Chocolate has been a major part of Mesoamerican, as well as European history. It has a tumultuous past and is guaranteed to have an interesting future. Chocolate has a place in our lives that we rarely think about, as it had a very important place historically in peoples lives. The preparation of chocolate and its recipes have changed over the years, as I will show later in this post. How we consume and enjoy chocolate is vastly different from how our ancestors and others enjoyed the delicious treat.
Researchers assumed chocolate was used in Mesoamerica first, however new research has found that “cacao was first domesticated around 3,600 years ago- and not in Mesoamerica” (Blakemore, 2018). They looked at nearly 200 cacao plants and found that the plant most likely to be the earliest domesticated cacao plant was the Criollo tree. This tree is usually found in the amazon basin in South America. There is evidence of contact with the Mayo-Chinchipe and people in Ecuador, likely how cacao was transferred to Mesoamerica (Blakemore, 2018). Below is an example of a Criollo Tree:
This domestication and spread of cacao influenced the way we see chocolate today. The Mesoamerican cultures that processed cacao spread that knowledge to Europe, and in return to America.
Historical Recipes of Chocolate Drinks
Historically the hot chocolate drink from Mesoamerica was a bitter beverage, not the sweet one we enjoy today. Mayans typically used the chocolate beverage for celebrations and currency, but it was common to be used and drank by all classes of people. They generally drank it with honey or other natural sweeteners, chili peppers, and they frothed the drink (“History of Chocolate”, 2017).
“Mayans never mixed the cacao bean paste with milk, instead they used hot water; it was the Spaniards in Colonial times that began to add milk, cream, and sugar to the cacao paste to create a soft creamy taste similar to current hot cocoa” (Ancient Mayan Hot Chocolate, n.d.). Their recipe is very similar to the Aztec recipe for the chocolate drink. Below is an example of the Mayan recipe:
3 cups boiling water
1 to 2 cinnamon sticks
8 ounces bittersweet Maya Kakaw or Xocoalt (chocolate paste) or 3 tablets Mexican
unsweetened chocolate, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons of wild pure honey, or raw sugar to taste
1 pinch of dried red chili (This is what makes the difference so try it!)
1 dried organic grown vanilla bean, split lengthwise
How to Prepare:
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the cinnamon sticks to boiling water. Cook until liquid is reduced to 2 ½ cups. Remove cinnamon sticks; add the vanilla bean and lower the heat a bit, wait until bubbles appear around the edge to reduce heat to low and drop the chocolate pieces and wild pure honey, mix well and whisk occasionally until chocolate is melted. Turn off heat, remove vanilla bean. Whisk vigorously to create a light foam effect, sprinkle the dried chili pepper and serve.
(“Ancient Mayan Hot Chocolate”, n.d.)
Aztecs placed a spiritual connection on cacao and used it as currency as well. The difference was that cacao was reserved primarily for the elite and upper-class. They also liked a bit of spice to their drink (“History of Chocolate”, 2017).
Below is the Princeton Vase from A.D. 670–750 with a woman pouring chocolate back and forth in vase to froth:
In reference to a blog on chocolate, below is a recipe similar to the Aztec drink of xocoatl (the Nahuatl word for cacao):
2 3/4 cups water
1 green chile pepper, sliced
1/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
Put 3/4 cup of water and the sliced green chile (including the seeds) in a pot and bring it to boiling. Let it boil for 5-10 mins, so the water really takes on the chile flavor.
Strain it to remove the chile and the seeds, then put the water back in the pot. Add in the other 2 cups of water, put it on medium heat, and bring it to a boil again. As it’s heating up, whisk in the vanilla extract. The vanilla mixed into the pepper water smells really good! I was surprised, I didn’t think it would be very appetizing.
Finally, once it’s boiling, add in the cocoa powder and keep whisking for another 5 minutes or so. You’ll notice the mixture froths easily, but it’s not a very thick froth
Instead of cocoa powder, the most likely ingredient of the time was cacao liquor made from the cacao nibs.
Modern Recipes of Chocolate Drinks
The Lacandon Maya of present times still hold true to many ancient Mayan values. They have a drink they prepare called the Lacandon Sacred Chocolate Drink, made very similarly to the way it was made so long ago. They roast the cacao beans, grind them to a foamy liquid, add water and strain, and then pour into the “god pots” (Coe, 2013).
Below is a video of people recreating a version of the Mesoamerican chocolate drink:
Europeans have changed the recipe to closer to what we know as hot chocolate today, with cane sugar and cinnamon as common ingredients. “In 1829 Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten discovered a way to treat cacao beans with alkaline salts to make a powdered chocolate that was easier to mix with water” (“History of Chocolate”, 2017). This is what helped with the mass production and consumption of chocolate throughout the classes. In the 19th century milk was added to the hot chocolate beverage, and in 1847 they started making the chocolate bar for easier consumption of the treat. It included cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, dried milk and was aerated to give it a sweeter, milkier and smoother taste.
The changes of the chocolate beverage are obvious since ancient Aztec and Mayan times, but the similarities in the way we enjoy this drink are still shared today.
Ancient Mayan Hot Chocolate. (n.d.). [PDF]. Retrieved from http://condieentertainment.com/media/mayanhotchocolate.pdf
Blakemore, E. (2018, October 31). Chocolate gets its sweet history rewritten. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/2018/10/chocolate-domestication-cocoa-ecuador/
Coe, S. (2013). The true history of chocolate (3rd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson.
History of Chocolate. (2017, December 14). Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-americas/history-of-chocolate
Sean (2013, March 9). Recipe – Xocolatl, the Original Hot Chocolate [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://meltingmug.blogspot.com/2013/03/recipe-xocolatl-original-hot-chocolate.html.