Chocolate and the Aztecs

Although vanilla is undoubtedly America's most useful flavoring, adaptable as it is and amenable to use with other flavors, chocolate is certainly America's favorite. Like vanilla, it may be combined with other flavors to great advantage-orange, almond or rum, for instance - but its taste, unlike that of vanilla, invariably remains predominant. In 1965, the United States consumed 720,000,000 pounds of chocolate in cakes, cookies, pies, ice creams, puddings, syrups, sauces and candies. Here we have not yet learned (as they did centuries ago in Mexico) that chocolate is also excellent when used in small quantities with meats and birds. When we do, it will add to our national annual consumption.

Chocolate was discovered for Europeans in 1519 by Cortez in Mexico. Montezuma, the last Aztec ruler, personally consumed some fifty "pitchers" of a chocolate drink each day and had two thousand "pitchers" prepared for members of his household. It gave strength, so it was said; it gave courage, wisdom. Rare aphrodisiacal powers were attributed to it (as was also the case later in Europe). Cortez took beans of the cacao tree back to Spain with him for the court to taste and ponder, and for a hundred years, chocolate was a Spanish "secret."

During that time Spanish cooks changed the royal Axtec drink from a cold one to a hot one; they improved its quality by the addition of sugar, and the flavor by the addition of vanilla. the bars that they made of the crude chocolate, which would subsequently be grated for the drink, often included a flour of some sort as a binder. Nut powders or flours were often used instead of grain flours. Spices were included-ginger, cinnamon, cloves and the native American pimentos, which came to be known as allspice. The cracked or pounded cacao bean would be melted and mixed with these other ingredients according to household formula, then hardened into cakes similar to those which are even today used by Mexicans.

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