The story of chocolate begins in Mexico and Central America, long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Cacao (the chocolate tree) is Greek and means, "food of the gods"
. After processing, the seeds, whether in liquid or solid form, become chocolate
. At first, chocolate was luxury food in pre-Hispanic Mexico that was only enjoyed by royalty. "Theobroma Cacao" was the name given by Linnaeus, a Swedish biologist. The word cacao comes from the Mayan word "kakaw". The Aztecs then called it chocolatl, or, "chocolate and water."
The English word chocolate is derived from the Nahault term chocolatl
. Today, cacao refers to the tree and its products before processing. Chocolate refers to any manufactured cocoa product.
During the time of the Aztecs cocoa beans were used as currency. Cocoa was a holy beverage to be sipped during religious celebrations. The Aztec Indians offered the rain god the blood of a sacrificial victim along with tamales, stew and chocolate
. The Mexican calendar abounded with religious and civic festivals, each having its own special foods and functions. Mexican nobles had to provide on elaborate menu including costly chocolate
. Moctezuma the Tlatoani literally drank money. The cocoa beans were ground into a powder placed in boiling water, sweetened with honey and whipped to a frothy head; making chocolate the drink of the lords
Columbus first saw this treasure on his first voyage in 1502. Legend has it that Columbus thought the Indians' eyes fell out when the fell to the ground to round up the cocoa beans. The chocolate of the Spanish conquistadors was different from what chocolate is today. The Aztec version was bitter to the taste and frothy. Some Spaniards saw it as a drink which could cause intoxication. Some believed it had healing powers.
The Spanish nuns in Mexico to convert the native Indians to Christianity added sugar to make the drink sweeter. Soon after, chocolate made its way to Spain. Chocolate soon became the most popular beverage of New Spain. Over the years the Spanish added such flavors as vanilla, cinnamon and other spices to enhance its taste. Chocolate was a secret in Spain for nearly a century. Eventually, the secret got out.
Chocolate then traveled to the French court of King Louis XIII. Chocolate quickly spread to other countries, such as England, Germany and Switzerland. It soon became a favorite treat. Chocolate in Europe was considered a gift of extravagance. Thomas Gage, an English priest who visited New Spain in the seventeenth century, described the women of Chiapas as being so addicted to chocolate that they drank it during mass (13).
Chocolate is a widely-used ingredient in Mexican cooking. Special chocolate is still being ground on a metate in some parts of Oaxaca, Chiapas, and a place called Michoacan. Chocolate is shaped into tablets and round balls to be used for baking or the making of hot chocolate. Sometimes, the metate grounds almonds and sugar, as well as cinnamon or vanilla. Hot chocolate is great with tamales. During some celebrations such as New Years Eve, All Saints Day, funerals, and other gatherings, chocolate tablets are left on the altar as an offering. Hot chocolate is consumed by adults and children in Mexico.
Chocolate during the 19th century took a turn. It is now made as a solid or powder form that is good for baking. Chocolate is now produced as an important ingredient in mole or candy. Chocolate mole (a type of sauce served with tamales), or mole poblano, is very popular with Mexican cooking.
There are three tales about the invention of mole poblano. One story says that the nuns of Santa Rusca Convent in Puebla were nervous over the impending visit of their bishop. Sor Andrea was in charge of making the sauce for the meal, but chocolate accidentally tumbled into the basin from a shelf above, right into where the mixture was stewing. It was too late to make another sauce; consequently, mole poblano was born
Accident or not, chocolate is a taste loved around the world. There are a few places where chocolate is not as popular. However, chocolate is a special treat for the palate. Beverages made from chocolate are: tejate, pozol, masa de nixtamal, tascalate, chocolateatole, and (of course) hot chocolate.
As one studies the importance of chocolate in history, it becomes clear from its early beginnings it has become an important food and ingredient; not only in Latin America but throughout Europe and the U.S. today. One only has to take a trip to any supermarket, drug store, or mall to see this. Chocolate has traveled full-circle back to Mexico and cocina Latina.