Tag Archives: hybridization

The Molinillo: Giver of Foam

For nearly 3,000 years, humans have delighted in the consumption of cacao (Edwards.) For its originators, the Mesoamericans, the experience of preparing and drinking chocolate was unlike that of consuming other foods and substances (Sampeck and Thayn 73.) Tedious and time-consuming, the process of preparing cacao was an experience in itself, which culminated in its consumption. The complex nature of the chocolate-making process elevated the food to the status of the privileged, the royal, and even the gods (Martin.) For this reason, the tools used in the preparation of drinking chocolate took on a profound and sacred significance for Mesoamericans, especially those tools that imbued chocolate with sacred foam. To European colonizers, cacao beverages lacked this spiritual significance, so they felt little need to indulge intimately in the process of preparing it. Instead, they introduced tools and processes designed to expedite the preparation and make it more their own. The story of the introduction of the molinillo is reflective of the broader changes that took place in the consumption of cacao, a sort of microcosm of the situation that took place as European colonizers hybridized the experience of drinking chocolate.

About 2,600 years ago, the people of what is now Mexico and Central America, known as Mesoamericans, began to harvest the beans of the cacao tree. From these beans, they made a bitter, often spiced beverage that was known to provide energy (Edwards.) This process was arduous. For starters, the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) is picky: rainfall, humidity, shade, and soil conditions must meet specific requirements for the tree to grow and produce fruit. As you can see in this image, the pods are large, heavy, and thick; they also do not naturally fall off of the tree’s trunk and must be cut open by hand.

Cacao pods, as they occur naturally

Even once the pods are picked by hand and split open and the beans are manually removed, the journey from beans to drinking chocolate is painstaking. There are four steps which must be completed to produce the cacao kernels which are ground into chocolate: fermentation, drying, roasting, and winnowing (Coe and Coe 19-22.) Because of the difficulty of growing cacao and transforming it into a consumable beverage, the ancient drink was reserved for the privileged Aztec and Mayan elites at the onset (Edwards.) In ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures, cacao also took on a religious significance, with use in coming of age ceremonies, holidays, ritual sacrifices, marriage, and more (Leissle 31.) The most essential and sacred part of the drink was foam (Martin.)

Because foam embodied the spiritual essence of chocolate, the foaming process and the tools it involved were imbued with similarly profound importance. An ancient account of drinking chocolate preparation describes the ancient foaming process, which consisted of pouring the liquid back and forth between two vessels, as follows:

“She grinds cacao; she crushes, breaks, pulverizes them. She chooses, selects, separates them. She drenches, soaks, steeps them. She adds water sparingly, conservatively; aerates it, filters it, strains it, pours it back and forth, aerates it; she makes it form a head, makes foam”

(Coe and Coe 84.)

The molinillo, a slim, wooden tool,eventually supplemented this method of foaming. Depicted here, the molinillo is held by the handle with two hands, palms facing inward and rotated quickly, fully submerged in liquid, generating delicious froth and foam. The instrument would be carved and painted by hand, with unique patterns chiseled into either side (Edwards) as you can see.

The fabrication of a molinillo

When whisked with a molinillo, the fats in the liquid chocolate mixture gain volume, creating a foam (Sampeck and Thayn 77.) The word molinillo is thought to be derived from the Nahuatl noun molinia, “to shake, waggle, or move” (Coe and Coe 120.) Myth even says that the word “chocolate” is inspired by the noise that the molinillo makes as it whirs through the cacao mixture (182.) The molinillo is often mistaken as a distinctly Mesoamerican artifact, but the truth is a little different.

In the 16th century, Spaniard came to Mexico, where they tried the bitter, sacred cacao beverage of the native people. As they nurtured a taste for cacao, they introduced their own tastes and practices into its preparation and consumption. Rather than drinking the beverage at room temperature, as the Aztecs did, the Spanish heated the beverage, as we do today. Eventually, Europeans would substitute the traditional Mesoamerican spice profile for flavors they were familiar with. Finally, rather than maintaining the foaming method described above, the Spanish introduced a slim, wooden tool for foaming called the molinillo (Coe and Coe 114-115.) The molinillo made foaming easier and was quickly adapted by the Mesoamericans. The Jesuit Francesco Saverio Clavigero described the use of the molinillo in his comprehensive writing on Mexican life from 1780, but does mention the practice of pouring liquid between vessels to produce foam, implying that molinillos had caught on as a more efficient means of foam-production by this point (Coe and Coe 85.) Art from this period tells us that molinillos were widespread in Europe, as well. In the image below, for example, a young European woman is depicted in bed. On her bedside table, you can spot a molinillo standing in a silver pot. Notably, the Spaniards had already altered the ancient and spiritual practice of brewing drinking chocolate. This change was not only brought home to Europe, but picked up by Mesoamericans, signifying a fusion of practices that altered the cultural history of drinking chocolate.

Fear (La Crainte), by Jean-Baptiste Le Prince, 1769, oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Today, Spanish molinillos are commonly used in households worldwide to prepare foamy hot chocolate. Any traditional Mexican hot chocolate recipe will include the use of a molinillo, like this one from the Mexican Food Journal. It begins:

“When the weather gets chilly, there is no better drink to warm you up than traditional Mexican hot chocolate frothed by hand with a wooden molinillo”


A molinillo has sat on my own kitchen shelf for as long as I remember, a relic of my family’s time living in Mexico. The molinillo is a helpful reminder that the hot chocolate we enjoy today is a product that has been hybridized and appropriated by Western culture. Just as the tool was a Spanish attribution to the cocoa-making process, the flavors that we may add to our cocoa, its significance in our lives, and even the temperature at which we enjoy it are significantly different from what the Mesoamericans, inventors of cacao beverages, would have chosen to enjoy.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie and Michael Coe. The True History of Chocolate, London, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2013.

Cullen, Douglas. “Mexican Hot Chocolate.” Mexican Food Journal, https://mexicanfoodjournal.com/mexican-hot-chocolate/. Accessed 9 March 2020.

Edwards, Owen. “A Historic Kitchen Utensil Captures What it Takes to Make Hot Chocolate from Scratch.” Smithsonian Magazine, Sep. 2007, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/artsculture/kitchen-utensil-chocolate-stirring-from-scratch-cacao-161383020/. Accessed 8 March 2020.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Cambridge, Polity Press, 2018.

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 05 Feb 2020, Harvard University, Lecture.

Sampeck, Kathryn, and Jonathan Thayn. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” Substance and Seduction,edited by Stacey Schwartzkopf, University of Texas Press, 2017, pp. 72-99. 


“File:Fear (La Crainte), by Jean-Baptiste Le Prince, 1769, oil on canvas – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – 20180922 163422.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 3 Sep 2019, 06:21 UTC. 24 Mar 2020, 18:19 <https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Fear_(La_Crainte),_by_Jean-Baptiste_Le_Prince,_1769,_oil_on_canvas_-_Museum_of_Fine_Arts,_Boston_-_20180922_163422.jpg&oldid=364293965>.

“File:Proceso de fabricación del molinillo.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 6 Oct 2017, 03:56 UTC. 24 Mar 2020, 18:19 <https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Proceso_de_fabricaci%C3%B3n_del_molinillo.jpg&oldid=261814466>.

“File:Matadecacao.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 29 Sep 2019, 03:27 UTC. 24 Mar 2020, 18:20 <https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Matadecacao.jpg&oldid=368586614>.

The Narration on the Molinillo: What it is and why it’s important

When taking a look back at the history of chocolate and chocolate drinks, many different tools were, and still are, relevant to its production and consumption. At the heart of the traditional Mesoamerican method of preparing chocolate drinks and frothing drinks stands the molinillo. Dating back to the 16th century, this tool was

Traditional-style molinillo

used to prepare and create chocolate drinks in traditional Mesoamerican life (Martin, Chocolate Expansion). An example of a traditional Mesoamerican molinillo is shown to the right. As history displays, the consumption and preparation of cho-

colate changed as years went on. Hybridization from Mexico to Europe and beyond brought about a new era for chocolate consumption. One thing that remained consistent, though, was the use of this tool in the actual process of making and frothing the chocolate drinks.

Historically, the molinillo has evolved overtime, as one would certainly expect. It was already used for frothing in Mesoamerica and had existed there for quite some time before eventually being adopted by the Europeans; this adaptation will be discussed more below. In today’s world, we see “modernized versions” of the molinillo in frothing machines and metal and automated whisks. Pictured below are examples of the “modern molinillo”. The idea behind it is that these items are used to achieve the same results that the molinillo did for the Mesoamericans and Europeans during the drink-making process (i.e. creating the froth).

Taking a look at the original molinillo is a good place to start when thinking about its history. The physical aspects of the object are key to its use. Originally made of wood, the molinillo featured a long handle with a ball-like attachment on one end. Traditional molinillos, like the one shown below, were quite simple in design and creativeness. Once adopted by the Europeans, they became much more colorful, detailed, and varied in shape and size. Click here to see an example of a molinillo that can be purchased today.

three molinillos
Simple examples of modern molinillos

The Mayans and Aztecs consumed cacao in the form of cold chocolate drinks that were prepared using items such as corn and vanilla (Martin, Mesoamerica and the Food of the Gods). The Mayans and Aztecs rarely added any sweetener to their chocolate drinks (Garthwaite, “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate”). Once adopted by the Europeans, these chocolate drinks became sweet through the addition of milk and other sweeteners such as sugar. The purpose of adding such ingredients was to counteract what the Europeans saw as “the bitter taste of chocolate” (Mintz). Adding these sweeteners made the consumption of chocolate drinks very popular in European countries and the appeal to new consumers was high (Mintz).

To add to the idea of hybridization, the molinillo in itself is a very accurate presentation of the many things that Europeans adopted many years back. Over time, chocolate drinks evolved into a form of consumption by those who were privileged with money and considered high class; basically, if you were able to consume chocolate drinks, it was because you were wealthy (Martin, Chocolate Expansion). Seen below is an example of a chocolate house, a traditional European gathering place for consumption of chocolate drinks. The Europeans took aspects of chocolate drink-making and the tools used for this process and changed it to their liking so they could benefit from it accordingly. The tale is similar to any other hybridization and adaption of “colonial ideas” to modern day.

European Chocolate House

Today, we continue to use a modernized form of the molinillo. The tools and machines used to froth milk and drinks of the like are just as important to the creation process as the molinillo was so many years ago. The process itself is, of course, different as technology continues to evolve. However, the act of actually frothing the beverage has stayed the same and that consistency has always been present. The molinillo itself is still used in Mexico and around the world – proving that the innovation and use of the instrument has evolved but has also stayed just as essential to the chocolate drink-making process.

When we study artifacts like the molinillo, we can see how hybridization was, and still is, such a relevant process today. Understanding that this tool is important to the history of chocolate is essential to really grasping how chocolate has evolved from Mesoamerican culture to present day. Physically, the molinillo represented and still continues to represent a very important a part of that Mesoamerican culture that evolved to our present day society. It wasn’t just used as a simple tool for drink-making; it was a piece of art that had a purpose and meaning to the Mayans and Aztecs. If I had to draw my own conclusions on the matter, I would say that without the molinillo evolving from what it was in Mesoamerican culture to what it is today in the world that we live in, the frothing process that we are currently familiar with could certainly be different. The evolving of the chocolate drink itself could also be different.

Because the molinillo is still used commonly  throughout Mexico and even around the world, we have evidence that this object has gone through years of innovation and the idea of “crossing cultural borders”. When we look into artifacts like the molinillo, and others traditionally used by the Mesoamericans, we get great insight into hybridization and how it still has an influence today.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Garthwaite, Josie. “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate”. Smithsonian Institution, 12 Feb. 2015. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/archaeology-chocolate-180954243/.

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate Expansion”. Harvard University, AAAS E-119. Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the Food of the Gods”. Harvard University, AAAS E-119. Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin, 1985. Print.

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


Not Quite European Enough: A look at the molinillo and its exclusion from hybridization

The hybridization of chocolate in Europe was important in defining and distinguishing Old World chocolate from New World chocolate. New ingredients, such a sugar and cinnamon, along with new containers for chocolate are the foundation of this hybridization era. However, while these new ingredients and containers define hybridization, the molinillo, a type of wooden whisk introduced by Spanish colonists to froth chocolate, pictured below, is generally left out of this definition.

A traditional molinillo.

More so than simply being left out by historians, the molinillo is often incorrectly attributed to being part of the ancient Aztec or Maya process for preparing chocolate. While the molinillo fits a basic definition of hybridization as being a) related to chocolate and b) introduced by Europeans, the molinillo was likely rejected from the European idea of hybridization because it was heavily adopted not only in Europe but also in the New World. If this is the case, then the more formal definition of hybridization is a) relating to chocolate, b) introduced by Europeans, and c) exclusively used by Europeans.

Before the molinillo was introduced, the Aztec and Maya made chocolate by pouring the liquid from one vessel to another. Colonial dictionaries regarding the Mayan languages have words like yom cacao, meaning “chocolate foam”, or t’oh haa, meaning “to pour chocolate water from one vessel into another from a height” (Coe and Coe 48). Generally, the greater the height between the two vessels, the easier it was to raise the froth. The Aztec and Maya both believed that the froth was the most desirable part of the drink and put much effort into raising this froth. These ancient chocolate drinkers did have stirrers or spoons to help with chocolate production, but there is no mention of a tool with such a specific purpose as the molinillo (Coe and Coe 85). While the molinillo would have certainly been useful for the Aztec and Maya, it did not exist in pre-Conquest Mesoamerica.

It is unclear when exactly Spanish colonists introduced the molinillo. The idea that the molinillo was introduced during the 16th century stems from careful deductive reasoning. As explored, there is no indication that the molinillo existed during the time of Aztec or Maya. Similarly, no word for molinillo appears in the first Nahuatl-Spanish dictionary which was published in 1571; however, a report published in 1780 by Jesuit Francesco Saver Clavier on native Mexican life and history heavily cites the molinillo as a tool for chocolate production (Coe and Coe 85). In this same extensive report, there is no mention of the Aztec and Maya technique of pouring chocolate from one vessel to another. This suggests that sometime between 1571 and 1780, the molinillo was introduced and quickly replaced the traditional Aztec and Maya process for producing the chocolate froth. Given that this timing lines up well with the end of the Spanish Conquest, it is inferred, and widely accepted, that Spanish colonists introduced the molinillo in the 16th century.

Besides inventing the molinillo, Europeans created new containers for making and serving chocolate. As Europeans discovered, covering the pot of chocolate with a lid while using the molinillo could produce even more froth. This new invention required a hole in the middle of the lid for the essential molinillo (Coe and Coe 158). These new lids were generally made out of wood, but it later became customary to use a more elegant pot for table service with nobility (Presilla 32).  The introduction of the chocolatiére in France, shown below, was often made out of gold or silver and was able to hold the handle of the wooden molinillo (Coe and Coe 158). Unlike the molinillo, these pots are regarded as a part of hybridization, likely because they remained in Europe and were not heavily used in the New World.


Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 4.10.28 PM
French chocolatiére, note the hole at the top for the molinillo.

Besides introducing the molinillo and creating containers, Europeans experimented with adding new ingredients. The most important of these new ingredients, sugar, was added to counteract the bitter taste of chocolate (Mintz 109). Making the chocolate sweet was thought to make chocolate more appealing to new consumers and contributed to chocolate’s quick rise to popularity in Europe (Mintz 109). Similarly, Europeans began to drink their chocolate hot, rather than cold like the Aztec. This was not new however, as the Maya, before the Aztec, had also taken their chocolate hot (Coe and Coe 115). Lastly, Europeans added spices not found in the New World, such as cinnamon, anise seed, and black pepper. This was not out of pure ingenuity, but rather because New World spices like chili pepper and “ear flower” were not readily accessible in Europe (Coe and Coe 115). In this sense, really the only new innovations Europeans provided were the addition of sugar and the molinillo. Everything else the Europeans introduced, like cinnamon and elegant chocolate containers, were variations on previous New World practices. Regardless of this, all the new ingredients and drinking vessels were included in the concept of hybridization while the molinillo was not.

Along with being left out of hybridization, the molinillo was actively disassociated from being a European invention. Often, the Aztec are shown as using the molinillo, which, as discussed, is false. For example, in the scene below from John Ogilby’s America, which displays the Aztec making chocolate, the man second to the right is shown using a molinillo (Coe and Coe 113).

Aztec men making chocolate, note the man second to the right is using a molinillo.

Similarly, in a drawing from Dufour’s 1685 treatise on coffee, tea, and chocolate, shown below, an Aztec man drinking chocolate mistakenly has a molinillo on the ground below him (Coe and Coe 165). These inaccuracies were likely not intentional and, instead, highlight the European assumption that because the molinillo was also used in the New World it was neither new nor European and, therefore, must have predated European contact with the New World.

Aztec man drinking chocolate, note the molinillo on the ground.

Europeans had no issue with taking New World chocolate back to Europe to be improved, but were unable to accept the idea that European inventions and practices, like the molinillo, could or would also be utilized in the New World. Instead of considering the molinillo as part of the European hybridization of chocolate, like cinnamon, sugar, and the chocolatiére, the molinillo was incorrectly casted as a pre-Conquest tool incorporated into European innovation. The contrast between the treatment by early historians towards the molinillo and towards other European chocolate technologies signals that hybridization is not simply defined as a chocolate related tool or innovation by Europeans. Instead, hybridization is outlined as a chocolate related tool or innovation made and used exclusively by Europeans.


Multimedia Sources






Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson. 157.


Aztec men making chocolate:



Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Aztec men:



Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

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

The Chocolate Rx: Early European Belief in Medical Cacao


An advertisement run by Hershey's (dated to be before the 1950s). The founder of Hershey's, Milton Hershey, understood the power of marketing. By lauding the health benefits of chocolate and using colorful artwork, Hershey made his company into a household name. This also reveals the persistent European belief in the medical use of cacao and even its later derivatives.

In Western society, the overt medicalization of cacao and its products ran rampant up until about the early 20th century (Wilson & Hurst 29). As we see in the historical advertisement below, physicians endorsed the curative effects of chocolate, suggesting that the public also held similar beliefs. Although the idea that milk chocolate can heal consumptive cases seems absurd in this day and age, when considering the origins of cacao and its European adoption, the early European belief in medical cacao no longer seems so strange.



In this newspaper ad, a physician endorses chocolates as a treatment for stomach issues as well as consumptive cases. Similar to the Hershey's ad, this marketing tactic utilizes the health origins of cacao and demonstrates the popular medicalization of cacao and subsequently, solid chocolate.

Cacao Prescriptions in Ancient Mesoamerica

Long before European medicalization of cacao, Mesoamericans (the Olmec, Maya and Aztec) were using cacao for medicinal purposes. Due to meticulous documentation of the Aztecs, the Aztecs’ use of cacao as a medicine best illustrates the beliefs in the healing properties of this superfood. One of these invaluable sources is the Badianus Manuscript (1552), also known as the “Little Book of the Medicinal Herbs of the Indians.” Written by Martin de la Cruz and Juan Badiano, this book documents various herbal treatments for a multitude of illnesses in both Latin and Nahuatl. In many excerpts, cacao is used as a treatment either to be ingested or topically applied for illnesses such as fatigue, constipation, angina, lactation difficulties and hemorrhoids (Dillinger et al.). Another surviving text is the Florentine Codex (1590) where Fray Bernardino de Sahagún writes detailed cacao prescriptions for ailments such as infection, diarrhea and cough. He also notes that cacao was used to make Aztec medicine more palatable or made into a beverage to act as a vehicle for other medicines (Dillinger et al.). These significant documents and observations contributed to the European popularization of cacao as a medicine and the continuation of traditional Aztec preparations.


A page from the Badianus Manuscript showing a cacao tree (top center). The inclusion of cacao in this manuscript exhibits its curative status in Aztec culture, which would contribute to the eventual medicalization of cacao in Europe.

European Adoption of Medical Cacao

Although it’s clear that Mesoamericans used cacao as medicine, we will now investigate how the Europeans came to adopt this use. Firstly, Aztecs were expert herbalists and many Europeans witnessed the healing powers of Aztec herbal concoctions firsthand. These testimonials helped preserve the medicinal use of cacao in the post-conquest New World and in Europe (Aaron & Bearden 74). Secondly, Europeans were vigilant about improving their health since they often suffered from stomach issues due to their meat-centric diet (Coe & Coe 124). Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the Aztec view of health complemented popular European thought at the time (Aaron & Bearden 75).

The Old World and Europe had largely different views on health, but they also shared a handful of similarities. One significant difference was the incorporation of cardinal directions and colors in the Aztec healing process (Dillinger et al.). If we overlook this difference, we can see that both Aztec and European medicine focused on the theory of opposites. For example, the Aztecs often based their medical world on paired terms like “hot/cold” and “humidity/drought” (Dillinger et al.). Until the 19th century, the Galenic humoral theory from Classical Greece was popular in Europe. It was believed that the body was composed of four humors: black and yellow bile, phlegm and blood. The humors could be characterized as hot, cold, wet, or dry and treatments would be chosen to counteract these elements (Aaron & Bearden 75). As such, it seems natural that the Europeans adopted the medical uses of cacao well into the 19th century since both cultures emphasized balance for a healthy constitution.

Although Europeans preserved some Aztec treatments like using cacao beverages as a vehicle for unsavory medicines, they also adapted cacao to fit their particular views on health. For example, in Spain, cacao beverages were taken hot, not cold like in the Americas. This preference stemmed from the humoral theory where the cacao bean was seen as “cold” and “dry” (Coe & Coe 123). Thus, drinks were prepared such that it could cure disorders of the opposite qualities and we begin to see a more marked divergence in preparations. For instance, spices used by Aztecs were also used in European cacao preparations, but Europeans began adding other spices like anise, cinnamon and pepper in order to counteract the “cold” qualities of cacao (Wilson & Hurst 51). Despite the adoption of medical cacao from Mesoamerica, the Europeans truly made it their own by overlaying their personal health perspectives on cacao. This medicalization also persisted for centuries, even after cacao transitioned into solid chocolate in the early 19th century (illustrated by the above advertisements).

Historical and Social Significance

By analyzing the early European belief in the healing effects of cacao, we have seen the gradual hybridization of this commodity and how it was adapted to fit its new European social context. Although this happened long ago, this adaptation of food to its social environment is constant and persistent. For example, there has been a renewed interest in the health benefits of cacao and its derivatives these days. Instead of adapting cacao to a humoral theory, we have molded it to cater to our evidence-based view of medicine (Wilson & Hurst 18). We, thus, tout cacao’s health miracles by evaluating its biochemical effects on the body, recalling the past phenomenon outlined above. By being cognizant of this process, we can cultivate and maintain a critical eye on the impact of food in society and vice versa.

Navitas Naturals markets its cacao powder by promoting cacao's chemical properties such as its antioxidant, iron, and magnesium content. This is highly reminiscent of the vintage advertisements above. Even today, modern consumers believe in the health benefits of cacao, which has now shifted to a more evidence-based research that better suits out current times and beliefs.

Works Cited

Aaron, Shara, and Monica Bearden. Chocolate: A Healthy Passion. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2008. Print.

Coe, Sophie, and Michael Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. Print.

Dillinger, Teresa, Patricia Barriga, Sylvia Escárcega, Martha Jimenez, Diana Lowe, and Louis Grivetti. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition 130.8 (2000): 20575-0725. Web.

Wilson, Philip K., and Jeffrey W. Hurst. Chocolate as Medicine: A Quest over the Centuries. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2012. Print.


The Transformative Power of Culture

The Spanish conquistadors first came into contact with chocolate during their voyages to the New World, following the footsteps of Christopher Columbus. In 1502, Columbus arrived to Guanaja and came across a dugout canoe, in which he discovered “almonds” [cacao beans] that were used by the indigenous people of Mexico as a form of money (Coe & Coe, 109). A popular myth claims Columbus was the first person to try chocolate in the New World, however records suggest Columbus found these beans to be of little value and quickly left to Panamá in search of gold (Coe & Coe, 109). It was only with the arrival of other conquistador’s years later that the true wealth of these beans and their product became appreciated.

As Marciel Presilla discusses in his book titled The New Taste of Chocolate, most of what is known about the relation between chocolate and the pre-Hispanic Aztecs comes from narratives recorded after the Conquest of the New World (Presilla,18). Girolamo de Benzoni wrote a narrative in 1975 called the History of the New World, describing his bewilderment at the peculiarity and somewhat bizarre beverage drunk by the most notable members of the indigenous population (Coe & Coe, 110). In one of the excerpts, he describes the chocolate drink as one that “seemed more a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity. I was in this country for more than a year, and never wanted to taste it…” (Coe & Coe, 110).

The following image portrays Hernan Cortez being offered the chocolate drink in his arrival to the Aztec Empire in 1519. He is portrayed in lavish ceremonial attire seemingly fit for a god, however his expression suggests his discontent with the chocolate drink he holds in his hands.


It is important to note the conquistador’s initial attitudes of dissatisfaction towards the chocolate beverage, which would soon change as a result of the direct encounter of the Indians with the European people.

Culture plays a crucial role in people’s initial perception and understanding of a new culture. I will assert the importance of culture in shaping the European settlers perspective on chocolate, while allowing them to adapt to the alien environment of the New World. As the settlers began establishing their lives in the New World following the Conquest, a process of hybridization or creolization began to take place between the two cultures. This process resulted from the Europeans and Indians adopting certain practices from each other’s cultures, and adapting them to satisfy their particular lifestyle. For example, the Spanish began consuming less wheat and more maize, and adopting Nahuatl words for native plants and animals into their language, while the Indians adopted certain domestic animals and fruit trees into their life (Coe & Coe, 112). Chocolate would follow a similar path in which it would undergo a transformation of certain qualities that would allow it to assimilate into the Spanish and European culture.

In terms of preparation of the chocolate drink, the Mayan and Aztec’s added spices such as honey, agave syrup, “ear flower” and chilli pepper (Coe & Coe, 115). The Spanish and Europeans had a “sweet tooth” due to the introduction of sugar into their culture during medieval times (Coe & Coe, 115). Cortez valued the idea of the elaborate, thickly spiced mixture drank by the Indians, which is why toasted corn and spices like vanilla and achiote would be added to the Hispanicized chocolate (Presilla, 25). However, the Europeans palate for sweetness would result in the transformation of chocolate from a think and heavily spiced drink, to a heavily sweetened drink. And so, the Spanish were the first to combine chocolate with the sugar they produced from the sugar cane plantations worked by African slaves in the Caribbean (Presilla, 25). The practice of sweetening would eventually lead to wide range of chocolate brands we have today, labeled with varying percentages of cacao and sweetness as seen in the image below.


The Europeans considered the froth of chocolate to be the most valued part of the drink. However, the greater sense of technological efficiency that steered their culture lead to the development of a new method of preparing froth that didn’t involve repeatedly poring it between two vessels (Prisilla, 26). The method involved a tool called a molinillo that would beat the chocolate and make it foam (Prisilla, 26), as seen in the video below.

The transformation of chocolate preparation asserts the importance of culture in shaping the European settlers perspective on chocolate, while allowing them to adapt to the alien environment of the New World.


“A Royal Gift – Box of Chocolate – Café Mika.” Caf Mika. N.p., 11 Dec. 2014. Web. 16 Feb.       2015. <http://mika.is/a-royal-gift-box-of-chocolate/&gt;.

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

“Mexican Hot Chocolate.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.     <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Hfqgp4B9X8&gt;.

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

“Sweet Dark Chocolate.” Chocolercom Expand Your Chocolate Expertise RSS. N.p., n.d. Web.     16 Feb. 2015. <http://chocoler.com/live/2012/02/05/sweet-dark-chocolate/&gt;.

European Appropriation of Chocolate

Every American child can recite the year Christopher Columbus, the founder of chocolate, discovered America, maybe even his three ships. Americans even go so far as to celebrate Columbus Day, despite the fact that Columbus neither discovered North America nor invented chocolate, two facts that have been falsely attributed to him. The truth is the chocolate this generation knows differs greatly from the original product. Chocolate went through a great change to become the product we think of today. As is so often the case, it those with power who get to write history, and so, only upon delving into the past can we figure out the truth behind this ever-present food. From its origins to its consumption, the European culture took from the Mayan, changed it, and called it their own, a process called hybridization (Martin, “AAS 119x Lecture 5: Chocolate Expansion”).

The idea that Christopher Columbus invented chocolate is the first of the misconceptions. Columbus did not even know what chocolate was, let alone its potential, believing instead that the native population “had many of those almonds which in New Spain are used for money. They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with goods […] when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen.” (Coe & Code, 109). After chocolate was brought back the Europe, they Europeans adapted similar methods of consumption, one being frothing as we see in the images below.

A woman frothing chocolate from Martin’s “Lecture 4: Mesoamerica and the Food of the Gods”
A woman frothing chocolate from Martin’s “Lecture 4: Mesoamerica and the Food of the Gods”

La Chocolatada by of Llorenc Passo from Norton’s "Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics"
La Chocolatada by of Llorenc Passo from Norton’s “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics”

The first image depicts a native woman pouring the chocolate from up high in order for it to froth, the way it is typically consumed in Mesoamerica. The next image depicts a group of elite Europeans adopting this custom, the man on the right frothing the drink. Of course it makes sense that the Europeans when adopting a food would mirror the consumption of said food, but when comparing the two images side by side, what one might call hybridization looks more like cultural appropriation. the distinction being that chocolate was more than just a food to the Mayans and Aztecs. It was used in important religious rituals and had its own, important social rules for consumption (Martin, “Lecture 3: Mesoamerica and the Food of the Gods”). In the end, the customs and beliefs around chocolate are not Mayan or Aztec; they are European.

Chocolate from "Lecture 3: Mesoamerica and the Food of the Gods"
Chocolate from “Lecture 3: Mesoamerica and the Food of the Gods”

Down to the taste, chocolate is just different. Why is it that when we think of chocolate, what we see in our head looks like the image above? The chocolate we know of today is sweet (not to mention solid), but it wasn’t always that way. From 1000 AD when few Europeans were even aware of the existence of sugar to 1900 AD when it became a substantial portion of their calories, sugar has fundamentally changed how we consume chocolate and perpetuated its global popularity, demand, and relevance (Mintz, 5-6). Perhaps it is taking the original form of chocolate and making something that a global culture could enjoy justifies the European appropriation of chocolate, but when every child in America believes a history dominated by European thought, it seems wrong to ignore the origins and intentions of the actual inventors of chocolate.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 26-27. Print.

Marcy Norton. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics”

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and power : the place of sugar in modern history. 274 p: (1985)

Professor Martin’s “Lectures 3 and 4: Mesoamerica and the Food of the Gods” and “Lecture 5: Chocolate Expansion”

Chocolate Elitism: Cultural Adaptation and Prestige

Cacao has been a staple in Mesoamerican culture well before the colonial era. In Aztec society, cacao was highly revered and primarily consumed by elites. Cacao was considered a form of payment, even wages, and used in various quantities to purchase things like live animals and fresh produce. Using a Nahuatl price chart from 1545, one cacao bean could be roughly equivalent to the price of a tomato or a ripe avocado. Columbus noticed how valued these coins were when he saw how “when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen“ (Coe 107). It was because of this high value that cacao and its products remained a product for the elite. Reserved for the nobility and warriors, this drink was often served in “cups of fine gold.” (Coe, 94) After the Spanish landed in the New World, they brought cacao back to Europe where it took off in a similar elite role. For European societies, hybridization of cacao in flavor and presentation created a dissonance from Mesoamerican culture and offered a rebranding that allowed chocolate to be more easily integrated into the lives of the elite.

The invention of cutlery and silverware tailored to chocolate consumption and production allowed the product to be marketed as a luxury product and easily incorporated into elite culture. These products were engineered to require the most ease and less labor which was most likely not appropriate for the elites. To produce the frothiness that is characteristic of New World chocolate, chocolate was poured from high levels into pots. Coe describes a new preparation method introduced by the Spaniards: the molinillo.mexican-molinillo

According to Coe, “the froth was now obtained by beating the hot chocolate with a large, wooden sizzle-stick called a molinillo”, a much less labor-intensive method. This video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1upA1AiLMAY) shows how molinillo are used which is much less labor intensive then continuously pouring bowls from high heights. It’s so simple anyone can do it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U73IU9vk74Q).

Another silverware introduction was that of the mancerina. The traditional jícara bowls allowed the opportunity for spillage and were not suitable for court life. Marques de Mancera thus manufactured the mancerina, a plate and saucer collection that was more accustomed to the “delicacy required by court etiquette.”mancerina

These inventions increased the cultural capital of chocolate which were expected and revered worldwide. French chocolatiers are another hybrid invention created to ease the consumption of chocolate. They were often created in silver for the nobility. Even those who had little contact with the actual chocolate drink knew of its prestige. A Siamese mission arrived in the French court of Louis XIV presenting numerous chocolatiéres in gold and silver. Despite their infamiliarity with the product that would be going into the gifts, they knew it required elegant casing and holding material and used this knowledge to elevate their cultural standing and status with the French.

Deviation from Aztec norms in flavor were essential because Spaniards, working from a colonial conquistador perspective, needed to maintain a level of moral superiority. A published account by an Italian who had traveled to visit the New World considered the drink more suitable for pigs, rather than humanity, and much less than a “food of the gods”. (Coe, 109). His judgmental language before having tasted the food product revealed a prejudice towards native customs. Within the descriptions of chocolate from the European perspective, we find prejudices expose themselves in the language. Redi, a prominent physician in Italy, heralded the “exquisite” nature of chocolate as “owing to the novelty of divers European ingredients”. Similarly, the Spanish hybridization of chocolate is often spoken of as bringing the drink to perfection, from what would be assumed to be a lesser previous status.

The hybridization of chocolate and its adoption into Spain and later Europe demonstrate cultural values that value European ingredients and likeliness. Cultural prestige from Mesoamerican culture was transferred to European culture through an adaptation that reinforced a cultural hierarchy.

Chocolate and Cheese: An Example of Hybridization

The history of chocolate follows an incredibly interesting trajectory marked repeatedly by cultural adaptation. This hybridization affects all aspects of chocolate: how it’s made, perceived, how it tastes and how it affects the body. The very word for chocolate has been adapted with time to suit cultural norms. Chocolate consumption originated with peoples before the Maya civilization and was, at first hesitantly, adopted into European culture to then become the sweet, incredibly popular and ubiquitous product that we know today. Chocolate that is enjoyed today is necessarily a mix of the original cacao processing techniques of the Mesoamerican populations, new sweeteners added by Europeans, and the affects of mass production. The Aztecs prepared cacao with maize, chili powder, achiote, “ear flower” (hueinacaztli) and many other flowers and spices (Coe 86-87). They had many variations on the drink, “rang many more changes on the chocolate theme than do we, who are so indissolubly tied to drinks that are sweet” (Coe 94). The arrival of conquistadors to Mesoamerica not only allowed for the hybridization of cacao into a sweetened version to appeal to the European sweet tooth, but also brought European food staples into the diet of the natives. One unique combination that arose from the convergence of Spanish and native Mesoamericans and their dissimilar diets was the consumption of chocolate with cheese.

Spaniards were accustomed to a high fat, starchy diet: “the Iberian cuisine was heavily weighted toward meat and starch, as it is today, with an emphasis on frying with lard and olive oil” (Coe 112). The Spaniards thus began importing livestock to produce meat, and importantly for this discussion, cheese, for “cheese was totally absent from the native table” (Coe 112). The hybridization, or creolization, that began to unfold went both ways. The Spanish relinquished some focus on wheat to include maize in their diet. Similarly, native populations began consuming meat and cheese. In fact, “an entirely new, creolized culture was taking form that partook of elements from both culture…” (Coe 113). As cacao colonies were established in South America, chocolate and cheese became a dietary staple there. In present day, this practice survives in Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador (Alarcon). A nineteenth-century German traveler recorded “…how peasants in the Venezuelan Andes would take chocolate at three o’clock in the afternoon together with a fresh cheese called queso de mano.” Maricel Presilla recounts a traditional practice in the Columbian Andes of dunking salty cheese into hot chocolate and scooping out the softened cheese to eat. She also notes that “chocolate is traditionally accompanied by cheese arepas” and includes recipes for these two Columbian dishes (Presilla 29). Lastly “chocolate and cheese were also a usual part of dessert” (Presilla 30).

hot chocolate and cheese La Taguara
Hot chocolate with queso blanco served at La Taguara restaurant in Madison WI “Hot chocolate with queso blanco sounds like a Wisconsin way to beat the cold, but it is actually a Central American tradition.” -madison.com facebook page

Popular media has also published similar recipes incredibly recently. Just one week ago (February 10, 2015), the Boston Globe published “Pour this Venezuelan hot chocolate over queso blanco,” telling the story of traditional Aztec chocolate drinks and the arrival of cheese to the Americas with the Spaniards. The story continues to promote La Casa de Pedro, a traditional Venezuelan restaurant (in Watertown MA) that serves a hot chocolate with softened cheese. The author, Rachel Ellner, quotes Presilla on this tradition, its history, and its continued existence (Ellner). The Boston Globe also published a recipe adapted from La Casa de Pedro’s very own Pedro Alarcon (Alarcon). The recipe is very similar in spirit to that published by Presilla but without mint or cinnamon flavorings that Presilla includes and of course substituting Colombian chocolate for Venezuelan. Rob Thomas of the Wisconsin State Journal also recently reviewed La Taguara, a Venezuelan restaurant in Madison Wisconsin. He jokes that hot chocolate and cheese could have been invented in Wisconsin (a state with cold winters and also known for its cheese). Overall, he’s not impressed with his hot chocolate and cheese experience, but he’s open to trying it again, perhaps if the “beverage [is] hot enough that the cheese melts at least partially, making for a smoother flavor” (Thomas). The eating of chocolate with cheese has become a celebrated part of Venezuelan and Colombian diets and is a derivative of the creolization between native Mesoamerican food culture and the conquering Spanish.

Works Cited

Alarcon, Pedro. “Recipe for Venezuelan Hot Chocolate.” BostonGlobe.com. The Boston Globe, 11 Feb. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.

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

Ellner, Rachel. “Pour This Venezuelan Hot Chocolate over Queso Blanco.” BostonGlobe.com. The Boston Glove, 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.

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

Thomas, Rob. “Yeah, I Ate That: Hot Chocolate with Cheese at La Taguara.” Madison.com. The Wisconsin State Journal, 07 Jan. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2015

Chocolate, Hybridization, and Forgetting Our Colonial Past

The mainstream and commercial accounts of the European – Mayan encounter, beginning with Columbus’ “discovery” of chocolate in America and ending with its hybrid forms in Europe, have a tendency to misrepresent the story’s imbalances in power and knowledge and the ever-present legacy of colonial exploitation that the incidence of chocolate in Western culture represents.


A depiction of Christopher Columbus’ heroic arrival the New World: http://toriavey.com/images/2012/10/Landing-of-Christopher-Columbus-in-America-at-San-Salvador-October-12th-A.D-640×479.jpg

Cadbury, the second largest confectionary brand in the world, and the US’s National Confectioners Association both erroneously support a narrative of chocolate’s discovery that suggests that it was a long process of European improvements to an ancient people’s exotic dietary habit (Cadbury, “The Great Chocolate Discovery;” National Confectioners Association, “The Story of Chocolate”). Cadbury explains that Christopher Columbus brought the “first cocoa beans back to Europe” from his fourth visit to the ‘New World’ but that “far more exciting treasures on board his galleons” distracted the Spanish from chocolate until Hernan Cortes recognized the beans’ commercial value in 1528. Additionally, Cadbury describes how “once Don Cortes had provided the Spanish with a supply of cocoa beans and the equipment to make the chocolate drink,” the Spanish used a series of experiments and “pharmaceutical skills” to adjust the drink with their spices and replace unfamiliar Mesoamerican flavors like chili pepper. Examples of adjustments include the alleged Spanish discovery that “chocolate tasted even better served hot” and an assertion that the English “improved the drink by adding milk.” The Confectioners Association makes a similar claim: they contend that, “unlike the Mesoamericans, the Spaniards kept their discovery on the hush. For nearly 100 years, Spanish aristocrats secretly sipped this new delicacy. They also continued to experiment, adding cinnamon and vanilla to the sugar and serving it steaming hot.”


An English chocolate house: http://www.thestoryofchocolate.com/Who/content.cfm?ItemNumber=3446

In their descriptions of hybridization, Cadbury and the Association demarcate between the inferior tastes and capacities of the Aztec and Maya and the enhancements and amendments made by Europeans. They suggest that the Mesoamericans failed, first in keeping chocolate a “secret” and second, by being unable to fully innovate. Such claims support a narrative in which unknowing natives are rescued and improved by civilized and enterprising Europeans. Their story is one in which whites use their skills to take and instantaneously improve – ignoring not only the native peoples’ involvement in chocolate’s transmutations, but also erasing the Europeans’ own fumbles and failures throughout.

As Sophie and Michael Coe recount in The True History of Chocolate and Dr. Robert Temple argues in his article “Columbus Meets the Maya and Chocolate,” the context leading to chocolate’s hybridization is much more complex and confusing than a tale of European rescue and improvement. Christopher Columbus’ voyage to Guanaja was a desperate one – after being removed from his post in the Indies, stripped of his titles by the Spanish court, and defeated by the Portuguese in a race to the East Indies, Columbus’ final trip was an attempt to save his image. When he met the Mayan people, it was not encounter telling of European expertise. As Coe and Coe describe, Columbus and his crew overtook a Mayan vessel of goods without resistance only to misjudge its most valuable product (cocoa) for almonds. Despite noting that the “almonds” were so revered that Mayans would stoop to pick them up as though an “eye had fallen,” Columbus failed to investigate their worth (Coe and Coe). Instead, he was eventually duped by the local people into continuing his unsuccessful journeys elsewhere (Temple).

 The film 1492, as shown in class. This cinematic reproduction of Columbus’ discovery of Guanaja is almost comical in light of Temple and Coe & Coe’s accounts.

The rest of the encounter and transformations of chocolate is equally as convoluted. Coe and Coe maintain that the creation of a “creolized culture” of mixed local and European people was crucial to introducing chocolate into the diets of Europeans, who were otherwise staunchly averse to the drink. Even after the hybridizations of the product and its tools began, the process was still not one of European “finding” and “improving.” Many of the ascribed European improvements had Mesoamerican roots. Coe and Coe refute the claim that whites were the first to decide to drink it hot, noting that the practice “[had] been adapted from the usage of the Yucatec Maya.” Further, they note that the manufacture of the drink to a wafer was a practice used by Aztec warriors and that “the Spaniards merely seized on these wafers as a convenient way to store and ship” cocoa.

Therefore, Cadbury and the Association’s narratives of chocolate discovery perform a sort of epistemic violence that erases the contributions and value of native people from the final global chocolate product. Jill Lane’s “Becoming Chocolate, a Tale of Racial Translation,” contains commentary that lends insight to this culture of false histories. She says such an insistence “it seems to me, is a way of disavowing, hiding, or forgetting [one’s] colonial racial past.”

Works Cited

Michael Coe and Sophie Coe, The True History of Chocolate (London: Thames and Hudson, 2013).

Kraft Foods Ltd, “The Great Chocolate Discovery,” Cadbury, https://www.cadbury.com.au/About-Chocolate/Discovering-Chocolate.aspx (accessed February 20, 2014)

Robert Temple, “Columbus Meets the Maya and Chocolate,” The Yucatan Times, April 13, 2014. Accessed on February 20. http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2014/04/columbus-meets-the-maya-and-chocolate/

National Confectioners Association, “The Story of Chocolate: Europeans,” http://www.thestoryofchocolate.com/Who/content.cfm?ItemNumber=3446

Jill Lane, “Becoming Chocolate, a Tale of Racial Translation,” Theatre Journal 59, no. 3 (1997): 382

Keeping it Real

When Columbus and the Spaniards encountered cacao in the New World, it was not at first favorable to their tastes. Mistaking cacao for almonds, the conquistadors initially realized the value that this plant held for the Mesoamericans and appreciated cacao as a form of currency. However, when it came to tasting the food itself, they were “at first baffled and often repelled by the stuff in the form of drink” (Coe and Coe, 1996). As published by the Milanese historian and voyager Girolamo Benzoni, one of the first Europeans to describe cacao: “It [chocolate] seemed more a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity. I was in this country for more than a year, and never wanted to taste it” (Coe and Coe, 1996).

Figure 1. Columbus receiving the chocolate drink

As seen in the depiction to the left, the exchange does not seem most friendly with Spanish swords at the ready. How then, did this initial aversion towards the taste of cacao, a “drink for pigs”, eventually transform into a booming demand for cacao in Europe?  While some may think that it was only the Europeans actively changing the native food into something of their own desires, this gradual assimilation of chocolate was in fact accomplished by the Mesoamericans playing a heavy role in being the ones to educate and help Europeans along in their adoption of cacao.

As described in The True History of Chocolate, the “invaders would have little to do with the foodstuffs which they found in ‘New Spain’, unless there was no alternative (Coe and Coe, 1996).  Indeed, they began bringing over beef cattle, milk cows, wheat, chickpeas, and other Old World fruit trees such as peaches and oranges to satisfy their existing taste preferences. The Mesoamericans, while accepting some of these new imports into their culture, still did their job of spreading their culture to the Europeans. In Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics, Marcy Norton states how, “Spaniards learned to like chocolate because of their continued dependence on Indians” (Norton, 2006). The keyword that Norton uses here is “dependence”. She points out that “despite their social position at the apex of the social hierarchy, colonists in sixteenth-century Mexico were enveloped within an Indian cultural milieu and were susceptible to native acculturation (Norton, 2006).  Thus, although seemingly in a position of power, the conquistadors were still subject to the powerful cultural force of the Mesoamericans, making them into “unwitting students of native teachers”. Within villages, women played a major role in “acculturating Spanish men to Indian dietary and domestic practices” (Norton, 2006). They were often the ones preparing the cacao and consequently helped their husbands become accustomed to its consumption. The Mesoamerican marketplace was another institution in which the natives were able to effectively pass on their culture of cacao to the Europeans. Looking at lists of goods sold at these marketplaces located in Mexico City, Tlaxcala, and Coyocan, one can find cacao, chocolate, and the gourd containers.

Figure 2. Marketplace at Tlaxcala

By browsing these busy marketplaces, as seen to the left, and communicating with native vendors, the Europeans in the New World came to appreciate and become more knowledgeable of this Mesoamerican product.

By the early 17th century, travel between colonial ‘New Spain’ and the mainland had increased and cacao was beginning to diffuse into Europe. This chocolate, however, was not altogether converted into a European version, devoid of its Mesoamerican roots. Rather, Norton brings out a wealth of evidence to show that the opposite was actually true. In various European legal documents describing chocolate, much of the original Mesoamerican spices were deemed essential to the makeup of chocolate itself.  Other European legislation sheds light on Spanish appreciation for the traditional chocolate flavoring agents such as vanilla (Figure 3) and mecaxochitl.



Figure 3. Vanilla, a traditional Mesoamerican spice for chocolate

Indeed, Norton says it well: “Spaniards assimilated the cacao complexity in its entirety, and tried to maintain the sensory sensations that went with the traditional chocolate even across the ocean divide” (Norton, 2006). Contrary to some beliefs, the evidence shows that Europe did not completely reinvent cacao, at least not at first. Rather, the Mesoamericans played an influential role in making sure that the traditional beauty of their food was lost. While the last several centuries may show otherwise, it is comforting to walk into a chocolate shop and see those chocolates that strive to remain true to its original recipe.


Multimedia Sources


Figure 1.

Figure 2.
(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tlaxcala_-_Palacio_de_Gobierno_ _Indianerh%C3%A4ndler.jpg)

Figure 3. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanilla#mediaviewer/File:Vanilla_florentine_codex.jpg)



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

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Web.