“Old” News — Chocolaholics of 1000 Years Ago

chocolate-mousse-cake-2Put the word “chocolate” in front of my eyes and my salivary glands start secreting. And, oh boy, when the real McCoy appears on a plate in front of me, watch out! Like that Chocolate Mousse Cake looking at you, kid.

Even when the discussion involves people drinking chocolate over 1000 years ago, those old glands turn frisky.

Smithsonian Institution
Photo credit: American Antiquity

Recent research by Patricia L. Crown of the University of New Mexico and W. Jeffrey Hurst of the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition indicates that ceramic cylinders found in  “Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon [excavated] in the Hyde Exploring Expedition from 1896-1899 and the National Geographic Society Expedition from 1920 to 1927” were used in ritualistic chocolate consumption. Prior to this discovery, no one knew just for what purpose the population of Pueblo Bonito actually made the cylinders.

Long known that the Maya used special cups and containers in chocolate drinking rituals, but

Crown selected sherds that were from cylinders or pitchers. She could tell they were dated between 1000 and 1125 A.D. based on the decorative style. She selected a few sherds and worked with a graduate student to grind off the edges for testing, then sent the material to W. Jeffrey Hurst at the Hershey Center. He tested the powder using an analytical method he had developed and found the presence of theobromine, a marker for Theobroma cacao or chocolate.


Here’s a possible old chocolate concoction, recalling the pre-Columbian chocolate drunk by Native Americans, and based on early Spanish accounts. Note that Sophie D. Coe, an expert on pre-Columbian cuisine, says in her book America’s First Cuisines, cinnamon (Cassia … ) did not appear in early versions of the drink. Although a variety of Cassia appeared in the New World tropics, that type produced laxative effects …

Whoops …

chocolate-aztec-mayaMesoamerican Chocolate Drink

Some experts believe that honey also should be added, but that’s up to you.

1 oz. baking (bitter) chocolate, grated into a cup
1 cup boiling water (more or less), pour a bit over the chocolate and stir until mixture forms a paste
1/2 – 1 t. pure vanilla extract
Cayenne pepper to taste
1/8 t. achiote powder
1/8 t. ground fennel or anise seed

Add the spices to the chocolate paste and then add boiling water until the mixture has the consistency of honey. Some people use milk instead of water. But that’s not what the Aztecs and Mayas did. Makes enough for one serving.

See also my previous post on chocolate, “Chocolate, Chocolate, and More Chocolate.”

© 2009 C. Bertelsen

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