Thursday, September 09, 2004

Spice Hot Chocolate Recipe

Tonina, Chiapas, Mexico
Lid of vessel with monkey and cacao pods, AD 600-900
ceramic, 18.3 cm (7 3/16); diameter: 33 cm (13)
Museo de Sitio de Tonina, Chiapas -INAH, Mexico
Photo: Javier Hinojosa

Once upon a time the snake-footed god K'awiil threw a lightening bolt at a mountain breaking it in two, revealing two plants, maize and cacao. And so from the very beginning cacao and maize were linked.

Cacao like maize, was complicated for the Maya to process. The beans had to be fermented, cured and roasted, then ground into a powder that was the basis for a cold foamy more-bitter-than-sweet, chocolate beverage, called cacaoatl, Nahuatl for "cacao water." The Mexican Indian word "chocolate" comes from a combination of the terms choco "foam" and atl "water".

Cacao may not have been as vital as maize for the survival of the Maya people, but it was so highly valued that it was sometimes used as currency. It was probably considered sacred, used as a ritual drink and offered as a sacrifice to the gods. Research has been done to analyze the contents of ancient chocolate vessels and while we don't have any original recipes we do know that they used ingredients such as sesame seeds, anise seeds, vanilla, allspice, ground corn, honey and chili along with the ground cacao.

Of great threat to the cacao harvest are the spider monkeys who are attracted to the bright cacao pods. They eat the milky liquid and flesh in the pod, leaving the seeds which enables more cacao trees to grow. The lovely and humorous photo of a cacao pot features a greedy monkey surrounded by cacao beans.

Here is a recipe for all the greedy little monkeys in your household, inspired by the Maya.

Spiced Hot Chocolate
two servings


2 cups milk
1/2 cup best quality chocolate chips
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Ancho chili powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla


Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat thoroughly over a low flame, stirring constantly until blended. Serve (whipped cream optional).