The instruments used to hold chocolate reveal more about the history and culture of the time period than one might first assume. Chocolate consumption began with the Olmecs, a civilization who lived along the Gulf Coast of Mexico between 1500 BC and 400 BC (Presilla, 46). Around 500 AD, the Mayan people also embraced chocolate as a drink and as part of traditional rituals like marriage, funerals, and religious ceremonies. Over 1000 years later, chocolate had made its way to Europe as a luxury enjoyed by the elite members of society (Coe and Coe, 158). The transformation of chocolate from a religious food to an indulgence for the wealthy is reflected through the vessels used to contain cacao. The culture and beliefs surrounding chocolate are reflected by a vessel found in a Mayan tomb discovery and the French silver chocolatière.
THE MAYANS AND TOMB DISCOVERY
In 1984, archeologists uncovered a Mayan tomb from the late 5th century containing 14 decorated vessels. This tomb was found at Rio Azul, a Maya city located in Guatemala (Presilla, 46). Specifically, one artifact found in this tomb helped researchers to discover Cacao’s importance in Mayan funeral traditions. In their book, Michael D. Coe and Sophie D. Coe describe the artifact:
“There was a single example of an extremely rare form, a stirrup-handled pot with a screw-on lid. This strange object had been surfaced with stucco and brilliantly painted with six large hieroglyphs, including two which read ‘cacao.’” (Coe and Coe, 46)
Figure 1: A close up of the glyph that helped identify this vessel. This symbol meant “cacao” in the Classic Maya period.
Figure 2 (on left): The pot found at Rio Azul that Coe describes.
For the Mayans, chocolate was more than just a substance to consume. Chocolate held spiritual power. This connection between religion and chocolate is clear when we take into consideration the location of this pot. This artifact was found in a tomb, surrounding the body of the deceased ruler. When tested in a lab, this screw-top jar had traces of caffeine and theobromine—the two trace compounds found together only in chocolate (Martin.) This discovery confirmed that the ruler was buried with chocolate. For further proof that the vessel contained chocolate, researcher David Stuart decoded the glyphs along the outside to read “a drinking vessel for witik cacao, for kox caco” (Coe and Coe, 46).
Funerals and chocolate were also linked in Mayan scripture. The Mayans believed that chocolate eased the journey to the underworld. Chocolate is mentioned in conjunction with different religious rituals in the Dresden Codex, a Maya text that still exists today (Martin).
Not only does the Rio Azul discovery reveal the connection between religion and chocolate, it also clues us into the consumption process. Some of the other vases are tall and narrow. They were picked up and poured into other pots to increase the foam. Figure 3: This image is found on the Princeton Vase, and it depicts the process in which people made the chocolate drink. The chocolate was poured from one jug to the other to add froth, as the foam was considered the most important part.
Luxury in the 18th century France
In France in the 17th and 18th centuries, the vessels used to contain chocolate also reflect the attitudes towards chocolate and the way it was imbibed. Chocolate was heralded as a beneficial delicacy with many health benefits. The French “are usually credited with the invention of the chocolatière, the chocolate pot ”(Coe and Coe, 156). Many of the elite took chocolate daily to cure a number of ailments (Coe and Coe, 156). The vessels from which hot chocolate was poured reflect the extravagance of the segment of society who embraced chocolate.
Figure 4 and 5: This chocolatière, currently on display in the Metropolitan museum of art, was made in the 1760s and is typical for the time period.
“The French innovation seems to have been fix a straight wooden handle to the metal pot at right angles to the spout; this handle was usually unscrewed clockwise so that it would remain tight while pouring from the pot in a counter-clockwise motion. At the top was a hinged lid, with a central hole under the swiveling (or hinged) finial to take the handle of the moussoir (“froth maker”), as they called the molinillo.… Of course, this would have been in silver, as would the chocolatiers of all the nobility.” – Coe
The extravagance of this pot highlights how only the wealthy had access to chocolate at the time. The average citizen would have never been able to afford such an intricate piece of silverware (Righthand). Chocolatières were also used as gifts between royalty. Coe cites the first appearance of a silver chocolatières in France as a gift from a Siamese mission. “It was not that the Thai had suddenly turned into chocolate drinkers (they never did so), but [the minister to the King of Siam] had obviously instructed the royal metalsmiths to turn out something that would appeal to the French court.” And the metalsmith’s idea of what would appeal to the French court was an extravagant set of chocolatières. The chocolatières given to the French court incuded “two chocolatières in silver, one with golden flowers and the other Japenned” as well as another “entirely in gold” (Coe and Coe, 158). Chocolatières were brought as a gift and to signify diplomacy. This incident establishes the way chocolate was viewed in society—something for only the elite to enjoy for pleasure.
Figure 6: “La Famille du duc de Penthièvre en 1768” a painting by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier illustrates how chocolate was for the wealthy.
Same food, different cultures
For the Europeans of the 17th century, chocolate was a status symbol. As the price was still expensive, only the wealthy could afford to take chocolate. The intricacies of the chocolatières highlight their function in society. For the most part, chocolate no longer held any spiritual affiliation. While the Mayan pots were decorated with glyphs and drawings depicting what was inside and religious rituals, the chocolatières were ornately decorated illustrating the wealth and class of those who used them. Although both pots hold chocolate, their uses and sociological function were very different, illustrating the adaptation of chocolate as it spread to Europe as a secular delicacy, rather than a religious artifact.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013.
Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, andthe Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Class Lecture.
In the back bay of Boston there is an establishment called Max Brenner Chocolate Bar and Restaurant1. Their mission: to “create a new chocolate culture worldwide”1. They have locations in seven countries, and five major US cities, and are very popular1. One look at the menu of this restaurant is enough to know that they are not creating a new chocolate culture. Rather they are feeding the mass misconception that chocolate is for dessert and not dinner. Not a single item on their food menu offers a dish with chocolate as a savory ingredient1.
In the last two centuries, since the invention of mass produced chocolate candies, chocolate has been seen exclusively as a sweet or dessert. However, in recent years that has all begun to change. Instead of being stuck in the narrow minded approach to chocolate as sweet we are now beginning to embrace the versatility and the savory side of chocolate in our culinary culture. This recent ‘trendiness’ in savory chocolate began in the world of the gourmet but has recently begun to trickle down to the world of home cooks as well. Changing attitudes in regards to health and the negative effects of sugar, a revival and focus on authentic and traditional recipes and media coverage of this luxurious product have facilitated this expansion in the use of chocolate. By looking at the history of savory chocolate and the contemporary presentation of savory chocolate, these patterns become evident and an entirely new realm of culinary possibilities becomes accessible for everyone from culinary icons to even the most basic home cook.
Chocolate has a long culinary history, from ancient Mesoamerica to Renaissance Europe to modern America. In each new place, chocolate has transformed to fit local tastes, desires, and ingredients. Original chocolate dishes in Mesoamerica were incredibly varied, but the most common dish was a beverage made from a sort of ground cacao bean paste3. Made during the period of the Late Maya this dish combined water, cacao paste, and maize (corn) to make a savory sort of gruel3. This dish, called saca, was the foundation of chocolate cuisine and most other dish were rifts off this original3. By adding spices, herbs, or flavors like vanilla and honey, the Maya were able to create a myriad of beverages for all occasions3. Depending on the ingredients, each beverage would be served at specific events or gatherings3. By adding sapote seeds, the Maya created a drink called tzune, which (based on depictions and accounts) was served at only very special occasions3. On the flip side of this, one of the most common recipes was Batido3. The ground cacao was made into a paste and vanilla, black pepper, seeds and other herbs were added, along with achiote which gave the drink a distinctive red color that appears in several accounts of exploration encounters3. Through the addition of honey and sugar (once the Europeans introduced cane sugar to the New World), the Maya and other Mesoamerican societies consumed chocolate that was sweetened3. However, these particular substances were rare, which meant that in most circumstances Mesoamerican chocolate culture was centered around savory beverage concoctions. There may have been a few exceptions to this beverage preparation, as some believe that the Maya used chocolate in stews and as sauces with meats7. We all know about the classic mole sauce that came a little later, but in A New Taste of Chocolate, by Maricel Presilla, there is a recipe for a Maya turkey stew with cacao and chile7. Though there are no accounts of the original recipe, this one is created from a recipe that has been handed down for generations, and then stripped of any old world ingredients that it inherited over the years7. Through writings, recipes, and depictions, we are able to see that early cultures in central America used chocolate in a very different way than we are used to; there is no record of chocolate every being used as a consumable on its own, nor being paired with meat or other food3. It seems to have been contained to the realm of a culturally significant beverage or gruel that was itself very versatile.
Chocolate was introduced into Europe in the 1500’s3. Over the next few centuries, the way chocolate was eaten would be shaped by new tastes, ingredients, and technology to create the culture that we know today. There is a common misconception, or perhaps just a version of history that is often told, that Europeans took Mesoamerican chocolate traditions and improved upon them in their own culture. However, in Tasting Empire by Marcy Norton, it becomes clear that Europeans originally did their best to emulate the Maya and Aztec traditions that they had unwittingly grown a taste for through assimilation into the central American culture6. This meant that “there was little difference between the types of chocolate consumed by creoles, Indians, and Iberians” in the first few years of chocolate’s introduction to Spain6. In the years and centuries that followed, small changes would bring about an entirely new chocolate culture in Europe. There are even recipes dating from the 1700s in Spain that pair chocolate and almonds with prawns and lobster7! This shows that in the beginning, Europeans used chocolate extensively as a savory ingredient. In Catalan (Spanish) cooking, chocolate even became a part of their central herb mixture called picada, with chopped nuts and herbs to add flavor and texture to all sorts of dishes7. The industrial revolution and mechanization of production of chocolate would change the way western culture treated chocolate for the next few centuries. This began in earnest in 1828 with Van Houten’s invention of the hydraulic press to separate chocolate from cacao butter3. This and subsequent innovations in technology allowed chocolate to become a substance that people came to expect to be served as a solid foodstuff and not just a beverage3. This would be important for chocolate’s place in savory contexts, but the transition to chocolate as sweet had already been made. When chocolate did become solid, it also became practically limited to the realm of sweet, sugary treats.
Despite big business take over of chocolate culture and a narrowing of chocolate’s role in the 20th century, today we are experiencing a culinary expansion among the gourmet food world that is seeking to explore the greater food possibilities of chocolate. This small renaissance has its roots in a number of movements. The first movement is a pushback against the processed food industry and the simultaneous research that has been released about chocolate’s potential health benefits. Many studies have come out in recent years about the negative effects of processed sugar consumption. For example, a study published in 2007 by the American Society of Clinical Nutrition, linked sugar to the growing epidemic of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease5. The case against sugar has continued to grow with mounting evidence being presented on the national stage through and films such as Fed Up. To add to the demise of sweet treats and what chocolate has become, studies about the health benefits of cacao have made consumers more eager to try chocolate in a different, more nutritious way. In a 2013 report released by Nutrition and Health, researchers found that antioxidants and flavonoids in chocolate could have implications for improved cardiovascular health10. To cater to these changing tastes, increased consumer awareness, and overall thirst for new flavors, the gourmet community has begun to use chocolate in a whole new way, different in many ways from anything that has been seen before.
With changing attitudes about chocolate, along with advances in general culinary technology and knowledge, the gourmet food industry has become much more adventurous in its uses of chocolate. Much of this exploration has begun to trickle down to the more general public as well. We have begun to see savory chocolate as a sort of trendy new flavor that adventurous eaters and chefs are eager to try.
For instance, Saveur (a gourmet food and wine magazine) published an article in February of this year highlighting 12 savory chocolate recipes4. This is just the most recent article in a stream of columns and writings in food magazines, newspapers, and gourmet blogs within the last two or three years that focuses on chocolate as savory. “It’s for more than brownies and cakes”, as a subheading, this suggests a general trend that seeks to look at chocolate differently and use it in new ways4. The recipes include everything from sauces to stews, including the most widely known chocolate dish, the mole4. No discussion of chocolate as savory is complete without mention of mole. Mole is a group of traditional sauces originally from Mexico3. Known for its deep, complex flavors it is most often paired with meat, and is one of the oldest uses of savory chocolate that we know of today7. Though its exact origins are a little fuzzy, mole has become an icon of savory chocolate today3. In the Saveur magazine recipe, three different types of chiles are combined with an extensive list of herbs and Mexican chocolate to create a traditional “puebla-style” mole4. Mole has survived the test of time and has been adapted to fit modern culture, acting as the ultimate savory chocolate recipe.
But today’s recipes are not limited to central American cuisine. In an episode of the popular food network cooking show, Giada at Home, viewers are given a recipe for Chocolate fettucine with peas and pancetta2. As Chef Giada introduces her dish, her tone is almost imploring, reminding the home cooks that this is a savory recipe2. The final product looks incredible, but it is very likely something that most home cooks have never seen, let alone made, before. Chocolate pasta? It seems to defy our sensibilities and notions about the place and order of chocolate in food. But its presence as a featured home recipe on the Food Network shows a shift; rather than being entirely relegated to gourmet food like Saveur, chocolate is working its way into the fabric of savory dishes for the general public. This unprecedented change highlights the growing expansion of food horizons.
Chocolate is an incredibly versatile ingredient, as seen from its uses in everything from sauces to pasta. But Chef Jacques Torres (An MOF collared chef from France) takes chocolate even further8. In a post on the very successful food site Serious Eats, three chefs are highlighted and interviewed about how they use chocolate as a savory ingredient in their restaurants8. Torres, uses cocoa nibs to crust salmon and then cooks the salmon in a pan of melted cocoa butter8. He even adds cacao to alcoholic beverages in his restaurant8! Another chef on the list, Julian Medina, makes a miso sauce with dark chocolate to use over fish and pork8. Miso is a salty paste made from soybeans that is often used as a salad dressing or in soups, not something that we are accustomed to containing chocolate. But Chef Medina insists that miso and chocolate work well because it combines “salty, sweet, a little acid, a bit of savory, and a bit of spice”8.
In reading about the many ways chocolate can be used, I was inspired to try my own hand at making a savory chocolate dish. I’ve had mole and savory sauces and I really wanted to push my own boundaries. That’s when I found a recipe for White Chocolate Baba Ghannouj9. We can rationalize the use of dark chocolate in savory foods because it is more bitter than sweet, but white chocolate is coco butter and sugar, it is sweet. I have perhaps eaten baba ghannouj once or twice before this and all I could remember was the traditional Middle Eastern dish being very savory and not the slightest bit sweet. It is an eggplant puree with spices and salt, and definitely no sugar. The particular recipe that I found calls for eggplants and garlic to be charred and cooked under a broiler and then made into a puree with lemon juice, parsley, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, tahini (a ground sesame seed paste) and white chocolate9. I will admit that as I was combining all the ingredients together I was very skeptical, given my memories of the dish and how odd it seemed to put chocolate in. The first thing I noticed about the puree was its smell. The sweetness of the chocolate subtly lingered in the air. The taste was unlike anything I’ve ever had before. The first notes were sweet, with the white chocolate coming through immediately. The coco butter also added a smooth, silky texture that set this baba ghannouj apart from its classic origins. As the flavor developed the tahini and lemon and smokiness of the eggplant countered the sweetness to create a complex and intriguing bite. When I had my friends try it, their initial reaction was similar to mine- it was unlike anything they had ever tasted it. After a few moments and a few more bites all of them nodded their heads and stated that they liked it. Almost addictively, as if to figure out whether they liked it or not, they all went back for more. This dish exemplifies an expanding horizon. All of us that tried this were momentarily confused by the drastic departure from familiar flavors. But once we dug in a little more we found that the chocolate added a richness and a complexity that elevated the dish, making it more exciting, and opening a world of savory chocolate possibilities.
Johnson, Richard J., Mark S. Segal, Takahiko Nakagawa, Daniel I. Feig, Duk-Hee Kang, Michael S. Gersch, Steven Benner, and Laura G. Sanchez-Lozada. “Potential Role of Sugar (fructose) in the Epidemic of Hypertension, Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, Kidney Disease, and Cardiovascular Disease.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition4 (2007): 899-906. Web.
Norton, M. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review3 (2006): 660-91. Web.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. New York: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.
Raposo, Jacqueline. “Hey Chef, What Savory Dishes Can I Make With Chocolate?” Web log post. Serious Eats. 10 Feb. 2015. Web.
“White Chocolate Baba Ghannouj.” Saveur11 Feb. 2103. Print.
Watson, Ronald Ross, and Victor R. Preedy. “Chocolate in Health and Nutrition.” Ed. Adrienne Bendich and Sherma Zibadi. Human Press(2013). 1007/978-1-61779-803-0. Web.
The Enlightenment marked a period of intellectual and scientific questioning, discovery and analysis. Academic discussion became more publicized and accessible, even amongst women and middle-class citizens. The development and rise of chocolate houses in London is parallel with the trends of this era and served as the public meeting place for discussion, socializing and enjoying the fashionable, exotic, new chocolate drink.
The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657 and attracted curious guests by advertising chocolate as “an excellent West India drink”, possessing “excellent qualities so esteemed in all places” and able to “cure and preserve the body of many diseases” (Coe and Coe 165). Chocolate itself was an exotic and unknown concept and with the arrival of coffee in London only five years earlier, hot beverages were not yet a solidified tradition (Choat). Affordable and accessible to Britain’s large population of middle-class shopkeepers and businessmen, the rise of the chocolate house “democratized” chocolate in Britain. Unlike Paris and Madrid, where chocolate was reserved for the socially elite, anyone with sufficient money could enjoy chocolate in the British houses. Described as a place “where one hears what is and what is believed to be new, be it true or false”, the reputation of chocolate-houses spread as an ideal gathering place for political and social interaction (Coe and Coe 167). Following this mold, White’s Chocolate House was opened in 1693 by Italian immigrant, Frances White. Originally known as Mrs.White’s Chocolate House, White’s became the most famous chocolate house in London (Warber).
The hot chocolate served in these British chocolate-houses was an “extravagant brew infused with citrus peel, jasmine, vanilla, musk and ambegris (Choat). However, chocolate was not the only option on the menu. Other beverages like coffee, tea, sherbert, cock ale, “ale with pieces of boiled fowl” and cider were also available “according to the season” (Coe and Coe 167). Adapted from the hot Mesoamerican chocolate drinks, the British adopted their own way of preparing chocolate “adjusting it to their own means by transforming the taste with spices and sugar as well as modifying traditional drinking vessels to fit their own preferences” (Scribner 474). British chocolate was made by boiling blocks of cocoa with water and “some to make it more dainty, though less wholesome, use therein Eggs and Milk” (Coe 169). Unsatisfied with this recipe, Philippe S. Dufour further developed the beverage, adding sugar (Coe and Coe169). “The British, furthermore, assimilated coffee, tea, and chocolate into the tavern and coffeehouse themselves products of Anglo-French relations and various other global impulses” (Scribner 474).
Chocolate consumption and White’s and other chocolate-houses was just as much valued as a social entity as it was for its taste. Chocolate was symbolic and represented class and sophistication. The exotic characteristics and flavors of chocolate combined with it’s accessibility gave the middle-class insight into a priorly unattainable lifestyle. Discussing the social value of taverns and coffeehouses, Vaughn Scribner discusses how
“aspiring cosmopolites could barricade themselves in private tavern rooms…to engage in sophisticated clubs, debate cosmopolitan matters with men from across the globe, sip exotic beverages such as coffee, tea, chocolate, and wine, and above all distinguish themselves as separate, superior members of the world community (Scribner 469).
These institutions made the elite experience available and widespread; chocolate houses were a place where books were read, letters were written and ideas were discussed. Considering these chocolate establishments “hotbeds of sedition”, Charles II tried to ban the practice of chocolate houses and the subsequent political discussion they evoked with the “Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee Houses” in 1675 (Coe 168). Public outcry ensued and Charles granted permission for coffee-houses to stay open for an additional six months. However, this law was unenforced and soon forgotten in the increasingly democratic England (Coe and Coe168).
The popularity of chocolate-houses declined in the 18th century and a few, including White’s, survive today as smart gentlemen’s clubs. However, given the modern trend of bean-to-bar chocolate production and an increasing appreciation for historic chocolate practices, modern day chocolate-houses have started popping up. In March 2015, Mutari became the first chocolate-house in Santa Cruz, California (Carnes). Owned by Adam Armstrong, Mutari specializes in European-styled “sipping chocolates” including a Himalayan pink salt hot chocolate and a bitter, nutty 100% cacao sipping chocolate as well as unique cacao fruit smoothies (Carnes). Similarly, Mörk Chocolate, Australia’s “brew house dedicated to liquid chocolate”, focuses on small-batch, authentic, high-quality drinking chocolates (Clancey). Founders, Kiril Shaginov and Josefin Zernell consider themselves “cacao artisans” and serve exquisite concoctions in their converted 1950s bakery warehouse, including a Breakfast chocolate blended with “house-made oat milk, dark chocolate and cinnamon”(Clancey).
Carnes, Aaron. “Dining Reviews: Mutari.” Good Times [Santa Cruz] 11 Mar. 2015: n. pag. Print.
Choat, Isabel. “A Chocolate Tour of London: A Taste of the past.” The Guardian [London] 23 Dec. 2013: n. pag. Print.
Clancey, Leanne. “Just Open: Mörk Chocolate Brew House, North Melbourne.” Good Food [Australia] 6 Mar. 2015: n. pag. Print.
Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.
Scribner, Vaughn. “Cosmopolitan Colonists: Gentlemen’s Pursuit of Cosmopolitanism and Hierarchy in British American Taverns.” Atlantic Studies 10.4 (2013): 467-96. Web.
Warber, Adrienne. “History of White’s.” Web log post. Suite. N.p., 2010. Web.
Far from what their name might suggest, “chocolate houses” are sadly, not houses made from chocolate. Instead, London chocolate houses were 18th century bastions of wealth in which luxurious chocolate drinks were served alongside steaming plates of leisure to the obscenely rich, who wanted nothing more than to relax, schmooze, and discuss their plans to overthrow the king on the side. With the Enlightenment roaring in the background, the chocolate houses became excellent places for English noblemen with too much money to unload their wallets and their newfound nihilism.
Nested within exclusive aristocratic communities—most notably one called St. James Street, these lavish havens were erected in the same spirit as the already extensive and wildly popular coffeehouses of the time (“London’s Chocolate Houses”). Previously, chocolate drinks were merely sold as an afterthought at these coffeehouses, due to the much more popular and established nature of coffee, the beloved brown drink of choice. Comparatively, chocolate was its aloof foreign cousin and had barely arrived from France in the 1650s (“Discovering Chocolate”). However, the media began extolling chocolate as a medicinal, magical substance with aphrodisiacal properties, and it wasn’t long before people bought into the hype and the so-called chocolate houses sprang up to cater to this niche demand (Green).
The chocolate drinks themselves were brewed from blocks of cocoa and tended to be dark and bitter concoctions very much unlike the fluffy, sugary hot chocolate that we drink today which—quite literally—pales in comparison (“Discovering Chocolate”). These exotic drinks were often mixed with a handful of off-key flavors, with some recipes including Indian pepper, jasmine, and ambergris—a bile duct secretion found in the intestine of sperm whales (Choat; Kemp 8). Chocolate was very much an expensive, luxury drink, both due to the elaborate nature of its recipe as well as the high taxes involved in importing it to England (“Hot Chocolate”; “Discovering Chocolate”). However, this likely only served to play into the tendencies of an elite class that was less concerned with the essence of the drink and more concerned with making showy displays of wealth.
White’s Chocolate House, which opened in 1697, was perhaps the most famous chocolate house, among others such as Brooke’s, Ozinda’s, and the Cocoa Tree (Green, Algernon 152). Though these chocolate houses were ostensibly places that served chocolate drinks, in reality, this was by far their least important function. Behind their exclusive doors, the chocolate houses actually served as arenas for the gritty world of high-stakes gambling. According to The History of White’s, which candidly refers to White’s as a gaming club, “There is nothing, however trivial or ridiculous, which is not capable of producing a bet. Many pounds have been lost upon the colour of a coach horse, an article in the news, or a change in the weather” (Algernon 101). Furthermore, these bets often pitted people’s lives against each other, with gamblers making wagers on who would live longer—“There is scarce one remarkable person upon whose life there are not many thousand pounds depending, or one person of quality whose death will not leave several of these kinds of mortgages upon his estate” (Algernon 102).
Beyond the morbid business of high stakes gambling, the chocolate houses also doubled as sites for people of various political parties to convene and vent their political frustrations. White’s, in particular, was unofficial home to the Tories, while Brooke’s served the Whigs (Algernon 152). The Cocoa Tree purportedly had a secret escape route for Jacobites to escape capture by authorities (Green). This affiliation with political parties was a large part of the reason why chocolate house membership was so exclusive. Belying their unassuming names, chocolate houses were actually extremely political.
In light of these revelations on the true nature of chocolate houses, the importance of chocolate drinks may seem only secondary. However, far from it, chocolate was the sticky lubricant that bound all these forces together. Perfectly packaged as an item of the elite, chocolate was the impetus for driving a culture of extravagance, which in turn, popularized chocolate among not just elites, but all of England. Compared to our culture in which the most iniquity associated with chocolate is the guilt that accompanies a sweet tooth, it is amusing, to say the least, to think that chocolate once went hand in hand with decadence, political dissent, and a penchant for anarchic gambling.
Algernon, Henry. The History of White’s. Vol. 1. London: Waterlow and Sons, 1892. 101,102,152. Print.
Today, it is not so uncommon to walk into a coffee shop and order a classic hot chocolate, but the sweet, rich flavor we know and love now has not always characterized a typical “hot chocolate” drink. In fact, the first “hot chocolate” was served cold and had no sugar at all (Martin). The Aztecs and Mayans had very basic chocolate drinks, and one of the first descriptions of the Aztec chocolate drink by a European, Girolamo Benzoni, was that chocolate “seemed more like a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity” (Coe and Coe 110). It was not until European intervention that sugar was added to those drinks (Martin). Europe’s addition of sugar to indigenous “hot chocolate” beverages transformed the drink from a cold, bitter drink to the warm, delectable drink we know today, and this transformation helped contribute to the expansion of chocolate consumption.
One of the first known chocolate drinks was made and consumed by the Mayans and Aztecs. This drink, known as cacahuatl, was made of cacao, ground maize, water, and sometimes chili, vanilla, or other indigenous spices (Miller). The video above shown in lecture shows a woman preparing a Mayan chocolate drink. The great care taken when grinding the cacao highlights the importance of the chocolate drink to the indigenous people (Martin). While the Aztecs and the Mayans enjoyed and respected this drink, the Europeans were not so fond of the bitter taste. As previously mentioned, Girolamo Benzoni was one of the first Europeans to record his experience with the cacahuatl, and he added that “the taste is somewhat bitter, it satisfies and refreshes the body, but does not inebriate” (Coe and Coe 110). That is, to the Europeans this chocolate drink was an acquired taste, and even after getting used to the taste, it was not necessarily desirable (Martin).
The Europeans solved the “bitterness problem” by adding their own ingredients to the original chocolate drink. Specifically, the Spaniards added sugar and spices such as cinnamon, anise, and black pepper (Miller). These more familiar ingredients were likely added to make the chocolate drink more appealing to the palates of the Europeans at the time.The video above details European intervention in chocolate recipes, including the addition of sugar, spices, and eventually, milk. While modifications to hot chocolate recipes continue today, sugar is still a main ingredient, and a drink made of cacao, water, and cornmeal would still be considered an acquired taste. This makes it difficult to picture cacahuatl making it onto the menu of a typical coffee shop such as Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, but it does give a new perspective as to how the addition of sugar to chocolate recipes helped increase chocolate consumption.
When the Europeans added sugar to the basic chocolate drink, the sugar changed the flavor of the drink. This change in flavor satisfied the “sweet tooth” of the European population at the time, and because of this, more people were inclined to try the chocolate drink, and soon, chocolate houses became a common social venue (Martin). The spread of chocolate truly began once the chocolate drink started to satisfy the palates of a greater number of people. The expansion of chocolate continues today as new ingredients are added to create more complex hot chocolate recipes like the ones described in the video above. Just like sugar, ingredients such as peanut butter, caramel, and nutella serve to alter the flavor as to satisfy all sorts of tastes. This new wave of modifications is even diverging from sweet hot chocolate at times to appeal to those looking for salty, savory, or even spicy chocolate drinks. All of these changes serve to appeal to a wider range of people and sustain the chocolate culture we know today.
Coe, Sophie, and Michael Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2013. Print.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 11 February 2015. Class Lecture.
Miller, Ashley. Chocolate: Food of the Gods. Cornell University, 2007. Web. 19 February 2015.
Montesinos, Veronica. “The Story of Chocolate.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 16 April 2011. Web. 19 February 2015.
Simply Bakings. “3 DIY Hot Chocolate Recipes.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 19 December 2014. Web. 19 February 2015.
Toledo Ecotourism Association. “Making a Chocolate Drink.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 10 May 2008. Web. 19 February 2015.
The molinillo artifact was invented by the Spanish colonists in the 16th century and is often described as a “whisk”, “stirrer”, or “stirring spoon” and was designed to assist in the frothing process for drinks such as hot chocolate and champurrado. Post Spanish conquest in the early 17th century, the Spaniards initial opinions about the Mayans technique to transfer and pour the chocolate mixture back and forth was less than positive as they felt it was a tedious step in the process and uncivilized (Presilla, p.26). The Spaniards took control over chocolate preparation as they eventually saw that wealth and prosperity could be gained from chocolate production and consumption. With time, the Spaniards concluded that the foaming process with a molinillo improved the drinks flavor and temperature. This made the Spaniards happy as they preferred their drinks hot. How did the drink improve with the help of a molinillo? Through the motions required for frothing, the aromas from the mixture are extracted and more pronounced, and the drink increases in temperature, thus making it more desirable. Where does this process occur today? A Starbucks, the Diesel Cafe, and other cafes all over the world, just with a different frothing method; or is it that different?
Historically, the first molinillos were simple containing a medium to large sized ball at the base of the stick used for the frothing and a simple wooden handle for stirring. In the 18th and 19th centuries, and more notably after the Spaniards took the chocolate back to Europe, the molinillos changed drastically in color and shape (Coe & Coe, p.118). The ball appeared more colorful, detailed with shapes, and creative. In my opinion, the molinillos changed over time in an effort to try to enhance the frothing process and increase their value for profit. The images below show how molinillos have evolved: the first image is a historic moliniloo that is simple including just the necessary parts, a whisking ball and long handle for secure handling; the second image shows a more modern molinillo that includes additional detail, vibrant colors, and a thicker handle.
The molinillo was a crucial artifact during the Mesoamerican era and even into the present day (though much less common). The well thought out tool helped change the way the Spaniards perceived chocolate drinks and contributed to their desire to bring chocolate to Europe so countries like Holland, Italy, Germany, France, and Switzerland could profit from chocolate. Currently, the machine and tools used to froth milk are equally crucial in chocolate drink making as they add pleasure for the drink buyer, the drink is often more costly with frothed milk, and this adds to the overall profit of the drink. Chocolate drinks today like hot chocolate or coffee mochas are made with chocolate and milk, and often include espresso. The milk is the ingredient being frothed and it is done so at different consistencies and in a different way from the molinillo tool. Although molinillos are still used in Mexico and other parts of the world, the greater population now uses steamers to froth. The frothing procedure is typically done with a heated spout that releases hot air pressure and froths the milk into a wet or dry foam, thus adding a superb element to a drink. So, is the process in which Mayans and Aztecs used the molinillo to froth the chocolate mixture that much different from a present day coffee barista using a heated spout to froth milk? I would say no, and would even go further to say that the current benefit of frothing a beverage would never exist without the original molinillo artifact teaching future generations how to perfect a drink by adding froth.
The video below shows accurately the process in which milk is frothed in present time. You will notice that the barista taps the container at the end of the steaming process to settle the milk from the foam. This is often done presently to distinguish different drinks like lattes (containing wet milk) from cappuccinos (containing dry foam).
The below website will direct you to Rock City Coffee, a cafe and coffee bean roaster in mid-coast Maine producing wonderfully crafted chocolate and coffee drinks, often with delicately frothed milk that takes time to prepare. I worked here many years ago and spent hours learning how to perfectly froth milk. Stop by and enjoy!
One of the most interesting things about chocolate is how broadly we use this term. “Chocolate” could refer to a wide variety of foods, from solid chocolate bars to traditional Mesoamerican drinks which are very different from our modern idea of chocolate. In this post, I will look at some traditional ways of preparing chocolate compared to how we prepare chocolate today. Over time, chocolate has changed to reflect the availability of ingredients as well as the tastes of consumers by becoming sweeter and more attractive to a large number of people.
Chocolate, as prepared by the people of ancient Mesoamerica, was a hearty beverage which was very different from the chocolate we know and love today. Cacao was ground, then mixed with things such as flour, maize, chiles, and spices to create a chocolate drink which was more like a meal than a dessert. One of these ancient drinks, which is still enjoyed in Mexico today, is called tejate (Presilla 7). Tejate is a cold drink which traces its origins to well before the arrival of the Spanish in Mesoamerica. Tejate is prepared by mixing ground cacao beans with water and ground corn. Traditional tejate also contains mamey seed for flavor. In the video below, we see a woman preparing tejate by hand. This is very similar to how cacao would have been processed by the Aztecs living in the area of Mexico now known as Oaxaca. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmflfNvhpcs This woman pours the tejate between the two gourds right before serving, much like the Aztec woman in the picture shown here. (Image from Dr. Martin’s slides, 2/4/15)
While ancient methods of preparing cacao, such as tejate, are still used in Mesoamerica, most people do not consume chocolate in this way. As cacao has spread throughout the world, each culture it has touched has left its mark on the preparation of chocolate. Nowhere is this more apparent than when the British began to drink chocolate. As both cacao and sugar were introduced to the Old World, the two became joined by the British who, at the time, were consuming so much sugar that it made up one-fifth of their daily caloric intake (Mintz 6). This combination of sugar and cacao has carried through to today’s chocolate recipes. Today, most people enjoy chocolate through either chocolate bars or sweetened hot chocolate. A typical hot chocolate recipe, shown below, uses milk, sweetened cocoa, and sugar. (Image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hot_chocolate_p1150797.jpg)
This results in a much lighter, sweeter drink than the traditional tejate beverage originally enjoyed by the Aztecs. The current way of enjoying chocolate is the product of centuries of influence from many different cultures. Though they are very different beverages, tejate and modern hot chocolate share similar characteristics, such as their reliance on cacao for the primary flavor, the frothiness of the beverage, and they way in which it is consumed for special occasions. These similarities show how customs and traditions are passed along, even from as far back as the pre-Hispanic Aztecs, through food Works Cited
Presilla, Maricel E. “Growing Up with Cacao.” The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st ed. Berkeley, 2009. 9. Print.
Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Viking, 1985. 6. Print.
The Silver chocolatière pictured above, which features a hinged lid with hole in which a wooden stirrer, a moussoir, could be inserted, was designed to create and hold a frothy chocolate beverage. With its long wooden handle, the pot allowed not only for ease of pouring, but also protected the pourer from the heat of the chocolate that would likely permeate the metal surrounding it. Silver chocolate pots designed in this fashion are widely credited to have been invented by the French in the 17th century; however, such accreditation provides only a small portion of the story behind these devices (Coe and Coe 158-160). The so-called French chocolatière of baroque Europe was actually developed over 1500 years, constructed not only with the ideas and traditions of the French, but also with those of the Mayan, Aztec, and Spanish people.
The Mayan civilization, which thrived in its’ Classic Period on the Yucatan Peninsula of present-day Mexico from around 250CE-900CE, both cultivated cacao and consumed it – primarily as a hot beverage. Contrastingly, in the Aztec society that chronologically followed the Mayan, cacao was consumed as a cold beverage (Coe and Coe 114-115). When the Spanish conquistadors reached the shores of Mesoamerica in the 16th century, their main interactions were with the Aztec civilization; however, in 1519 Hernan Cortes led a band of conquistadors into the Yucatan Peninsula, where they encountered remaining bands of Mayan people (“The Spanish Conquest”). It is likely that these Yucatec Mayans passed their tradition of consuming chocolate hot onto the Spanish, who then brought that tradition back to Europe where it spread to France, necessitating chocolate vessels, like the silver chocolatière, that could withstand heat (Coe and Coe 115).
While the Aztec tradition of consuming chocolate as a cold beverage was passed over by the conquistadors in favor of the Mayan practice of taking it hot, another Aztec chocolate tradition – the desire for chocolate drinks that had foam on the top – was something the Spanish took from the New World back to Europe. In order to create foam, or froth, on the chocolate they were preparing for their masters, Aztec servants would pour chocolate from a raised vessel into a receptacle placed on the floor, and repeat this several times – a process that is depicted in the picture below (Coe and Coe 86).
If the chocolate was of good quality, according to Aztec standards, froth would develop on the top when it was poured from vessel to vessel, and this would signal a highly desirable drink. The Spanish accepted and adopted this standard, transmitting the desire for a frothy chocolate beverage back to Europe, while at the same time developing their own means with which to achieve the desired foam (Presilla 20).
The Spanish conquistadors developed themolinillo, pictured below, which allowed them to achieve the Aztec ideal of chocolate with foam, in a more compact and less labor-intensive fashion.
The molinillo is a wooden device comprised of a long stick with rings that rattle when the stick is turned back and forth in the hands. When the rings are inserted into a chocolate beverage and the molinillo is rotated, foam will form on top of the chocolate (Presilla 26). It was the molinillo, a Spanish invention, that formed the basis for the French moussoir, the wooden stirrer that would be inserted through the lids of silver chocolatières, in order to create a frothy chocolate beverage (Coe and Coe 115).
Thus, the French combined the Mayan tradition of serving chocolate hot, the Aztec desire for foam in chocolate beverages, and the Spanish method of producing that foam, into a silver chocolatière. The French were the first in Europe to add a long handle to the chocolate serving device, and were perhaps the first to produce such devices in silver; however, these were small alterations to the larger concept about the proper way to prepare and serve chocolate, a concept that had been building for more than a millennium, first in Mesoamerica and then in Europe (Coe and Coe 158). While traditions and ideas about chocolate and the correct way to serve it altered as they traveled from civilization to civilization, the Mayan, Aztec, and Spanish people all left a heavy mark on the way the wealthy baroque French took their chocolate
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Joseph-Théodore Van Cauwenbergh – Chocolate Pot. N.d. Walters Art Museum. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
Today, hot chocolate has become a popular and well-loved element of Spanish culture, with an abundance of hot chocolate specialty shops attracting tourists and locals alike. In Madrid, a well-known hot chocolate and churro shop, San Ginés, markets itself with the hashtag #TRADICIONMADRILEÑAES—“tradition of the Madrileños.” Indeed, chocolate has become an important part of Spanish tradition since its transmission from the New World, but the Spanish made several notable alterations to the chocolate beverages the Aztecs had offered them. By introducing familiarity and modifying the drink to align with contemporary health beliefs, these changes in taste and temperature were important to enabling the widespread adoption of chocolate beverages throughout Spain.
When the Spanish first encountered chocolate, they were quick to see cacao’s monetary value, but it took time before they enjoyed it as a drink. Gradually, however, as they increasingly adopted the natives’ language, crops, and animals, the Spanish, too, learned to drink chocolate. However, their preferences diverged from those of the Aztecs. To conform to Spanish and Creole tastes, the beverage was hybridized, undergoing transformations including the addition of spices, sweetness, and even heating (Coe & Coe, 2013). This new version of the chocolate beverage became popular among the Creole Spaniards of Mexico and ultimately found its way to Spain, where it trickled down from the court to the rest of Spanish society (Coe & Coe, 2013).
The Aztecs enjoyed adding spices such as chili, maize, and achiote to their drinks, but these unfamiliar flavors did not appeal to the Spanish palate (Coe & Coe, 2013). Instead, the Spanish replaced Aztec ingredients with their preferred Old World spices like cinnamon and anise (Presilla, 2009). The addition of these familiar spices may have helped the Spanish to overcome the initial culture shock and aversion they experienced when they first encountered the unusual beverage.
In addition to different spices, the Spanish also altered the beverage by adding sugar. Spanish accounts of early encounters with New World chocolate beverages frequently mention an unpleasant bitterness in the Aztecs’ chocolate drinks, which they eventually learned to remedy with cane sugar (Coe & Coe, 2013). While the Aztecs did incorporate honey and other sweeteners in their own diets, their tastes for sweets were nothing like those of the Spanish, who were hooked after the introduction of sugar to Western Europe in the Middle Ages (Coe & Coe, 2013). Beyond taste reasons alone, however, sugar may have also been added for health-motivated reasons. Below, Professor Bobbi Sutherland provides an overview of Hippocrates’ humoral theory embraced by Spanish physicians during this period.
As Professor Sutherland explains, this theory emphasized the importance of balance, which can be visualized in the following diagram.
With 16th century health theories in mind, one can see how physicians may have believed that the addition of sugar, classified as “hot,” would provide a healthful balance to the “cold” element of chocolate (Krondi, 2011).
Finally, while serving temperature may initially seem a trivial matter, this alteration may be an important part of why the drink gained popularity among the Spanish. Some scholars have suggested that the Spaniards’ temperature preference was developed from their initial encounter with the chocolate drink in the Maya lowlands, where—from conclusions grounded in Mayan vocabulary—the natives likely drank their chocolate hot (Coe & Coe, 2013). However, there is also reason to believe that this change was not due to mere imitation but once again tied to beliefs about health. One Spanish physician famous for his early writings on the healthy consumption of chocolate expresses health concerns associated with drinking cold chocolate beverages, writing, “[T]his drink is so cold, that it agreeth not with all mens stomacks; for by experience we find the hurt it doth, by causing paines in the stomacke, and especially to Women” (Colmero de Ledesma, 1644). These concerns may have been especially critical in explaining the successful adoption of chocolate among the Spaniards given evidence that women were likely the first of the Spanish to become “chocoholics” and later persuaded their male counterparts to give chocolate another try (Coe & Coe, 2013).
Although today’s increasingly globalized Spaniards may boast more adventurous palates, and humorism has become a discredited theory of the past, without the new features of the Creolized chocolate, the rise of chocolate in Spain may very well have been delayed or even altogether absent. As we continue to study chocolate and its variations across cultures, it will be important to consider why those differences arise and what they can tell us about these peoples’ histories.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
“Hippocrates: Octoginta Volumina (The Hippocratic Corpus).” YouTube. University of Dayton, 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
Krondl, Michael. Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review, 2011. Print.
Ledesma, Antonio Colmenero De, and James Wadsworth. Chocolate : Or, An Indian Drinke. London: Dakins, 1655. Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg, 2 May 2007. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.
Lemmens, Tom. The Four Humors. Digital image. Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 3 June 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print.
The early Europeans had comparably duplicated the early Mesoamerican use of cacao and chocolate documented in the Mayan book of the Popol Vuh (Book of Counsel) into five main categories:
The first encounter of Europeans with the cacao product can be traced back to August 15th, 1502 when Christopher Columbus’s son, Ferinand Columbus, captured a Mayan trading canoe belonging to the Chontal-Mayal-speaking Putun. This encounter is significant in regards to how Europeans perceived and witnessed Mayan’s use cacao for trade. Ferinand noted that the group, held what he thought were “almonds” as he termed it but was in reality cacao, as a currency traded at great value.
Pictured here are cacao beans covered with a gold rim to symbolize the value of the beans.
On the other hand, Italian colonist Girolamo Benzoni wrote in his book History of the New World published in 1575 that the chocolate drink made from cacao that the Mesoamericans used for spiritual, social, medicinal, trade, and casual purposes was only meant for pigs but nevertheless, it was worthy to him due to its monetary value. (Coe & Coe 110) Therefore, the colonists were bound to use cacao as a currency in their stay in Mesoamerica.
The journey of cacao and chocolate should be described as it is relevant to how the products were used in Europe, not just by Europeans in Mesoamerica. Through hybridization of the Spanish and Mesoamerican culture, a new generation of “Spanish Creoles” were born in a region that was previously known as the Aztec Empire. It was in this context of hybridization that chocolate was taken to New Spain and then transported to the rest of Old Spain as well as Europe as they saw the product had values. (Coe & Coe 113) Spanish chronicler Lopez de Velazco had documented the first shipment of cacao products from La Guaira to Colombia which was a hub for trade with Spain, and then shipped directly to Spain which is important as various Latin American states came into contact with the product. The product which would be a topic of controversy and pleasure of Europe had arrived in Europe.
Cacao and its byproducts had more serious uses as well. Chocolate was used for medicinal purposes by Europeans just as Mesoamericans. It was a Greek born physician who discovered a theory that for diseases which caused a “hot” fever, you needed a “cold” drug and vice-versa. Although the Spanish preferred their chocolate drinks “hot, Spanish Royal Physician Francisco Hernandez discovered that a “cool” chocolate drink would cure a fever and published in 1591; a treatise on New World foods by Juan de Cardenas found that certain chocolate such as “green” chocolate can have negative health effects harming the heart, causing fevers, etc but if toasted and mixed with atole gruel; digestion is strong. (Coe & Coe 121-123) Thus, the European use of chocolate for medical purposes was similar to the Mesoamerican use and more uses for the chocolate. We usually do not think of chocolate as a medicinal pharmaceutical or drug but this video might change your mind, courtesy of Ichan Medical School.
Chocolate soon spread to the British Isles via monks and eventually found its role in Royal Families — where the trend back in the day. (Coe & Coe 115) Chocolate beverages used in the French Royal Courts in the wedding between King Louis XIII to the Spanish Princess of Austria 1615. As it was given the royal honors of being a product of the elite, the common people of Europe started to socially drink chocolate, including in countries such as the mentioned Spain and France but also, Greece, Italy, and Britain. In fact, chocolate became so custom in Britain that there were chocolate coffee shops opened in London during the mid-18th century! Chocolate is indeed sweet and as Sidney W. Mintz writes; “Indeed, all (or at least nearly all) mammals like sweetness.” While there were initial doubts on cacao and chocolate as a fashionable product, this changed later as proven through the European customs of the product in cultural traditions such as weddings of Royal Families as well as casual usage in various forms.
Pictured here is a Chocolate Coffee Shop in London.
The question of the use of chocolate made its entrance into the ecclesiastical sphere related to the religious culture of Europe as well. There were debates among Spanish Catholic Churches if chocolate counted as a food and if it could be consumed during fasts. The end result of this internal debate amount the ecclesiastical community was that chocolate could indeed be consumed as decreed by His Holiness Pope Pious V who was a drinker of the product himself. This decision had a great effect on the religious society of Europe as since it was justified by Catholic religious doctrine, more became comfortable with taking it including religious authorities.
Therefore, the early European use of cacao and chocolate very much resembles what the 5 customs Mesoamericans used it for.
 Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. 108-09. Print.
 Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. 28. Print.