#1 – 48 Recipe Challenge: Recipe 19 – Mayan Chocolate
As I’m spending most of October travelling in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, this month’s recipe needed to be ‘on the road’. Central America is the home of the cocoa bean, so what better excuse for a chocolate recipe?
First, a bit of info on cocoa. It’s native to Central America and can only grow at plus or minus 20 degrees from the equator. The ancient Mayans drank a lot of chocolate and cocoa beans became an economic unit, used for trade. The Aztecs traded cocoa as a very valuable commodity, for them chocolate was for only for royalty whereas it was accessible to most Mayans. The Spanish introduced chocolate to Europe after the conquest, which was when Britain got a taste for it. It was inconvenient transporting cocoa all the way from the New World though, so the British planted it in Africa. Now, the Ivory Coast and Ghana are the largest producers, accounting for over half of the cocoa produced worldwide. The biggest consumers of chocolate per head of population are the Swiss, closely followed by us Brits.
Chocolate remained as only a drink until the industrial revolution when mechanisation made it possible to mass produce chocolate bars.
Essentially cocoa beans are still processed in much the same way as the Mayans did. The pods are harvested, the beans (together with the white mucus which surrounds them) are fermented, then dried. The beans are then toasted and shelled to produce cocoa nibs which is where the chocolate taste as we know it comes from.
To produce chocolate bars, the next stage of the process has been modernised to extract as much value from the bean (whilst degrading the quality of the chocolate produced). All this I learned at the Museo Chocolate in Antigua, Guatemala. As my recipe was drinking chocolate Mayan style, I stuck with the old, pre mechanisation way:
Having toasted and shelled the cocoa beans, the next stage was to crush them. The Mayans did this on huge flat stones, we used a pestle and mortar:
The resulting paste was mixed with water, chilli and cardamom (also both native to the region) and sweetened with honey. The drink is poured between two vessels to make it frothy and the resulting chocolate drink is served cold:
It was good!
Milk wasn’t added to drinking chocolate until the Spanish adapted it. They also made it hot, and added their own spices. We tried Spanish hot chocolate, which was flavoured with cinnamon, black pepper and anise and sweetened with sugar (which was available in Europe at the time but not in Central America). I wasn’t expecting to like the Spanish style chocolate of the conquistadors but it was also surprisingly good.
Normally I’d score my recipes on ease or preparation, healthiness and flavour/taste but that doesn’t work so well for this one. Apart from flavour, which scores a 10 (with good quality chocolate involved, how can it be anything else?!)
Sadly I’m not likely to be able to repeat this recipe at home unless I can get hold of some cocoa beans, but it was a fun way to find out a bit more about chocolate and enjoy some great flavours.