Chocolate, Food of the Gods
While many of us may be nodding our heads in agreement that yes, chocolate is other-worldly, the Mayans have worshipped the cacao tree for thousands of years. As far back as 4000 years ago, Mayan chocolate was a drink made of roasted and ground cacao seeds mixed with chilies, water and cornmeal. They poured this mixture from one pot to another, creating a thick foamy beverage called “xocolatl” which means “bitter water.”
Mayans drank the bitter beverage daily for their health and also used it during ceremonies, usually served cold. They believed that the drink opened your mind to the spirit world. Interestingly, modern medicine also touts cacao as an energy booster, that can reduce blood pressure and treat respiratory issues.
The word cacao comes from the Mayan word kakau which means “heart blood” and the Mayan word Chokola’j means “to drink together.” So as you use the word chocolate in your daily life, remember that it originated long before the silky solid treats we find in a box of Godiva or Cadbury that may enjoy after dinner.
These days in Cajolá, people often prepare chocolate (chock – o – lah-tay) with water and enjoy it hot but it’s a different beverage than so many years ago. Sometimes they will mix it with milk if they have a cow giving milk or a generous neighbor sharing some. At times they also add rice to it to make a filling chocolate rice drink. The chocolate can be served at 10am with chuchitos which are traditional Guatemalan tamales or it could be a snack with bread in the late afternoon.
If you’d like to give it a taste for yourself, head to your nearest international supermarket or Latino grocery store and buy a solid drinking chocolate bar. We’ve been using Doña Andrea Chocolate Especial from nearby Quetzltenango. The bars come in 300 gram blocks of sweetened chocolate with a choice of vanilla, cinnamon, and almond flavoring. Each bar which makes about 8 rich cups.
It’s easy enough to break the chocolate up by hand although it may not break so evenly. After placing the chocolate at the bottom of a small saucepan, we pour our milk of choice over it. If you’re feeling indulgent, keep your chocolate-to-milk ratio high and serve it for a dessert. Nondairy milks work just as well too.
Gently stir the milk and chocolate over a low flame until the chocolate is completely dissolved. While the tradition may be to pour the chocolate back and forth between cups to make it frothy, if you have a milk frother or an immersion blender, they work just as well.
Here in the U.S., we are tempted to top hot chocolate off with whipped cream or marshmallows, you really don’t need to with this. Trust me. But if you are feeling extra fancy, add a sprinkle of cinnamon or cayenne on top. And If you’re looking for something to bake to go with your chocolate, check out our recipes for champurradas or horchata cookies.
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