General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Nov 2017/9 Rain
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WE RECOMMEND
‘The True History of Chocolate’
‘The True History of Chocolate’
by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe (Thames & Hudson, 1996)
Aztec Codex image of chocolate

Chocolate: the Blood of the Gods?

‘Mythology taught that “Quetzalcóatl came to earth on the beam of a morning star bearing cacao trees from paradise and gave it to the people”. They learnt how to roast and grind cacao seeds and made a nourishing thick paste which can be dissolved in water. They added spices and called this drink xoco-atl (bitter water in Náhuatl) and believed that it afforded nourishment and good judgement.’ (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pouring chocolate, Codex Tudela
Pouring chocolate, Codex Tudela (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Cacao was very precious to the Aztecs and as a drink it was restricted to the nobles and for use in religious ceremonies. Much as bread and wine are used by Christians as the body and blood of Christ, the flesh of the pod and the drink made from it represented the body and blood of the gods. Using a little imagination, when cocoa is crushed it often resembles blood...’
(Top image from the Codex Zouche-Nuttall, quote from ‘Chocolaztec’ by Sara Jayne-Stanes)

100 loads of cocoa beans: a small part of the annual tribute from the province of Soconusco; Codex Mendoza folio 47 (detail)
100 loads of cocoa beans: a small part of the annual tribute from the province of Soconusco; Codex Mendoza folio 47 (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

Even pouring the chocolate was a fine art! This lovely image comes from the Codex Tudela (original in Madrid) - a post-Colonial manuscript. We now know that it was this process of pouring the chocolate back and forth between jars - rather than the use of the molinillo wooden whisk, which probably came later with the Spanish - that gave the drink its rich, frothy quality. Whilst there is evidence that the Mesoamericans used tortoise- or turtle-shell stirrers, the whisk or ‘frizzle stick’ is notable by its absence in primary historical sources.

‘Natives carrying cocoa, fruits and other produce, as tribute’ - from  De Bry’s ‘History of America’, Frankfurt, c. 1600 CE
‘Natives carrying cocoa, fruits and other produce, as tribute’ - from De Bry’s ‘History of America’, Frankfurt, c. 1600 CE (Click on image to enlarge)

It was during the reign of emperor Ahuítzotl (1486-1502) that Aztec consumption of chocolate really began to take off: among his conquests was the province of Xoconochco (Soconusco) on the Pacific coast and a prime source of best quality cacao. There’s no doubt that the flow of tributary chocolate to the Mexica capital of Tenochtitlan was of epic proportions: by the time Ahuítzotl’s successor Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin became emperor, his cacao warehouse - according to one Spanish chronicler - held some 40,000 ‘loads’, equating to several million beans! The Emperor himself of course drank only a tiny fraction of this stock: far more went to his guards, to the lords and nobility, as salaries and payments, to supply the Aztec warrior army, and for the consumption of long-distance merchants (who in a very real way were considered warriors).

Cocoa pod, leaves and flower - pod cut open showing seeds
Cocoa pod, leaves and flower - pod cut open showing seeds (Click on image to enlarge)

There’s little doubt, too, that the humble cacao bean played a vital part in fuelling the engine of the mighty Aztec army. In the words of the Anonymous Conqueror, whose description of Tenochtitlan was published in Venice in 1556:-

This drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else...

Picture sources:-
• Image scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition of the Codex Zouche-Nuttall, Graz, Austria, 1987
• Image from the Codex Tudela scanned from our own copy of the Colección Thesaurus Americae 2002 facsimile edition, Madrid
• Image from the Codex Mendoza scanned from our own copy of the 1938 James Cooper Clark facsimile edition, London
• Last two images scanned from our own copy of Cocoa: All About It by ‘Historicus’, London, Sampson Low, Marston & Co. Ltd., 1896

Learn much more about chocolate from Professor Ortiz de Montellano

Play ‘Chocolate Fancy Dress’
Archaeology Magazine article on Maya chocolate
See a history of chocolate timeline by Scientific American
‘Oldest chocolate in the New World’
Excellent teacher/student resource page on cacao (US National Endowment for the Humanities)
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