Chocolate has a rich history in Mesoamerica, dating back to the Olmecs in 1500 BCE. However, it was not until after the Spanish invasion in the 16thcentury that chocolate traveled outside of Central America. Chocolate’s interaction with many different cultures and societies resulted in a hybridization process that spanned multiple generations, transforming it from the bitter drink consumed by the Maya and Aztecs to the sweet, sugary chocolate that dominates the world market today. Going through a similar hybridization process was the molinillo, a wooden tool used to produce froth during the chocolate-making process. A Spanish invention, the molinillo quickly became adopted in both Mesoamerica and Europe. However, today the molinillo is depicted in mass media as a distinctly Mesoamerican or Mexican tool, its Spanish and European past minimized and sometimes even neglected all together. This phenomenon can be explained by the difference in meaning attributed to the molinillo in Mesoamerican and European cultures. However, the contemporary characterization of the molinillo as solely Mexican undercuts its historical impact and significance; consequently, it is important to acknowledge the tool as a hybrid of many different cultures, not just one.
Although the molinillo was important in the chocolate making process, an entirely different method was used for hundreds of years before its introduction. The earliest known depiction of the original froth making process is the Princeton vase of the Maya, dating back to the late Classic period.
As shown, the Maya poured chocolate from one cup to another, the height helping to froth the liquid. This was the “exclusive method” of pre-conquest Mesoamerica, as evidenced by the Codex Tudela, which depicts a similar image only eight centuries later and on an Aztec artifact rather than Mayan (Coe and Coe, 85).
It was not until the late 16thcentury that the introduction of the molinillo greatly altered this process. The molinillo, thought to be derived from the Spanish word “molino”, or little mill, is a wooden, grooved beater invented by the Spaniards.
The Spaniards found that twirling a molinillo through an opening of a covered cup was a better way to produce foam. It was quickly adopted in Mesoamerica, and by the time Francesco d’Antonio Carletti, a Florentine businessman who traveled to Guatemala to observe the chocolate process, printed his official report in 1701, the molinillo was being widely used (Coe and Coe, 139). By 1780, the molinillo supplanted the former foam-making process completely, as evidenced by Francesco Saverio Claviergero’s published report on native Mexican life that describes the use of the molinillo but “totally omits the pouring from one vessel to another to produce a good head on the drink” (Coe and Coe, 85). Clearly, the molinillo quickly became an essential part of Mesoamerican life.
At the same time the molinillo was being adopted in Central America, it was also gaining popularity in Spain and other European countries. The importance of the molinillo can be seen in a recipe published by the Spaniard Antonio Comenero de Ledesma in 1644, which stated that chocolate is best prepared with a molinillo (Coe and Coe, 133). However, the use of the molinillo was not isolated to Spain. Other European countries adapted the tool to fit their own unique ways of preparing and serving chocolate. For example, the French prepared chocolate in ornate, silver chocolatiers and the molinillo was altered to match these vessels and fit their lids. The molinillo was so widely used it was even depicted in the art of the time, as shown below (Coe and Coe, 222).
Yet in contemporary media, there is little mention of the molinillo’s Spanish influences or its widespread use in Europe. Instead, it is identified as a Mexican artifact. For example, the first link that shows up after a simple Google search is a Wikipedia article that states that a molinillo is a “Mesoamerican tool”, and the only country mentioned in the article is Mexico. Although Wikipedia is not an academic source by any means, in today’s Internet age it is where most people get their information due to its convenience. Even an article that pops up from the Smithsonian magazine, the reputable written resource of the Smithsonian museum, describes the significance of the molinillo with no mention of its use in Europe. It even emphasizes that Spain contributed greatly to the chocolate process, but only in its introduction of sugar, not in its invention of the very artifact the article is about. This begs the question, why has contemporary culture diminished the importance of the Spanish and European past of the molinillo and augmented its Mexican one? Using the framework with which Sydney Mitz evaluates the spread of sugar in Great Britain in his book “Sweetness and Power” can elucidate the answer. According to Mintz, when studying food and the objects used to prepare food, it is essential to examine the meaning ascribed to them because meaning can differ substantially over time and across cultures.
For Mesoamerican civilizations, chocolate had a ritual significance. In Maya civilization, Gods were connected to cacao trees, often born of them. For the Aztecs, cacao trees were considered the center of the universe, or an axis mundil, that connected the “supernatural spheres and human spheres” (Carrasco, 92). As such, chocolate came to have strong religious connotations, and foam was seen as an essential and sacred part of the ritual drink, or as Meredith Dreiss comments, “chocolate is for the body, but foam is for the soul” (Dreiss). Because of this, the molinillo became an essential and incredibly meaningful part of life, as the same religious and cultural emphasis that was put on foam became associated with the tool that made the foam. Yet for the Spaniards and other European countries, this ritual aspect was lacking. When chocolate traveled across the ocean, it lost some of its former meaning while simultaneously gaining new meaning. This is because the meanings associated with symbols are “historically acquired- they arise, grow, change, and die- and they are culture-specific… they have no universal meaning; they ‘mean’ because they occur in specific cultural and historical contexts” (Mintz, 153). Once chocolate became situated in new cultures, it grew to have different contextual meaning, and none of the new meanings that Spaniards and Europeans associated with chocolate was as heavily focused on foam as it was in Mesoamerica. Consequently, to the Europeans the molinillo was simply a tool to make chocolate rather than a symbol.
In this context, it can be argued that the cultural meaning that Mesoamerica ascribed to the molinillo is what contributes to its identification today as a distinctly Mexican tool. This is because although a Spanish invention and widely used, the molinillo did not have a significant cultural meaning like it did in Mesoamerica, and therefore it’s European past is easily disassociated. However, when analyzing the significance of the molinillo, it is important to recognize its entire historical past, rather than just its Mexican one, as its hybridization is an essential part of its identity, just as hybridization is an essential part of chocolate’s identity.
Theo Bromine. He’s bitter, but sometimes he can cheer you up if you’re having a bad day at work. Others call him an alkaloid. His real name is Theo Bromine. Those in the cacao industry know him as one word – theobromine. Traces of theobromine can be found in cacao. Cacao is the raw product, it takes ten stages before it becomes chocolate. The effect of consuming cacao is similar to caffeine, it gives you that instant boost of energy. The origin of Theobroma cacao trees can be found in the Brazilian Amazon where cacao is a big part of Brazil’s economic and cultural history.
Cacao trees are pretty finicky. They need warm climate, hot, but not too hot. Most of the production of cacao is in West Africa – 72%, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana to be exact. Because of climate change, there are elevating temperatures and a possibility that the cacao crops could be eliminated. If you’ve avoided the conversation around climate change, scrolled down when you saw the crying polar bears on social media, grimaced when you heard your neighbor bought a Prius,and slept through a class showing of An Inconvenient Truth, now is the time to pay attention to climate change. Why? Because your chocolate consumption could be seriously affected.
Factors affecting the cacao industry:
Many factors, not just climate change, affect the cacao industry: droughts, floods, infestation, demand, and evapotranspiration. Rising temperatures alone will not impact cacao production, evapotranspiration (loss of moisture because of the high temperature) does. With the higher temperatures expected by the year 2050 precipitation/rainfall isn’t a guarantee. Brazil was once ranked second as the largest cacao producer, today they rank sixth. The decline in cacao production is due to the fungus that causes witch’s broom. In order for a cacao farmer to have a successful crop, trees have to be disease resistant. Hershey’s and Mars, Inc. have already classified the cacao genome which could improve the resiliency of cacao trees.
The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization/NGO that assists farmers with sustainable lifestyles. Its mission is to work with the smallholder cacao farmers to help with these issues. Some cacao farmers have already taken the suggestions to switch to alternative crops, lucrative ones such as rubber and/or palm oil. What if all farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana switched at the same pace? The world could face the possibility of a million ton cacao shortage by 2020, this according to The Earth Security Group, a sustainability consulting firm registered in the United Kingdom.
Global demand for chocolate is another factor because of their interest in confectionery. The chocolate market has been trending towards higher prices over the last 10 years with the market increasing by 13% between 2010-2015, farmers’ share has decreased during this time. It is estimated that by the year 2030, chocolate will be a delicacy, like caviar, and your average Joe, or Jane, won’t be able to purchase it. Heavy marketing leads to heavy demand. How do we equate the 13% to a dollar value, try $100 billion, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm.
Unfortunately, cacao trees cannot keep up with the rapid demands of consumers, it takes three to five years at best to produce cacao beans, the end result of this long, strenuous process is chocolate. The amount we consume (11+ pounds of chocolate is consumed annually by individuals in Europe and the United States) far outweighs the amount that is produced, leading to a shortage of chocolate. In the news lately, Necco, the company that manufactures Necco Wafers, Sky Bar, Mary Jane, and Sweethearts is filing for bankruptcy. If we are heading towards chocolate becoming a delicacy I must warn you: start hoarding all of your candy because it will cost you a pretty penny in the not-so-distant future. Call me Ms. Gloomanddoom, but remember the recent avocado crisis in Mexico, we may have a chocolate crisis next.
Global warming and climate change have been topics widely discussed for years. In a recent TED Talk with Mark Bittman, he commented that global warming is real and dangerous and reminds us that we should stop eating things thoughtlessly. This includes chocolate. Greenhouse gas, methane gas, water shortages, oh my!
How’d we get here? Well, it all started with British commodities: sugar, tea, and tobacco. These were popular due to the transatlantic movement, transporting these commodities by African slaves. Chocolate began in Mesoamerica and dates back to 350 BC. It was consumed as a hot beverage served in ghourds and as time progressed in fancy porcelain cups by the most affluent during the Baroque Age. The British didn’t like the bitter taste of the chocolate so they re-created the taste by adding sugar to it.
I would have loved to interview the early entrepreneurs like Dorothy Jones who was granted a license to operate a coffee house in Boston in 1670. Women wouldn’t be caught dead in a coffee house and she got a license. Slay girl slay. Despite my research at the Massachusetts Historical Society I was not able to locate the actual license or the coffee house, but I did find one reference to it in the Record Commissioners City of Boston records from 1660 to1701. It may be that Dorothy Jones was a vendor and did not actually have a storefront. If there was a storefront, I would have to guess that it was located in the area of what’s now known as Downtown Crossing in Boston. Newspaper Row was in that area during 1670 and it makes sense that the coffee house would be close by. To be continued.
The role of chocolate:
Liquid consumption of chocolate morphed into candy consumption and as time went on the global market consumed it. Pun intended.Chocolate consumes us and plays a variety of roles in our lives. Part of my research included interviews with three females, all of whom are my closest friends spanning four decades, who gave me permission to share their stories. Names have been changed. Three questions were asked of each woman: what is their relationship with chocolate, what role it played in their life, and how chocolate’s significance has changed or stayed the same over time. Analysis of the social and historical issues were revealed during these interviews.
I begin my interview with Pepper, 40-something. We’ve been friends for 15 years, so when she said “you’ll be disappointed, I don’t have a relationship with chocolate, at all. I can take it or leave it”. I thought, um what? Was I dreaming that she ate the special occasion, Halloween,Valentine’s Day, Christmas, because-it’s-Friday chocolate our coworkers brought in and placed in that fancy bowl they bought at the dollar store. When I asked her to elaborate on her statement I mentioned the documented ties to slavery, child labor and human trafficking, and the YouTube video The Dark Side of Chocolate, she said she “had no idea chocolate was involved in so much trauma and political unrest”.
Pepper went on, “I do eat it, but I don’t crave it. I like it sometimes; hot chocolate, candy bars with other things mixed in, the very occasional Dove piece, alone, but only when it happens to be laying there… I just don’t crave it. If I have any cravings, it would be the occasional hot chocolate, but only because it comforts me and makes me feel like autumn and of course, I am addicted to mochas which are chocolate and coffee together. So in that, I suppose it does play a role. But I still drink regular coffee too”.
“I always think the cultural references to chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm are ridiculous. I’ve always thought to myself what’s the big deal, it’s just chocolate. It’s probably because I hate being stereotyped and the chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm stereotype that society and commercials seem to paint just piss me off because I like to feel like I’m more dimensional than that. It makes women seem weak and easy to manipulate and shallow”.
“If you’re telling me that the chocolate trade perpetuates and supports slavery then I’m quitting it. My husband says I now have chocolate angst, or chocolate rage”.
I was curious as to why Pepper immediately responded with “craving” when I asked about chocolate. I love how she mentioned hot chocolate and frothy drinks and her addiction to mochas. There’s some truth to why we love frothy drinks. In ancient times, drinks were put in vessels and buried with loved ones who have since passed on. It was said that the froth went with the deceased to the afterlife.
Culture also played a role in Pepper’s response when she said she ate chocolate “alone”, as did her anger when she felt the stereotype which reminded me of the article I read by Kristy Leissle, Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements. Ghanaian women were photographed, not your typical glamour-shot, but were depicted as strong powerful business leaders, not in binary terms. These pictures reflect the necessary change in the narrative. Viewers are able to look beyond the exploitative market and view these women as they should be viewed, strong and powerful leaders in a transnational community. Many of the ads you see in the United States show women eating chocolate, alone, sinfully displayed like in the movie Chocolat, and almost always with some sort of sexual undertone throughout the ad. The ancient Aztecs believed chocolate was an aphrodisiac, science wasn’t quite onboard with that theory. Advertisers still link romance with chocolate.
My second interview was with Sunny, 60-something. Sunny said that she “definitely has had a relationship with chocolate throughout her childhood and adulthood and as a mom. Chocolate has been present in celebratory events, holidays & vacations. For holidays, chocolate snowmen & coins were placed in her children’s Christmas stockings, at Easter, chocolate eggs & bunnies were found on Easter egg hunts, and on Valentine’s Day chocolate hearts were given out as gifts. I have such happy Halloween memories as a kid trading candy bars” Sunny said with a beaming smile; kid’s birthday gift bags full of candy, & candy store visits while on vacation. And Hershey kisses, just because! Chocolate is present at happy events, there to cheer up, decrease stress and soothe a foul mood. At this point in my life I have less consumption/purchase of chocolate, children have grown and they are more health conscious and do not consume. I currently eat it more out of stress reduction and comfort while at work”.
“In chatting, this makes me take pause reflecting on the important role chocolate has played in my life. I think of my all-time favorite candy bar….”Sky Bar”! Sadly, I hadn’t chatted with Sunny about the recent Necco bankruptcy. She better stock up on Sky Bars or they will be a literal memory.
For Sunny, chocolate was a staple in her life until recently. It explains why she can’t pass up a Hershey’s Kiss. These sweet kisses are known as a “cradle-to-grave brand loyalty”. Once you consume them you pretty much do so for your entire life. Great marketing, for a kiss that contains only 11% cacao.
Sunny mentioned that chocolate was used a reward for good behavior with her children. More importantly she eats it when stressed and that it provides her comfort. Sunny has fond memories of chocolate, her visits to candy shops while on vacation and the role candy plays during holidays. I could see the melancholy in her eyes when she described her favorite candy bar. I think the melancholy was also related to her children growing up and that the fun role of chocolate was outweighed by her stressful days at work. Chocolate has been known to have therapeutic properties dating back to ancient times.
Raspberry Rose, 20-something was my last interview. “So I’ve never been a HUGE chocolate person. I’ve always preferred sweet candy over chocolate, but I definitely indulge when I’m craving it! Chocolate tends to play the role of a comfort food…there’s always that time of the month where all I want is some chocolate caramels and a glass of wine 🙂 it also has some memories tied to it – for example I remember when I was growing up, my mom and I loved to eat 3 Musketeers bars and none of my friends liked those so on Halloween I would take them from all my friends to give to my mom 🙂 My relationship with chocolate has stayed the same! I definitely eat less of it than I did when I was younger, but that’s the only change”!
My thoughts after chatting with Raspberry Rose was wow, she too used the words craving and comfort and had similar feelings and fond memories of chocolate while growing up.
Statistically, women do crave chocolate more than men. While it’s not the chocolate per se, it’s the ingredients like magnesium and antioxidants you may be lacking that make you crave it. The calming qualities that come from consuming chocolate is because of the increased levels of serotonin #instanthappiness. Culture plays a factor in cravings, it’s a trend here in the United States and frequently talked about that women crave chocolate, one major reason chocolate companies target women.
According to the article Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain by Ashtrid Nehlig, there was one chapter by David Benton devoted to The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving. While many people associate themselves with being a chocaholic, there is no scientific evidence to show that chocolate is addictive. It has “drug-like” qualities though and can cheer you up if you’re sad or had a bad day at the office.
All of my friends were shocked that chocolate had ties to slavery, child labor, and human trafficking and were unaware of the cacao process. I am happy to report thatthey are very interested in learning more. Irealized that Ineed to spread the word about the cacao industry and this inspired me to create a podcast which should be on iTunes very soon. It’s about my three favs, Coffee, Chocolate & Cats.
Key words correlate with the research that I found. I do hope that one day the cacao farmers are paid at a more equitable rate, that we help the environment and know more about the bean to bar process, and that we can enjoy our chocolate, complicit-free.
Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139
Emma Robertson (2009): Chocolate, women and empire. A social and cultural history. Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York.
Norton, M. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review, vol. 111, no. 3, 2006, pp. 660–691., doi:10.1086/ahr.111.3.660.
Do you remember the last time you had a cup of hot chocolate? Was it served in a mug, topped with whipped cream? Or maybe you sipped it from a to-go cup from your favorite drive-thru restaurant. Most of the time we don’t fuss with what we’re drinking our hot chocolate from because we’re too busy enjoying the aroma and experience this time honored beverage provides us. Yet, ancient cultures, alike the Mayans, respected their cacao drinking methods and admired the cup they drank from just as much as they prized the drink itself. In many cases, cacao wouldn’t have been drunk if it wasn’t out of an artistically treasured and symbolized vessel… a far cry from how we view and present our version of hot chocolate today. Nevertheless, this customary beverage and the material in which it was once presented in was systematically ritualized throughout the ancient Classic Maya culture, proving a frothy cup of cacao was more than just something to cheers with.
The Classic Maya period (250 A.D. to 900 A.D.) was considered to be the most influential and profound stage of the ancient Mayan civilization. Fabulous accomplishments, such as towering pyramids and vast palaces throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, beautifully decorated ceramics, and a distinguishable writing system flourished during this time. This was also a time when the Maya elite prospered, and their admiration for the finer things in life influenced their daily lives and dietary intake, ritualizing items such as cacao and the vessels they were ingested from. David Stuart, an archaeologist and epigrapher who specializes in Mesoamerican cultures, describes in a chapter within the book, Chocolate in Mesoamerica, the ways in which the Maya civilization upheld the role of cacao within their society. Stuart suggests, “The importance of cacao in Classic Maya society was not widely appreciated until the decipherment of glyphic texts on ceramics in the 1980s, when it became clear that seemingly countless ceramic vessels were inscribed with a dedicatory formula identifying them as drinking vessels for chocolate” (Stuart 184).
Around the same time those descriptive discoveries were uncovered, much excitement arose when two vessels were found in Guatemala containing chemical remains of cacao (Theobromine), a study that was performed by W. Jeffery Hurst, a chemist at the Hershey Foods Technical Center (Carla D. Martin, Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods,” January 31, 2018). By identifying the Maya word and glyph for cacao (ka-ka-wa), including the remains of Theobromine, archaeologists soon realized the extensive amount of Maya vessels which were artistically depicted with the kakaw glyph, symbolizing the importance of cacao within their culture, alongside the vessels in which they were consumed from (Stuart 184). In most early cases, a vessel that depicted the kakaw glyph was considered to be apart of a Maya elites collection, illustrating the consumption of cacao was reserved for those of importance within the community.
Maricel E. Presilla, a cultural historian, chef, and author of the book, The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, reviews the ways in which the kakaw glyph was depicted on Maya pots and drinking vessels, and goes on to say, “Dozens of Classic Maya pots and jars, included along with other furnishings in burial chambers, depict chocolate as a crucial, central element of opulent feasts” (Presilla 12). Archaeologists have also come to believe that the vessel in which the cacao drink was drunk from had different levels of significance and cultural value, through the means of the artwork depicted on the cup and the individuals utilizing this piece of material culture (Presilla 12). Realizations as such have contributed to many other professionals from a plethora of academic fields, such as anthropologists and art curators, into the mix, creating a vast amount of research conducted around this specific topic. Dr. Dorie Reents-Budet, an Art Curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, describes the functionality of these impressive vessels in a chapter within the book, Chocolate in Mesoamerica, and considers these vessels, “Function as containers for edibles and also as portable props whose myths-political imagery lent power and prestige to their owners and the event during which they were used” (Reents-Budet 210).
As a result, these elaborate cacao drinking vessels served up a frothy-drink of dualism between the vessel itself and the individual enjoying this influential beverage. Illustrations of exclusive banquets held by the Maya elite were plentiful, and according to Reents-Budet, these elite banquets which included fantastic kakaw serving vessels, “Transcended their primary function as food service wares and were transformed into indispensable status markers and essential gifts; that is, they became social currency” (Reents-Budet 213). The aftereffect of these frequent banquets lead to those creative kakaw drinking vessels to be perceived as social currency and a higher status, and soon after, production of cacao drinking vessels by “highly trained artisans and renewed painters” (Reents-Budet 214) was off and running.
As a result of this newfound kakaw drinking vessel popularity, the Maya civilization never looked back, and the ideals around this foamy, ritualized beverage flourished for the rest of their reign. Through mysterious circumstances, the decline of the Maya culture happened sometime between the late eighth and ninth century, creating a sense of wonder around this distinguished ancient civilization. While we may never know what truly happened to the Mayans and their artistic culture, the remnants of their treasured vessels and love for cacao has overcome their deterioration, and continues to thrive in our modern day society through academic means and pure curiosity for what was once a fascinating and complex society.
From Hershey’s kisses to Snickers bars, the chocolate circulating contemporary culture tends to be sweet. Contrary to modern times, the Aztecs prepared savory chocolate drinks used for sustenance, religious ceremonies, and special occasions. Aztec people came to the Valley of Mexico by the early 1300s and, after being cast out into small islands, utilized warfare to eventually rule many parts of Mesoamerica. Cacao became integrated into the Aztec way of life following the conquest of the Xoconusco province during the late fifteenth century.
Heavy cacao production occurred in this part of southeast Mesoamerica. By the time Spaniards came to Mexico’s interior, the Aztecs had solidified a sprawling, socially stratified society thriving from the tribute required of provinces. The Aztecs had a rich, amalgamated culture drawing from the land’s natives and the extinct Mayans. In addition to the importance of chocolate in Aztec culture, a close analysis of a recipe narrated by an anonymous conquistador reveals colonialist thinking and ultimately foreshadows the exploitation of Mesoamerican lands and peoples to sustain Europeans’ hunger for chocolate during the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.
Drinking cacao-derived beverages was reserved for elites in Aztec culture, as most likely noticed by an anonymous conquistador when he published his description of Tenochtitlan in 1556. The recipe he provided in his composition mentioned
“seeds which are called almonds or cacao are ground and made into powder, and other small seeds are ground, and this powder is put into certain basins with a point [whatever that may mean], and then they put water on it and mix it with a spoon. And after having mixed it very well, they change it from one basin to another, so that a foam is raised which they put in a vessel made for the purpose” (Coe and Coe 84).
The way chocolate permeated economic and social customs explains why the Aztecs had vessels specially made for chocolate and made sure to foam the liquid for a luxurious feel. Cacao functioned as money, a noble beverage, a sustaining drink for warriors, and a metaphor for the heart or blood, giving it use in sacrificial rituals. The recipe hints at cacao’s high status by mentioning the specialized, precious silverware involved in the formalized process. However, this recipe from the “gentleman of Hérnan Cortés” leaves out some information (84). After carefully extracting the almond-like cacao seeds from the mucilaginous pulp in cacao tree pods, they had to be fermented and winnowed from their shells. The vague “other small seeds” mentioned are most likely maize, as the plant was common in food preparation due to its versatile and filling nature.
Above is an image of an Aztec “woman gently dropping shucked corn into boiling water” (Maite Gomez-Rejon 1). Maize was a crucial food item, as the woman is blowing on maize to calm it before cooking it in a fire. Unlike the hot chocolate drinks of the Mayans, the Aztecs served their cacao mixtures cold and incorporated a variety of flavors and spices.
The most common addition was chili, a sharp peppery taste well-known to the Aztecs. Though other portions of the conquistador’s publication are not mentioned, the recipe cited by Coe is interesting for what it does and does not contain. Cacao’s significance is implied, but the lack of detail regarding cacao’s preparation and the type of grains or seasonings added suggest and defend a colonialist mentality.
In order to justify plundering lands, killing natives, disrupting cultures, and stealing natural resources from distant lands, European conquistadors had to label locals as inferior savages in need of civilization and Christianity. This entailed disparaging the Aztecs and trivializing their ways of life. The anonymous conquistador implies that chocolate is significant to the Aztecs, yet cannot be bothered to supply thorough information despite having ties to Mesoamerica through Cortés. He ambiguously refers to additives as “other small seeds,” leaving out the important, widespread uses of other flavorings (84). The conquistador snidely comments “whatever that may mean,” dismissing the Aztec people’s socially constructed realities and thereby encouraging his readers to do the same (84). The recipe’s cavalier tone and shortcomings in capturing Aztec chocolate traditions reflect views shared by other conquistadors. Hernán Cortés officially claimed Tenochtitlan for Spain in 1521 using violence and deception, aided by beliefs in European superiority over the Aztecs.
Cortés acted on behalf of Spain, a country that sanctioned these measures because of colonialist ideas. The anonymous conquistador, and later the Western world, praised the chocolate drink rather than the culture that created it, removing the Aztecs’ agency and shifting the focus to the product rather than the producer. A close reading of this recipe is limited by the scarce context about the conquistador and his writings, though the telling language he used has historical significance.
The rest of the recipe contains passionate praise of the chocolate drink with exaggerated language that fed into the European chocolate frenzy and justified cacao’s expansive cultivation after conquistadors destroyed the Aztecs. The gentleman of Cortés found that
“This drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else. … It is better in hot weather than in cool, being cold in its nature” (84).
Hyperbole litters his description, for while the alkaloids and caffeine provide ample energy, the maize-chocolate beverage was not the “greatest sustenance” one could drink “in the world” to sustain him “no matter how far he walks” (84). By embellishing the effects of the Aztec cacao recipe, the conquistador encourages Europeans to greedily consume chocolate. As cacao became firmly ensconced in European appetites, forced labor disrupted indigenous populations and tied them to perpetual debt as they tried to keep pace with demand. The conquistador comments that the drink is “cold by nature” to classify the drink according to the humoral theory of disease and nutrition that was popular in Europe until the 1800s (84).
According to the system, health “depended on a proper balance among four bodily humors” – blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm (Presilla 27). An example of achieving this stability is to “correct excessively ‘warm’ and ‘dry’ tendencies” through “doses of ‘cold’ and ‘moist’ foods” (27). The Aztec chocolate drink had to fit into this humoral theory in order to be adopted by Europeans, so its designation as cold asserts its place in the Western world and gives Europeans more reason to eagerly consume it at the expense of Mesoamerican peoples and lands. Alternatively, this classification empties the drink of the intrinsic meanings it had within the community that created it in order to fill the beverage with palatable European ideals.
The limited analysis of the Aztec cacao drink recipe provided by an anonymous conquistador exposes a harmful colonialist worldview. Through dismissive comments, a contemptuous disregard for the full picture of Aztec life, and exaggerations of the drink, the conquistador sheds light on beliefs that justified colonial ventures. Chocolate’s relationship with European violence is a horrifying reality evident in the sixteenth century retelling of an Aztec recipe.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.
Gomez-Rejon, Maite. “Cooking Art History: The Aztecs.” The Huffington Post. 3 May 2010. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
“Hernan Cortes: Conquered the Aztec Empire.” The History Channel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1P_euomdHOU
“Indulge in Our Mayan Chocolate Stout and Spicy Aztec Chocolate Cake.” Airways Brewing Company. Kent Brewing Company LLC, n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.
“The Humoral Theory.” Medical website. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
Chocolate today is commonplace and eaten by almost everyone. In the 14th-16th centuries, the Aztec Empire cherished cacao. Cacao was only drunk by the elite and for special ceremonies. “If one of the common people drank it, if they drank it without sanction, it would cost their life” (Presilla, 19). In the Aztec society cacao was not drank among commoners, it was drank by the elite. The Spanish immediately felt the importance and value of the precious cacao. When the Spanish conquerers arrived in the New World, “they observed the Emperor Montezuma II drinking frothed chocolate with a degree of ceremony clearly marked as an exalted food” (18). Cacao was ranked with “gold and gems in records of solemn offerings to the dead” (18). The Aztecs had created a culture of veneration around cacao and over time this culture changed to be something common place and ubiquitous. The changing culture resulting from the shift in cultural ideals of those in charge.
This is a photo from the Toxcatl ritual, where a young man is selected for his beauty. Again, it is clear that this is a drink to be talent, to impersonate Texcatlipocain a show of veneration.He receives many honors and at the end of his term he receives cups of chocolate mixed with achiote, symbolizing heart and blood, and then is sacrificed at the edge of anobsidian blade. Once his beating heart is pulled out the rest of his body is an annual Spring ritual important for worshiping the deity the rest of his body is consumed. (A Concise History of Cacao) This gives us insight into the significance that cacao holds over the Aztecs. They cherished cacao and used it only for the most important events and only for those who are the most highly regarded. http://www.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/
Cortes comes to the New World
The revere and admiration the Aztec Empire expressed for cacao led Cortes to understand the riches and wealth cacao could bring. “Cortes was quick to see that in Aztec society cacao was a road to riches”(23). In 1521 the Aztec Empire fell to Cortes and Moctezuma’s treasures of cacao were taken into his possession (23). Starting with Cortes, the culture around chocolate began to change. With Cortes in control of a large sum of cacao, it was not long before the cacao beans made their way to Spain. From Spain, “the cacao was spread to other countries in Europe such as Italy, France, England and most parts of Europe”(24). It is unknown if Cortes is directly responsible for the transportation of cacao to Spain, but during his time cacao made it to Spain. Not only was cacao creating a culture in Europe, but cacao created a new culture among New Spain.
Photo: This is a picture of Montezuma and Cortes meeting. Montezuma was the Emperor of the Aztecs and Cortes was a conquistador from Spain. Eventually Moctezuma’s falls as Emperor and his cacao treasures are passed on to Cortes. http://www.sun-nation.org/sun-maya-hunab-ku.html
New Spain, New Cacao Culture
The adoration the Aztec Empire had for cacao was clear. Once Montezuma was dead, the Empire fell to Cortes, and this is where we start to see the changing culture around cacao. With the death of Moctezuma, there was also the death of the cacao traditions and rituals. The Spanish brought new foods and started adopting the foods of the natives. The 16th century was characterized by “the Spanish quickly [taking] over the role filled by pre-Hispanic lords and administrators who had supervised the Mesoamerican cacao trade”(28).The previous economy of the Aztec’s consisted of bartering and trading. “With the Spanish in control the colony of New Spain underwent a transition from a bater-based to a money economy that placed high emphasis on cash crops, especially cacao”(28). Instead of relying on a subsistence farmingeconomy, “the commoners adopted the Spanish attitudes toward profit as well as purchasable luxuries”(28). They would choose to buy fine foods over crops to plant and the luxury of cacao began to spread through all classes of society. By the 17th century cacao was being grown commercially and had spread to new colonies in South America, such as Venezuela. In the 18th century chocolate had been established popularly as a main staple in colonial cities. “Even black slaves drank it daily after breakfast.”(30) With the progression of time and the wiping out of the Aztec Empire, the conquerers commodified cacao and made it a central crop to the lives of their new colonies. The commodification of cacao allowed for changes in the way we drink, eat and use cacao.