Friday, January 22, 2010

Chocolate Friday - Origins

The cacao plant is native to Central America. There is evidence that the Maya established cacao plantations as early as 600 A.D., after harvesting and trading the wild cacao beans for hundreds of years. They used cacao beans to make chocol haa, or "hot water," a frothy chocolate beverage flavored with vanilla, hot chili powder, and other spices, including achiotl, a spice similar to allspice that left the drinker's mouth, lips, and facial hair bright red, "as if they had been drinking blood." But only Maya royalty were allowed to drink chocol haa; everyone else had to settle for balche, a fermented beverage made from honey and bark. Cacao beans were so valuable that by 1000 A.D. they were being used as currency, which is why Columbus's captives treated them with such reverence.

The Aztecs acquired a taste for cacao from their contact with the Maya, and by 1200 A.D. they were collecting tributes of cacao from the tribes they dominated, including the Maya The Aztecs believed that cacao was a gift of the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, who repeatedly brought a cacao tree to Earth on a ray of sunlight and taught early people how to make cacahuatl, or "bitter water," the chocolate beverage that they believed gave them universal wisdom and knowledge. (Of course it does! lol)

The Aztecs made cacahuatl in much the same way the Maya made chocol haa: they ground coacao beans into powder, stirred it into water, and then gave it a froth by lifting the beverage high in the air and pouring it into a second container on the ground. But unlike the Maya, the Aztecs preferred their cacahuatl cold; this was the beverage that the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes was served by the Aztec emperor Montezuma in an elaborate ceremony in 1519, when he became one of the first Europeans, if not the very first, to taste chocolate.

There was certainly nothing like cacahuatl in the Old World, and it took a while for Europeans arriving in the New World to acquire a taste for it. " a crazy thing valued in that country [Mexico]," Jesuit missionary and historian Jose de Acosta wrote in 1590. "It disgusts those who are not used to it, for it has a foam on top, or a scumlike bubbling."

"It seemed ore a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity," agreed the Italian historian Girolamo Benzoni, one of the first people to describe the experience to readers in Europe:

I was in [Mexico] for more than a year, and never wanted to taste it, and whenever I passed a settlement, some Indian would offer me a drink of it, and would be amazed when I would not accept. But then, as there was a shortage of wine, so as not to be always drinking water, I did like the others. The tasted is somewhat bitter, it satisfies and refreshes the body, but does not inebriate, and it is the best and most expensive merchandise, according to the Indians of that country.

With times the Spaniards developed a taste for cacahuatl which, like the Maya, they preferred hot, flavored with cinnamon and vanilla and sweetened with cane sugar, which was unknown to the Aztecs. And rather than froth their cacahuatl by pouring it from a high container into a low one as the Aztecs had, the Spaniards used a wooden swizzle stick or beater called a molinillo. Frothing it with a beater became the standard means of preparing chocolate for the next 200 years.

~ taken from Uncle John's Supremely Satisfying Bathroom Reader

Stay tuned...more on chocolate next week... :)

Last week I gave you a hot chocolate recipe. I think I've mentioned this before, but one way I drink my hot chocolate is to add the creamers (intended for coffee) from International Delight.

My favorites are Southern Butter Pecan and English Almond Toffee. I keep looking for the Belgian White Chocolate Macadamia, but can't find it in any stores around here. Hopefully they'll start carrying it soon.

If you've never tried a creamer in your hot chocolate, I encourage you to try it. It's really yummy!

And now for more recipes and information about chocolate, go visit Lisa at Stop and Smell the Chocolates. I swear, sometimes the pictures she puts on there has me drooling! So, go see what she has this week - you'll be drooling, too!

Until next time...


Lisa @ Stop and Smell the Chocolates said...

I love being educated about chocolate Jen! This is great info! And a yummy tip about the creamers in hot chocolate - sounds delicious! Thanks for linking up!!

Anonymous said...

I love the Irish cream creamer. It's crazy to add it to cocoa, but it tastes THAT much yummier. :O)

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