One of my favorite movies is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I love everything from the conveyor belt of chocolates in the opening credits to the magic of the chocolate river. I secretly hope that one day I’ll find a golden ticket. Although I’ve yet to meet Mr. Wonka, it’s fair to say that I came pretty close to a chocolate river in México where I learned about the origins of this sweet treat.
Chocolate dates back to ancient Aztec and Maya civilizations, who considered the cacao (pronounced Ka-Kow) bean a luxury. Once used as a form of currency, a medicinal treatment for stomach pain, and a religious offering, the cacao bean was a highly valued commodity in pre-Columbian México. It wasn’t until the 16th century that chocolate arrived in Europe.
At la Soledad y Chocolat, I persuaded factory workers to spill the beans on how traditional Oaxacan chocolate is made. The state of Oaxaca is one of the country’s largest producers of chocolate and the people in this state consume more chocolate than anywhere else in México.
In Oaxaca, cacao beans are typically ground with sugar and spices. At the shop, I was handed a bowl of roasted beans, almonds, and cinnamon. Machines with sharp, rotating blades are used to grind the chocolate. It took only 10 minutes to transform these ingredients into a chocolate paste that is traditionally used in drinks and mole sauce.
I’m surprised that this simple process results in such sophisticated tasting chocolate – rich, earthy, and with a hint of spice.