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Chocolate preparation in the time of the Aztecs

Ideas for AZTEC RECIPES

Much has been written about ‘Aztec chocolate’, lots of it highly romantic and fanciful. We have a whole section of our website (see below) dedicated to the history of chocolate in Mesoamerica, where you can learn far more, from serious experts on the subject. Here we give you some little known information about just what chocolate meant to the Mexica (Aztecs), together with a simple recipe for preparing chocolate, not exactly ‘the Aztec way’, but at least ‘the Mexican way’ - the recipe comes from The British Museum Cookbook by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson. (Compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: 6-Flower bears a cacao pod offering. Codex Zouche-Nuttall
Pic 1: 6-Flower bears a cacao pod offering. Codex Zouche-Nuttall (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Chocolate, like the ancient gods of the Mesoamericans, is both lovable and terrible’. So writes Alfredo López Austin (on our Panel of Experts). For centuries it has confused and fascinated everyone from physicians to philosophers, intrigued by its multiple properties and seductive taste. ‘Chocolate had amazed members of the ancient native societies as well. The Nahua [Aztecs] forbade its consumption by commoners. Those who violated the law were executed. This is why it could be referred to by the metaphor “heart, blood”. They also said it was nutritious (“cold”, according to the ancient concepts), and that if the fruit were eaten green and in large quantities it could cause serious intoxication.’

Pic 2: Cacao beans ground on a ‘metate’ stone
Pic 2: Cacao beans ground on a ‘metate’ stone (Click on image to enlarge)

Furthermore, chocolate was also considered expensive, dangerous, likely to produce fright and could weaken the soul. All these attributes were inter-connected and ‘placed chocolate among the things of this world that were heavy and contaminated with death. In order to understand that idea better, we must remember that in Mesoamerica it was believed that earthly things had a dual nature. All of them, human beings, animals, plants, minerals, manufactured objects, were composed of two kinds of matter: one light, internal and invisible, the other a sheath, heavy and visible. Even the gods were encased in heavy matter when they came to this world. The heavy matter restricted the actions of bodies and linked them with death.’

Pic 3: A jug of cacao is offered to an Aztec noble. Florentine Codex
Pic 3: A jug of cacao is offered to an Aztec noble. Florentine Codex  (Click on image to enlarge)

And on that rather ‘heavy’ note, here comes the recipe for chocolate. Remember, this is NOT ‘Aztec chocolate’ (which would have been prepared as a drink using ground cacao beans and water, with honey and vanilla amongst the ‘optional extras’).

MEXICAN CHOCOLATE (Serves 6)

150g • 6 oz dark chocolate, broken up
1 litre • 36 fl oz • 4 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2-1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
4-8 drops vanilla essence
3 eggs optional - the eggs turn it into a ‘meal in one’

Pic 4: Engraving of the chocolate tree by Girolamo Bezoni (‘La Historia del Mondo’ 1565)
Pic 4: Engraving of the chocolate tree by Girolamo Bezoni (‘La Historia del Mondo’ 1565) (Click on image to enlarge)

Heat the milk with the chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla essence in a double boiler. Once the chocolate is melted, transfer to a saucepan, bring to the boil, then simmer, beating briskly with a balloon whisk or hand beater, for 2-3 minutes - simmering the milk gives a thicker mixture than merely warming it. Remove from the heat and carry on whisking till you have a good layer of foam. The chocolate can be drunk hot or cold but each mug should have a generous layer of bubbles. If you wish to add egg, do so after you have removed the chocolate from the heat and whisk it thoroughly.

Pic 5: Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
Pic 5: Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore (Click on image to enlarge)

Info-
The Rabbit on the Face of the Moon by Alfredo López Austin, University of Utah Press 1996
The British Museum Cookbook by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, British Museum Press 1995
Aztec Medicine, Health, and Nutrition by Bernard Ortiz de Montellano, Rutgers University Press 1990.

Image sources:-
• Main picture: painting in the Café Tacuba, Mexico City; photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Pic 1: image from the Codex Zouche-Nuttall scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1987
• Pic 2: photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Pic 3: image from the Florentine Codex (original in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994
• Pic 4: public domain; downloaded from ‘Chocolate in Science, Nutrition and Therapy: An Historical Perspective’ by Philip K. Wilson (link below).

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Aug 24th 2016

emoticon Being highly superstitious, the Aztecs believed that if you peed on the cacao bush or its flowers, you could get a skin infection! Be warned...

Our History of Chocolate section

‘Chocolate in Science, Nutrition and Therapy: An Historical Perspective’ (Royal Society of Chemistry)
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