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
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 Originally made of wood, the molinillo featured a long handle with a ball-like attachment on one end.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.
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.
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.
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.