Etsy Kitchen Histories: Ancient Hot Chocolate

chocolate3Hot chocolate, frothed with a molnillo.

In my latest post for Etsy, I experiment with making hot chocolate–Ancient Mesoamerican style:

In both Maya and Aztec art there are depictions of elegant women pouring liquid chocolate between two vessels: one on the ground and one held at chest height. Pouring the chocolate back and forth aerates and froths the drink as it falls through space, like the waterfall in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. A thick head of froth was seen as the sign of a fine cup of chocolate. The method seemed simple enough, so I placed one bowl on the kitchen tile, held one in the air, and gently poured. Chocolate spattered all over my floor.

Despite my best efforts, my chocolate wouldn’t froth. I found the answer to my problem in Mary Roach’s new book  Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, all about the science of eating (it’s great!). In a footnote about spit bubbles, she explains froth is caused by proteins, which hold air into a liquid when beaten, like whipping cream or making meringue. Cacao has a little bit of protein, but apparently not enough to create a foamy head. The Mexican Cook Book Devoted to the American Homes,  written in 1947  by a Mexican woman, suggests adding eggs into the cacao mixture–for the express purpose of frothing:

Almonds are usually added to the home-made chocolate, as they give it a very good taste, and also boiled egg yolks, these with the primary purpose of having the chocolate froth up upon being boiled.

I didn’t try hard boiled eggs as she suggested, but I did add a raw egg white, and the concoction foamed easily. The 1947 book is a blend of pre- and post- Colombian chocolate making techniques; and while eggs were available to the Maya and Aztec (from wild birds (updated: or turkeys or Muscovy ducks)) I can’t say if they would have been used in chocolate making.

cacao2A cacao bean with the nibs inside.

The entire recipe is below, and it gives an interesting look into the process of making chocolate. You can read more about my chocolate making experiences on Etsy!

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Old Fashioned Chocolate a la Mexicana
From Mexican Cook Book Devoted to the American Homes, 1947
By Josefina Valazquez de Leon

1 1/2 pounds of Tabasco cocoa (a regional Mexican cacao)
10 ounces Maracaibo cocoa (Venezuelan cacao)
2 pounds of sugar.
4 ounces of almonds.
1/2 ounce cinnamon.
2 boiled egg yolks

Have the cocoa roasted in a frying pan as much at to suit your taste (some persons like it dark and others light). Once roasted let it cool down take the shell off to better it so there be no shell left on it. (This shell is saved to make refreshments, gruel and “champurrado“). In special metate for grinding the cocoa, the sugar is first ground together with the almonds (these latter slightly roasted and ground shell and all), adding also the egg yolks. After all this has been well ground is placed aside and fire put under the metate grinding the cocoa next, once roasted, of course. When it is well reground the sugar and the other ingredients are added and is again ground over until all of it is well mixed and formed into a paste which does not stick to the metate. Then one proceed to mould it…The paste is then poured on the moulds and pressed and rubbed with the hand so as to make it adquire (sic) a shining surface and immediately is marked with a knife in order to divide each mould contents into sixteen equal parts each of these parts being in turn equal to one ounce.

7 Responses to “Etsy Kitchen Histories: Ancient Hot Chocolate”


  • Amazing. Marketplace cacao in the Philippines has raw egg yolk and palm wine.

  • It would pain me to let stand that passing reference to the “a Mexican woman.” Josefina Valazquez de Leon deserves recognition as one of the most significant characters in the history of 20th century food and food writing. The whole concept of Mexican cuisine traces back to her; she wrote over a hundred cookbooks championing regional Mexican styles, produced a monthly food magazine, founded TWO cooking schools, had a popular TV program and sold her own line of kitchen tools and spices. She was Mexico’s combined Escoffier, Fanny Farmer, Julia Child, Alice Waters and Martha Stewart. And she did all of this as a single woman in the muy macho climate of Mexico City in the early part of the century. Sadly, today she’s almost forgotten; all of her books are out of print, even in Mexico. Josefina and her “Mexican Cook Book Devoted to the American Homes” are long overdue being rediscovered.

    • You are absolutely right–and that’s far more information than I knew about her! But she was also a Mexican lady:) I mentioned it specifically because I believe this cookbook is the first one on Mexican cooking written for an American audience by a Mexican woman–is that correct? I thought that was very special considering most other books were written through the lens of an American writer.

      I had to go the the NYPL Microfiche department to see a copy of this book. It is a fascinating and insightful volume and does deserve rediscovery!

      How did you find out about her?

      • I think the first “authentic” Mexican cookbook aimed at Americans was Maria A. de Carbia’s 1938 “Mexico Through My Kitchen Window”, but if so, that distinction comes with a big asterisk. Some of her recipes were Americanized heavily: Substitute bell peppers for poblanos, use chocolate bars in mole, and that sort of thing (her day job was as an employee of a major Madison Avenue ad agency, as I recall). Later she wrote “Marichu Va A La Cocina” (it has been republished many times under name variations) which was a very serious cookbook that has never been translated into English.

        The importance of Josefina’s legacy isn’t that she taught Americans about real Mexican cooking — it was that she taught MEXICANS about real Mexican cooking. When she began in the 1930s ideas of what was “good food” leaned heavily on European dishes. Her cookbooks were cheap paperbacks (did I mention that she published them herself?) that home cooks adored. Many of her cookbooks were very slim, such as a collection of recipes for every day of a particular month, but they introduced Mexicans to flavors and seasonal ingredients from distant parts of the country. I don’t think it is an overstatement to claim that as a result of her efforts, Mexicans came to realize they had their own rich national cuisine.

        Although Josefina does not have a Wikipedia page (!) info about her is available here and there. There used to be an informative website, josefina-food.com, that is now inactive. Some of the same info that was there still appears on food blogs or can be found in occasional Spanish language magazine articles.

        I have carried around a copy of “Mexican Cook Book” for over thirty years (it cost me $3 back around 1980, and now I see used copies are selling for $300 and more) and it is the last book I will ever part with. Where else could I find a recipe for cocoanut tamales or “riders in chaps” (a pork loin, cream and chipotle tortilla filling)? How could you resist a recipe for “Kid in its Blood” that begins, “Decapitate the kid over a large pan…”

  • Interesting case of parallel evolution. In Malaysia and Singapore, they use the same pouring technique to cool off freshly brewed tea; I think it also gets a bit foamy, but that might be memory more than fact. Look for “teh tarik” there — pulled tea. I like the chain “Mr. Teh Tarik” but it’s kind of ubiquitous. They even have pouring contests where they compete to see who can still pour accurately from the greatest height.

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