A GIFT FROM THE GODS
lovers around the world believe that chocolate must have come from
heaven. Few, however, realize that it was a Mexican heaven, for it
was Aztecs who brought it to the world.
According to legend, to relieve the people from their toil and
suffering, the gods selected Quetzalcoatl, the god of light, to
assume human form and rule the Toltecs. His reign brought great
happiness and prosperity. Before returning to heaven, Quetzalcoal
stole cacao from the gods and gave it to his beloved people on
earth. He taught them how to cultivate it and how to prepare the
heavenly drink from it.
Myth aside, the Toltec Indians first cultivated cacao in
pre-Hispanic Mexico. They prepared a cold, foamy drink from ground
cocoa beans and a variety of herbs and spices, including corn,
chiles and honey or rose water. During the winter, the Aztecs drank
this hot–-thus hot chocolate.
The word "chocolate" comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.
Although its exact origin is uncertain, the original word was most
likely xocolatl and is thought to have meant "bitter water," because
the primitive drink was prepared without sugar. According to another
interpretation, the word chocolate came from choko, meaning "hot,"
and atl for "water."
The Aztecs traded cocoa beans as money, and many anthropologists
believe the Aztecs thought it to be an aphrodisiac. Who knows, the
custom of giving a loved one chocolate may have originated with the
Spanish conquistadors adopted chocolate when they observed the
Aztecs drinking hot chocolate in Moctezuma's courts. Hernan Cortes
wrote to his king that chocolate "improved the natural defenses of
one's organism, and defended against fatigue."
The Spanish rapidly incorporated chocolate into their diet, and its
popularity soon spread to other European countries. An attendant to
Queen Maria Theresa, wife of Louis XIV, introduced chocolate to the
court of Versailles.
Curiously, the English at first seemed impervious to the
blandishments of chocolate. English pirates referred to chocolate as
"sheep's dung" and once threw a cargo of it overboard from a
captured Spanish ship. By the middle of the 17th Century, though,
the English had succumbed and chocolate was selling at premium
prices in London shops.
Today, the Mexicans prepare hot chocolate in much the same way as it
was done in pre-Hispanic times. The tradition of putting corn in the
drinks lives on--hot chocolate may be prepared with water, corn
flour and milk, sometimes flavored with vanilla, strawberry or
Vendors sell a hot chocolate “mix” from chocolate shops in Mexican
towns. As they grind the cacao beans, they mix in sugar and cinnamon
to the desire of the buyer. To make hot chocolate, milk and butter
is heated to boiling and the chocolate mix is added and the liquid
simmered until the chocolate melts. Finally, the preparer spins a
wooden stirrer called a molinillo around in the drink to create a
bubbly froth. Delicioso!
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