Saturday, October 4, 2014

Aztec Inspired Chocolate Drink

Mujer vertiendo chocolate - Codex Tudela; c.1553
The Franciscan Friar, Bernardino de SahagĂșn, went to Mexico in 1549 to convert the native people to Christianity. For over 50 years he recorded his impressions of Aztec life, including the many ways in which chocolate was taken by the Aztec people. Francisco Hernandez was another Spaniard who traveled to Mexico. He was a royal physician and a naturalist. Hernandez was in Mexico by 1572 and recorded much of the natural world around him, including a lot of information about chocolate. 

What is clear from the writings of these two ethnographers of Mexican life is that chocolate was consumed in many different ways (mostly as drinks served at room temperature or cool, but also as porridges, powders, gruels, and porridges). In addition, there were a variety of native Mexican flavorings that were added to it. Here is a list of some of the possible additives:
  • honey
  • chili 
  • Achiote (annatto)
  • Ground seeds of the Ceiba or Silk Cotton tree
  • Maize (an emulsifier)
  • Hueinacaztli: the thick ear-shaped petal of the flower of the Cymbopetulum penduliflorum tree, a member of the custard-apple family of trees. This was the premier flavoring of chocolate among the Aztecs. It had a spicy taste, like black pepper with a hint of bitterness. 
  • Vanilla called Tlilxochitl or ‘Black Flower’ 
  • Mecaxochitl or ‘String Flower’: Probably Piper sanctum, related to black pepper 
  • Magnolia Mexicana, an astringent flower 
  • Izquixochitl or Popcorn Flower: has a rose scent 
  • Allspice
It was very important to the Aztecs that the chocolate drink have a nice frothy foam on top.  According to SahagĂșn, "If they add a little [water] they have beautiful cacao; if they add a lot, it will not produce a froth." He goes on to say that the chocolate should be poured in a good stream to raise the froth which can be set aside for use (as shown in the c.1553 artwork above).

Recipe for Aztec Inspired Chocolate Drink
2 ½ cups water
8 ounces grated unsweetened 100% cacao chocolate
½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp annatto powder
½ cup honey (to taste)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Melt chocolate and water together over medium heat. Add the pepper, annatto, and honey. Allow to cool. Froth with a hand blender or Cocoa Latter machine. Serve at room temperature.


  • Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate. London: 1996
  • Maricel E. Presilla, The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Berkeley, 2009.
  • Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons


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