Cocoa: The Drink for Royalty and You

CocoaAlthough chocolate was brought to the continent in the 1600s, Europe learned to love chocolate in the 1800s, after Fry and Sons started to market it with sugar. By this time, the food known as chocolate had gone through a long and colorful history.

Early Consumption of Chocolate

Artifacts show that chocolate may have been enjoyed as a drink as early as 1750 BC in Mesoamerica. This drink had a special place in ancient cultures. In Chocolate in Ancient Mayan and Aztec Societies, Kimberly Dyke of Classroom says, “…The ancient Aztec and Maya cultures used cacao as currency. The plant’s seeds that grew so readily in the lowlands were extremely valuable in the drier climates. They were also used as gifts and tributes to emperors and as offerings in religious ceremonies when transformed to liquid. Baskets of cacao, maize and feathers were traded in the market and used as a reference for measurement…”

Not only was cacao used for currency it also had the value of being processed into a “status” drink. The first chocolate drinks were certainly not meant for the enjoyment of the ordinary person. Dyke goes on to say that “The Mayan people ground the cacao seeds and mixed them with water to make a bitter and foamy drink for its kings and nobleman. The men of status consumed the drink from grand vessels. The Aztecs added other flavorings to their bitter liquid chocolate, such as vanilla, chili, maize and flowers. Typically, the drink was poured from above to create a frothy liquid and served at a cool temperature. An associate of Cortes wrote that the cacao liquid was so powerful, whoever drank a cup of it could walk for a whole day without eating anything else…”

Apart from being treated as currency, cocoa was also considered a medicinal plant. It was believed to relieve intestinal problems and stomachache. It was also mixed as an aphrodisiac, processed as an alcoholic drink, and used to lower fever.

Cocoa Today

Today cocoa is considered a major comfort food. Prepared with plenty of milk, it is a popular breakfast drink but is just as sought after for chilly nights. The LA Times gives a rich and rather sophisticated version of hot cocoa in “Cocoa Is Warm, Comforting Food That’s Perfect for Chilly Weather”. The article defines cocoa as a drink not just for children but for adults as well – “a comfort food–is so warm and soothing in chilly weather. It’s enjoyed by all ages as is, or with a bit of spice. For adults, combine with coffee or lace with alcohol or liqueurs…” The published recipe calls for four cups o coffee, 1 cup of hot cocoa mix, half a cup of Half and Half, half a cup of rum, some vanilla, and half a cup of whipping cream.

Getting Your Cocoa Fix

In some places where cacao is grown, chocolate drinks come from cacao processed straight from cacao seeds dried and ground to a very thick but buttery paste. The paste is then molded into disks and cooked in boiling water as needed. This is where you get 100% cacao in your cocoa. In other places, however, cocoa conveniently comes in powder form. Fortunately, chefs today have come up with gourmet recipes for cocoa.

Celebrity chef Ina Garten of Food Network shares at least three different recipes for this wonderful drink. In Plain Hot Chocolate she uses milk, equal parts of bittersweet chocolate with milk chocolate, coffee powder, vanilla, and some cinnamon. For her Mexican Hot Chocolate she uses bittersweet chocolate, brown sugar, and cayenne pepper. A refreshing departure from the usual chocolate drink is her recipe for Holiday Hot Chocolate. A worthy addition to any holiday feast, this drink uses white chocolate, vanilla, and orange flavored liqueur.

There are endless ways to have chocolate today, and technology has made all these different ways easy to prepare. Today you can have the drink of kings right in your kitchen, straight from a can, and know that it is as good as the drink royalty enjoyed hundreds of years ago.

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