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Was the First Chocolate Really Beer?

#chocolate #chocolatier #scharffenberger



Whoever heard of a cookbook you couldn't put down? The Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg is delightful, readable, fascinating because of the background information on the two men who founded the company – one a successful vintner and the other a doctor battling leukemia – as well as fascinating information on cacao itself, the need for biting midges and shade, the lives of the growers they have encountered in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Panama.


In three blog posts, here are some of my favorite takeaways that come from sections they term "legends and lore" which are interspersed among recipes I just have to have.


The Cacao Tree Is a Mayan Creation Story

"Just as Christianity has a creation story that revolves around an apple tree, the Mayan culture had a creation story involving the cacao tree." Two ball-playing twins are killed by the lords of death in the underworld...(but) "one of the twins returns with his head appearing in the trunk of a tree that "looks in ancient renderings like cacao. The citizens of Xibalba are ordered to stay away from this tree, but they can't resist it. After an immaculate conception involving the twin (in the cacao tree) and Xquic (her name can be translated alternately as Lady Blood and Blood Moon), the sun, the moon, and the earth all take their place in the cosmos."


Was the First Chocolate Really Beer?

Archaeologists don't agree on what first led humans to cultivate cacao. Clearly the first taste of cacao would've been the pulp, which early Amazonians may have sucked from the seeds as long as 10,000 years ago... Were the seeds secondary to the process of turning the pulpy mass into a fermented drink called cacao chicha – a sort of chocolate beer? The vessels found in archaeological digs in which we have early cacao residue are narrow-neck bottles, appropriate for alcoholic beverages but not for frothing cacao [the traditional early way of preparing it.]


The First Hot Chocolate Was Gruel

"The first chocolate "drinks" were really more like a soupy oatmeal, a kind of corn gruel to which ground cacao was added for flavor. As the stimulating properties of cacao became more appreciated, the cacao proportion of the gruel grew larger. This was the start of the day for many people, the meal they'd consume before heading out to hunt for food. The drink was made with cold water, mixed by pouring it back and forth between two cups, often from a height of several feet. Over years, the cacao "processing" was refined. Heating the water allowed the oil in the cacao to emulsify for a smoother drink. The ingredients added to the mixture ranged from achiote and flower petals to spices and honey to a wide variety of chili peppers, varying from region to region and with the seasons."


Chocolate As a Ritual Drink 

"Bernal Diaz Del Castillo, the Spanish soldier who recorded Cortez's conquests, claimed that Montezuma would order 50 cups of chocolate prepared just before he visited his harem. Most likely Montezuma wanted to be sure that he and all his companions would not lack for chocolate, but some historians believe that Montezuma would go from cup to cup sipping just the foam from each. Many ancient cultures considered the chocolate foam as the essence of the drink. It was believed to contain chocolate's vital properties, and early Mesoamericans never drank chocolate without frothing it up first. Even today, in parts of Mexico and Central America, chocolate is never served without a good head of foam. In Guatemala, while visiting some of the people who grow cacao beans, we learned that Mayan growers ritually consume chocolate drinks prior to planting corn, to celebrate the birth of a child, and on all feast days. The earliest method of frothing was to pour a mixture of chocolate and water from one vessel into another from a height of three or 4 feet. Archaeologists have found pottery, such as the Princeton Vase, which dates back to 8750, depicting people frothing their chocolate this way. The molinillo probably devised by the Spanish, came into vogue in the 16th century. A slender wooden rod with carved wooden cylinders at one end, the molinillo whips air into a cup of hot chocolate very quickly when you twirl it between your palms."


Other posts:  "Chocolate Comes to Europe in Surprising Ways"

"Why Is It Called Devil's Food"


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