with its leaves and flowers. The Latin phrase for this plant is “De Çoçoyatic, seu herba Palmae simili.” The bottom image shows the Mecaxochitl plant with its roots, leaves, and flower or fruit.

As a royal physician and a respected doctor, Francisco Hernández and Juan de Cárdenas gave chocolate the dietary stamp of approval needed to transition the foodstuff from a foreign curiosity into an acceptable and desirable part of Spanish medicine. Over the course of the sixteenth century, the dietary virtues and alleged aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate caught the attention—and tongues—of the health obsessed Spaniards, who welcomed cacao into their diets, where it has remained.

[i] Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2013), kindle edition location 1699.

[ii] Coe, The True History, kindle edition location 1702.

[iii] Coe, The True History, kindle edition location 1702.

[iv] Maricel Presilla, The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes (New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009), 27.

[v] Presilla,The New Taste, 27.

[vi] Coe, The True History, kindle edition location 1724.

[vii] Coe, The True History, kindle edition location 1727.

[viii] Presilla,The New Taste, 27.

[ix] Coe, The True History, kindle edition location 1749.

[x] Presilla,The New Taste, 27.

[xi] Coe, The True History, kindle edition location 1753.

[xii] Coe, The True History, kindle edition location 1731.

[xiii] Coe, The True History, kindle edition location 1749 to 1753.

[xiv] Presilla,The New Taste, 27.

[xv] Coe, The True History,  kindle edition location 1742 to 1745.

[xvi] Coe, The True History, kindle edition location 1270 to 1296.

Works Referenced

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Graziano, Martha Makra. “Food of the Gods as Mortals’ Medicine: The Uses of Chocolate and Cacao Products.” Pharmacy in History 40, no. 4 (1998): 132-46.

Hernández, Francisco. Nova plantarum, animalium et mineralium mexicanorum historia, 1651. Ink on paper from woodcut, 13.03 cm x 8.46 cm. Original in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. <http://jcb.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/detail/JCB~1~1~7180~11130004:-top—De-%C3%87o%C3%A7oyatic,-seu-herba-Palm&gt;, accessed 18 February 2015.

Hernández, Francisco. Quatro libros de la naturaleza, y virtudes de las plantas, y animales, 1615. Translated by Francisco Ximenez. Biblioteca Digital de Real Jardin Botánico, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas. <http://bibdigital.rjb.csic.es/spa/Libro.php?Libro=4961&gt;, accessed 18 February 2015.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111, no. 3 (2006): 660-691.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Wilson, Philip K., and William Jeffrey Hurst. Chocolate as Medicine: A Quest Over the Centuries. Cambridge: The Royal Society of Medicine, 2012.

Chocolate, Politics, and Gambling

Far from what their name might suggest, “chocolate houses” are sadly, not houses made from chocolate. Instead, London chocolate houses were 18th century bastions of wealth in which luxurious chocolate drinks were served alongside steaming plates of leisure to the obscenely rich, who wanted nothing more than to relax, schmooze, and discuss their plans to overthrow the king on the side. With the Enlightenment roaring in the background, the chocolate houses became excellent places for English noblemen with too much money to unload their wallets and their newfound nihilism.

Interior of a chocolate house
Portrayal of interior of a chocolate house

Nested within exclusive aristocratic communities—most notably one called St. James Street, these lavish havens were erected in the same spirit as the already extensive and wildly popular coffeehouses of the time (“London’s Chocolate Houses”). Previously, chocolate drinks were merely sold as an afterthought at these coffeehouses, due to the much more popular and established nature of coffee, the beloved brown drink of choice. Comparatively, chocolate was its aloof foreign cousin and had barely arrived from France in the 1650s (“Discovering Chocolate”). However, the media began extolling chocolate as a medicinal, magical substance with aphrodisiacal properties, and it wasn’t long before people bought into the hype and the so-called chocolate houses sprang up to cater to this niche demand (Green).

The chocolate drinks themselves were brewed from blocks of cocoa and tended to be dark and bitter concoctions very much unlike the fluffy, sugary hot chocolate that we drink today which—quite literally—pales in comparison (“Discovering Chocolate”). These exotic drinks were often mixed with a handful of off-key flavors, with some recipes including Indian pepper, jasmine, and ambergris—a bile duct secretion found in the intestine of sperm whales (Choat; Kemp 8). Chocolate was very much an expensive, luxury drink, both due to the elaborate nature of its recipe as well as the high taxes involved in importing it to England (“Hot Chocolate”; “Discovering Chocolate”). However, this likely only served to play into the tendencies of an elite class that was less concerned with the essence of the drink and more concerned with making showy displays of wealth.

Chocolate pots

White’s Chocolate House, which opened in 1697, was perhaps the most famous chocolate house, among others such as Brooke’s, Ozinda’s, and the Cocoa Tree (Green, Algernon 152). Though these chocolate houses were ostensibly places that served chocolate drinks, in reality, this was by far their least important function. Behind their exclusive doors, the chocolate houses actually served as arenas for the gritty world of high-stakes gambling. According to The History of White’s, which candidly refers to White’s as a gaming club, “There is nothing, however trivial or ridiculous, which is not capable of producing a bet. Many pounds have been lost upon the colour of a coach horse, an article in the news, or a change in the weather” (Algernon 101). Furthermore, these bets often pitted people’s lives against each other, with gamblers making wagers on who would live longer—“There is scarce one remarkable person upon whose life there are not many thousand pounds depending, or one person of quality whose death will not leave several of these kinds of mortgages upon his estate” (Algernon 102).

White's Chocolate House
White’s Chocolate House

Beyond the morbid business of high stakes gambling, the chocolate houses also doubled as sites for people of various political parties to convene and vent their political frustrations. White’s, in particular, was unofficial home to the Tories, while Brooke’s served the Whigs (Algernon 152). The Cocoa Tree purportedly had a secret escape route for Jacobites to escape capture by authorities (Green). This affiliation with political parties was a large part of the reason why chocolate house membership was so exclusive. Belying their unassuming names, chocolate houses were actually extremely political.

In light of these revelations on the true nature of chocolate houses, the importance of chocolate drinks may seem only secondary. However, far from it, chocolate was the sticky lubricant that bound all these forces together. Perfectly packaged as an item of the elite, chocolate was the impetus for driving a culture of extravagance, which in turn, popularized chocolate among not just elites, but all of England. Compared to our culture in which the most iniquity associated with chocolate is the guilt that accompanies a sweet tooth, it is amusing, to say the least, to think that chocolate once went hand in hand with decadence, political dissent, and a penchant for anarchic gambling.

Works Cited

Algernon, Henry. The History of White’s. Vol. 1. London: Waterlow and Sons, 1892. 101,102,152. Print.

Choat, Isabel. “A Chocolate Tour of London: A Taste of the past.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 23 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/dec/23/chocolate-tour-of-london&gt;.

“Discovering Chocolate.” Cadbury. Kraft Foods Australia Pty Ltd. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <https://www.cadbury.com.au/About-Chocolate/Discovering-Chocolate.aspx&gt;.

Green, Matthew. “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/london/10515620/The-surprising-history-of-Londons-lost-chocolate-houses.html&gt;.

“Hot Chocolate, 18th-19th Century Style.”Jane Austens World. 9 Aug. 2008. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/hot-chocolate-18th-19th-century-style/&gt;.

Kemp, Christopher. Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2012. 8. Print.

“London’s Chocolate Houses.” Herb Museum. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://www.herbmuseum.ca/content/londons-chocolate-houses&gt;.

Multimedia Sources

Bourne, Leah. “The Top 12 Most Exclusive Private Members Clubs In London Read More: Http://stylecaster.com/the-top-12-most-exclusive-private-members-clubs-in-london/#ixzz3SKINBGoc.” StyleCaster. StyleCaster Inc, 19 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://stylecaster.com/the-top-12-most-exclusive-private-members-clubs-in-london/&gt;.

Digital image. Replacements, LTD. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://www.replacements.com/thismonth/archive/v1301t.htm&gt;.

Jones, Bob. “The Lost City of London.” The Lost City of London. N.p., 03 May 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://lostcityoflondon.co.uk/2014/05/03/oh-divine-chocolate/&gt;.

The Evolution of Drinking Chocolate

In modern times, hot chocolate is enjoyed by people around the world.  The most familiar types found in the grocery store are made up of a pre-sweetened powder that comes in a small package and may or may not contain 15% cocoa depending on the type of drink.  Other types of drinking chocolate, such as Abuelita, come in pressed chocolate bars that are then dissolved in milk.  Today, hot cocoa is available to people of every social and economic class.  However, historically chocolate drinks were made in a very different manner, and they were most often only available to the elites.


The cultivation of cacao began as early as 1900 BC with the Olmec civilization (Presilla, 2001, p.10), but the oldest known cacao recipes come from the Maya and the Aztec civilizations.  For the Maya civilization, cacao was available to people of every social and economic class, although little evidence remains of the drinking vessels used by the less affluent members of society (Presilla, 2001, p. 12)  As cacao is difficult to grow, it is likely that the more affluent members of society had easier access to drinking cacao due to its rarity.  Maya drinking chocolate was often made from water that contained the starch of lime-treated corn mixed with the cacao beans that had been ground into a paste.  Mayan cacao was also flavored with ear flower, vanilla, honey, allspice, and chiles (Presilla, 2001, p. 13, 14).  Frothy chocolate was favored by the Maya, and it would later also be favored by the Aztecs and the Spaniards.

Unlike the Maya, the Aztecs limited cacao consumption to the elites and the warrior class.  Aztec cacao drinks were available (to the members of these social classes) in the market, and the makers of these drinks were considered true artisans, as:

“She who sells remade cacao for drinking first grinds it in this fashion:  At the first [grinding] she breaks or crushes the beans; at the second they are slightly more ground; at the third and last they are very well ground, being mixed with boiled and rinsed corn kernels; and being thus ground and mixed, they add water [to the mixture] in any sort of vessel [vaso].  If they add little [water] they have beautiful cacao; if they add a lot, it will not produce froth.” (Saghagun, Historia General)

Frothy cacao was considered to be the very best of the Aztec cacao drinks, and all other cacao drinks were considered inferior (Presilla, 2001, p.19-20).  Today, cacao is drunk throughout the day or as a nightcap, but the Aztec elites drank their cacao at the end of meals (Coe, 2013, Kindle location 1330).  The Aztecs, much like the Maya, used locally available ingredients to flavor their cacao.  These ingredients included honey, ear flower, vanilla, string flower, magnolia, piper sanctum ( pepper flower), heart flower, chiles, and allspice.  According to Coe in The True History of Chocolate, Aztec cacao was made with roasted ground cacao beans and sopata seeds that were mixed with ground corn and spices (Coe, 2013, Kindle location 1314).

Aztec Woman

The Spanish assimilated their own flavors when they brought chocolate over from Mesoamerica, including: cinnamon, sugar, and black pepper (Coe, 2013, Kindle Location 1599).  The Spanish also began mixing cacao with cow’s milk.  In order to grind the beans, a heated metate was used, and the precious and sought after froth was obtained using a molinillo stirring stick (Coe, 2013, Kindle Location 1599-1614).

While the historical flavors of drinking chocolate remain, cacao has become a much sweeter drink in modern times, and flavorings have continuously expanded.  With the current trend towards a diet low in refined sugars, I wonder if the Maya and Aztec way of drinking unsweetened cacao might make a comeback.


Coe, Sophie D.; Coe, Michael D. (2013-06-28). The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson. Kindle Edition. 

Presilla, Maricel. (2001).  The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press.

Image 1:  Swiss Miss Cocoa Collection, from the Swiss Miss website

Image 2:  Abuelita Cocoa, from the Abuelita website

Image 3:  Maya cocoa frothing, from the course slides

The Early Recipes: Preparation and Consumption of Cacao as a Reflection of Reverence

In chocolate’s early history, from the Maya to the Spanish conquistadores, recipes and rituals for consuming chocolate were indicative of each culture’s respect for cacao. The various ways in which it was prepared since it was first tasted in Mesoamerica demonstrated how much cacao was valued – from being considered the “food of the gods” to a bitter drink that disgusted the foreign Spaniards – proving that chocolate recipes and practices are a reflection of reverence.


As in the video above, the ancient Maya prepared chocolate drinks by laboriously grinding fermented and shelled cacao seeds into a paste, then mixing this with a corn “gruel” and water and beating this mixture until foamy (Coe and Coe 62). The intense amount of effort the Maya were willing to put into the recipe for this drink shows the great respect the Mayan people had for cacao.

Figure 1: From the Dresden Codex, a depiction of a god carrying an offering of cacao on its back (Coe and Coe 42)

Indeed, several depictions of gods being born of or holding cacao pods have been discovered from the Classic Maya era, exhibiting this reverence – see Figure 1 (Coe and Coe 42).

    The Aztec people imitated the Maya in their respect for cacao and its preparation: after much toil involving grinding and straining, they combined the ground cacao with maize to make a frothy drink, varying from the Maya by adding chiles, peppers, or other spices, and by serving it cold rather than hot. This is ascribed to the fact that cacao is “cold in its nature” (Coe and Coe 84), illustrating that how chocolate was prepared and imbibed reflected a high level of respect for honoring cacao in its natural state.

The amount of manual labor required for these drinks is important to note. Only chocolate that was “judiciously mixed” was suitable for nobles to drink (Presilla 20), so the labor involved in making this chocolate beverage was clearly respected. The Aztec also used cacao for healing many ailments, as well as a currency (Martin), further demonstrating the high value the Aztec placed upon cacao.

Figure 2: Molinillos used by Spaniards, were quickly twisted to foam their drinking chocolate rather than pouring between vessels

When the Spanish began their conquest of the Aztecs, they turned their nose up at the foamy brown drink the natives revered. This initial lack of chocolate consumption was indicative of their general disdain for the people they were oppressing. In order to create the beloved beverage it was to become, the Spanish changed the recipe by adding cane sugar to eliminate some of the bitterness they were unaccustomed to, and new spices like cinnamon and anise. They also changed the way it could be consumed by creating chocolate “wafers” that could be easily transported and instantly turned into a drink by adding hot water and sugar, and using molinillos to more effortlessly create foam (Coe and Coe 115).

These changes reflect how differently Europeans viewed cacao compared to the Aztec and the Maya. To begin with, adding sugar to the naturally bitter drink (and therefore changing its original taste) can be seen symbolic for their desecration of the New World and its native people. Also, by making dried cakes of chocolate powder and finding shortcuts to the sought after foam, chocolate drinks were now accessible to more people back in Europe and no longer required the same amount of labor. This loss of effort could be construed as somewhat diminishing its original sacredness.

Chocolate would later go on to take over Europe, as a cure for sickness and as a drink for the elite, and in the 19th century would finally begin to trickle down to the average consumer with the advent of more advanced chocolate producing technology (Presilla). With every turn cacao has taken on its road to becoming what it is today, the recipes and preparations used to consume it were – and are – indicative of how much people revere it: from drinking it during religious rituals to eating the cheap stuff absent-mindedly as we do today, how we consume chocolate is a reflection of how much we respect cacao and where it came from.

Works Cited

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

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and ‘The Food of the Gods’.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 4 Feb. 2015. Class Lecture.

Plante, Walter. Figure 2: Mexico Week2 472. Digital image. Koko Buzz: Exploring the World of Chocolate. N.p., 22 Feb. 2010. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <https://kokobuzz.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/chocolate-notes-from-mexico/&gt;.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print.

Teabelize. “Toledo Ecotourism Association – Making a Chocolate Drink.” Video. YouTube, 10 May 2008. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vC4dq69rqE&gt;.