Published on July 19, 2021
Mexico is famous for its chocolate, and for its special role in the history of chocolate. However, not everyone knows that Mexican chocolate both in its modern form and in its original form, is very different from the sweet, smooth chocolate most of us are familiar with. In this post, we’ll explore the origin and history of Mexican chocolate, how it has evolved, and its common uses today.
The history of Mexican chocolate
Chocolate has been prepared and consumed in Mexico and Central America for thousands of years. Although the majority of chocolate today is produced elsewhere, the cacao tree is native to Mesoamerica, the area that roughly parallels today’s central Mexico and Central America. A vessel that was found on the Gulf Cost of Veracruz, Mexico, shows evidence that pre-Olmec peoples were preparing chocolate as early as 1750 BC. The Olmecs were the earliest known civilization in Mesoamerica.
Back then, chocolate was consumed as a beverage. cacao pods would be fermented naturally, then removed from the pulp surrounding them, dried, roasted, and ground into a bitter paste. That paste would be combined with ingredients like honey, chilis and corn to make a chocolate beverage.
The use of chocolate continued through the centuries. The Mayans consumed chocolate drinks in the fifth century for both ceremonial purposes and in their daily life. When the Aztecs took over much of Mesoamerica many centuries later, chocolate became part of their culture too. They used it as a sacrificial drink, as well as a cure for cold, fever and stomach pain. They also gave chocolate its name: originally, it was ‘chocolātl’, ‘xocolatl’ or ‘xocoátl’.
With the arrival of Spanish conquistadors to the region in the 16th century, chocolate started being brought overseas to Europe. The Spanish started the process of converting it to the sweet treat we know today, by adding cane sugar and cinnamon to chocolate drinks.
Mexican chocolate today
Impressively, even with the many changes chocolate has gone through over the past centuries, Mexican chocolate has remained unique. Its earliest origins are still reflected in the way it is consumed in Mexico today. While chocolate is considered a treat in most countries, in Mexico it is a staple of the local cuisine, and often used as an ingredient in other foods.
Mexican chocolate today is most commonly found as chocolate de mesa, or “table chocolate”. It’s made of toasted cacao nibs ground with sugar, cinnamon, almonds and occasionally other spices, like vanilla. It is usually sold in round discs, and used for making hot chocolate. Its texture is quite different than that of regular chocolate – it’s more grainy and rough – and it has a mild, yet complex flavour.
Uses of Mexican chocolate
Mexican chocolate is used in a variety of ways, for many different foods, both sweet and savoury. It is a common ingredient a mole, a rich, chili based sauce used to accompany meat dishes or top enchiladas. It is also used to make sweet tamales, that combine fruit and chocolate in the mixture. There are chocolate paletas – Mexican ice popsicles. And, it is still used in beverages: not only in hot chocolate, which is made by dissolving chocolate de mesa in hot milk; but also in champurrado, a drink made with masa de harina (maize dough), cane sugar, chocolate, and sometimes cinnamon, vanilla or anise seed.
Are you ready to expand your palate to these interesting uses of chocolate? Find a Mexican grocer near you, buy some Mexican chocolate, and start experimenting!