General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Nov 2017/9 Rain
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Three Nahuatl (Aztec language) food words

(Cold) xocóatl...

Many English food words that we use every day in common speech are derived from Aztec/Mexica vocabulary. For example chocolate, tomato, chile and avocado all came to us from Náhuatl via Spanish.
Actually, it’s not quite as simple as that: the exact origin of our word ‘chocolate’ is in some doubt... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: similar in shape - and value?!
Pic 1: similar in shape - and value?! (Click on image to enlarge)

In Aztec times xocóatl was known, like many Mexica terms, in the form of a metaphor: yollotl, eztli - ‘heart and blood’. In fact, there is some similarity in shape between a heart and a cacao pod (see pic 1), to the Aztecs both contain precious liquids, and the cacao pod was sometimes used symbolically by the Mexica to represent the sacrificed human heart. Because of its value and its powers to intoxicate the chocolate drink wasn’t consumed by common folk nor by the poor in Aztec society (with the exception of soldiers - see below). In fact, if a commoner DID drink chocolate (s)he would be executed! It was known to be super nutritious (it was considered ‘cold’ and ‘heavy’ according to ancient Mesoamerican concepts) and was provided to warriors to give them energy for their field campaigns.

Pic 2: Whipping chocolate the traditional way (though scholars believe the whisk itself (‘molinillo’) to be a Spanish import
Pic 2: Whipping chocolate the traditional way (though scholars believe the whisk itself (‘molinillo’) to be a Spanish import (Click on image to enlarge)

The ‘x’ in xocóatl is pronounced like an English ‘sh’, and the accent should be on the middle ‘o’. However, xocóatl - which means ‘bitter water’ - wasn’t actually the Aztec name for their oh-so-special chocolate drink. The original word in Náhuatl was cacáhuatl, a combination of cacahua (the origin of our word cacao or cocoa) and atl (water or liquid). xocóatl is a plausible explanation for the origin of first the Spanish word chocolate and subsequently our word ‘chocolate’, but it’s only one theory. Another is that the Spanish took the Maya word chocol (meaning hot) and combined it with the Náhuatl atl - again quite possible, as the Europeans first came into contact with the drink via the Maya, before meeting the Aztecs. But why would they combine words from two different languages? One theory is so they could avoid using a word beginning with caca (which means poo in Spanish!)...

Pic 3: Chocolate for the Aztecs was toe-itchingly tasty... Florentine Codex, Book 6
Pic 3: Chocolate for the Aztecs was toe-itchingly tasty... Florentine Codex, Book 6 (Click on image to enlarge)

What’s more, there were different chocolate drinks among the Mexica. Whilst ‘the real thing’ was the preserve of the rulers and their entourage - which could be pretty extensive: the Spanish soldier and chronicler Bernal Díaz de Castillo wrote that more than 2,000 containers of rich foaming chocolate were delivered daily to Moctezuma’s guards alone! - ordinary folk consumed a drink made of a mix of ground cacao and corn (or other) seeds. In all cases, flavour was added via chilli, vanilla, honey and certain flowers.

NOTE: Follow the second link below to read more on the controversy surrounding the etymology (origin) of the word...

Chocolate pouring down...

‘Chicolatl not xocolatl!’
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