General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Jan 2021/7 Jaguar
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The Aztec maize god Centeotl is honoured with maize offerings during the festival of Hueytozoztli

Aztec advances (15): fast food

This is the fifteenth in a series of entries based on information in the Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World by Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield (Facts on File, 2002). The Mexica (Aztecs) worshipped not one but several maize deities, representing this most precious of crops in both male and female guises and in young and mature stages of growth. All were forms of the ‘supreme’ deities of sustenance, Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacíhuatl. All were honoured in festivals during the year, with maize-based offerings. Here (main pic, from the Codex Tudela) principal maize god Centeotl features in the feast of Hueytozoztli (Great Vigil). The first of the offerings depicted below him is... pinolli (Compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore).

Pic 1: Pinolli being prepared today, in a gourd cup
Pic 1: Pinolli being prepared today, in a gourd cup (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Instant foods are not a 20th-century invention. The Maya... parched beans and ground them into flour. These were reconstituted with water when they were needed. The Aztec... had a number of convenience foods that were used by travellers and required only the addition of water to make a meal. Pinolli, or ground toasted cornmeal, was one of these foods. It was carried by travellers in a small sack. Cacao or dried chiles were added sometimes for flavour. Travellers mixed water with the pinolli and their dinner was ready...’
Sophie Coe (2005: 139) explains how pinolli was made: ‘The maize grains were parched, which made them easier to grind, then ground; or maize bread or dough was toasted and then ground. It could be eaten as it was, which made it hard to talk, because the pinolli was so dry, or mixed with water... in their light, almost unbreakable calabash cups’ (pic 1).

Pic 2: Pinolli (left) and cacao (right); offerings to Centeotl, Codex Tudela fol. 14r (detail)
Pic 2: Pinolli (left) and cacao (right); offerings to Centeotl, Codex Tudela fol. 14r (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

Still popular today, pinole - the Hispanicised version of the original Nahuatl word pinol(li) - is often flavoured, particularly in Maya territory, with a (less bitter) form of cacao (pic 2), with additional spices such as cinnamon or vanilla, and is viewed as a highly nutritional beverage. What’s more, it is still widely used by midwives in Mesoamerica as part of a post-birth diet, being ‘considered particularly good for promoting the production of a large supply of breast milk’ (McNeil, 2006: 361).

Pic 3: Baskets of two types of pinole paid regularly as tribute to Tenochtitlan by Tlatelolco; Codex Mendoza fol. 19r (detail)
Pic 3: Baskets of two types of pinole paid regularly as tribute to Tenochtitlan by Tlatelolco; Codex Mendoza fol. 19r (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

An alternative to ground cacao in making pinole was ground chia (sage) seeds. One of the tribute items payable every eighty days to the Mexica capital Tenochtitlan by the neighbouring city of Tlatelolco consisted of forty baskets of chia mixed with maize flour, called chianpinolli as well as forty large baskets - each getting on for a bushel in size - of cacao ground with maize flour, called cacahuapinolli (pic 3). According to the Spanish gloss on the page in the Codex Mendoza the latter contained 1,600 (ground) cacao beans.

Pic 4: An experienced North American trail runner enjoys a pinole biscuit on a snowy spring trail run in Colorado
Pic 4: An experienced North American trail runner enjoys a pinole biscuit on a snowy spring trail run in Colorado (Click on image to enlarge)

Traditionally pinole in Mexico has been considered a food/drink/sweet for humble country folk, yet further south many consider a spiced up version of it to be the national beverage of Nicaragua and Honduras. It certainly remains a staple of the Tarahumara people of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, famous for their superlative long-distance running ability. The Tarahumara (or Rarámuri, as they call themselves) always consume corn beer and pinole before races. Unsurprisingly, pinole’s strengths have made it an increasingly popular ‘super-fuel’ for today’s distance runners:-
• ‘Easily digested, packs a huge amount of energy’
• The carbohydrate content ‘is an endurance athlete’s dream: easy on the gut, versatile in preparation and a slow burning fuel source that keeps you satiated without the sugar crash’
• Contains chia, which ‘packs a huge punch for athletes. A superfood loaded with essential fats and plant protein, these seeds provide essential nutrition while also slowing the absorption of water, helping to keep your body hydrated throughout the duration of the run. Plus, they contain lots of antioxidants for quick recovery and repair after your run is over’ (Trail Runner)
• High in key vitamins and nutrients, including protein, amino acids, fibre, and antioxidants.
- The perfect instant food on the run!

Pic 5: ‘Products from maize’ - illustration by José Narro
Pic 5: ‘Products from maize’ - illustration by José Narro (Click on image to enlarge)

El que siembra su maíz
Que se coma su pinole
-
’He who sows his his own maize
Deserves to eat his own pinole
(Traditional Mexican saying)

Sources:-
• Berdan, Frances F. & Anawalt, Patricia Rieff The Codex Mendoza vol. 4 (Pictorial Parallel Image Replicas), University of California Press, 1992
• Coe, Sophie D. America’s First Cuisines, University of Texas Press, Austin, 2005
• McNeil, Cameron L. (Ed.) Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009
• Museo de Culturas Populares/SEP Recetario mexicano del maíz, Mexico DF, 1982
• Thompson, Jacky ‘Fuel For the Long Run: Pinole to the Rescue’, Trail Runner, April 16th. 2017 (follow link below).

Image sources:-
• Main pic & pic 2: images from folio 14r of the Codex Tudela (original in the Museo de América, Madrid), scanned from our copy of the Testimonio Compañía Editorial facsimile edition, Madrid, 2002
• Pic 1: photo downloaded from https://yournews.com/2020/07/21/1741683/recipes-how-to-make-pinole-a-tasty-superfood/
• Pic 3: image from the Codex Mendoza (original in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) scanned from our own copy of the James Cooper Clark 1938 facsimile edition, London
• Pic 4: photo by Jacky Thompson, downloaded from https://trailrunnermag.com/nutrition/gourmet-dirtbag-pinole-to-the-rescue.html
• Pic 5: illustration scanned from Cocina Prehispánica Mexicana by Heriberto García Rivas, Panorama Editorial, Mexico DF, 1993.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Dec 21st 2020

emoticon Q. What did distance runners use in the old days to record their achievements?
A. Pin(h)ole cameras!

‘Fuel For the Long Run: Pinole to the Rescue’ - Trail Runner Magazine
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