Tag Archives: Chocolate Drinks

Lets talk about chocolate sauce


CHOCOLATE SAUCE- Picture was taken by me


A few months back my aunt Bazat Saifiyyah made a chocolate sauce that everyone in my family went completely crazy over. We would eat it at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With many different foods such as ice-cream, strawberries when they were in season, spread over toast or just eaten plain.

For my blog post I want to explore within the context of my aunt’s recipe, the ingredients that go into it, where does the chocolate come from, the historical backing and also the perception of chocolate and its health benefits.

The recipe 


A picture taken by me to show the ingredients that go into the chocolate sauce. 



The ingredients that go into the chocolate sauce are butter, dark chocolate compound, Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa, Hershey’s caramel syrup, icing sugar, milk and fresh cream.

The chocolate sauce is made by melting butter over a low heat flame, then add the dark chocolate compound broken up into many pieces. Then after this has melted the milk and fresh cream are added and then whisked until fully mixed. Then after this, the Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa powder is added with the icing sugar. After this, the caramel syrup is added. Then the whole mixture is to be whisked over a low flame for two minutes, then it is ready to be eaten.

This is a short video that I have taken during the making of the chocolate sauce.


What is the history behind the recipe?

Cacao first came to be cultivated agriculturally by the Olmecs in the lowlands of the Mexican Gulf Coast ( C ) It was picked up by the Mayans and then from them the Aztecs. In this time the way that they processed the cacao bean was very different then how it is processed today. The cacao pod would be harvested and then its beans would be dried, roasted, shelled and then ground on a metate to make a paste, this paste could have other flavoring additions to it depending on the culture that it was made in. This paste was then made into balls from which a hot foamy chocolate drink was made, this seems to have been the primary way in which the Mesoamericans consumed their cacao. However, there are mentions of it being used in other food items. ( C )

This is a video that demonstrates the Mesoamerican chocolate making practices.

This cacao consumption was picked up by the Spanish during their colonization period. It became an extremely important part of their culture and practices. Then it was picked up by the European colonizers and it became joined with sugar that was also being produced in the colonies. Then came the inventions that changed how chocolate was produced such as conching by Rudolph Lindt in Switzerland, this made the chocolate smooth by breaking down the large particles in a machine. ( P ) Also, the addition of dairy products like milk and cream to chocolate changed drastically how chocolate was enjoyed by many people.

Where does the cacao come from? 

The two chocolate products that go into making this compound are Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa and Mordes dark compound chocolate ( CD D16 ). Both these ingredients are processed differently to reach the state that they are in.

Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa- 

The processing of cacao to reach cocoa powder was invented by Coenerad Van Houten in the Netherlands. He developed a technique which processed cacao beans in such a way that they separated into two compounds, cacao butter, and a solid cake.  ( P ) The cacao butter was the more prized of the two compounds and often it was sold by companies and not used with the solids of the beans that it came from.  The solid cocoa cake that was made was then ground up into a fine powder and it is used in chocolate drinks and baking. Another process that also goes behind the cocoa powder made today is the dutch processing technique which is a treatment done by adding alkaline salts to neutralize the bitter taste and also to have a darker colored chocolate. ( P )

There is no mention of the product about where the cacao that goes into this process comes from. This makes the cacao completely anonymous.

This anonymity of chocolate shows a shift in the attitudes of people towards cacao beans and their sourcing. In the past centuries, before the manufacturing of chocolate became so connected to the industrialized process, the sourcing of the cacao bean was of utmost importance. The criollo pods were counted as the best type of cacao, it has the sweetest flavor and the richest taste ( P), the finding of this pod is extremely rare nowadays and many expert chocolatiers try with great difficulty to get a hold of this criollo pod to make their chocolate. This pod was mainly used by the Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs and then it was transported to Hispanic plantations such as Venezuela during their period of colonization. ( P ) The most common type of cacao in use today is the forastero variety, this is purple and of a darker color then the criollo variety, it is also extremely bitter however the multiple industrial processes that cacao beans go through these days balance out the bitterness. Then there is also the Trinitario variety, this is a cross breed between the criollo and forastero, it was developed in Trinidad, this is the most resilient variety and it has a more pleasant taste than the foraestro. ( P )

The other factor that matters a lot in the sourcing of cacao is where is it grown, this contains the Terrior of the landscape and also carries a lot of history and chocolate traditions and culture with it. Chocolate has a dark history intertwined with the slave trade and abuse of peoples in plantations. In the modern day, the roots of colonization, the booming cacao trade, and European chocolate culture has led to established cacao farming in many parts of the world that were colonized such as Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Ecuador and West Africa. Today West Africa produces 75% of the worlds cacao and most of this cacao is exported for production abroad, only 4% of the worlds chocolate is consumed by its people. West Africa collectively produces 3 million metric tonnes of cacao in a year( L 8)

There is a lot that goes into the cacao bean and if it is made so anonymous its history is wiped away and its variety and subtleties are emitted out of the chocolate making process as nobody knows where it originates from.

Mordes dark compound chocolate ( CD D16 ) 

This chocolate is also another example of the anonymity of the cacao bean today. The ingredients that go into making this bar are as follows, Sugar, Edible Vegetable fats, Cocoa Solids and Emulsifiers ( 492, 322 ) CONTAINS ADDED NATURAL (VANILLA) FLAVOURING SUBSTANCES, Hydrogenated Vegetable Fat Used- Contains Trans Fats.

This bar does not have a cacao percentage in it however it has cocoa solids, so it does not have cacao butter in it.

This is a video that demonstrates how chocolate bars are made today.



A look into Hershey’s

Hershey’s was founded in 1903 by Milton S. Hershey, it came to be known as Americans most iconic chocolate. It had a great influence on American business and taste. ( L 11 )

The two struggles that this company faced and managed to overcome were, one, the struggle to develop milk chocolate, so they made their own dairy farms and sourced their milk from there. Two, the struggle to control the sugar supply chain. Sugar used to come from Cuba and during the period of 1916-46 there was a highly volatile situation and this affected the sugar supply chain. To face this problem Hershey brought land in Cuba where he established his own sugar plantations, for the transportation of this sugar he also built some connecting railways.  ( L 12 )

This is a video that demonstrates the history and founding of Hershey’s chocolates.

Health effects

The potential health risks in consuming chocolate are environmental factors of polluted soil and water, problems in other ingredients such as milk, sugar, soy lecithin, inclusions, manufacturing issues, allergy or sensitivity to certain ingredients mixed with the cacao or to the caffeine, and a very high sugar and saturated fat content and a very high calorie content. ( L 12 )

There has also been a lot of contemporary research on the health benefits of chocolate. These are Antioxidant, Cardioprotective, Psychoactive, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-allergy and Anti-tumoral properties ( L 12 )

After knowing some of the history behind chocolate and everything that has gone into making it, one can eat the chocolate sauce with more understanding of what actually goes on in the making of it.


Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013 – ( C)

Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009. – ( P )

Chocolate class lectures, Carla Martin, Harvard Extension School, Spring 2018 – ( L )

History of Hershey’s chocolate, Charles Dean Archive, Published on Jan 9, 2014 on Youtube

Milk Chocolate from Scratch How it is made, Science Channel, Published on Oct 30, 2016 on Youtube

Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate Making, National Geographic, Published on Oct 13, 2017 on Youtube

Cacao From Hands to the Machine

The sourcing and production of chocolate had a direct effect on its place in the social hierarchy in different societies and cultures across time. It is possible to see this by going in depth into three chronological time periods in different places in the world where the allure of cacao had spread. By an early exploration of Mayan chocolate production to Venezuelan plantations ending at the discovery of the Cocoa press in the Netherlands.

Mayan Chocolate Making 

Mayans revered chocolate, it played an essential role in their stories of origin and cosmology. It was used in burial rites and great ceremonies. Cacao was grown agriculturally by the Mayans 1.

Maya Vase

One of the only direct evidence discovered about how Mayans made their chocolate is found in this vessel on the right-hand side which shows a lady pouring chocolate drink from a height into another cup. This was to create the foam that was extremely prized in the Mayan culture; it was thought to be the breath of the Gods.

Maya Princeton Vase

This Maya Princeton Vase is evidence for the heavy usage and importance of cacao in the Mayan culture. It has engraved hieroglyphics for the word cacao coupled with cosmological depictions.

The Maya had many ways of using Cacao to make food.

Chacau haa – This is hot chocolate drink.

Tzune – This is a mix of cacao, maize and sapote seeds.

Saca– A gruel made from cooked maize, water, and cacao.

The flavoring that was commonly used was vanilla and ‘ear flower’2. These different ways of cooking show a creative and vibrant diversity in the usage of the cacao pod. It is highly developed and adaptable. It shows cacao to be an essential part of the Mayan culture and diet.

The remnants of traditional Mayan way of making chocolate drink are still alive today in certain parts of Mexico among the Mayan communities. This video highlights and explains the traditional ways women make the chocolate drink in these Mayan communities.

This video shows us how labor intensive and time consuming it was to make chocolate drink in the Mayan style. The cacao beans have to shelled, roasted, dried in the sun, ground and after this long process mixed with water ready to be consumed.

Venezuelan Cacao Boom

The high-quality strain of Criollo cacao is native to Venezuela. It started being produced agriculturally at the turn of the seventeenth century. The first recorded shipment is in 1607 from La Guaira to Spain 3. This was under the influence of Hispanic colonization, those working on these plantations were slaves and laborers 4.

Here the cacao was so abundantly grown it was consumed on a regular basis by everybody, from slaves to lords. There were three different styles in consuming the cacao 5.

Cerrero– ( rough and ready, bitter ) This was just plain cacao dissolved in water with no added flavorings or sweeteners. It was widely drunk by people in the interiors.

Chorote– Made by creating solid chocolate balls which are dissolved in water, added to this is muscovado sugar. The chocolate balls were created by boiling ground cacao to separate the fats and solids. This was drunk by people in the cities as well as given to slaves and laborers for lunch and dinner.

Chocolate– Made by mixing balls of ground chocolate mixed with sugar or honey, toasted corn, seasonings such as cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. This was consumed by the Spanish elite at morning and noon meals.

The mass production led to cacao being available for everybody to consume. However what marks the social classes is by what process they made their cacao and what was added to it. Also the number of cacao beans used in the food and the time and effort of making it.

Development of industrial techniques of cacao processing

Conrad Johanes Van Houten discovered, along with his father the Cocoa press and Dutch process chocolate 6.

Conrad Johanes Van Houten

This created a fast and easy chocolate producing technique. It was adopted by big industries to use in their ways of chocolate production. This created a speedy and cheaper way of making good tasting chocolate.

Another process invented was the conching of chocolate. This was invented by Rudolfhe Lindt in Switzerland 7.
. It created smoother chocolate and covered the origins and original flavors and textures of the cacao bean, hence a bean sourced from anywhere of any strain could be used. The image below portrays the process of creating smoother chocolate.

Image from page 148 of "Cocoa and chocolate : their history from plantation to consumer" (1920)

These invented process allowed for the anonymity of cacao in the chocolate drink and bar. It became possible to mass produce chocolate without knowing of the origins and sourcing of the cacao bean that went into the chocolate. This created a lot of distance between the agriculture of growing cacao, strains and qualities of the pod and the consumer of the chocolate.


Mass Chocolate Production Today

This kind of mechanized industrialized mass production allows for a lot of chocolate to be produced. When chocolate production moved to such a mechanized way of being made, it became widely available for the average consumer. In today’s world chocolate is a regular household good with a large gap between knowledge of the sourcing and production of chocolate and the regular consumers of chocolate. The intensive agricultural development of cacao with the support of slave exploitation and the inventions of chocolate processing in Europe led to chocolate as is known today.


1- Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.

2- Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.

3- Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.

4- Romero, Simon. “In Venezuela, plantations of cocoa stir bitterness.” The New York Times (2009): A04.

5- Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.

6-  Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.

7-  Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.

From Bean to Boom: The Development of Chocolate as an Industrialized Food 

From its journey to Europe from the New World at the beginning of the sixteenth century all the way to its modern-day iteration, chocolate has become an important staple for people all over the world. Provided here is a brief history of its long and fruitful evolution through time – from Europeans first encounter with the substance through its development into an industrialized food. 

“Olmec Heartland”

The Olmecs (1500-400 BC) were almost certainly the first humans to consume chocolate. They would crush the cocoa beans, mix them with water and add spices, chillies and herbs – thus first creating, “the nectar of the Gods!”

Over time, the Mayans (600 BC) and Aztecs (400 AD) developed their own successful methods for cultivating cocoa. For these civilizations, cocoa was a symbol of privilege and abundance. It was used in religious rituals dedicated to Quetzalcoatl (the Aztec god responsible for bringing the cocoa tree to man) to Chak ek Chuah (the Mayan patron saint of cocoa) and as an offering at the funerals of noblemen. 


Discovery and Commercialization of Cocoa (16th century) In 1528 Hernando Cortez drank cacao with the Aztec emperor Montezuma and brought it back to Spain.

The Spanish court soon fell in love with this exotic elixir and adapted it to their tastes, adding cane sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and pepper. 

In 1585, the first cargo of cocoa beans arrived on the Iberian Peninsula from New Spain, launching the trade in cocoa, resulting in the establishment of the first chocolate shops and a rapidly growing demand for this mysterious nectar from the new world.  

The expansion of cocoa in Europe (17th – 19th centuries)
During the 17th century, cocoa began arriving in other ports throughout Europe, effortlessly conquering every region’s palate. Chocolate beverages were first embraced by the French court following the royal marriage of King Louis XIII to the Spanish Princess Anne of Austria in 1615.

Hot Chocolate in Versailles

In 1650 chocolate beverages first appeared in England coinciding with the arrival of tea from China and coffee from the Middle East. For many years it remained a treat reserved for the upper classes.

In 1659 the first chocolate-confection maker opened in Paris.

In 1720, Italian chocolate-makers received prizes in recognition of the quality of their products. Then in 1765, North America finally discovered the virtues of cocoa. 


Cocoa During the Industrial Era
Industrialization has had a marked democratizing effect on chocolate, transforming it from a rare delicacy reserved for royals, to a widely available and readily affordable treat for the masses. 


In 1828, Dutch Chemist Coenraad van Houten invented a process for extracting cocoa butter, allowing for the extraction of cocoa powder. This made chocolate more homogenous and less costly to produce. From this moment on, the history of cacao changed drastically.




In 1847, English chocolate maker J.S. Fry & Sons produced the first chocolate bar. The use of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks easier, but also made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar to create a solid bar.

In 1830-1879 Switzerland, chocolate flavored with hazelnuts was developed by Daniel Peteris followed by milk chocolate developed by Henri Nestlé. 

In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine. This new machine made the process of making chocolate a lot faster, and also helped make chocolate smoother and creamier.

imagesWithin the United States in 1893, confectionist Milton Hershey found chocolate making equipment at the Worlds Fair in Chicago and began production at a factory in Pennsylvania. 

Chocolate followed the French and American infantry into the trenches of the First World War, and effectively all US chocolate production was requisitioned for the military during the Second World War. In France, chocolate sweets appeared between the wars, and French pralines were considered the most fashionable. This further inspired chocolate producers to experiment with new and exciting flavors.

Converting cacao seeds into chocolate has now evolved into a complex, mechanized process. At the factory the cacao blended, roasted, cracked, winnowed, ground, pressed, mixed, conched, refined and tempered into candy bars. A few icons of the early 1900s still survive today, like Hershey, Cadbury and Nestlé. Either hand-made or as a fast food, it is now an established part of the world’s vocabulary and diet. Famous French gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin poetically summed up our universal love affair with chocolate, “What is health? It is chocolate!”


In these videos from Bon Apetit! you can see cocoa’s long and laborious journey from bean to bar. 




Works Cited

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

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


Goody, Jack. Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. In Counihan, Carole. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.


“Olmec Heartland”

Hernando Cortez with Montezuma II

Hot Chocolate in Versailles

Chocolate Maid, Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1744

Van Houten “Chocolats”

Fry’s Chocolate





Examining Community Preferences Through Supermarket Chocolate Aisles

Jamaica Plain and Roxbury, two of Boston’s twenty-three neighborhoods, have held historical significance since the seventeenth century and today serve as the home toBoston Neighborhoods more than 55,000 Bostonians (Boston Redevelopment Authority). There is a high level of racial and socioeconomic diversity within the two neighborhoods, and resultantly there are a wide variety of grocery stores and supermarkets that cater to many types of customers in the distinct surrounding communities. We can see examples of the neighborhoods’ socioeconomic and culture compositions by examining the dissimilar chocolate selections available in three major grocery stores that cater to parts of the community operating less than two miles away from each other, specifically Whole Foods Market in Jamaica Plain’s Hyde Square, Super Stop & Shop  in Jamaica Plain’s Jackson Square, and Tropical Foods in Roxbury’s Dudley Square.

Neighborhood Demographics and Store Locations

In Jamaica Plain, 25.3% of the population is Hispanic or Latinx (many of whom live in the Latin Quarter area near the Jackson Square MBTA station), and 13.4% of the population is Black or African American. 24% of the population was born outside of the United States, and roughly 18.6% of the population has a household income below the poverty line (Boston Redevelopment Authority). Within Jamaica Plain, however, there exist sub-neighborhoods with notably homogenous racialJP and Roxbury Stores composition (Kent). The population of Jamaica Plain that lives in the census tract containing the Latin Quarter and Super Stop & Shop (census tract 812) has a population that is (as the name “Latin Quarter” implies) 53% Hispanic and 29% Black. A large portion of that census tract is comprised of the Mildred C. Hailey apartments, a low-income public housing development. The Super Stop & Shop is located directly across the street from the edge of the Mildred C. Hailey complex.

The adjoining Jamaica Plain census tract (tract 1204), however, which abuts Jamaica Pond and contains Whole Foods Market, has a population that is 76% white (Bloch). The Hyde Square area is a district filled with small-businesses that appear to be thriving despite rising commercial and residential rents. The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council has expressed concern over the gentrification of the area, noting that the Latinx and Hispanic community and culture that was once so central to Jamaica Plain is being pushed further and further away from the Hyde Square area towards Jackson Square (Ad-hoc Whole Foods Committee: Report to Full JPNC). As a result, although the Jamaica Plain Whole Foods Market and Super Stop & Shop are about half a mile apart, they are located in and serve disparate communities.

Within Roxbury the distribution of race and socioeconomic statuses is more even than within Jamaica Plain – there is not the same significant difference in racial composition from census tract to census tract (Kent). Throughout Roxbury, 27.5% of the population is Hispanic or Latinx and 51.8% of the population is Black or African American. Almost a quarter (23.6%) of the population was born outside of the United States, and roughly 36.1% of the population has a household income below the poverty line (Boston Redevelopment Authority). Graphical representations of racial densities in Boston and in the United States at large can be further explored with this New York Times tool.

Store Histories

The Jamaica Plain Super Stop & Shop first opened in 1996 in the Latinx neighborhood of Jamaica Plain near the Jackson Square MBTA station next to what was then the Bromley-Heath Complex (now called the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments), a large low-income public housing development. The store was initially met with resistance from local businesses (particularly small bodega owners) for fear of the economic repercussions of a national chain monopolizing food sales. To quell the controversy, Stop & Shop created a $500,000 fund to support any local businesses hurt by their arrival in the neighborhood, but not a single store applied for funding through this project. Two decades later, those fears appear to have been unfounded; indeed, the introduction of Stop & Shop appears to have improved business for many local bodegas carrying specialty Latinx foods (Ruch). The Super Stop & Shop filled the community’s need to have a large selection of affordable food for the residents in the surrounding area after a large number of national grocery chains had migrated to the Boston suburbs for cheaper rents and on-average wealthier customers (Anguelovski).

The introduction of Whole Foods Market into the Hyde Square area in 2011 was more controversial than the introduction of Super Stop & Shop into the Jackson Square area because Whole Foods Market was replacing Hi-Lo, an affordable Latinx grocery store that had become a community fixture after forty-seven years in business. Super Stop & Shop, however, had been built on an unused lot (Anguelovski). After much discussion in the community, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council chose to formally oppose Whole Food Market’s arrival; they did, however, acknowledge that Whole Foods Market was likely to arrive regardless of community sentiments, and as a result they chose to propose recommendations for a better integration into the community, which Whole Foods Market publically committed to honoring (Ad-hoc Whole Foods Committee: Report to Full JPNC). Regardless, many bemoaned the transformation from an affordable, food-just, accessible community under Hi-Lo to a white, exclusive, upper-class community under Whole Foods Market (Anguelovski).

Standing apart from the other two stores in this study, Tropical Foods (formerly El Platanero, or The Banana Man) has been welcomed and supported by the community since its inception in 1974 as a corner store that exclusively sold plantains. The store has been passed through many hands in the same family and expanded from a plantain store to a bustling corner grocery store to, in early 2015, a brand new 27,000 square foot superstore (Tropical Foods). The store describes itself as follows:

Since 1974, Tropical Foods/(El Platanero) has been the supermarket of Roxbury. Always adapting to meet its customers’ needs, Tropical Foods has earned the reputation of: having unique/hard-to-find product from the Caribbean, Central & South America, and Africa; while also meeting Roxbury’s every day grocery needs. No wonder Tropical Foods/(El Platanero) is called ‘The Supermarket for Everyone!’ (Tropical Foods).

Tropical Foods continues to be a major supermarket in Dudley Square, the business district of Roxbury. It carries brands from a wide variety of countries, including the United States, Caribbean nations, African nations, and South American nations, and it is widely revered as a pillar in the Dudley Square community (Luna).

Chocolate Selections

The chocolate offerings at the Jamaica Plains Whole Foods Market are broken into four distinct displays in addition to small candies available near the registers. Although allWhole Foods 4.JPGdisplays are within a few steps of one another, the layout makes it feel as though chocolate is spread throughout the store as opposed to grouped together into a specific candy aisle. Whole Foods Market carries a variety of craft chocolate brands at high price points, and the displays draw attention to chocolates that are produced locally through brightly colored tags next to the prices. A picture of a featured local chocolate is included to the left.

In this case, Whole Foods Market is featuring Pure 7 chocolate, a brand based in Lynn, Massachusetts (about 16 miles away from this store) that produces sugar-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free chocolate sweetened with honey. The Pure 7 website explains, “of course we assure that all of our ingredients are non- GMO, fair trade and organically produced… [Our] chocolate is Paleo compliant and Paleo certified. It also means you can enjoy it without worrying about ingesting refined sugar which causes a host of health issues in a large number of people” (About Our Company). At Whole Foods Market, Pure 7 is sold for $6.99, which is well within the store’s normal chocolate price range (although charging that price for a chocolate bar would raise eyebrows outside of Whole Foods).

Super Stop & Shop, half a mile away from Whole Foods Market, has a very different chocolate selection from Whole Foods Market. The Jackson Square store has a full,Stop and Shop 5 dedicated snack and candy aisle that extends the length of the store, and it had the largest chocolate selection of the three stores examined in this paper (pictured to the right). The Jamaica Plains Super Stop & Shop carries large, national brands, including Hershey’s, Dove, Cadbury, Lindt, Nestlé, and Ghirardelli at a much lower price-point than the chocolate carried at Whole Foods Market. The two Jamaica Plain stores do not carry any overlapping brands; while Whole Foods carries craft chocolate made in small batches at a high price that might inhibit regular consumption for many people, Stop & Shop carries widely recognized brands at a price that is more accessible for the average consumer. The most expensive unit price available at Stop & Shop was for Ghirardelli 86% Cacao Intense Dark Chocolate at $18.60 per pound. By contrast, the most expensive unit price observed at Whole Foods for traditional chocolate was $62.13 per pound for Raaka Virgin Chocolate’s Yacón Root chocolate.

Finally, the chocolate selection at Tropical Foods is distinct from the other two stores in its emphasis on chocolate products to drink. The chocolate selection at Tropical Foods  Tropical Foods 3.JPGwas the smallest of the three stores. It was divided into three sections: chocolate with which to bake; mixes to make chocolate milk, hot chocolate, and other chocolate beverages; and a small selection of chocolate bars produced by large American companies near the register. Unlike Whole Foods Market and Super Stop & Shop, Tropical Foods did not have a dedicated spot in the store for chocolate bars. A significant section of the store is dedicated to chocolate drinks (as pictured to the right). In particular, Tropical Foods carries the Mexican brand Maizena, a maize-based drink, in four varieties: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and coconut, which neither Stop & Shop nor Whole Foods carried.


Whole Foods sells chocolate at the highest price point of the three stores examined here, and its chocolate selection is the only one to emphasize organic, free trade products. Additionally, most chocolate sold at Whole Foods Market is dark chocolate combined with other unique flavors and ingredients. Its focus on expensive, ethically produced craft chocolate might reflect Whole Foods customers’ preferences. Indeed, dark chocolate has been consistently marketed as a luxury good to be consumed by those with so-called “refined” taste, which some argue is the same demographic targeted by Whole Foods Market in their emphasis on healthy, organic foods (Anguelovski).

The chocolate selection at Super Stop & Shop appeared to be tailored to its target demographic; the community surrounding Stop & Shop is made up primarily of middle- to lower-income people for whom the Whole Foods chocolate prices would be prohibitive, whereas the prices at Stop & Shop are more reasonable for regular consumption. The way that chocolate is sold at the Jackson Square Super Stop & Shop makes it a regular food item that can be purchased regularly instead of a luxury item. The lack of emphasis on organic and fair trade chocolate might mean that the consumers who shop at Stop & Shop are unable or unwilling to pay a premium for those benefits, which contrasts with the Whole Foods Market customers who are willing to spend more for these unseen benefits.

Finally at Tropical Foods, the emphasis on drinkable chocolate seems notable especially when compared to the other stores. It seems as though a number of patrons of this store might prefer to consume chocolate in liquid form, which might not be surprising given the historical consumption pattern of drinking chocolate in Mesoamerica, a region from which many of Tropical Foods’ targeted demographics’ ancestors come. Tropical Foods’ mission includes carrying brands that are traditionally hard-to-find in the United States, so carrying Maizena fits in well with their mission of serving the needs of the community in which they are located.


Despite the fact that these three stores operate within two miles of one another, their target demographics and immediately surrounding communities are markedly different. The chocolate selection carried at these three stores can be used a lens through which to examine the general offerings of these stores and the consumption preferences of some of their patrons. The chocolate offerings range from expensive, craft chocolate at Whole Foods Market in Hyde Square, to more affordable, national brands at Super Stop & Shop in Jackson Square, to chocolate products meant to be consumed as a beverage at Tropical Foods in Dudley Square. These three stores cater to specific communities prominent in their areas, and their chocolate offerings are strong examples of this fact.




Works Cited

“About Our Company.” Pure7 Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2017. <https://pure7chocolate.com/about-our-company/&gt;.

Ad-hoc Whole Foods Committee: Report to Full JPNC. Rep. Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, 28 June 2011. Web. 1 May 2017. <http://www.jpnc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Ad-Hoc-WF-Committee-Report-June-28-2011.pdf&gt;.

Anguelovski, Isabelle. “Alternative Food Provision Conflicts in Cities: Contesting Food Privilege, Injustice, and Whiteness in Jamaica Plain, Boston.” Geoforum, vol. 58, 2015, pp. 184–194.

Bloch, Matthew, Amanda Cox, and Tom Giratikanon. “Mapping Segregation.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 July 2015. Web. 01 May 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/08/us/census-race-map.html&gt;.

Boston Redevelopment Authority. Boston in Context: Neighborhoods. Publication. 2009-2013 American Community Survey. Aug. 2015. Web. 1 May 2017. <https://www.bostonplans.org/getattachment/290cae05-72b0-47ba-a214-4a6645d43b01&gt;.

Heath, Richard. “Bromley Heath Homes Renamed for Longtime Housing Leader Mildred Hailey.” Jamaica Plain News. N.p., 19 May 2016. Web. 2 May 2017. <http://www.jamaicaplainnews.com/2016/05/19/bromley-heath-homes-named-after-longtime-housing-leader-mildred-hailey/19555&gt;.

Kent, Alexander, and Thomas C. Frohlich (24/7 Wall St). “The 9 Most Segregated Cities In America.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-9-most-segregated-cities-in-america_us_55df53e9e4b0e7117ba92d7f&gt;.

Luna, Taryn. “Tropical Foods to Open Store in Dudley Square – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. N.p., 04 Feb. 2015. Web. 02 May 2017. <https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/02/04/tropical/JBh1Ed1GK0dhdDLZG9oeYJ/story.html&gt;.

Ruch, John. “JP’s Last Supermarket War.” Jamaica Plain Gazette, 29 Apr. 2011. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://jamaicaplaingazette.com/2011/04/29/jp%E2%80%99s_last_supermarket_war/&gt;.

Tropical Foods (El Platanero): The Supermarket for Everyone. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2017. <http://tropicalfoods.net/&gt;.


The Evolution of Cacao-Based Drinks in Mexico

Millions of tons of chocolate are produced each year, yet few today would guess that this sugary treat had its origins in frothy, semi-sweet cacao drinks prepared for Maya and Aztec royalty. Chocolate bars, candies, cakes, and pastries are the most popular forms of the food in most of the US and Europe today. Chocolate milk and hot chocolate retain some basic similarity with the cacao drinks of thousands of years ago, yet they combine the chocolate with milk, sugar, and other ingredients that would have been foreign to the Maya and Aztecs. Yet, in Mexico, a tradition of cacao beverages has been preserved from the fall of the Aztec empire to the present day. In this paper, I investigate modern cacao drinks and argue that though they are often marketed with references to the Maya and Aztecs, modern drinks represent a unique hybridity of ancient traditions and European ingredients and styles of preparation.

Chemical analysis has shown that cacao beverages were produced in Mesoamerica as early as 1100 BCE.[1] Cacao beverages were prepared by both the Maya and Aztec, and were considered very precious because cacao beans were used as a form of currency.[2] Maya drinks, especially those produced in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, were known for being prepared hot, while Aztec cacao drinks were generally cold.[3] In Aztec times, cacao beverages were often prepared in different ways depending on the quality of the cacao. High quality cacao was combined with water and frothed, while lower-quality cacao was often combined with other ingredients, including corn, seeds, chili peppers, vanilla, and other flowers.[4] By the time the Spanish arrived in the 1600’s, cacao beverages were sold in markets across Mexico, though cacao remained expensive and had high social significance.[5] Because of the wide range of different flavorings combined with cacao drinks, different regions of present-day Mexico each had unique interpretations of cacao beverages during Aztec times.[6]

Today, Mexico still has a wide range of cacao-based drinks available in different regions of the country. During lecture on February 1st, we watched a video detailing the preparation of Champurrado, a popular chocolate beverage in Mexico today.[7] In this video, the drink is prepared using pre-processed bars of dark chocolate, rather than the raw cacao that would have been used in ancient beverages. Additionally, the Champurrado is mixed with sugar, milk, cinnamon, and star anise – additions that are distinctively European. However, Champurrado also contains masa harina (a form of corn flour) and water, and makes use of a traditional molinillo (an item introduced to Mesoamerica by the Spanish[8]) to mix the ingredients and create a froth. Though the mixture of cacao and water is distinctively Mesoamerican, the additional ingredients and use of a molinillo reflect the influence of Spanish colonialism.

However, Champurrado is just one of many popular cacao drinks in Mexico today – and just one of many unique combinations of ancient recipes and European influences. Today there are a variety of different cacao drinks made in different regions of Mexico, for example bu’pu in Tehuantepec, chorote in Tabasco, tascalate in Chiapas, and tejate in Oaxaca.[9]

Tejate is perhaps the most authentic, as archaeological research has shown that many of its ingredients, as well as the vessels it is served in, reflect the style of cacao beverages produced in Oaxaca for thousands of years.[10] According to a 2009 article from The Atlantic, in tejate’s recipe “you’ll almost always find a blend of nixtamal corn, cacao beans, mamey seed, and rosita de cacao–the secret ingredient that makes tejate truly special. Rosita de cacao is the flower of the funeral tree (Quararibea funebris).”[11] Once the ingredients are combined, tejate is served combined with water and topped with a pile of frothy foam.[12] Similar cacao-foam-based drinks can be found passed-down from generation to generation in Cholula, Puebla, and other regions of Mexico.[13] Though tejate combines cacao, corn, flowers, and abundant foam, much like ancient drinks, it also includes modern influences. Today, tejate is served with a sugar-based syrup, and some have experimented with serving tejate paste “in cookies, cake, ice, powder,” and other forms that stray away from the traditional liquid.[14] Though tejate recipes have been passed down for generations and represent a unique cultural inheritance, they have not been immune to the ingredients and new tastes imported by Spanish colonizers.

The video below describes a drink that can be found in Mexico City, Espuma de Cacao[15] – a beverage very similar to the tejate prepared across Oaxaca. However, it is notable that this version of the drink specifically calls it “El elixir de los Dioses” – the elixir of the Gods – a direct reference to the elite pedigree of cacao beverages in Maya and Aztec times. The video does not reference the influence of Spanish colonialism, yet the inclusion of sugar in the recipe reflects the changes to traditional recipes that occurred under Spanish rule.

Video is from OZY travel blog article.[16]

Besides the recipes for cacao-foam drinks passed down in communities across Mexico, there are also recipes that have been created specifically to recreate the cacao-drinking experience of the Aztecs and Mayans. Munchies documents some such recipes made by Fernando Rodriguez, a businessman in Teotihuacan.[17] Rodriguez uses recipes for ancient drinks, found in such sources as the Popul Vuh and Florentine Codex, to design modern drinks that rely on the same key spices, flavors, flowers, and production methods.[18] Though Rodriguez bases most of his drinks on the historical clues he finds from ancient writings, he still makes some blends that introduce cinnamon, ginger, and other spices that were first introduced to Mesoamerica by Spanish colonizers.[19]

Though different areas of Mexico each have their own variations on how to prepare and serve cacao-based drinks, there are common threads that connect all these beverages. In all areas, modern Mexicans are proud of their unique cultural heritage stemming from Aztec and Maya civilization, and market modern cacao drinks for the ancient wisdom and tradition that they perpetuate. Many of the ancient drink-making customs remain the same – corn, flowers, and water are often added, and foam is still often considered a desirable element to top the beverage. Yet, Spanish and European taste and colonial influence can also be seen in many variations of these drinks. The most common manifestation of this is the addition of sugar, though cinnamon, ginger, star anise, other spices, and milk also reflect the influx of European ingredients and taste preferences. The cacao beverages produced across Mexico today are unique, with no clear counterpart in most other countries, yet they represent both the heritage of ancient civilizations and, more subtly, the complex and difficult legacy of Spanish colonialism.


[1] John S. Henderson, Rosemary A. Joyce, Gretchen R. Hall, W. Jeffrey Hurst, and Patrick E. Mcgovern, “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, no. 48 (2007): 18937. http://www.pnas.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/content/104/48/18937.full

[2] Sophie D. Coe, and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013), 81-84.

[3] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 83-84.

[4] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 86-94.

[5] Daniela Soleri, Marcus Winter, Steven R. Bozarth, and W. Jeffrey Hurst, “Archaeological Residues and Recipes: Exploratory Testing for Evidence of Maize and Cacao Beverages in Postclassic Vessels from the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico,” Latin American Antiquity 24, no. 03 (2013): 345-62, 345-347, accessed via Hollis, http://www.jstor.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/23645680?seq=3#page_scan_tab_contents

[6] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 94.

[7] Dr. Carla Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods,’” February 1, 2017, slide 82, https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1FzrAQvjXJZnu7lTixblZ1FsyfDjnXtQ-8JyXd2uq5ZM/edit#slide=id.gef490479d_4_279

[8] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 83-85.

[9] Soleri, et al, “Archaeological Residues and Recipes,” 347.

[10] Soleri, et al, “Archaeological Residues and Recipes.”

[11] Alex Whitmore, “Cacao Tejate: Ancient Chocolate Drink,” The Atlantic, April 28, 2009, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/04/cacao-tejate-ancient-chocolate-drink/16609/

[12] Whitmore, “Cacao Tejate.”

[13] Margot Castaneda, “How Mexico Is Rediscovering (and Reinventing) Ancient Cacao Drinks,” Munchies (a branch of Vice News), January 7, 2017, https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/how-mexico-is-rediscovering-ancient-cacao-drinks

[14] Castaneda, “How Mexico Is Rediscovering (and Reinventing) Ancient Cacao Drinks.”

[15] Libby Coleman, “This Chocolatey Mexican Drink Will Get You Foaming at the Mouth,” OZY, January 24, 2017, http://www.ozy.com/good-sht/this-chocolatey-mexican-drink-will-get-you-foaming-at-the-mouth/75134

[16] Coleman, “This Chocolatey Mexican Drink.”

[17] Castaneda, “How Mexico Is Rediscovering (and Reinventing) Ancient Cacao Drinks.”

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.



Multimedia Sources 

Castaneda, Margot. “How Mexico Is Rediscovering (and Reinventing) Ancient Cacao Drinks.” Munchies (a branch of Vice News). January 7, 2017. https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/how-mexico-is-rediscovering-ancient-cacao-drinks

Coleman, Libby. “This Chocolatey Mexican Drink Will Get You Foaming at the Mouth.” OZY. January 24, 2017. http://www.ozy.com/good-sht/this-chocolatey-mexican-drink-will-get-you-foaming-at-the-mouth/75134

Whitmore, Alex. “Cacao Tejate: Ancient Chocolate Drink.” The Atlantic. April 28, 2009. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/04/cacao-tejate-ancient-chocolate-drink/16609/


Academic Sources 

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

Henderson, John S., Rosemary A. Joyce, Gretchen R. Hall, W. Jeffrey Hurst, and Patrick E. Mcgovern. “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, no. 48 (2007): 18937. Accessed via Hollis. http://www.pnas.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/content/104/48/18937.full

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” February 1, 2017. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1FzrAQvjXJZnu7lTixblZ1FsyfDjnXtQ-8JyXd2uq5ZM/edit#slide=id.gef490479d_4_279

Soleri, Daniela, Marcus Winter, Steven R. Bozarth, and W. Jeffrey Hurst. “Archaeological Residues and Recipes: Exploratory Testing for Evidence of Maize and Cacao Beverages in Postclassic Vessels from the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico.” Latin American Antiquity 24, no. 03 (2013): 345-62. accessed via Hollis. http://www.jstor.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/23645680?seq=3#page_scan_tab_contents

The Sacred, Ancient History of Chocolate

Maya Gods Bleeding Over Chocolate
The tremendous amount of importance the Mayas placed on chocolate would be considered silly today, but we are able to see how inscriptions of rituals and ideas that involved chocolate portrayed the true and intense historical importance of chocolate as pictured and explained, “Maya gods shedding blood over cacao, from the Madrid Codex. According to the hieroglyphic text, specific members of incense lumps and cacao beans are offered” (Coe and Coe 43).

Today, chocolate is widely known as a nice treat to eat, and a delicious beverage. The focus of this essay is on chocolate beverages. The many different modern recipes we know today of how to make and drink chocolate are important to us, because they yield delicious beverages. Usually, no second thought is given as to why we have been able to enjoy such recipes during modern times. The tradition of enjoying chocolate had to have begun somewhere and sometime ago to be able to have carried on into today. As is apparent by the photo and caption above, ancient Mesoamericans (in the case of the photo, the Mayas) greatly adored chocolate. In fact, the ancient Aztec, Mixtec, and Olmec peoples also had opportunities to enjoy chocolate during chocolate’s early history. Perhaps, the meaning behind the term, “food of the gods,” referring to chocolate, was taken more seriously in ancient times, allowing for progression of the custom (qtd by C. Martin “Mesoamerica”). By analyzing the historical accounts of ancient chocolate recipes and their social importance, we can see that the chocolate we know today has important underlying history.

Simply carrying on the tactful, thousands-of-years-old practice of experimenting with chocolate recipes that people often do today has historical importance.

Xocolatl Familiar
As we can see in the picture of this Spanish inscribed, nineteenth century dated notebook, variations of chocolate recipes can occur through inter-cultural contact. In the case of the picture here, the “xocolat familiar” recipe resulted from interaction between Spain and Mesoamerica (Presilla 42).

The discovery of chocolate is thought to be credited to the ancient Olmecs, who lived between 1200 BC and 300 BC along the southern Gulf coast of Mexico. The Olmec society evidently laid the foundation for the barely more recent Maya civilization (Presilla 9). Even though chocolate was discovered by the preexisting Olmecs, many historical traditions and customs surrounding chocolate have been developed by the succeeding Mayans, Mixtecs, and Aztecs. Some of the traditions that were developed by the ancient Mesoamerican groups are still culturally important today. Chocolate was involved in wedding rituals, death rituals, and celebrations. An important celebration in modern times, Dia de los Muertos, is a celebration that can be celebrated with chocolate beverages (C. Martin “Mesoamerica”). The variety of uses for chocolate is what really helps to portray how important chocolate really was to the ancient Mesoamericans.

Mayan Wedding Prep
In the picture, we can see ancient Mayans preparing for and planning a wedding engagement between a woman’s family and her admirer – a woman’s father was traditionally invited by her admirer to drink chocolate and discuss a marriage between the two mutually interested parties (C. Martin “Mesoamerica”).

In past and present cultures, great care is/was taken to make exceptional, authentic chocolate beverages. In modern times, many of us are used to preparing hot chocolate with a simple and quick recipe that includes a mix especially for adding to warm milk or water before being whisked or stirred together. Contrary to our well-known capitalistic version of hot chocolate, we might sometimes find people preparing recipes from scratch, as we can see in the video:


Per authentic Mesoamerican recipes, cacao beans are roasted, shelled, and ground into chocolate liquor. Most authentically, the chocolate liquor is added to warm water, usually along with regional spices. Regional flavors added to chocolate beverages include: “nuoc mam of Southeast Asia, the chili peppers (Capsicum species) of Mexico, West Africa, and parts of India and China, the sofrito of the Hispanic Americans, and so on” (Mintz 11). The care taken to prepare chocolate maintained its popularity, and allowed for continual use in modern times. Depending on the authentic recipe, there are certain ways to ensure that the chocolate drink is enjoyed with foam. For example, a molinillo could be used, or another way to create foam would be to continuously pour the chocolate between containers until foam forms (Cartwright). The “foam” tradition is seemingly unknowingly continued today with the use of marshmallows and whipped cream!

We can see in the picture an authentic molinillo that was used for creating foam in ancient Mesoamerica. The molinillo is still a quite useful tool for making foam in an authentic xocolatl recipe (C. Martin “Chocolate Expansion”).

As it is apparent, there are many ways in which the chocolate we know today has important history behind it. Of course, the original chocolate recipes have all been subject to variation throughout time. What is most important for someone who aspires to learn and appreciate chocolate is to understand its history, and appreciate the reasons behind the uses of such a delicacy. And the next time we decide to consume a chocolate beverage, we will have a better understanding of its historical origin in more technical terms than just thinking that, “such and such company processed this chocolate and distributed it in pouches before I bought it.” Perhaps, our better understanding of chocolate history will allow us to appreciate the chocolate beverages more than we previously have appreciated them.

Works Cited

Cartwright, Mark. “Chocolate.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike, 27 June 2014. Web. 09 Mar. 2017. <http://www.ancient.eu/Chocolate/&gt;.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third Edition. Thames &Hudson Ltd: London, 2013. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 8 Feb. 2017. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Viking Penguin, 1985. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009 Print.

The Sunday Supper Project. “Preparing Drinking Chocolate near Oaxaca, Mexico.”YouTube.YouTube, 25 Apr. 2010. Web. 09 Mar. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlAg7zIR57k&gt;.


Mayan marriage traditions around cacao and chocolate

Chocolate and cacao was imbued with religious meaning and incorporated into ceremonies in unique ways that still carry over to today. Particularly poignant examples can be found in the context of the marriage traditions of the Maya. Chocolate was used by the Maya to seal marriage negotiations and ceremonies. Coe and Coe illustrate how special a role cocoa played in Mayan wedding explaining how brides and grooms would each exchange five cacao beans along with their vows  to execute the contract of marriage. (Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 2013, Kindle Locations 868-870.)

Such an important role cacao and chocolate played in marriage traditions that it too was represented in important historical artifacts of the Maya.

Image 1. A depiction of an exchange of cacao beans during a marriage ceremony.

This post classic Maya picture comes from the Codex Nuttall and shows a Mayan wedding scene in which chocolate is being exchanged by the bride, Lady 13 Snake, and groom, Mixtec king 8 Deer “Tiger Claw” of Tilantongo. (Mixtec)

The longevity of this tradition is apparent in many Mayan wedding traditions even today. For example, the Awakateko are a Mayan ethnic group from the that reside in the Aguacatan municipality located in the northwestern highlands of modern-day Guatemala. Mayan marriage traditions practiced today by this people still feature cacao quite prominently. For example,  after marriage negotiation between families, a marriage ceremony is performed which is  known as a quicyuj. The quicyuj means “cacao beans” and referential to the Mayan custom of using cacao beans to pay bride-prices/dowries to cement the contract to marry between the groom and bride. (Brintnall, 1979, pp. 82-84) 

Final Mayan Chocolate vessel Illustration
Image 2. A depiction of a premarital bride-price negotiation and exchange.

A modern example of  a traditional Mayan wedding ceremony showcasing the role of cacao beans may be viewed here.

The relationship between chocolate and marriages would extend beyond the ceremony and negotiations; chocolate was used as a tie that could bind people and families together but it was also used to keep them together, particularly by women. Typically, chocolate  drinks were made by women rather than men and so that role was unique. An example of a woman making chocolate in the traditional Mayan fashion may be viewed here.  

After the Spanish conquest, chocolate continued to be used to treat marital difficulties by women who learned from the indigenous women of the area. For instance, in Guatemala during the 16th century when experiencing marital difficulties, like infidelity or spousal abuse, women would often turn to serving bewitched  or “doctored” chocolate drinks to their partners.(Few, 2005, pp. 673-687) These specially prepared chocolate drinks were thought to imbue women with powers over men, and so offered women who prepared this drink a certain amount of agency, particularly significant for indigenous women and African/Mulatto women that often worked as domestics or slaves in  during the Spanish colonial period of Guatemala, around the 16th century.

Understanding more about how cacao and chocolate was incorporated into rituals around marriage, both in the pre-Columbian and colonial periods, is fascinating. it is interesting to briefly explore how Mayan traditions surrounding cocoa, chocolate and marriage related to today’s customs and to women. From the exchange of cacao beans to execute a marriage contract to the preparation of bewitched chocolate drinks to preserve a marriage, chocolate and cacao played a pivotal role.


Brintnall, D E. 1979. Revolt Against the Dead: The Modernization of a Mayan Community in the Highlands of Guatemala. Library of Anthropology. Gordon and Breach. https://books.google.com/books?id=-Merrz3IoqUC. (82-84)

Coe, Sophie D.; Coe, Michael D. (2013-06-28). The True History of Chocolate (Kindle Locations 868-870). Thames & Hudson. Kindle Edition.

Few, M. (2005). Chocolate, sex, and disorderly women in late-seventeenth-and early-eighteenth-century Guatemala. Ethnohistory, 52(4), 673-687

Mixtec. (n.d.). Retrieved February 18, 2016, from http://www.ancientscripts.com/mixtec.html

Restall, M. (2009). The Black middle: Africans, Mayas, and Spaniards in colonial Yucatan. CA: Stanford University Press. (271-272)


  1. A depiction of an exchange of cacao beans during a marriage ceremony[Photograph found in Codex Zouche-Nuttall, ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria]. (2015, December 4). Retrieved February 16, 2016, from http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/images-ans/ans_21_06_2.jpg
  2. Mayan Chocolate vessel Illustration [Photograph found in Denver Art Museum, Denver]. (2012, November). Retrieved February 16, 2016, from http://creativity.denverartmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Final-Mayan-Chocolate-vessel-Illustration.jpg

Multimedia Sources

Spirituality Riviera Maya: Traditional Mayan Wedding Spirituality Riviera Maya [Video file]. (2013, October 25). Retrieved February 16, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xosdr-Tj_nI (Marriage ceremony showcasing the Mayan tradition of exchanging cocoa beans)

Toledo Ecotourism Association – making a chocolate drink [Video file]. (2008, May 10). Retrieved February 16, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vC4dq69rqE (Mayan woman making a traditional chocolate drink of chocolate and maize)

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

Customs & Convictions Concerning Chocolate

There are few things in this world that nearly all people, regardless of one’s personal background or cultural heritage, ubiquitously enjoy like chocolate.  In the modern world that we live in, there is no place on Earth where one does not have access to a mass produced bar of chocolate at an inexpensive price. Chocolate is a multi-billion dollar industry (Hawkins, 2008), yet it is something that most of the world had no idea existed until the beginning of the sixteenth century. It was one of many discoveries made by Europeans in the newly found American continents. Cacao’s origins are in South America, in the Amazon River basin (Presilla, 2009, p. 8). It had been enjoyed by the native people of the Central American region long before Europeans arrived. Cacao had a greater impact on pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican cultures than it does with other peoples around the world today; It was used in many exotic and unusual ways. Pre-Columbian customs and believes concerning chocolate and cacao were considered unorthodox by western standards. Although the indigenous people of Mesoamerica were the first to cultivate cacao,  few of their habits were adopted by the Europeans.

One of the more unusual customs  of the people of Central America was the use of cacao beans as currency. An early example of the value of cacao beans that Europeans witnessed was during Christopher Columbus’ fourth journey to the New World. In August 1502, Columbus and his crew landed off the coast of what is now today Honduras. His son Ferdinand, along with others, encountered a group of natives in two dug out canoes which were carrying many goods, including cacao beans. In a written account, Ferdinand Columbus described how the Spaniards noticed how the native people seemed to hold cacao beans in high regard. He went on to mention how whenever a bean dropped to the ground, it seemed as though the natives had lost an eye and all stopped to look for it. (Coe & Coe, 2013)  To the Spanish it seemed odd, but to the natives,  it was no different than you or me dropping  dollar bills on the ground today! The idea of using cacao beans as currency was deeply ingrained in the mindset of those who lived in Central America; in fact it was still an acceptable form of payment until 1750 (Presilla, 2009, pp. 17-18). Thankfully, this custom was not adopted by western society. The only real response would be to shake one’s head at the thought of withdrawing cacao beans instead of paper currency at the ATM!

Aztec example of what one could buy with cacao beans in their civilization. Jaguar pelt anyone?
Aztec example of what one could buy with cacao beans in their civilization. Jaguar pelt anyone?

Another suggestion why the indigenous people were upset was because their culture, cacao was an integral part of life. The interaction Columbus’ crew had with the natives was in the year 1502, and they landed close to the area where the Mayan civilization once dominated years earlier. By 1502, the Aztec civilization dominated the region,  which is most likely to whom these people were transporting goods. Both peoples, highly valued cacao (“The History of Chocolate,” n.d.), however both had different views whom exactly had access to it. In Mayan society, everyone had access to cacao. For the most part, it was something everybody used and consumed everyday. Aztecs believed only the elite should have regular access to cacao. Many people were involved in cacao processing, from those who cultivated the plants, to those who took the seeds to Tenochtitlan for the elite to use. Even though many individuals in lower class Aztec society worked with cacao, they were forbidden to consume it.  In fact, one could be killed if found consuming cacao! That might be why that missing bean was important to find; it could have literally been a matter of life or death! Europeans seemed to take a middle approach to who had access to chocolate, although that was not deliberate. If one could afford chocolate, one could have access to it, regardless of status in society. Naturally, the ruling classes had more access to consume chocolate, they had more money to acquire the cacao beans, but there are examples, particularly in the United Kingdom, where people of all classes met at chocolate houses to not only consume chocolate but to do business and catch up on gossip, usually after paying an entrance fee (“The History of Chocolate,” n.d.).

European Sipping Chocolate – A great example of how seventeenth century Europeans consumed chocolate

Although not the case today, one area where Europeans adopted a Mesoamerican custom was how to consume chocolate. Mayans and Aztecs consumed cacao as a beverage, this was also the case in seventeenth century Europe as well (Bensen, 2008). That was as far as adaptations went though, as Mesoamericans mixed bizarre and alien ingredients into cacao, even for today’s standards.  Europeans were keen on adding sugar to their chocolate. Both Aztecs and Mayans would mix things such as maize, chilies, vanilla, and even flowers into their cacao drinks (The Maya and the Ka’kau’, 2005). Mayans preferred their drinks hot, Aztecs preferred cold libations. Both peoples, as well as the Europeans, preferred their beverages to be as frothy as possible and went to great lengths to make sure they were.

Cacao was not the only plant unknown to Europeans when they arrived in Central America. Other crops unfamiliar to Europeans include Maize, Tomatoes, Potatoes, Vanilla, Tobacco, and Rubber.
Cacao was not the only plant unknown to Europeans when they arrived in Central America. Other crops unfamiliar to Europeans include Maize, Tomatoes, Potatoes, Vanilla, Tobacco, and Rubber.

Chocolate attitude and  etiquette has evolved over the last five-hundred years. It is consumed nothing like how it once was. It is truly and international food today, enjoyed in almost every country.  One can imagine how Mayan and Aztec people would feel if they knew how chocolate was used today.

 Work Sited

Bensen, A. (2008, March 1). A Brief History of Chocolate. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/?no-ist

Coe, S., & Coe, M. (2013). Encounter and Transformation. In The true history of chocolate (3rd ed., pp. 108-109). London: Thames and Hudson.

Hawkins, K. (2008). Chocolate! (p. 9). London: New Holland.

The History of Chocolate. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://thechocolatereview.com/history-of-chocolate/the-history-of-chocolate.html

The Maya and the Ka’kau‘ (2005). Retrieved February 12, 2015, from http://www.authenticmaya.com/cacao.htm

Presilla, M. (2009). Growing Up With Cacao. In The new taste of chocolate: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes (1st ed.). Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Multimedia Sources

First photo, using cacao beans as currency to buy a Jaguar pelt: http://exhibits.mannlib.cornell.edu/chocolate/moneygrewontrees.php

Video on European Sipping Chocolate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JheYrxfq2BA

Second photo, plants and crops unfamiliar to Europeans: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globalization#mediaviewer/File:New_World_Domesticated_plants.JPG

Native Cookbook: the Values and Culture of Early Chocolate

The history of chocolate is known to have begun in ancient Central and South America, and the peoples who first cultivated and consumed chocolate did so in diverse ways. While the Maya and Aztec people shared some similar methods in cacao preparation, the differences that do exist are indicative of each peoples’ food culture and tastes. As recipes vary, they reflect the cultural values of those who prepared them and the age and regions in which they were prepared.

During the Classic Maya period between 250 AD and the 9th century, cacao was commonly consumed as a drink (Coe and Coe 37). According to Michael Coe, a professor of anthropology at Yale, cacao was prevalent in the Amazon basin and Maya-occupied regions, allowing for the majority of Maya peoples to consume chocolate (25). Cacao beans were prepared for the drink ground either fresh or roasted, then added to maize or grain to create a gruel. Cacao foam, called “yom cacao”, was known as the “most desirable” of the drink for the soul (Coe and Coe 48). Preparation focused on maximizing foam production, a process displayed on Mayan artifacts such as the Princeton Vase (c. AD 750) (Coe and Coe 48). This diligent focus on raising cacao foam, so connected with the Mayan idea of soul, indicates not only tasting preferences but also an adherence of ritual and values to the food. And while the Maya most appreciated the cacao foam, the importance of the maize gruel is not to be overlooked. Maize, a common staple grain of the Maya diet, mixed with cacao made for a high-calorie, energy sustaining food. The Maya chocolate drink was ideal for sustaining traveling warriors and for acting as a hearty nutrition source without the use of much labor or firewood (Coe and Coe 50). As the Maya era progressed, chocolate preparation changed over time. Still, the basis of their recipe remained about the same, emphasizing the importance of maize and grain in the Maya diet.

Mayan Maize God (as scribe) – Ceramic Codex, Classic Period

The Maya also incorporated other local foodstuffs as flavorings for the chocolate. Native spices such as chiles, “ear flower”, and achiote changed the flavors, textures, and colors of Maya chocolate concoctions (Presilla 12-14). Among the Late Maya, vanilla found its way into the popular flavor repertoire (Coe and Coe 61).

Coe describes recipes used among the late Maya, comparing secular and sacred drinks. Chocolate for men included beans ground on an iron tool, while the beans for a sacred drink would be ground on wood. The secular drink would be combined with suqir vine, water, and corn using a wooden whisk called a molinillo. The Gods’ chocolate would be combined with ‘aak grass to produce a foam, to then be incorporated into either a tree root mead or maize gruel. The secular drink was served in a bowl to be drunk, while the ritual drink was fed into “god pots” (61-63). The importance of differing ingredients and method in each ritual signifies the hierarchy between gods and men, even in food.
The Aztec people, found further north in what is now central Mexico, did not have the same access to the cacao crop as the Maya. Trade was necessary to transport the cacao beans, carried by pochteca merchants over long distances (Coe and Coe 74). Because access to the crop was so limited, cacao was valued more highly among the Aztec. The bean was even used as currency, leaving its consumption only for the most elite and distinguished members of Aztec courts, typically at the end of grand feasts (Priscilla 18, Coe and Coe 98).  According to Coe, the Aztecs shifted preference to drinking chocolate away from a traditional alcoholic drink known as octli, as cacao was considered more luxurious and lacked the intoxicating effects looked down upon by the Aztecs (Coe and Coe 75). By creating a shift in food preferences, chocolate further contributed to food culture by aligning with these values. The preparation of the drink also focused on cacao foam, but was more typically drunk alone or with “gold or silver or wood” mixed into it, lacking the corn gruel base so popular with the Maya and reemphasizing the elite status of the drink (Coe and Coe 84).

Aztec Woman Pouring Chocolate - Codex Tudela
Aztec Woman Pouring Chocolate – Codex Tudela

Chocolate was also given to Aztec warriors as nutrient-dense rations, usually in the form of pellets and wafers. Aztecs preferred the pleasant afterburn of chile flavors with their chocolate, but also incorporated other local spices, including cinnamon, anis, and green vanilla (Coe and Coe 49, 87). While the Maya and Aztecs’ chocolate consumption were similar, the distinctions between them signify the contrasting availabilities of cacao, as well as diverse local ingredients.

Even today, some chocolate recipes are notably reminiscent of traditional Aztec and Maya preparation. Contemporary Maya and other Central American people prepare atole or champurrado, a chocolate drink containing corn and whisked with a molinillo; Maricel Prescilla calls the drink “a classic fixture of Mexican cuisine” (14). However, many of the ingredients now consumed with chocolate drinks were introduced by the Spanish to the region in their conquest: cane sugar replaced honey as a sweetener, and rice, cinnamon, and black pepper became more popular than allspice and indigenous chilis as flavorings (Coe and Coe 63). Similarly, a common drink in Guatemala known as Batido, Coe describes, is notably reminiscent of classic Maya preparation while still exhibiting European influences in its flavors. Batido mixes a ground cacao paste into tepid water along with both foreign and native spices. Drinks like Atole and Batido are largely symbolic of modern day Central American culture: they retain traditional and native roots while exhibiting a heavy Spanish influence.

Modern-day Atole – a mixture of corn flour, chocolate, and spices

Humans have been consuming chocolate for thousands of years. Within Central America, chocolate consumption proves to be massively historically significant in understanding indigenous food culture. Whether a recipe was prepared for common people, lords, or gods, the ingredients used and methods of preparation reflect on regional foodstuffs, indigenous value systems, and nutrition.

Works Cited:

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

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


Mayan Maize God: By unknown Maya artist [Public domain],  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b1/Maya_maize_god.jpg, via Wikimedia Commons

Aztec Woman Pouring Chocolate: Codex Tudela [Public Domain], http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/ff/Mujer_vertiendo_chocolate_-_Codex_Tudela.jpg, via Wikimedia Commons

Modern-Day Atole: By ottmarliebert.com (originally posted to Flickr as Atole) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons