Tag Archives: recipe

Modern Ideas of Traditional Mesoamerican Chocolate Recipes

Though chocolate has achieved global adoration, with the modern organic foods trend, people remain increasingly interested in finding ways to invoke chocolate’s Mesoamerican origin.  These recipes are growing in popularity. By reviewing them, one can use a historiographical approach to understanding modern ideas about the origins of one of the world’s most popular foods.  Chocolate is omnipresent in modern life, but it is useful to consider what we think we know about it, especially those who do not study chocolate directly. A way to do this is to note the popular means of learning about chocolate, specifically through the recipes that have endured to modern day, purported by experts to represent an authentic reversion to the original uses of chocolate.

The Smithsonian Magazine offers a history of chocolate that they admit might come as a surprise to many members of their audience.  “When you think of chocolate, most people don’t think of Mesoamerica. They think of Belgian chocolate,” notes Hayes Lavis, a Smithsonian expert in the history of the American continents (Garthwaite, What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate).  The article details how chocolate had an important and quotidian role in the Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec cultures of Central and Southern America.  The article acknowledges that the chocolate production was very geographically limited, but fails to properly explain how cacao had initially been cultivated in the Amazon basin region of South America (http://www.c-spot.com/, A Concise History Of Chocolate).  Instead, they spend significant parts of the article focusing on the diffusion of the chocolate drink into European culture allows the piece to offer a means of relating the subject matter to most of the audience (Garthwaite, History of Chocolate).  They conclude with what they purport to be a traditional chocolate drink.

Their recipe is simple, befitting a drink that they report to have possibly been consumed dozens of times per day. To make a simple chocolate drink, they call for three tablespoons of ground cocoa, a small amount of finely chopped chili (less finely chopped for a milder taste), a mug of hot water, and two chocolate beans, dried and chopped, for a bitter taste.  First, one is to stir the cocoa into the water. Then, they begin adding the chili and beans to the taste of the consumer. With another stir, the drink is complete (Garthwaite, History of Chocolate).

The blog History Daily offers a condensed version of the history of chocolate, but includes an interesting recipe for what they claim to be an exceedingly common Mayan drink.  This “bitter water” matches much of the same description as the recipe that the Smithsonian details. However, their diction is significant for its minor differences, suggesting crushed (rather than ground) cocoa and a different means of presenting the drink (Harris, Xocolatl).  This blog recommends pouring the drink back and forth between multiple glasses or mugs until a “frothy foam” akin to that on “some of today’s Starbucks drinks” forms at the head of the drink (Harris, Xocolatl).  This reference to the popular cafe chain is in line with how the rest of the work seeks to draw comparisons with the Mayan relationship with early chocolate drinks to that of modern consumers and coffee (Harris, Xocolatl).  Significantly, they resist giving the Mesoamerican people credit for the invention of modern chocolate, instead preferring to focus on the reverence that those people gave cocoa-based products and drinks. This differs from more scholarly sources that tend to consider the final product a combination of both European and Central American innovation and cultural additions (“Chocolate – All About Chocolate – History of Chocolate,” http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/chocolate/history.html)

This picture is included with the history.com article. Perhaps it serves as a metaphor with how they like to consider the path from cacao to modern chocolate bars: a blissful and magical transition from bean to bar, with no consideration of the truths of the process.

The History Channel’s description of the origin of chocolate is significant because it combines much of the information from the Smithsonian website (citing them heavily and including much of the evidence that the Smithsonian includes in their article in the same order of presentation) (history.com, History of Chocolate).  But they also suggest that chocolate was a very common drink and their recipe that they include with their article adds additional means of adding to the taste of the bitter beverage.  Describing Mayan chocolate as a “thick and frothy” beverage, they offer that honey and chili pepper would be used to alter the taste (history.com, History of Chocolate).

These three recipes for chocolate constitute the most direct way with which many people in our modern society will be introduced with actual scholarship on the subject of the derivation of chocolate.  Each article is flawed, but ultimately useful for their combined reference to how information can be diffused to contemporary audiences. They need to engage more with the exploitative nature of the colonial relationship to chocolate and not avoid talking about the humanitarian crimes that the Spanish (and the rest of the Europeans) committed during their exploitative attempt to annex the New World for their own purposes.  Ignoring this and instead showing chocolate as the product of mercantile-era multiculturalism is disrespectful to the countless millions of people who were dehumanized and killed under the brutal European conquests of the Americas. We, as consumers and as learners, should do more to engage with the history of chocolate and conversation is the best means of doing this. The History.com article outlines their desire to provide factual content but recognizes that they occasionally need help “We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, . . . . contact us! (history.com, History of Chocolate)” It is in everyone’s best interest if we all take them up on that offer.

Cited Sources:

the C-spot. “A CONCISE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE.” Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/.

“Chocolate – All About Chocolate – History of Chocolate.” Accessed March 25, 2020. http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/chocolate/history.html.

Editors, History com. “History of Chocolate.” HISTORY. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-americas/history-of-chocolate.

Garthwaite, Josie. “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate.” Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/archaeology-chocolate-180954243/.

Harris, Karen. “Xocolatl: The Mayan Food Of The Gods.” History Daily. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://historydaily.org/xocolatl-the-mayan-food-of-the-gods.

Maya and Aztec Chocolate Recipes: Authenticity and Origins

A quick search online for “Mesoamerican chocolate recipe” yields a plethora of interesting search results. Recipes range from “Mayan Chocolate Pudding,” a dark chocolate pudding flavored with habanero pepper, allspice, and cinnamon, to “Spicy Aztec Hot Chocolate” which starts off with a typical recipe for hot chocolate but then calls for the fiery addition of chili, cinnamon, and the Mexican spirit Mezcal. A recipe for “Mayan Chocolate Truffles,” described as “dark chocolate truffles with some kick,” contains vanilla, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and coffee liqueur, and are then coated with everything from toasted coconut to ground almonds and even candy melts. Digging deeper, one can even find a video tutorial for Montezuma’s own recipe, which instructs the viewer to mix all the ingredients for hot chocolate together using a blender.


Pictured: Mayan Chocolate Truffles. Would the Maya have prepared similar confections?

While we can appreciate that these modern recipes acknowledge the historical origins of cacao, how closely do they actually resemble the cacao preparations from the Maya and Aztec cultures?

Cacao in the Classic Maya civilization

Cacao was a beverage enjoyed mostly by the nobility during this time. Believed to have been consumed by the gods, it was considered to be a sacred product and played a valuable role in almost every aspect of elite Maya culture. Events such as fertility rites, marriage rituals, and rituals of burial and death were toasted or celebrated with a ceremony of cacao drinking. Serving cacao beverages at feasts were displays of wealth and power, and it was used in negotiations and even political pacts (Leissle 30). It was also believed to have medicinal and healing effects so was often incorporated in healing rituals. Warriors consumed it as a stimulant as it was believed to imbue the warrior with invincible, protective powers. Cacao beans were so valuable that they were used as currency across Mesoamerica, often harvested by commoners who would pay tribute to rulers in beans (Leissle 30). Commoners were also the ones who prepared the cacao beverages for the elite, so there was certainly a class difference between those who produced cacao and those who consumed and enjoyed it.

While many recipes may have existed, customized by the flair of the individual preparing it, cacao was consumed solely as a beverage. Methods of processing the cacao pods were entirely manual and without the tools and machinery that would arrive centuries later with the Industrial Revolution, cacao could not be transformed into the bars or confections that we recognize as chocolate today. Instead, the cacao beans were roasted and ground into a paste and combined with ground maize and hot water. Then the concoction was poured from above from one vessel into another in order to create a foam, which was considered to be the most sacred part of the drink (Coe 48). This drink was typically flavored with ingredients native to the region such as vanilla and achiote, a native spice that imparts a red or orange color (Coe 61-62).

Cacao in the Aztec civilization

In Aztec culture, the cacao beverage was consumed similarly but usually served cold rather than hot (Coe 84). The cacao beans were ground into a powder and mixed with water, then poured from one vessel to another in order to achieve the prized foam. The Aztecs took many more liberties than the Maya when it came to flavoring this drink. Like the Maya, the Aztecs often mixed in ground maize, vanilla, “ear flower,” and achiote, but other flavorings included dried chili powder, allspice, and honey (Coe 86-87). “Ear flower,” a flower that was dried and ground into a powder was a very popular chocolate flavoring that tasted of black pepper possibly with notes of nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon (Coe 88). Another plant that was used was “string flower,” a plant related to black pepper that may have imparted a tarragon or anise flavor to chocolate. Other plants include magnolia flowers and the rose-scented “popcorn flower” (Coe 93-94).

Similar to the customs of the Maya culture, this elite drink was reserved solely for the nobility in the highly stratified Aztec society. As cacao beans were valuable currency, money that literally grew on trees, the drink was strictly consumed by the elite class. Interestingly, warriors were permitted cacao and were even given military rations of cacao ground and pressed into pellets or wafers (perhaps a precursor to the modern-day chocolate bar), signifying their importance and prominence in the Aztec culture (Coe 98).

So how accurate are the modern recipes?

Revisiting the modern recipes found online today, it is highly unlikely that Montezuma himself prepared his own cacao beverage (much less with the use of a electric blender!) as it was usually the commoners who prepared the sacred drink for the nobility.

However, our modern interpretations of these ancient recipes may not have been entirely inaccurate. Of course, the Maya and the Aztecs were not concocting puddings and truffles with their prized cacao. And since sugar only arrived post-Columbian conquest, if the cacao beverages were sweetened it was primarily with honey. The spices in these modern recipes such as chili pepper, allspice, vanilla are not inaccurate as they were all native ingredients utilized during that time period.


Pictured: A modern recipe for Spicy Aztec Hot Chocolate with Mezcal and garnished with a cinnamon stick 

The only curious ingredient that seems to be included in every modern recipe is cinnamon. Cinnamon was not native to the Mesoamerican region and therefore perhaps never encountered by the Maya or the Aztecs. Its inclusion then, while inaccurate, speaks more to our imagination of these ancient beverages. After all, “ear flower” reportedly hinted at notes of nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon. So while we may not be able to easily achieve the exact flavors of this ancient sacred beverage, at least in the United States, we can at least use our imagination.


Works Cited

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

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Lopez-Alt, Kenji J. “Spicy Aztec Hot Chocolate with Chili, Cinnamon, and Mezcal Recipe.” Serious Eats, http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/02/spicy-aztec-hot-chocolate-with-chili-cinnamon-mezcal-recipe.html. Accessed 17 March 2019.

“Mayan Chocolate Pudding.” Food & Wine, January 2013, http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/mayan-chocolate-pudding. Accessed 17 March 2019.

“Mayan Chocolate Truffles.” Tasty Kitchen, 9 March 2012, tastykitchen.com/blog/2012/03/mayan-chocolate-truffles. Accessed 17 March 2019.

“Montezuma’s Chocolate Drink, Recipe Rewind, S1E5.” Youtube, uploaded by Recipe Rewind, 28 Sept. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWhorrHUItE.

Why Did the Spaniards Choose Cane Sugar over Honey? Was This the Healthiest Choice?

Before the colonial encounter, Mesoamericans commonly consumed cacao as a chocolate beverage in ritualistic, medicinal, and social contexts. Ingredients, such as flowers, spices, and honey, were added to diversify the flavor of the beverage. Specifically, honey is the oldest sweetener known to man in the world, although its exact date of origin is unknown. However, humans did begin to use honey at least 10,000 years ago, as was demonstrated by a cave painting found in the early 1900s in Valencia, Spain.

Honey seeker depicted on 8000 year old cave painting at Arana Caves in Spain

This painting is at least 8,000 years old and shows a honey seeker, and in ancient times people in the Middle East, Roman Empire, and China collected honey to use as a sweetener, currency, and medicine (Nayik et al., 2014). When the Spaniards first encountered the Mesoamerican chocolate drink in the 1500s, it was too bitter for their palates and thus they relied on the principal spices or honey to consume the beverage comfortably (Coe & Coe, 2013). Although the intake of honey as food and medicine provided many nutritional and therapeutic benefits, soon after the Spaniards encountered chocolate, the Mesoamerican chocolate recipe was transformed in that cane sugar replaced honey as the sweetener. The sugar cane plant was a novelty to the Maya and the Aztecs when the Spaniards introduced and began to cultivate it in Mesoamerica after the Conquest (Coe & Coe, 2013). Honey as a sweetener could not satisfy the European sweet tooth, which was accustomed to the cane sugar that was introduced during medieval times in the western part of the Old World (Coe & Coe, 2013). In addition to the enhanced sweetness cane sugar offered, the chocolate recipe transformation occurred due to the increase in the perceived medicinal and nutritional properties and the source reliability that cane sugar also offered. In the modern context, however, this transformation may have not been for the best.

Despite honey’s ancient history, cane sugar quickly gained nutritional and medicinal popularity first among the wealthy and then most households in Europe. Cane sugar was first introduced to Europeans around 1100 AD, but it was classified as a spice rather than as a sweetener (Mintz, 1986). Around this time, cane sugar began to replace honey for medicinal purposes. Medical figures declared that cane sugar was more “soothing and solving” than honey (Mintz, 1986). Due to its perceived heightened medicinal properties, cane sugar was reserved for the wealthy while honey was delegated to poorer patients (Mintz, 1986). However, as cane sugar became more commonplace, honey became more expensive (Mintz, 1986). All around, cane sugar replaced honey, and this transformation was not limited to medicine. By the middle of the thirteenth century, cane sugar began to replace honey as a sweetener in wealthy households. Cane sugar came to replace honey in the diets of Europeans because of the perceived nutritional benefits it provided. It became a source of calories for the often undernourished working class. With the rise of coffee and tea, both of which lacked calories, cane sugar provided much-needed calories (Mintz, 1986). Also, cane sugar provided a cheaper alternative to other calorie-rich, but expensive, food items. Lastly, cane sugar was a better preservative than honey, as it contained the more effective sucrose (Mintz, 1986). Therefore, Europeans could save perishable foods, such as meats and fruits, for longer periods of time, which was also cost-effective. The perceived medicinal, nutritional, and financial benefits of sugar over honey led to the shift of honey as a sweetener to cane sugar as a sweetener, which played a part in the Spaniards altering the Mesoamerican chocolate recipe.

Another factor that influenced the shift from honey to cane sugar in Spaniards’ chocolate recipes was the source from which cane sugar is extracted compared to that of honey. Comparable to cane sugar’s source, honey’s source is variable and more biologically expensive.

Video representation of the honey production process

The video above describes the process of producing honey from the nectar of flowers via bees. Considering that a single bee must drink from thousands of flowers to fill its honey stomach, then serially transfer said nectar into the mouth of other bees before fanning their wings to create an air current that evaporates and thickens the nectar, the honey-making process is labor intensive on the part of the bees. Furthermore, for just one pound of honey, more than 10,000 bees will together fly three times around the world and drink from 8 million flowers. In contrast, the source of cane sugar is much more reliable and the biological cost is lower, as it is not an organism that must travel back and forth and rely on the movement of other organisms.

Video representation of the cane sugar manufacturing process

The video above demonstrates the cane sugar manufacturing process, starting from the sugar cane plant. This plant is a tropical grass that can grow up to 20 feet high. When sugar cane is ready for harvest, the tops of the grass are cut, and the base stocks are left behind so they can grow into the next crop. Due to this harvesting style, sugar cane is a renewable resource as it does not have to be replanted to produce a new crop. This is one benefit that cane sugar provides over honey, as bees must reproduce to continue the lines of queen bees and forager bees. After harvest, the sugar cane is transported to a mill and washed and cut into shreds. The shreds are crushed by rollers before they are placed in separators that remove the fibers and send the juice to evaporators. The resultant syrup is boiled to remove water, and then cooled before crystallization. More steps follow, but despite the complex extraction of cane sugar from the sugar cane plant, this source is more reliable than bees who are subject to climate change, infertility, and diseases. This reliability was summed up by Alexander the Great’s Admiral Nearchos around 300 BC, who referred to the sugar cane plant as “‘Indian reeds that make honey without bees’” (Nordic Sugar A/S, 2019) . Even during ancient times and without modern sugar production technology, the juice from the sugar cane plant was pressed out and boiled to produce crystallized sugar (Nordic Sugar A/S, 2019) . Since cane sugar production primarily relies on a renewable resource and man-made technology, it is more constant and not as biologically expensive as honey production, which makes cane sugar more readily available as a sweetener.

Although cane sugar was perceived as providing more medicinal benefits and nutritional benefits to the diets of Europeans than honey, research today discounts this belief. According to a study published in the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, since honey is denser than cane sugar, one tablespoon of honey carries more than one tablespoon of cane sugar (Anonymous, 2011). Also, honey offers some nutrients that cane sugars does not, such as antioxidants (Anonymous, 2011). Therefore, this research overrides the notion that cane sugar is medically and nutritionally superior to honey. In hindsight, replacing honey as a sweetener with cane sugar does not appear to have been the healthiest choice, as honey does provide more calories and nutrients. However, cane sugar was and still is a better preservative and its taste more enjoyable, comparable to honey.

Overall, the honey to cane sugar transformation in chocolate recipes ultimately served to sweeten the beverage at the expense of healthier consumption. Although sugar cane is a more reliable source for sweetener than flowers and bees, nowadays humans are relying on an insubstantial added sweetener. Even though honey is also an added sweetener, it is nutritiously and medically superior to cane sugar. However, cane sugar was integral to the rise in popularity of chocolate, as its sweetness and taste could not be matched by honey in the palates of Europeans.

Multimedia Sources

Hanson, Joe [It’s Okay To Be Smart]. (2016, March 28). How Do Bees Make Honey [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZlEjDLJCmg

[Imperial Sugar]. (2015, June 9). How Cane Sugar Is Made [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/EP_fgp7zYKk

Nayik, G., Shah, T., Muzaffar, K., Wani, S., Gull, A., Majid, I., & Bhat, F. (2014). Honey: Its history and religious significance: A review. Universal Journal of Pharmacy, 03(1), 5-8.


Anonymous. (2011). Honey or Sugar? Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, 40(1), 224.

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

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

Nordic Sugar A/S. (2019). A Sweet Story. Retrieved March 8, 2019, from https://www.nordicsugar.com/know-your-sugar/natural-sweetness/a-sweet-story/

The New Old Way to Enjoy Mesoamerican Cacao

I remember when I first learned about spicy chocolate bars. About 12 years ago I found a Vosges Haute Chocolate dark chocolate chili bar at Whole Foods. I also heard about the movie Chocolat with Juliette Binoche. I quickly put two and two together, rented the movie, and with my grandmother, proceeded to savor chocolate in a way I never had before. You can’t really gobble down chocolate with a kick to it. It satisfies more of the senses and begs to be savored – held on the tongue until it melts and not chewed. While Vosges is now flanked by many other fine chocolatiers in creating spicy chocolates, I was amazed to find out that early Mesoamerican cultures did not consume chocolate in this fashion at all. Even though many companies who offer spiced chocolate try to make claims that their chocolate is made in traditional Mayan or Aztec ways, it wasn’t until after the Spanish brought cacao back to baroque Europe that refined and sugar sweetened chocolate bar as we now know it now came to be common place.

If chocolate as we know it did not exist back in Mayan and Aztec culture, why do we link spiciness and chocolate at all? Let’s start with the Mayans. Even though the Olmec civilization has been discovered to be the first users of cacao beans from the cacao tree, the recipes and evidence we have from Mayan culture shows they “brought chocolate making to a high art”(Presilla p. 12). Everyone drank cacao in Mayan civilization. There were fancier fired vessels that only the upper class had access to but gourds were mainly used to drink cacao. Cacao fruit pulp was drunk “in both fresh and fermented forms”(Presilla p. 12) and cacao beans were mixed with various herbs, grains and fruits as another type of drink. Achiote (also known as annatto) paste was commonly added to ground cacao beans and gave their frothy drinks a bright red color. There was also “ear flower” a blossom that gave cacao a spicy and fragrant taste in addition to vanilla, honey, allspice, maguey sap, and yes, dried chiles that were added to water and ground cacao paste.

Ingredients Mayans Added to Cacao

The other dish that Mayans consumed on a regular basis as more food than drink was a corn gruel called atole. Either ground lime-treated corn or fresh corn was mixed with water, cacao, ground seeds and spices like allspice. Another way cacao was eaten with food was possibly in the form of what we commonly know as mole, a spicy chocolate sauce served with protein dishes. This usage of cacao and chili peppers may have existed as far back as AD 450. Trace evidence found in tamale vessels showed evidence of cacao and capsaicin (chemical marker of hot peppers) with turkey bones (Presilla p. 15).

The Aztecs adopted many of the Mayan traditions with cacao but they put their own spin on some key aspects of its usage. The Aztecs forbade commoners to drink it and it was reserved for Aztec nobility, and the merchant class. Aztec warriors also were allowed to eat cacao but they were given small wafers or disks that were easy to travel with and then could be turned into liquid when desired. Aztecs still ate the cacao corn gruel but they reserved lower grades of cacao to add to such dishes.(Coe p.85) Many people automatically put the word “hot” before chocolate when they think of drinking the liquid concoction, and the Mayans were no different. The Aztecs however, liked theirs cool (Coe p.84). They also embellished upon the flavoring that the Mayans had added to their cacao drinks. Ground seeds like that of sapote, maize, chili, honey, allspice, achiote, vanilla, “ear flower” among other edible flowers like “string flower,” “popcorn flower” and “heart flower” were added in various combinations to make Aztec cacao drinks (Coe pp. 86-94).

When I learned of how the Aztecs and the Mayans took their cacao, I was glad to learn that refined sugar was a modern addition. Yes, both civilizations would sweeten their beverages with substances like corn, honey, and fruit nectars, but on the whole their drinks were on the tart, tangy, spicy, sour and savory side. When I fell in love with spicy chocolate, I also fell in love with that more bitter aspect of cacao. The aspect that on the whole producers have tried to hide from the modern consumer. Mass produced hocolate is often very sweet and to many that is a pleasant taste over cacao seed’s natural bitterness, but how much do we lose in terms of cacao’s complexity and nutrient properties when it is diluted with milk solids, vegetable fats and sugars? I think we lose a lot. While I’m glad there are options like the Guajillo & Chipotle Chili Super Dark Chocolate Bar from Vosges, I’m even happier there are people interested in traditional Mayan and Aztec recipes online.

Here are some top pics to check out:

Mayan Chocolate Drink

Lord Chocolate Drink Recipe

Mesoamerican Hot Chocolate

If you’re interested in learning about the “true history of chocolate” further, I would highly recommend watching this video with Michael D. Coe.


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

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


Chocolate Cup Image

Mayan Cacaco Ingredients


The Early Recipes: Preparation and Consumption of Cacao as a Reflection of Reverence

In chocolate’s early history, from the Maya to the Spanish conquistadores, recipes and rituals for consuming chocolate were indicative of each culture’s respect for cacao. The various ways in which it was prepared since it was first tasted in Mesoamerica demonstrated how much cacao was valued – from being considered the “food of the gods” to a bitter drink that disgusted the foreign Spaniards – proving that chocolate recipes and practices are a reflection of reverence.


As in the video above, the ancient Maya prepared chocolate drinks by laboriously grinding fermented and shelled cacao seeds into a paste, then mixing this with a corn “gruel” and water and beating this mixture until foamy (Coe and Coe 62). The intense amount of effort the Maya were willing to put into the recipe for this drink shows the great respect the Mayan people had for cacao.

Figure 1: From the Dresden Codex, a depiction of a god carrying an offering of cacao on its back (Coe and Coe 42)

Indeed, several depictions of gods being born of or holding cacao pods have been discovered from the Classic Maya era, exhibiting this reverence – see Figure 1 (Coe and Coe 42).

    The Aztec people imitated the Maya in their respect for cacao and its preparation: after much toil involving grinding and straining, they combined the ground cacao with maize to make a frothy drink, varying from the Maya by adding chiles, peppers, or other spices, and by serving it cold rather than hot. This is ascribed to the fact that cacao is “cold in its nature” (Coe and Coe 84), illustrating that how chocolate was prepared and imbibed reflected a high level of respect for honoring cacao in its natural state.

The amount of manual labor required for these drinks is important to note. Only chocolate that was “judiciously mixed” was suitable for nobles to drink (Presilla 20), so the labor involved in making this chocolate beverage was clearly respected. The Aztec also used cacao for healing many ailments, as well as a currency (Martin), further demonstrating the high value the Aztec placed upon cacao.

Figure 2: Molinillos used by Spaniards, were quickly twisted to foam their drinking chocolate rather than pouring between vessels

When the Spanish began their conquest of the Aztecs, they turned their nose up at the foamy brown drink the natives revered. This initial lack of chocolate consumption was indicative of their general disdain for the people they were oppressing. In order to create the beloved beverage it was to become, the Spanish changed the recipe by adding cane sugar to eliminate some of the bitterness they were unaccustomed to, and new spices like cinnamon and anise. They also changed the way it could be consumed by creating chocolate “wafers” that could be easily transported and instantly turned into a drink by adding hot water and sugar, and using molinillos to more effortlessly create foam (Coe and Coe 115).

These changes reflect how differently Europeans viewed cacao compared to the Aztec and the Maya. To begin with, adding sugar to the naturally bitter drink (and therefore changing its original taste) can be seen symbolic for their desecration of the New World and its native people. Also, by making dried cakes of chocolate powder and finding shortcuts to the sought after foam, chocolate drinks were now accessible to more people back in Europe and no longer required the same amount of labor. This loss of effort could be construed as somewhat diminishing its original sacredness.

Chocolate would later go on to take over Europe, as a cure for sickness and as a drink for the elite, and in the 19th century would finally begin to trickle down to the average consumer with the advent of more advanced chocolate producing technology (Presilla). With every turn cacao has taken on its road to becoming what it is today, the recipes and preparations used to consume it were – and are – indicative of how much people revere it: from drinking it during religious rituals to eating the cheap stuff absent-mindedly as we do today, how we consume chocolate is a reflection of how much we respect cacao and where it came from.

Works Cited

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

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and ‘The Food of the Gods’.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 4 Feb. 2015. Class Lecture.

Plante, Walter. Figure 2: Mexico Week2 472. Digital image. Koko Buzz: Exploring the World of Chocolate. N.p., 22 Feb. 2010. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <https://kokobuzz.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/chocolate-notes-from-mexico/&gt;.

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

Teabelize. “Toledo Ecotourism Association – Making a Chocolate Drink.” Video. YouTube, 10 May 2008. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vC4dq69rqE&gt;.