Chocolate : Chocolate, Aztec-Style : History: For 300 years, chocolate was a reddish drink flavored with anise and rosewater. And you think we’re doing weird things with chocolate now.


In 1519, a Spaniard named Hernan Cortes was present at the Aztec court when the Emperor Montezuma was offered 50 golden bowls of a foaming beverage called chocolatl. Nine years later, when Cortes had become captain general of Mexico, he appeared at another royal court, this one back in Spain, where he had returned to answer various charges against him. He took the occasion to introduce his own emperor to chocolate, which suggests that the conquistador knew he had come upon something irresistible.

He was right. Chocolate was the first nonalcoholic stimulant drink Europeans ever encountered (coffee wouldn’t reach Italy until 1615 and tea took even longer). The Spanish were impressed by this strengthening medicine. You could travel all day after drinking a single cup in the morning, they said, and some of their doctors claimed chocolate was a perfect all-in-one food that made people “fat, fair and amiable.” It was bitter, like many traditional European medicines, so the Spanish instinctively made it into a “confection”--that is, a medicine sweetened with sugar to make it more palatable. Chocolate manufacturers were trained much like druggists or doctors, and some actually were doctors.

For about a century, chocolate was Spain’s little secret, scarcely known to other Europeans. Then there was a great chocolate boom, beginning among the French aristocracy in the late 1650s and spreading quickly throughout Western Europe.


Most people say the boom was due to Louis XIV of France’s marriage to Maria Theresa of Spain. True, the young queen loved chocolate and her entourage included a maid who specialized in making it, but another factor was probably at least as important. Between 1640 and 1680, the sugar plantations of Brazil and the Caribbean expanded greatly, driving down the price of sugar on the European market by 70%. It can’t be an accident that two bitter drinks--chocolate and coffee--became popular at the same time the sugar to sweeten them became affordable.


The drink that people called chocolate in those days wasn’t much like cocoa, which is basically chocolate with the cocoa butter removed. Because this process hadn’t been invented, 17th-Century and 18th-Century chocolate was richer than cocoa--but much harder to handle. Try melting a chocolate bar or two in a cup of hot water and you’ll see why chocolate drinkers had to own a glorified swizzle stick called a molinillo , or cocoa mill. The drink becomes a gummy mess if you don’t stir it frequently.

But this was just one of the differences between chocolate and cocoa. Drinking chocolate was usually thickened with ground nuts. Since the alkaline process hadn’t been invented, it was very bitter (the Aztec name chocolatl means bitter water ), so it was heavily sweetened. Vanilla wasn’t the only spice it was flavored with either. One old recipe calls for a pound of anise, four ounces of pepper and an ounce each of cinnamon and nutmeg, to say nothing of smaller quantities of musk, ambergris and rose water, to flavor six pounds of cocoa beans (plus six pounds of sugar, a pound of pistachios and a quarter pound of almonds).

And drinking chocolate was often tinted with achiote (annatto)--the Mexican herb that makes Cheddar cheese orange and margarine yellow--or other dyes. In the 17th and 18th centuries, a cup of chocolate was likely to be ocher-colored or brick red.

In making their chocolate this way, the Europeans were actually following the Aztec practice. Some of Montezuma’s own golden bowls of chocolate were sweetened with honey, and most of the rest were flavored with various spices and herbs. Among the varieties of chocolatl he was served, some were dyed bright-red, dull red or orange. The Aztecs thickened their chocolate too, though with cornmeal rather than ground nuts.


One Aztec recipe noted by a Spanish observer went as follows: 100 well-toasted cocoa beans, a double handful of cornmeal masa and three flavorings-- tlilxochitl , mecaxochitl and hueinacaztli. Tlilxochitl is simply vanilla. Mecaxochitl is hoja santa , a relative of black pepper that has a strong anise flavor.

The most important chocolate flavoring, as far as the Aztecs were concerned, was hueinacaztli . “When a merchant returned from his dusty and dangerous trading trip and wished to celebrate by giving a feast for his colleagues,” writes the food historian Sophie Coe, “the first step in the preparations was to obtain cacao and hueinacaztli. They may well have been part of his merchandise, for they are listed among the most treasured things of the Aztecs, up there with the glistening tropical bird feathers, the jade and jewels, and the gold and shell.” Hueinacaztli turns out to be the flower of a tropical plant named Cymbopetalum penduliflorum, which has a peppery flavor. Right into this century the Mayas were still using it to flavor a ceremonial chocolate drink called batido , and Coe points out that when they couldn’t get hueinacaztli , they’d substitute black pepper.

Among other Aztec flavorings for chocolate were the bitter seed of the sapote fruit, a rose-scented flower called izquixochitl (popcorn flower), the flowers of the Mexican magnolia and mild red chiles. So in adding pepper, anise and rose water, and thickening the drink (with nuts in place of masa ) and even in sweetening it, the Europeans were making chocolate that Montezuma would have recognized.

In fact, they often tried hard to make their chocolate as Mexican as possible. In the 18th Century, chocolate fanciers--the foodies of their day--imported Mexican metates in order to grind their cocoa beans in the most authentic pre-Columbian manner.


Today’s Mexican chocolate, flavored with almonds and spices, is very close to what they were drinking in Spain in the 18th Century. Needless to say, the original Aztec ways of doing things have survived on their own in Mexico. The everyday Mexican drink champurrado is made with chocolate and masa . In Chiapas they drink tescalate , which is chocolate thickened with masa and colored with achiote.


It’s often said that, in ancient Mexico, chocolate was served only to royalty, but that’s not exactly true; only certain kinds of chocolate were royal. It was expensive, of course, and so was hueinacaztli . In Europe too, chocolate was definitely for the rich, at least to begin with.

When the first chocolate shop in London opened in 1657, it sold ready-to-brew chocolate, with sugar, nuts and spices already blended in, for 10 to 15 shillings a pound, far beyond most people’s budget. Restrictive import duties kept chocolate out of the hands of ordinary people until well into the 19th Century. (Price may be why one 18th-Century English cookbook gives a recipe for “sham chocolate” that could be served in chocolate cups: milk, cinnamon, sugar and egg yolks.) A number of fashionable chocolate houses eventually developed into famous London men’s clubs.

You could order cocoa beans and prepare chocolate yourself, but it was so much trouble even most aristocrats bought ready-to-brew chocolate from chocolate manufacturers, who also produced blends of cocoa beans much as a coffee merchant blends coffee beans today. The chocolate manufacturer would roast the beans in shallow trays and grind them in grist mills or giant mortars--a job that was troublesome at home, even with that groovy imported metate. The resulting paste would be mixed with ground nuts and spices, slowly melted and then poured into molds to produce convenient shapes called cakes or tablets.


To make the drink, you would scrape some chocolate from one of these tablets, melt the shavings and then very carefully add liquid--water, milk or a wine such as Sherry or Port--plus eggs to bind it and usually some more sugar and spices. You had to cook the chocolate very carefully (over unpredictable charcoal heat) or the eggs might curdle and waste the expensive chocolate. The flavor was considered to improve if the prepared chocolate was left for 24 hours to “rest.” The next day, of course, it would have to be reheated, and curdling would be a problem all over again.

Despite all this inconvenience, chocolate was the usual breakfast drink of the gentry in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Typically it was served to an individual or a couple on a small tray or table covered with a cloth with matching napkins. There would be a silver or porcelain chocolate pot, chocolate cups and saucers with little spoons. With your chocolate you’d eat rolls, spice cakes or buttered toast.

A lot of attention was paid to the proper pouring of the chocolate, the chocolate and cream being poured simultaneously to attain the desired consistency and restorative power. Then the cup had to be stirred briskly to produce the foam that had been essential since Aztec days. (Sophie Coe sees today’s cocoa with marshmallows as the descendant of Montezuma’s frothy golden bowls.) Thicker, gruel-like chocolate could also be poured from a pot into a cup, but that style was easier to eat in a small bowl with a spoon.

When the Dutch invented cocoa in the 19th Century, the result was a surplus of cocoa butter removed from the cocoa powder. Then, in 1847, Fry & Sons of London blended extra cocoa butter into chocolate and made it into a solid--the kind of eating chocolate we know today. Between these two changes, drinking chocolate became a thing of the past.



There had been attempts to cook with chocolate even before the invention of modern solid chocolate. At the end of the 17th Century, Massialot’s “Nouvelle Instruction pour les Confitures” told how to make chocolate-flavored crackers and chocolate marzipan. The earliest chocolate candies were chocolate truffles (they were originally called chocolate olives) and the flat wafers of bitter chocolate the French call diablotins. Chocolate is one of the oldest flavorings for ice cream.

But until the middle of the 19th Century, the word chocolate nearly always referred to those prepared chocolate tablets flavored with nuts and spices. A chocolate ice cream recipe would begin, “Scrape a quarter pound of chocolate very fine,” and because there was already so much sugar in tablet chocolate, the only other ingredients required would be eggs and cream. Two hundred years ago, chocolate ice cream, like most things flavored with chocolate, had what we’d call a chocolate-almond-spice flavor. It would have been chocolate ice cream to the Emperor Montezuma’s taste.

We didn’t want to include the same old mole recipes, so Donna Deane, our home economist, developed this recipe in The Times Test Kitchen. It’s a perfect demonstration of the way the flavor of chocolate can enhance a recipe that is not sweet.


1 pork tenderloin, about 1 1/2 pounds

1 size medium red onion, cut into wedges


Salt, pepper

Chocolate-Tomatillo Sauce

Cut tenderloin lengthwise into 6 strips. Pound lightly to flatten slightly. Thread on skewers with red onion wedges. Brush with oil.

Grill until onion begins to char and meat is done through. Season to taste with salt and pepper while grilling. Serve with 2 tablespoons Chocolate-Tomatillo Sauce for each serving. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

201 calories; 158 mg sodium; 55 mg cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 19 grams protein; 0.36 grams fiber.

Chocolate-Tomatillo Sauce

3 dried red California chiles

1/4 cup chicken broth

1 large onion, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, minced

3 jalapenos, chopped

2 tablespoons oil

1 pound tomatillos, papery husks removed, quartered

1 cup orange juice

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper

Salt, pepper

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Toast chiles in hot dry skillet until soft. Remove stems and seeds. In blender, process chiles with broth to form smooth paste. Set aside.


Saute onion, garlic and jalapenos in oil until tender.

Stir in tomatillos and orange juice. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomatillos are cooked and sauce forms, 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in reserved chile paste and chocolate. Heat and stir just until chocolate melts. Stir in crushed red pepper, salt and pepper to taste. Add cilantro. Keep warm while preparing pork kebabs. Makes 2 2/3 cups.

This recipe, from “Catalan Cuisine” by Colman Andrews (Collier Books: $13), is a true example of the way that the Catalan kitchen combines seafood with meat. The recipe is a bit time-consuming, but the results are absolutely delicious. You’ve never tasted calamari quite like these.


(Stuffed Squid With Chocolate Sauce)

2 pounds squid, cleaned and thoroughly dried

1/2 pound ground pork

1 onion, finely diced

1 small carrot, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 sprigs parsley, minced

Olive oil

1/4 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Salt, pepper

1 cup fish, shellfish or chicken stock

1/2 cup dry white wine

10 to 12 blanched almonds, roasted at 350 degrees until light brown

1 ounce Mexican chocolate, such as Ybarra, or sweet confectioner’s chocolate, coarsely grated

2 slices French bread about 1-inch thick, crust removed, browned in olive oil

Remove head and tentacles from squid. Set bodies aside. Mince heads and tentacles and mix well with ground pork (may be processed in food processor).

In large skillet saute onion, carrot, garlic and parsley in oil until onion is golden brown. Add pork mixture, bread crumbs and 1/4 cup pine nuts. Mix well and cook until meat is well done. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove mixture from skillet and drain in colander or on paper towels.

When pork mixture is cool, stuff reserved squid bodies with mixture. (Do not overstuff because bodies shrink in cooking.) Bake squid in single layer at 350 degrees in lightly oiled baking dish 20 minutes.


Meanwhile, deglaze skillet with stock and wine. Simmer until reduced by half. In separate skillet, cook almonds, remaining pine nuts, chocolate and fried bread with bit of deglazed liquid to form thick paste, whisking bread into sauce.. Add paste to reduced liquid, stir in well, return to boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more stock to maintain consistency.

To serve, pour sauce over stuffed squid or spoon into serving plates and set squid on top of sauce. Makes 2 dozen squid for 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

630 calories; 655 mg sodium; 558 mg cholesterol; 25 grams fat; 45 grams carbohydrates; 56 grams protein; 0.68 grams fiber.

This recipe, which comes from “The Art of South American Cooking” by Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, originally called for rabbit. We’ve adapted it for chicken.


2 (2 1/2 pounds each) small chickens

1 cup olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, minced

2 large onions, finely chopped

4 stalks celery, strings removed, finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and grated

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup Port or other sweet wine

3 morcilla sausages, peeled and chopped

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped

1/4 cup flour

8 cups chicken stock or water

1 tablespoon coarse salt

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Wipe chickens inside and out with damp kitchen cloth. Cut each into serving pieces. In skillet, heat olive oil and cook meat, turning frequently, until brown on all sides, about 20 minutes. Remove meat from pan and set aside.

Pour off all but 1/4 cup of oil from skillet. Add garlic and onions and cook over medium heat, stirring, until onions start to turn golden around edges, about 10 minutes. Add celery, carrot, cloves, cardamom and cayenne. Add Port, stir and cook 1 minute. Add sausages and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add chocolate and stir. Sprinkle flour on top and continue to cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add 3 cups stock and salt.


Bring to boil, stirring constantly, then lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened, about 25 minutes. Stir in remaining 5 cups stock and bring to boil over medium heat.

Add chicken. Reduce heat to very low, cover and cook. Stir frequently scraping bottom of pan, until chicken is tender and sauce is thick again, about 1 hour 10 minutes.

Transfer chicken and sauce to serving platter and sprinkle with cilantro. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Each serving, based on 6 servings, contains about:

845 calories; 2,596 mg sodium; 184 mg cholesterol; 56 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 49 grams protein; 0.42 grams fiber.