A small bit(e) of chocolate trivia: The botanical name of the plant that chocolate comes from Theobroma Cacao. Theobroma, in Greek, means Food of the Gods.
Of all the gustatory treasures inherited from the New World, the most precious export was cacao (pronounced Ka-Kow). Once used as a form of currency, a medicinal treatment for abdominal pain, and a religious offering, the cacao bean was a highly valued commodity in pre-Hispanic México.
The first Europeans to come in contact with cacao were the Spanish conquistadors. In 1519, the Spanish were invited to dine with Aztec emperor Moctezuma in the city of Tenochtitlán Moctezuma offered his guests a drink called xocóatl, or bitter water.
Xocóatl, reserved only for the highest classes in Aztec society, is an ancient, spicy version of today’s chocolate milk. This drink was made from ground cacao beans and boiling water. It is flavored with vanilla and chili (but no sugar). It is then chilled with bits of snow from nearby mountain tops and whipped until a thick froth is formed. After sampling the drink, the Spanish sent cacao back to Spain, where it was then mixed with sugar and renamed chocolate.
At La Soledad in Oaxaca, I saw the cacao refining process. Here, cacao seeds are dried and roasted to develop their flavor and put into a grinder, where they are shelled and ground into a brown, grainy paste. The processed cacao is hot and extremely fragrant. Despite its alluring aroma I was not a fan of the extremely bitter taste it left in my mouth. Once sugar, almonds, and cinnamon are added it tastes more like the chocolate with which I am familiar.