Chocolate is one of the most tasted sweets in the world, especially Oaxacan chocolate is renowned for its quality. Did you know that the cactus plant from which the seeds are extracted is native to Mexico and the Amazon? It was here that the plant was domesticated and began to be used in various dishes and drinks. Cocoa was the food base of many cultures and has left us a great culinary legacy.
The myth of cocoa
In more than one pre-Hispanic culture the god Quetzalcoatl is frequent. In this case, it is strongly related to cocoa in more than one story. The feathered serpent is credited with having given this plant to men for his benefit.
A Toltec myth says it was Quetzalcoatl who stole the plant from the gods. They aimed to give it to men so that they would be well fed and so be able to devote their energies to the study of science and art. And certainly, cocoa seeds served as great food.
The Olmec story tells that Quetzalcoatl in man form married a princess. On one occasion he had to travel to distant lands to defend his territory, so he ordered with his wife a treasure that belonged to him. In their absence, the enemies arrived and tried to snatch the god’s treasure, however, the princess refused to tell them where he had hidden it. She was tortured to make her talk, but nothing revealed the location of what her husband had commissioned. The enemies ended up killing her. When Quetzalcoatl found his wife dead and his blood spilled, his body and blood created a tree that would bear bitter fruit like his pain, but strong like his wife’s courage.
For the Mayans, cacao was the second most important plant of their culture after corn. Therefore, in the creation myth, it is present. The elders who created the world had two twin sons, who died in the Mayan underworld. The head of one of them was hung from a tree that would become the cocoa tree and he would be the fruit. In later accounts, the first men go in search of food and find the cacao on the mountain called Nuestra Subsistencia (Our Sustenance).
The Aztecs have a myth like the latter, in which the first inhabitants of the world find cocoa buried in a mountain. It is the gods who help get him out of there, and this is how the Aztecs receive him as a gift from the gods so they can live.
Pre-Hispanic uses of chocolate
Chocolate had various uses before the arrival of the Spaniards. Depending on each culture, cocoa seeds were prepared in different ways for various purposes.
What is curious is that cocoa did not have a sweet preparation until the arrival of the Spaniards. Cocoa seeds are quite bitter, even because of their intensity in taste, they could be perceived as spicy. That is why on many occasions they were used for stews and drinks with chili.
In turn, because of its great value, chocolate was usually reserved for social events or religious rituals. Aztec warriors drank chocolate before battles because they noticed that it gave them energy and vitality. For their part, the Olmecs and the Mayans came to use chocolate as a remedy for many diseases such as kidney pain, intestinal discomfort, and fatigue.
Ritual use has been lost, however, indeed, many of the pre-Hispanic uses are still attributed as benefits of chocolate.
How is Oaxacan chocolate prepared?
Oaxacan chocolate is recognized for being of very high quality. In Oaxaca, there are recognized coffers of chocolate that are exported to different parts of the republic, as is the Mayordomo brand.
Although, there is also the opportunity to buy artisan chocolate from Oaxaca in the markets. That is chocolate made by hand with ancestral techniques. The cocoa seeds are ground in a petate, you can add almond, sugar, and cinnamon. There are different types of Oaxacan chocolate, and each has its method of preparation in a varying amount of basic ingredients.
Types of Oaxacan chocolate
Any of these types of chocolate can be prepared with water or milk. Everything depends on the particular preference of each person. Lovers of bitter Oaxacan chocolate tend to prefer it with water as it intensifies its flavor. Preparing chocolate with water is reminiscent of customs before the conquest. Many drinks are still prepared with cocoa that is not hot chocolate as we know it.
Other beverages based on cocoa
Many of these drinks were formerly used in rituals or religious events and were reserved for nobles or priests. Currently, anyone can enjoy these drinks and many are still prepared in the markets of Oaxaca.
- Red atole
Conclusions on Oaxacan Chocolate
Throughout Mexico, since pre-Hispanic times, cocoa has played an extremely important role. Today, Oaxacan chocolate is recognized for its high quality and for still being made with ancestral techniques. Drinking it hot, either in water or milk is the most common way to enjoy it with its characteristically sweet taste. However, for adventurous palates, other drinks are a reminder of the ritual preparations of pre-Hispanic peoples. The truth is that there is chocolate for all tastes.
If you’re interested in knowing more about everything you can eat and drink in Oaxaca, you might like to read more: