Happy End of the World Day everyone! Whether or not you believe in all of this apocalypse scuttlebutt, you had better believe that the ancient Maya knew their chocolate! They were among the earliest chocolate lovers out there as early as 300 A.D. in what is now Mexico. Unlike the sweetened chocolate that we think of today, their chocolate was bitter and rich. The Maya are the second known people to consume the cocoa bean (the first being the Olmecs), which they found in nearby rainforests and cultivated, fermented, roasted, and ground into a paste. When mixed with chili peppers, cinnamon, water, and occasionally cornmeal using a special frothing tool called a molinillo, the ground beans became a popular drink among royalty in particular.
Eventually, through trade and warfare with another Mesoamerican people, the Aztecs, chocolate spread. Chocolate became not only a form of trade, but also a ritual drink offered to gods during sacred ceremonies. Spanish Conquistadors “discovered” chocolate when they encountered the Aztecs in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and the delicacy, along with other foodstuffs, languages, and other cultural components, was brought to Spain. In turn, chocolate spread throughout Europe, beginning with the nobility and working downward.
I could continue telling you about the movement of chocolate throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and beyond. And I will. In February. We only have a few hours left folks! Better get going on that chocolate consumption!
For further reading:
Coe, Sophie and Michael. The True History of Chocolate, Second Edition. Thames and Hudson: London, 2007.
Mayan Hot Chocolate
The first Mayan chocolate drink was actually served cold, and contained no milk. I have decided to create a recipe for hot chocolate, but have omitted the milk. Orange peel was not an original ingredient, but later recipes called for it.
2 ½ cups water
1 ½ ounces (about 5 large squares) dark chocolate- I used a 90% bar, but you may prefer 72%
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 dried chili pepper (seeds removed) or 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne or chili pepper
A few drops of vanilla extract
1 fresh orange peel, washed
1) Lightly chop chocolate
2) In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil.
3) Reduce to simmer and add chocolate, cinnamon, pepper, vanilla and orange peel
4) Stir constantly to avoid burning. When the scent of all the spices start to come together, remove from heat. Pour into two mugs.
5) Use a whisk to froth the chocolate. This is my favorite part because I get to sing the bate bate chocolate song, a traditional song in Mexican chocolate-making which has recently been reincarnated as a popular zumba workout song.
*If the taste is too bitter for your liking or you add too much pepper, a little milk or honey should do the trick.