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Xocolatl -The Origin of Cocoa and Beyond

Have you ever wondered about the origins of your favourite hot chocolate drink? Perhaps you've thought about the roots of the dark chocolate you enjoy so much? The answer lies in a word that many may not be familiar with: Xocolatl.

This was the original form of chocolate, a far cry from the dessert we know today. It is a drink made from cocoa beans, water, and spices, prized for its energising properties, and often consumed during religious ceremonies and banquets.

 


Cacao residues on pottery in Ecuador suggest that the plant was consumed by humans as early as 5,000 years ago. The tree was likely domesticated in the upper Amazon region and then spread northward. It was widely cultivated more than 3,000 years ago by the Maya, Toltec, and Aztec peoples, who prepared a beverage from the bean (sometimes using it as a ceremonial drink) and also used the bean as a currency.

 

Christopher Columbus took cocoa beans to Spain after his fourth voyage in 1502, and the Spanish conquistadores, arriving in Mexico in 1519, were introduced to a chocolate beverage by the Aztec. The Aztec beverage was made from sun-dried shelled beans, probably fermented in their pods. The broken kernels, or nibs, were roasted in earthen pots and then ground to a paste in a concave stone, called a metate, over a small fire. Vanilla and various spices and herbs were added, and corn (maize) was sometimes used to produce milder flavour. The paste, which formed into small cakes, was cooled and hardened on shiny leaves placed under a tree. The cakes were broken up, mixed with hot water, and beaten to foamy consistency with a small wooden beater, a molinet, producing the beverage called xocoatl (from Nahuatl words meaning “bitter water”).

 

 

Too bitter for European taste, the mixture was sweetened with sugar when introduced to the Spanish court. Although Spain guarded the secret of its xocoatl beverage for almost 100 years, it reached Italy in 1606 and became popular in France with the marriage of the Spanish princess Maria Theresa to Louis XIV in 1660. In 1657, a Frenchman opened a London shop, selling solid chocolate to be made into a beverage, and chocolate houses, selling the hot beverage, soon appeared throughout Europe.

 



In 1828 C.J. van Houten of the Netherlands patented a process for obtaining “chocolate powder” by pressing much of the cocoa butter from ground and roasted cocoa beans. In 1847 an English firm combined cocoa butter, a by-product of the pressing, with chocolate liquor and sugar to produce eating chocolate, and in 1876 Daniel Peter of Switzerland added dried milk to make milk chocolate. The proliferation of flavoured, solid, and coated chocolate foods rapidly followed.

Today, we have a wide range of chocolate varieties to choose from, from milk chocolate to dark chocolate and even vegan chocolate. The latter is a testament to chocolate’s versatility to suit everyone’s dietary requirements, ensuring everyone can enjoy this delightful treat, regardless of their dietary preferences.

One of the most comforting ways to enjoy chocolate is in the form of hot chocolate. During the colder months, many cultures enjoy this warm, soothing drink. And the best part? It’s incredibly easy to make at home. Make hot chocolate at home with this simple recipe:

  1. Heat a cup of milk (or a dairy-free alternative for vegan options) over medium heat.
  2. Add two tablespoons of Darkins Hot Chocolate Mix.
  3. Stir until it's fully dissolved.
  4. Pour into a mug, top with whipped cream or marshmallows, if desired, and enjoy!

 


Xocolatl is more than just an ancient drink; it was the precursor to the chocolate we love today. It's a testament to the evolution of food and our tastes, and a reminder of the rich history and culture that surrounds us. So the next time you taste a piece of dark chocolate or sip a cup of hot chocolate, remember cacao's journey from the ancient Aztec civilisation to your taste buds. Enjoy a taste of history, one sip or bite at a time.

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