Tag Archives: molinillo

European Appropriation of Chocolate Recipes and Presentation

Today, chocolate is often seen as a frivolous treat to enjoy in passing throughout the day. At times, it is thought of as a luxury good, marketed to have been crafted by a world class chocolatier from some general European country. Historically though, as we have discussed in lecture, ancient Mesoamericans not only utilized cacao as a food and beverage, but it also acted as an important means of currency in many societies and held spiritual and religious significance. It was such a well-rounded and well-integrated part of life. In this blog post, I will expand on how chocolate recipes were observed by Europeans only to be appropriated and used as a means to claim European superiority over Mesoamerican people.

To begin, ancient Mesoamerican civilizations used cacao as an important and integrative part of their daily lives. In saying this, it is important to not generalize the “Mesoamerica” as one people. Certain themes do permeate different civilizations in modern day North and Central America to a degree, but that is not to treat Mesoamerica as one large group. That being said, we can look to sources to give us a picture of how Mesoamerican civilizations used cacao and chocolate.

Map of Mesoamerica, different civilizations were spread geographically and naturally differed culturally in treatment and preparation of cacao and chocolate

According to foodtimeline.org, ancient Mayan and Aztecs “consumed it, in beverage form, for religious ceremonies and medicinal purposes. Cocoa beans were sometimes used as money” (Olver n.pag.). One thing that was more universal in Mesoamerica was the addition of chili to chocolate drink, but due to the varying degrees of flavors and spiciness of these chilis that the preparation and tastes of these recipes varied greatly regionally (Olver n.pag.). This is a great example of a theme that applies to Mesoamerica at large, the adding of chili to chocolate recipes, but how this surface level application of a theme to the region is far too oversimplified.

Ancient Olmec vessels with traces of cacao, dating back to as far as 1,800 BCE (Concise n.pag.)

Also similar throughout Mesoamerica, particularly between the Maya and the Aztec was the method of preparing the frothy, foamy chocolate beverage. An anonymous Spanish conqueror said to be among the ranks of Hernan Cortez described the process of “cacao are ground and made into powder, and other small seeds are ground, and this powder is put into certain basins with a point… and then they put water on it and mix it with a spoon. And after having mixed it very well, they change it from one basin to another, so that a foam is raised which they put in a vessel made for the purpose” (Olver n.pag.). This serves as another example of a broad preparation theme that does differ between groups. While many groups consumed this beverage hot, it has been shown that the Maya of Yucatan drank this beverage cold (Olver n.pag.). This description is also important as it highlights a period before the European adoption of chocolate preparation from ancient Mesoamerican groups. At this point, all that is mentioned as a stirring device is a wooden or silver spoon, not the Spanish swizzle stick so often associated with this method of preparation (Olver n.pag.). This additional comment in this source led me as a student to become intrigued about what parts of preparation Europeans went on to adopt, what they authentically carried forward, or what preparation techniques they modified over time.

Spanish molinillo, this is from the 18th century, used probably by middle class Europeans to emulate practices of high class counterparts (Molinillo n.pag.)

The introduction of the swizzle stick, or molinillo, by Spaniards was only one part of the appropriation of chocolate to become suitable for Spanish royalty. We know that royal Spaniards rejected the Mesoamerican styles of serving chocolate, sipping it from a gourd or clay pot, and looked to alternatives. ““The solution came from overseas, in the form of the mancerina, which became a standard part of the Spanish chocolate service by the mid-17th century … Marques de Mancera … horrified at seeing one of the ladies present at a vice regal reception accidentally spill a jícara of chocolate on her dress…had a Lima silversmith make a plate or saucer with a collar like ring in the middle, into which a small cup would sit without being able to slip” (Coe 271). This is one way in which the actual Mesoamerican origins and cultural importance of cacao was veiled in order to appropriate it to European society. A “proper” silverware had to be invented to facilitate the neglect of chocolates Mesoamerican origin so that way Spanish royalty could enjoy it while not associating themselves with those that they conquered.

On top of this appropriated presentation of chocolate in royal circles, the recipes of chocolate preparation were then modified by Europeans. The way they discussed Mesoamerican styles of preparation and almost horrifying to read: “The Spanish, more industrious than the Savages, procured to correct the bad flavor of this liquor, adding to this cacao paste different fragrances of the East and many spices of this country [Spain]” (Norton 1). This 18th century account of the modification of chocolate recipes describes the Mesoamericans as “savages” and deems them inferior while hoisting up Spanish people as superior because they modified chocolate to their tastes.

From this history, we see that the adoption of chocolate from Mesoamerica to Europe was not a process of respect and cultural exchange but instead was closer to theft, appropriation, and neglect of Mesoamerican people. Although extracting cacao, chocolate recipes, and inspiration for preparation, they took their modifications of chocolate and its rituals as superior and used it as yet another tool to claim superiority over the indigenous people of the Americas.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate with 99 Illustrations, 14 in Colour. Thames & Hudson, 2013.

“A CONCISE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE.” c-Spot, http://www.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/.

“Map of Mesoamerica – Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc.” FAMSI, http://www.famsi.org/maps/.

“Molinillo or Chocolate Whisk.” National Museum of American History, americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1460190.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review, vol. 111, no. 3, 2006, pp. 660–691., doi:10.1086/ahr.111.3.660.

Olver, Lynne. “Food Timeline FAQs: Aztec, Maya, & Inca Foods and Recipes.” The Food Timeline–Aztec, Maya & Inca Foods, http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodmaya.html#aztec.

The Magic of the Molinillo

Cacao and the tools used to cultivate and process it have changed tremendously since its original discovery to now. From being a food that was only consumed by the elite to a food enjoyed by billions worldwide. However, the original form of cacao and the way it was consumed is very different to how it’s consumed now. One of the few things that has remained consistent are some of the traditions carried when consuming cacao, one of them being consuming it as a beverage. A specific tool, the molinillo, has withstood the test of time and continued to be used in households to create the delicious beverage most of us love and consume regularly. 

 Cacao was extremely important to Mesoamerican civilizations as early as 1500 in the Olmec civilization. As centuries passed, the processing and consumption of cacao became more complex, as pre-Columbian Mayan books written in hieroglyphics feature cacao throughout them as being food of the gods, only for the elite to consume. In the Mayan Civilization, cacao had many purposes, such as for flavoring food or medicinal uses. However, its most common form was as a beverage, which was thought to have healing properties and be attributed to the gods. Over time, the Aztecs crafted their own chocolate beverage recipe, which included grinding roasted beans and other spices on a metate, a ground stone tool, forming a thick paste which was combined with hot water and poured from pot to pot as to not separate (Lane). This method of pouring from cup to cup as highlighted in the Aztec Codex Tudela as a woman aerating the beverage was how the Aztecs originally created foam in the chocolate beverage and avoided separation. When the Spanish arrived in Mesoamerican in the 1500s, they were fascinated with the drink and were determined to simplify the process of creating this delicious beverage, and thus, the molinillo was created (Lane).

Woman aerating beverage by transporting it from pot to pot from a significant height difference- visible in the Aztec Codex Tudela

What is now a common household staple in many Latin American kitchens, the molinillo is a unique and prized apparatus that dates back centuries and carries with it the rich culture and history of the importance of chocolate, specifically chocolate beverages in Latin American and European households (Edwards).  The modern molinillo is approximately 11.5 inches long, hand carved and painted wooden stick with a knob on one end and slender handle at the other (Edwards). The gadget has been used for centuries to froth up chocolate beverages by creating a foam when rolled between the hands. According to ancient tradition, the foam that is created “embodies the spiritual essence of the chocolate” (Edwards). However, the original molinillo, created by the Spanish, was much smaller and less intricate than what is typically seen today. 

What an original molinillo likely looked like- this specific one was found in St. Augustine and may be one of the first indicators of chocolate in North America

Instead of having to pour the paste with water from pot to pot, the Spanish invented a small wooden stick with a sphere at the end to stir the paste in one container and avoid separation (Bowman). This creation, which was started in Mexico, was shared with the Natives of Mesoamerican, and with that idea they created larger, more intricate versions of the molinillo. There is even a drawing of a Native Mesoamerican man holding the early molinillo with a chocolate pot at his feet, indicating that the molinillo was easily adapted by the Natives. Over time, this simple wooden stick eventually developed into the modern molinillo that we see today, which many households use to retain the tradition of chocolate beverage-making.

Mesoamerican Native man with a molinillo in hand and chocolate drink pot at his feet

While the use of the tool has not changed much over time, the preparation of the beverage has, and its simplicity yet adaptability is what makes the molinillo so unique and important as it carries the history of the beverage. The tool that was first invented by the Spanish and adopted by the Mesoamerican Natives was used to stir a bitter beverage that had spices such as achiote, and it was this beverage that was originally coined “food of the gods” and was drank by the elite, particularly for ceremonial purposes (Lane). 

When the Spanish conquistadors brought the drink and recipe back to Europe in the mid 1500s, it caused a revolution and became the King’s Official Drink in Spain (GourmetSleuth). The drink was only consumed by the royal and elite. However, unlike Mesoamericans, Europeans had already been introduced to sugar since the mid 1100s (Edwards). Europeans mixed sugar into the recipe and replaced the bitter achiote spice with a sweeter cinnamon spice (Bowman). This drink became a phenomena and eventually became what we know today as hot chocolate. Throughout this time, the molinillo has prevailed as a testament to an item that withstands a changing recipe. While the molinillo was first used to ensure the chocolate beverage did not separate, emulsifiers in modern chocolate beverages ensure the beverage stays mixed (Bowman). However, the molinillo is used in households to froth the beverage and continue to create that spirit and essence in the original food of the gods. 

molinillo with color decoration
A more modern, intricate molinillo with colorful accents

Images Cited


Works Cited

Edwards, Owen. “A Historic Kitchen Utensil Captures What It Takes to Make Hot Chocolate From Scratch.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Sept. 2007, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/kitchen-utensil-chocolate-stirring-from-scratch-cacao-161383020/.

Bowman, Barbara. “Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer).” Gourmet Sleuth, Published by: Gourmet Sleuth, http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/articles/detail/molinillo.

Lane, Marcia. “A Sweet Discovery.” The St. Augustine Record, The St. Augustine Record, 28 Dec. 2009, http://www.staugustine.com/article/20091228/NEWS/312289984.

“Molinillo or Chocolate Whisk.” National Museum of American History, americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1460190.

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>.

A Mestizo Tradition in Cacao: The Introduction and Incorporation of Molinillos

The history of chocolate mirrors the history of mestizaje from Mesoamerica to modern-day Mexico and Central America, with the contemporary product serving as the result of both Mesoamerican and Spanish influences. Even the production of authentic, ancient, or traditional Mesoamerican cacao beverages and chocolate are infused with post-colonial influences, from the addition of new ingredients to entirely new techniques for crafting chocolate. Of these, the introduction of the molinillo, now considered a staple component in crafting traditional Mexican chocolate, represents the culmination of indigenous and Spanish techniques.

Pre-Conquest Mesoamerican Chocolate

Cacao was harvested and consumed as early as the Olmec civilization, with cacao originating from their word for currency, ka-ka-w [1]. The Mayans adopted cacao into their respective civilization–for consumption, as legal tender, and for rituals.

Cacao was essential for social, physical, and spiritual well-being, regarded for its medicinal, spiritual, and aphrodisiac qualities. The Mayan would prepare the batidos and other hot chocolate beverages from the ground cacao pulps. They were also used for arranging marriages, with the term tac haa, “to serve chocolate,” commonly used to describe the discussions in which they would determine marriages while drinking chocolate. Mixtec went a step further, using “cacao” as a phrase for royal marriage [2]. For the Aztecs, only the elites and wealthy consumed it because it couldn’t grow in Mexico, so they had to transport it 900 miles on their back [3].

Aztec sculpture holding a cacao pod.

Early pre-Columbian religious references to cacao are also prevalent in both Mayan and Aztec artifacts, with the Popol Vuh ascribing cacao with godly qualities and the Dresden Codex featuring cacao throughout, including consumption by the gods [4]. Likewise, in the Madrid Codex, Aztecs believed that cacao beans were the physical manifestation of Quetzalcoatl [5]. Other religious depictions included:

  • Cacao in fertility rites, with Ixchel and the rain god exchanging cacao.
  • Cacao tree depictions of royal bloodlines, with deities emerging from cacao trees with pods and flowers to symbolize their royal blood [6].

Figure: Aztec statue holding a cacao pod.

“Chocolate for the body; foam for the soul.”

Meredith Dreiss, Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods [7]

The foam produced was of special religious importance, with the foam seen as the most sacred part of the drink [8]. With this reverence toward the froth, the molinillo, as the instrument used to facilitate easier production of the froth, would also be revered and would become deeply intertwined in the chocolate-making process.

Molinillo in Mesoamerica? The Spanish Arrive

Many would expect that the Mayans and Aztecs used molinillos, since they are now regarded as crucial instruments when crafting authentic traditional chocolate beverages, but in fact, the molinillo was most likely introduced by the Spanish, possibly during the 16th century. While it is true that pre-Columbian texts mentioned turtle/tortoise shell stirring spoons and stirrers, there were no mentions of molinillos in pre-Columbian texts. Moreover, it was noticeably absent from the first Nahuatl-Spanish dictionary in 1571 [9].

Some of the possible confusion could stem from anachronistic depictions of the molinillo, such as the one below:

 “The artist has misunderstood the use of the metate [curved cacao grinding stone], and has mistakenly included the post-Conquest molinillo. (From J. Ogilby, America, London, 1671.) 

Instead, they used “small, hemispherical bowls” as drinking and mixing vessels, made with materials ranging from ceramics, to decorated calabash gourds (Crescentia cujete tree), to gold (huei tlatoani). Foam was created by pouring chocolate repeatedly between drinking vessels to produce the foam [10].

Left: 6-9th century Mayan ceramic vessel, Guatemala  | right: 7-8th century Mayan ceramic vessel, Mexico
Mayan woman producing foam via pouring technique

It wasn’t until 1780, when Jesuit Francesco Saverio Clavigero, mentioned the molinillo but not the traditional method of pouring the beverage to produce foam [11].

Molinillo: The Basics

The molinillo, a kitchen tool used to froth hot chocolate beverages, is a carved, handcrafted wooden stick, with a slender handle at one end and a knob at the other [12]. Its name is derived from its circular shape and its motion when used for producing foam resembling that of a molino (windmill) [13]. Each molinillo is unique and varies in size depending on the amount of beverage to be produced. The first iterations involved a simple ball or square at the end of a long handle. However, these soon were adapted to better facilitate frothing. Modern molinillos are crafted from a single block of wood, forming a slender wooden “whisk” with a long tapered handle and a carved knob with rings and other movable parts on the other end [14].

Each molinillo is unique, and the basic design can be flourished with details such as colored accents or ivory pieces, as well as square tops instead of rounded [15].

Molinillo with Color Accents
Molinillo with Squarish Top

Using a Molinillo

Frothing hot chocolate beverages with a molinillo is straightforward. Simply put, the slender handle is gripped between the palms, which are then rubbed together to rotate the carved knob back and forth. This motion grinds the chocolate discs used for the beverages against the pestle bottom of the drinking vessel [16], allowing the beverage to froth within a few minutes.

A Mexican Cook, “Using A Molinillo to Make Hot Chocolate.”

The motion is so simple, in fact, that the molinillo frothing process is even a popular rhyme among Mexican children and their teachers:

Bate, bate, chocolate,
tu nariz de cacahuate.
Uno, dos, tres, CHO!
Uno, dos, tres, CO!
Uno, dos, tres, LA!
Uno, dos, tres, TE!
Chocolate, chocolate!
Bate, bate, chocolate!
Bate, bate, bate, bate,
Bate, bate, CHOCOLATE![17]

Bate = Stir or whip
tu nariz de cacahuate = roughly "your peanut nose"
Uno, dos, tres = One, two, three

Crafting Molinillos

“Molinillo and chocolate depend on each other–one cannot exist without the other. “

Molinillos are carved from a single piece of wood rotating on an axis. Typically soft wood from trees like the aile mexicano (Alnus acuminata ssp. glabrata) are used for carving because they are odorless and flavorless as to not impact the flavor of the chocolate. The black sections of the molinillo are not painted; rather, the friction from the velocity of the wood spinning on the axis of the machine burns the wood a darker color, which the crafter then polishes. Once the base is completed with all the large grooves, all the smaller notch carvings (helpful for circulating the milk to increase frothiness) are completed by hand [18].

Molinillo Tradicional [Making a Molinillo from Wood]

Each molinillo is unique, and the basic design can be flourished with details such as colored accents or ivory pieces:

Artisanal Molinillo Crafting

For molinillo artisans in areas popular for their chocolate, such as 3rd generation crafter Jesus Torres Gomez, carving molinillos, among other wooden kitchen utensils, is both a skill and an artform, passed down for over 100 years as they continue to modify and perfect their craftsmanship. While he uses a motor to facilitate the rotation of the wood piece, all the carvings are completed by hand. He produces 3 types of molinillos:

  • Criollo, for making the foam for chocolate atole in the central valleys.
  • For making the foam for hot chocolate.
  • More elaborate item to serve as a decorative souvenir for tourists in Oaxaca (not meant to be used).

Similar to the more extravagant uses of chocolate and chocolate-producing equipment in Mesoamerica, these items are often also used for special events, including weddings and quinceañeras (coming of age celebration for 15th birthday) [19].

Jesus Torres Gomez, “Artesano de Molinillos”

Modern-Day Molinillos and “Authentic Recipes”

Contemporary molinillos serve more as a nostalgic artifact than a necessary tool for the average chocolate beverage consumer. For champurrado–traditional Mexican chocolate-based atole– and hot chocolate, recipes available online often include many modifications to traditional recipes, incorporating many ingredients not available to pre-Columbian Mesoamericans. For the thicker champurrado, they are often flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, cloves, and other spices, as well as grated piloncillo (raw, undefined sugar cane)[20].

Likewise, they often include milk instead of water, and they are frothed with whisks or spoons. For “authentic Mexican hot chocolate” recipes, chocolate beverages are not strictly based on traditional Mayan or Aztec chocolate recipes; similar to the effect of molinillos on chocolate crafting, they combine indigenous and Spanish influences. However, molinillos are still incorporated into more traditional recipes, particularly Oaxacan hot chocolate, which uses water instead of milk and is whisked with a molinillo [21].


  • [1] Khan, Gulnaz. “Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate-Making.”
  • [2] Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’”
  • [3] Festa, Jessica. “Sweet Guatemala: A Look At The Country’s Mayan Chocolate History And Modern Experiences.”
  • [4] Martin, Carla D.
  • [5] De la Fuente del Moral, Fatima.
  • [6] Martin, Carla D.
  • [7] Dreiss, Meredith L., and Sharon Greenhill. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods.
  • [8] Martin, Carla D.
  • [9] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate.
  • [10] ibid
  • [11] ibid
  • [12] Edwards, Owen. “A Historic Kitchen Utensil Captures What It Takes to Make Hot Chocolate From Scratch.”
  • [13] CORTV. Jesús Torres Gómez artesano en molinillos.
  • [14] Bowman, Barbara. “Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer).”
  • [15] ibid
  • [16] “Molinillo: Hot Cocoa Frother | Mexico, Wooden Stick, Traditional Hot Chocolate Grinder, Frothing Stick, Molinillos.” UncommonGoods.
  • [17] Fain, Lisa. “Mexican Hot Chocolate and a Molinillo.”
  • [18] Cocinando con Rita. Molinillo Tradicional.
  • [19] CORTV.
  • [20] Rodriguez, Vianncy. “How to Make Champurrado.”
  • [21] “How to Make Authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate.” A Side of Sweet.

Works Cited

Multimedia Cited

———. Molinillo with Squarish Top. Gourmet Sleuth, Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer). Accessed May 16, 2019. https://www.gourmetsleuth.com/images/default-source/articles/molinillo-3.jpg?sfvrsn=2.

Chocolaterie Through the Ages

    From its inception to the Second Industrial Revolution, the practice of preparing and serving chocolate can be defined by two essential qualities: the impression of luxury, and cookware designed to reflect the labor required to produce it. Throughout its history, methods of preparing and serving chocolate have changed along with the culture around its consumption, as chocolate moved from connoting wealth and power amongst Mesoamerican indigenous cultures, to serving as a social vehicle for the 17th century Western elite (Martin and Sampeck 39-43; Righthand). In each case, chocolate was a symbol of status, and the vessels used to store, cook, and serve it reflected that symbolism. From earthen vessels and molinillos to matching ceramic chocolate sets, the various methods of storing and serving chocolate in Aztec Mexico, seventeenth-century Europe, and post-Industrial Revolution America reveal the changing ways that chocolate’s status as a luxury item was entrenched visually as well as economically.

    Cacao’s status as a food of the elite originated in the culture behind its production and consumption in Mesoamerican tradition; in this case, the manual labor required to make chocolate drove its elite status – labor symbolized by the instruments used to prepare and store it (Coe 220). The cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao, is native to Mesoamerica and was adopted by the Olmecs, the Maya, and eventually the Aztec as a currency, spice, dietary staple, and most importantly as the primary ingredient in chocolate, a drink featuring spices such as vanilla and ear flower which served as a beverage of warriors amongst the Aztec (Coe 181-220, 1274). Chocolate was associated with the display of wealth and power; because cacao is a fickle fruit, requiring significant labor to grow and then process for consumption, restricting chocolate to those in positions of power – noblemen and warriors – was a testament of the power and social clout of the drinker (Coe 220, 1088). The physical embodiment of that clout were the vessels used to store and prepare cacao and chocolate. The Aztec king Motecuhzoma the Younger stored over 960 million beans in large, guarded bins coated with clay, and two thousand containers of chocolate daily were transported for consumption by his guard (Coe 1182-1194). Additionally, the preparation of cacao required an tool known as the molinillo, or chocolate mill, a slender, curved stick with a knob at one end, used to froth the cacao before drinking. Building and using molinillos required significant skilled and artisanal labor, as can be seen here (constructing the molinillo) and here (using the molinillo to froth chocolate), which depict the modern incarnation of the tool (Lange 131). To the Aztecs, the higher the amount of froth in the drink – and the more work performed with the molinillo – the greater the quality of the chocolate; this froth was highly prized and even consumed independent of the chocolate drink (Coe 1195, 655). Because of the labor it represented, the molinillo thus served as a cultural, culinary, and anthropological vehicle for enhancing the impression of luxury and labor which chocolate cultivated through its place of honor in Aztec culture.

    Chocolate was appropriated into European culture relatively quickly after its discovery during the Columbian exchange, and its luxury status was defined by the wealth and social connections required to procure chocolate – wealth then represented by the wares used to serve and prepare it. As the Spanish encomienda system ensured that cacao was available to the European elite, chocolate became renowned as a foreign curiosity, a medicinal stimulant, and a luxurious indulgence all at once; drinking chocolate became a public social endeavor representative of class and wealth (Martin 40-41). For example, it was introduced to the court of Versailles at the wedding of King Louis XIII, and throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the French monarchy cultivated a reputation both for opulence and a love of chocolate (Chateau de Versailles). Their influence popularized the French chocolatiere set, captured in this painting of the Pentheviere ducal family (PBS Learning Media). As pictured in the painting, such sets were made of ceramic, porcelain, and precious metals, a clear use of wealthy containers to augment the status of the drink they contained (Martin 42; Lange 132). Such sets were outsourced throughout Europe, as far as colonial America, where they were happily put to use by people such as Thomas Jefferson (Lange 133). Interestingly, while the design of European chocolate vessels were Mesoamerican in nature, including tall spouted pots, steep-sided cups, and molinillos, the materials used were distinctly and ultimately representative of a Westernized ideal of monetary wealth.

    After the second Industrial Revolution, and with it several innovations in the processing of cacao, chocolate became readily available to the public; “vessels” for holding chocolate were replaced by branded wrapping and packaging that ultimately represented chocolate’s universal appeal and accessibility. The invention of the hydraulic press, along with van Houten’s method of alkalizing cocoa, made chocolate more shelf-stable, cheaper, and thus more accessible to the working class (Lange 138). Higher demand drove chocolate companies such as Hershey to homogenize and brand their products through standardized processing methods, as a means of promoting these brands to the working class public (Counihan and Esterik 84-85; D’Antonio 106-109). In this case, chocolate’s value was indicated by size and complexity – for example, Milky Way bars were filled with nougat and caramel, making them larger than pure chocolate bars and thus of greater value, despite actually being cheaper to produce (Brenner 54-55). Yet, like many other once-luxury items such as tea and sugar, chocolate had become a product for the masses, not one for the elite, and chocolate producers deliberately designed their marketing and packaging of chocolate to reflect this shift (Counihan and Esterik 84-85). The loss of elaborate, personalized tools for making and consuming chocolate paralleled this transition of chocolate in the Western cultural psyche – the iconic, cheap packaging of Hershey’s and Mars candy bars indicated that chocolate was no longer a food of the elite, but rather accessible to the average, working class family.

    The role of chocolate in global culture has changed vastly from its origins as a bitter, frothy drink of the May and Aztec elite, and the way that chocolate is stored, prepared, served, and distributed has changed in tandem. When chocolate was an item of luxury, reflected by the labor required to produce it or the wealth needed to procure it, in Aztec and seventeenth-century Europe, respectively, carefully designed and expensively produced containers and preparatory cookware developed to suit and complement chocolate’s coveted societal place. However, with the advent of new processing methods, and an economic shift towards mass production for the working-class, chocolate’s packing and distribution has changed to give it the impression of universality, and to render it a symbol of the quotidian, in a branded, neat, and instantly recognizable package.

Works Cited

Brenner, Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate : inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. 1st ed., Random House, 1999.

Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik. Food and Culture: A Reader. Taylor and Francis, 2012.

Charpentier, Jean Baptiste. The Penthievre Family or The Cup of Chocolate, 1768. PBS Learning Media, 2018, https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/xir101763fre/the-penthievre-family-or-the-cup-of-choc-xir101763-fre/.

Coe, S. (2013). The true history of chocolate (3rd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson. Kindle edition.

“¿Cómo sacar espuma al chocolate caliente? Secreto de Cocina, Yuri de Gortari.” YouTube, uploaded by Cocina Identidad, 8 April 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgObquFVkhM.

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey : Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2006.

“Hot Chocolate in Versailles.” Chateau de Versailles, 2019, http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/key-dates/hot-chocolate-versailles.

Lange, Amanda, and Grivetti, Louis Evan. “Chocolate Preparation and Serving Vessels in Early North America.” Chocolate, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2008, pp. 129–142.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37–60. DOI: 10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37

“MOLINILLO TRADICIONAL.” YouTube, uploaded by Cocinando con Rita, 28 June 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wV78m1W4K2I.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot.” Smithsonian.com, 13 February 2017,
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/ .

The Industrialization of Chocolate: How Sweetness Got Huge


As is the case with many of the fundamental aspects of 21st century Western life, food is often taken for granted due to its widespread availability and how easy it is to obtain. As we all likely know (but don’t think of often), the efficient nature of food production and distribution is a relatively new phenomenon. In this week’s blog post, we will examine the history of the industrialization of food through a case study of the industrialization of America’s sweetheart: chocolate.

Pre-Industrial Cacao and Chocolate

Cacao-based food products predate the industrialization of food by millennia. We can trace the consumption of cacao (in various forms) by the Mayan and Aztec civilizations (and likely even Olmec – they used the term “kakawa”) all the way back to as early as 1500 BCE (Aframer 119x).Of course, one should understand that the industrialization of cacao/chocolate in the 18th century and onward did not represent the first wave of technological advances involving and developed for cacao and its derivative forms.

The most prominent pre-industrial advance is the metate, a grinding stone that has been in use as far back as 7000 BCE (although used for corn/maize at this time) (Hernandez 2013). This tool is used to grind roasted cacao beans into a chocolate liquor, from which various chocolate derivatives are formed. Another development was the molinillo, a device used to create a frothy texture to chocolate drinks which was ironically developed by Spanish colonists in Mexico in the late 17th century (Aframer 119x). While the industrialization of chocolate represents an era of drastic technological change, it is important to remember that technological advances in the production and consumption of cacao preceded this era.

Fig 1. (Left) A metate in use grinding up roasted cacao beans (RIght) a traditional molinillo used to froth chocolate drinks

The Industrialization of Food

Initially, it seems a bit odd to consider how the industrialization of food would matter when cacao consumption has origins long before industrialization. Indeed, in the timeline of cacao-based consumption and production, the industrialized era represents but a small portion. Perhaps this picture would become clearer by looking at the industrialization of food in general and subsequently applying it to chocolate.

Four key factors contributed to the rise of industrial cuisine in the West: the development of preservation, mechanization, retailing (and wholesaling), and transport (Goody 1982). Breaking down the steps to the industrialization of food highlights a key misconception about the term “industrialization.” While most people associate industrialization with the development of the steam engine, factories, and assembly lines, industrialization was the byproduct of a multi-faceted effort across the aforementioned factors, not just mechanization.


Advances such as the salting of food (dating back to ancient times), adding sugar to create preservatives, and the development of hardy foods such as hardtack represent innovations driven out of the necessity for longer lasting food. In a more modern context, international trade and military expeditions required food supplies that would not perish over the course of the voyage. The industrialization of food through a preservation lens came from two major aspects: canning and artificial refrigeration/freezing. Canning in its primitive form was developed by Nicolas Appert in 1795 (Goody 1982), beginning with glass jars and ultimately turning to the tin can as a supplement as technological advances in the method of development of tin cans allowed food producers to preserve food more efficiently and cheaply. Refrigeration with natural ice began in America in the early 19th century (Goody 1982).

In the context of chocolate, we see the effects of the development of preservation to this day. Chocolate is stored in wrappers to protect it from the elements and often kept in cool conditions (provided by refrigeration) that allow for chocolate to stay in its ideal solid consistency. Without the ability to preserve chocolate, it would undoubtedly be not as popular and widely available as it is today.


The second element of industrialization, mechanization, falls more in line with what the average person considers when thinking about the industrialization of food. As Goody mentions, mechanization depended on the “adaptation of simple machinery for producing standard goods on a large scale” (Goody 1982). In the case of chocolate, we can look to a factory of the Hershey company for an example.

WATCH: “Old Hershey’s Chocolate” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ophXa_LvUKk


Transport is an element of industrialization that is closely tied with mechanization, which intuitively makes sense. As production of chocolate increased, distribution demands increased as well. A railway boom in the mid 1800’s specifically in the years 1845-1847 marked a period in which 6,000 miles of rail were laid in England alone (Goody 1982). International transport was aided by the development of refrigerated ships. For chocolate, increased ease of transport was essential for the growth industry. As we have covered in class, chocolate is a very global industry in the sense that the consumers tend to live in North America and Europe while cacao production takes place in South America and West Africa.


Retailing is the last major actor in the industrialization of food. Changes in retailing were twofold. First, open food markets that dominated pre-Elizabethan times were replaced with closed retail shops (Goody 1982). In the case of chocolate, small retail stores known as chocolateries began to pop up. Retailing, along with mechanization, was largely responsible for the homogenization and standardization of food products (Goody 1982), and chocolate was no exception. Another aspect of retailing was the increased separation between the consumer and the producer of food products, which in large part likely explains why labor rights issues still exist in the chocolate industry today: consumers are blind to the supply chain beyond the major corporation and grocery store, and a large disconnect exists between cacao farmers and cacao consumers, which wasn’t always the case.

Consider: The Hershey Company

An interesting byproduct of the industrialization of chocolate was the standardization of flavor in chocolate products. A good example is the case of the Hershey company. M.S. Hershey set out to develop the perfect formula for his chocolate bars (with the help of John Schmalbach) (D’Antonio 2006). This flavor is described as having the sweet characteristics of European chocolates that preceded it, but with a hint of sourness not present in other chocolates. Having achieved the ideal formula, the next step was to develop a production system that would allow him to accurately recreate the perfected formula with each chocolate bar made by the company. This required the mechanization aspect of industrialization that we have briefly reviewed earlier. Hershey’s factory system not only allowed him to produce chocolate at a faster rate, but also to recreate the signature taste with every bar.

As we know, Hershey is a dominant force (among a few other major corporations) in the global chocolate industry as the 5th largest producer of chocolate in 2018 by net sales (ICCO 2019). It is a reasonable assumption that the standardization of the Hershey chocolate (only possible through the wonders of industrialization) also led to the standardization of the average US palate for chocolate. So, industrialization’s impact on chocolate has been the preclusion of the inevitable variety in chocolate products that would have existed without industrialization. Whether this effect is good or bad is up for debate. On the positive side, Hershey bars (and others) are standardized. On the negative side, chocolate has become a very commercialized, corporate and completely standardized food product that ultimately feels very much at odds with its historical and traditional roots in Mesoamerica due to industrialization. Comment your thoughts on this issue below!

Fig 2. This images displays the standardization of chocolate resulting from industrialization as shown by Hershey’s Kiss production

Concluding Thoughts

As we’ve seen, the industrialization of chocolate (and food as whole) is multi-faceted, complex, and didn’t happen overnight. Indeed, the chocolate we know and love today is undeniably tied to the advancements resulting from this period of industrialization. Hopefully, this short post will allow lovers of chocolate everywhere to have a better understanding of the foundational and historical aspects of the modern world of chocolate!



Aframer 119x Lecture Notes and Lecture Slides

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126

Goody, Jack. 2013[1982]. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” pp. 72-88

Hernández Triviño, A. (2013). Chocolate: Historia de un nahuatlismo. Estudios De Cultura Náhuatl,46, 37-87.

“The Chocolate Industry.” The International Cocoa Organization, 1 Feb. 2019, http://www.icco.org/about-cocoa/chocolate-industry.html.


Anonymous. “Hershey’s Kisses Coming out as Finished Products.” Chocolate Class, Aframer 119x, 6 May 2015, chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/can-a-hersheys-bar-be-simply-chocolate/.

Giller, Megan. “Metate Photo.” Chocolate Noise, http://www.chocolatenoise.com/taza-chocolate.

“HOW IT’S MADE: Old Hershey’s Chocolate.” YouTube, YouTube, 21 Oct. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ophXa_LvUKk.

“Molinillo Photo.” Taza Chocolate, http://www.tazachocolate.com/products/molinillo?variant=8074820355.

The Molinillo: a Hybrid of Many Cultures, Not Just a “Mexican” Tool

Chocolate has a rich history in Mesoamerica, dating back to the Olmecs in 1500 BCE. However, it was not until after the Spanish invasion in the 16thcentury that chocolate traveled outside of Central America. Chocolate’s interaction with many different cultures and societies resulted in a hybridization process that spanned multiple generations, transforming it from the bitter drink consumed by the Maya and Aztecs to the sweet, sugary chocolate that dominates the world market today. Going through a similar hybridization process was the molinillo, a wooden tool used to produce froth during the chocolate-making process. A Spanish invention, the molinillo quickly became adopted in both Mesoamerica and Europe. However, today the molinillo is depicted in mass media as a distinctly Mesoamerican or Mexican tool, its Spanish and European past minimized and sometimes even neglected all together. This phenomenon can be explained by the difference in meaning attributed to the molinillo in Mesoamerican and European cultures. However, the contemporary characterization of the molinillo as solely Mexican undercuts its historical impact and significance; consequently, it is important to acknowledge the tool as a hybrid of many different cultures, not just one.

Although the molinillo was important in the chocolate making process, an entirely different method was used for hundreds of years before its introduction. The earliest known depiction of the original froth making process is the Princeton vase of the Maya, dating back to the late Classic period.

Woman creating froth by pouring chocolate from one cup to another
Princeton vase (AD 670-750)

As shown, the Maya poured chocolate from one cup to another, the height helping to froth the liquid. This was the “exclusive method” of pre-conquest Mesoamerica, as evidenced by the Codex Tudela, which depicts a similar image only eight centuries later and on an Aztec artifact rather than Mayan (Coe and Coe, 85).

It was not until the late 16thcentury that the introduction of the molinillo greatly altered this process. The molinillo, thought to be derived from the Spanish word “molino”, or little mill[1], is a wooden, grooved beater invented by the Spaniards. 

A typical molinillo

The Spaniards found that twirling a molinillo through an opening of a covered cup was a better way to produce foam. It was quickly adopted in Mesoamerica, and by the time Francesco d’Antonio Carletti, a Florentine businessman who traveled to Guatemala to observe the chocolate process, printed his official report in 1701, the molinillo was being widely used (Coe and Coe, 139). By 1780, the molinillo supplanted the former foam-making process completely, as evidenced by Francesco Saverio Claviergero’s published report on native Mexican life that describes the use of the molinillo but “totally omits the pouring from one vessel to another to produce a good head on the drink” (Coe and Coe, 85).  Clearly, the molinillo quickly became an essential part of Mesoamerican life.

At the same time the molinillo was being adopted in Central America, it was also gaining popularity in Spain and other European countries. The importance of the molinillo can be seen in a recipe published by the Spaniard Antonio Comenero de Ledesma in 1644, which stated that chocolate is best prepared with a molinillo (Coe and Coe, 133). However, the use of the molinillo was not isolated to Spain. Other European countries adapted the tool to fit their own unique ways of preparing and serving chocolate. For example, the French prepared chocolate in ornate, silver chocolatiers and the molinillo was altered to match these vessels and fit their lids. The molinillo was so widely used it was even depicted in the art of the time, as shown below (Coe and Coe, 222).

A woman reaching for a molinillo sitting atop a silver chocolatier.
“La Crainte” by Noël Le Mire (1724-1830)

Yet in contemporary media, there is little mention of the molinillo’s Spanish influences or its widespread use in Europe. Instead, it is identified as a Mexican artifact. For example, the first link that shows up after a simple Google search is a Wikipedia article that states that a molinillo is a “Mesoamerican tool”, and the only country mentioned in the article is Mexico. Although Wikipedia is not an academic source by any means, in today’s Internet age it is where most people get their information due to its convenience. Even an article that pops up from the Smithsonian magazine, the reputable written resource of the Smithsonian museum, describes the significance of the molinillo with no mention of its use in Europe. It even emphasizes that Spain contributed greatly to the chocolate process, but only in its introduction of sugar, not in its invention of the very artifact the article is about. This begs the question, why has contemporary culture diminished the importance of the Spanish and European past of the molinillo and augmented its Mexican one? Using the framework with which Sydney Mitz evaluates the spread of sugar in Great Britain in his book “Sweetness and Power” can elucidate the answer. According to Mintz, when studying food and the objects used to prepare food, it is essential to examine the meaning ascribed to them because meaning can differ substantially over time and across cultures.

For Mesoamerican civilizations, chocolate had a ritual significance. In Maya civilization, Gods were connected to cacao trees, often born of them. For the Aztecs, cacao trees were considered the center of the universe, or an axis mundil, that connected the “supernatural spheres and human spheres” (Carrasco, 92).  As such, chocolate came to have strong religious connotations, and foam was seen as an essential and sacred part of the ritual drink, or as Meredith Dreiss comments, “chocolate is for the body, but foam is for the soul” (Dreiss). Because of this, the molinillo became an essential and incredibly meaningful part of life, as the same religious and cultural emphasis that was put on foam became associated with the tool that made the foam. Yet for the Spaniards and other European countries, this ritual aspect was lacking. When chocolate traveled across the ocean, it lost some of its former meaning while simultaneously gaining new meaning. This is because the meanings associated with symbols are “historically acquired- they arise, grow, change, and die- and they are culture-specific… they have no universal meaning; they ‘mean’ because they occur in specific cultural and historical contexts” (Mintz, 153).  Once chocolate became situated in new cultures, it grew to have different contextual meaning, and none of the new meanings that Spaniards and Europeans associated with chocolate was as heavily focused on foam as it was in Mesoamerica. Consequently, to the Europeans the molinillo was simply a tool to make chocolate rather than a symbol. 

In this context, it can be argued that the cultural meaning that Mesoamerica ascribed to the molinillo is what contributes to its identification today as a distinctly Mexican tool. This is because although a Spanish invention and widely used, the molinillo did not have a significant cultural meaning like it did in Mesoamerica, and therefore it’s European past is easily disassociated. However, when analyzing the significance of the molinillo, it is important to recognize its entire historical past, rather than just its Mexican one, as its hybridization is an essential part of its identity, just as hybridization is an essential part of chocolate’s identity. 

Multimedia Sources





Works Cited

Carrasco, Davíd. Religions of Mesoamerica. Waveland Press, 1990.

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

Dreiss, Meredith L. and Sharon Edgar Greenhill. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods. University of Arizona Press, 2008.

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986. 

[1]There are alternative theories, such as Dr. León-Portilla’s belief that molinillo is a Spanish derivation of the Nahuatl world molinia, meaning to “shake, waggle, or move” (Coe and Coe, 120 )

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.


From Earthy to Elegant: The Evolution of the Chocolate Pot


Chocolate drinks created from cacao beans date back to the Mesoamericans many centuries ago. In fact, researchers have identified an instance where cacao residue was found on a pottery shard at the archeological site of the  Paso de la Amada village occupied by the Mokaya people dating to 1900 to 1500 BC (Presilla 10). Serving vessels used for the precious chocolate elixir created from cacao have varied over time. As the various ingredients for labor intensive chocolate beverages have evolved, so have the vessels that were blessed with the liquid.

Ancient Barra ceramics- oldest know chocolate vessels (dated to 1900-1500 BC) (Coe and Coe 89)

The early chocolate vessels of the Mesoamerican culture were crafted of ceramics and adorned with colorful designs and hieroglyphics. Specific hieroglyphics offered a hint of Mayan life depicting images that represented parts of their culture. Through scientific analysis, chemist W. Jeffrey Hurst of the Hershey Company determined that both theobromine and caffeine were detected in a jar discovered in a Rio Azul tomb in Guatemala, evidence that cacao had been contained in the vessel (Presilla 9). Cacao is the only Mesoamerican plant that contains both theobromine and caffeine (Coe and Coe 36). In the image below, the hieroglyphic for cacao is labeled on the exterior of the jar, another telltale sign that it contained chocolate at one time (Martin). The clever locking lid on the burial object was an industrious way to keep the sacred chocolate beverage safe and secure. Not only was the vessel sturdy and functional, it also boasts a lovely shape where the lid can be likened to a halo or crown, perhaps worthy of an important person or ruler buried in the tomb.


Chocolate jar with locked-lid found in a Rio Azul tomb, dated to ca. 500 A.D.

Fast forward to 1125 AD and the shape of the vessels appeared to have changed. As pictured in the image below, the jars were taller and cylindrical in nature. Black and white jars attributed to that era found in the New Mexican Pueblo Bonito offer evidence of the influence of the Mesoamericans and their trade between the Toltec merchants (Coe and Coe 55). Archeologist Patricia Crown of the University of New Mexico sought confirmation from W. Jeffrey Hurst that sherds from the cylindrical jars from New Mexican Pueblo Bonito trash mound contained elements of cacao (Coe and Coe 55). Hurst confirmed that the sherds (dating between 1000 and 1125 AD) tested positive for theobromine, sufficient confirmation that the Anasazi elite, ancestors of the Pueblo Indians drank chocolate from these vessels (Coe and Coe 55).



Cylindrical jar from Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon.

Credit: James Garber

As the Spanish invaded Mesoamerica, their influence on the native culture was undeniable and the ritual of chocolate drinking was no exception. In the pre-Conquest days, Mesoamericans raised foam on a chocolate beverage by the simple task of pouring the chocolate beverage from one vessel to another (Coe and Coe 85). In the early 16th century the molinillo, a wooden stick, was used to twirl the liquid to form a foam on the top, a method still used today in some preparations in Mexico and Latin America. However, in the post-Conquest era, vessels that held chocolate beverages changed and spanned a broad range of designs that were both functional and fashionable.

Chocolate was introduced to the United Kingdom  during the third quarter of the 17th century (Mintz 108). At that time, craftsman designed chocolate pots that were appropriate for both the liquid and the elite drinkers.  In addition to ceramic or porcelain, chocolate pots evolved to include pewter, silver and even gold.

18th Century silver British chocolatière

The image above  represents a pot with an adjustable finial that can be removed to allow the insertion of a stirring rod, the British version of a molinillo.  This shiny design is representative of a delicate serving pot that nods to the refined practice of serving chocolate to the British elite.

In contrast to the British pot, the image below represents a design created by Edward Winslow, an 18th century American silversmith from Boston, Massachusetts. Unlike the delicate three legged British pot, Winslow’s handsome pot is constructed with a solid base, perhaps indicative of the sturdiness required of early colonists in the new world.

Chocolate Pot

Early 18th century silver chocolate pot 

If we compare the image of the Barra ceramics in the first image and the last photo of the Winslow chocolate pot, it is hard to believe they were used for the same purpose. The striking difference of the rich warm colors of the rounded ceramic vessels versus the hard cold metal of the 18th century pots are quite opposite and distinct.

Just as the chocolate vessels have evolved over time so has the desire or lack thereof for chocolate beverages. Regardless of the type of chocolate pot, the prominence of drinking chocolate in North America and Europe began to wane at the beginning of the 20th century when solid chocolate first appeared. Chocolate aficionados  seem to prefer the quick fix of a chocolate bar that can satiate chocolate desire without spending time on the ritual and lengthy preparation of a chocolate beverage and need for chocolate pots.

                 Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”.” Harvard University, Cambridge. 1 Feb. 2017. Lecture

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and power : the place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Print.

Mcgovern, Pat. “RioAzul Chocolate-Pot.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 17 Nov. 2009. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <https://www.flickr.com/photos/patmcgovern/4113214840/in/photolist-7gtitf&gt;.

Parry, Wynne. “Sweet Trading: Chocolate May Have Linked Prehistoric Civilizations.” LiveScience. Purch, 01 Apr. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <http://www.livescience.com/13533-prehistoric-chocolate-trade-cacao-chaco-canyon-puebloans.html&gt;.

Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate : a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley Calif: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

“Chocolate Pot | Edward Winslow | 33.120.221 | Work of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/33.120.221/&gt;.

Digital image. Chocolate Pot. Wikimedia Commons, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph-Th%C3%A9odore_Van_Cauwenbergh_-_Chocolate_Pot_-_Walters_571802.jpg








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.


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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.