Chocolate: The Opiate of the Masses
Chocolate has fascinated humanity for centuries. It symbolic of love, friendship, and celebration. In ancient times however, it was used for ritual and to instill a sense of well being.
Let's face it: Chocolate is magic. Just the word has a way of imparting the sense of "Oooh goody!" I recall never being a big cookie fan (fruit candies were my absolute favorites) but chocolate was a whole other story. Even as a kid, I had a preference as to what was good chocolate and what was not, carefully selecting my way through boxes of Russell Stover's to insure I got all the dark ones. At any rate, as I got older, my yen for chocolate did not wane in the slightest and my tastes increased to rich chocolate truffles, filled with liquors and other treasures I wasn't allowed to have as a child. Along with crunchy chocolate dipped coffee beans, and more sensuous chocolate edibles like fresh chocolate mousse. These are just a very few of the modern ways chocolate is used in contemporary times.
In fact, chocolate as we know it today is the product of one of the most magical of herbaceous plants, the Cocoa tree. The Cocoa tree has long been esteemed as a plant of the Gods by ancient South American culture. The cocoa bean was believed to have been of heavenly origin and a significant part of many ancient spiritual rites as well as used medicinally, monetarily and ceremonially. Quetzacoatl was a deity revered by the Aztecs who believed he brought with him from heaven the Cacao shrub. (I think so too!) The Mayan word for chocolate was "xocoatl", and the Aztec word for cocoa was "cacahuatl."
Chocolate has a longer and richer evolution than that accorded by European history, and it is in these more mysterious recesses of ancient culture one finds that chocolate is not just a tasty treat, but serves physiologically and spiritually on other levels. Its effects on the human nervous system is a study of modern science as it has been proven to impose a sense of peace and well being. It was precisely for these hidden benefits that the Cocoa bean was employed in early Mesoamerica. In these earlier times, chocolate was prepared solely for drinking not eating purposes and mainly used for spiritual benefits, and as a vehicle of ablutions to the Gods that the ancients revered.
The main beverage made out of chocolate in ancient times was called in Mayan culture "Xocoatl" and in Aztec culture "Cacahuatl". Etymologically, the English term for chocolate is a derivative of words taken from both these Mayan and Aztec words. The modern Indian word "chocolate" comes from a combination of the terms choco ("foam") and atl ("water"). The main difference between the Mayan and Aztec variants was slightly different approaches in assembling the sacred drink and the use of different herbs. It is a wonderful experience to make "chocolate" from scratch as done in ancient times, but fairly time consuming. I have included this ancient cocoa recipes link for you if you would like to try it. However, I have come up with a modern alternative of my own, which is fabulous I might add, that I have provided below which anyone can make with a very few ingredients.
This recipe can be altered according to what you have on hand. You may have blocks of unsweetened chocolate or dry cocoa powder so use what you have and adjust accordingly. Also, this recipe is really done to taste so feel free to take the basic ingredients, and blend them to your own preference.
- Either 3 oz of unsweetened chocolate or 1/3 cup of pure unsweetened cocoa powder (Ghirardelli's makes a fine one)
- About 1 ounce of milk chocolate or 1/8 cup of sweetened chocolate powder. (Nestles, Hershey's is fine. Its not "upscale" but mixed with the dark chocolate it works.)
- About 5 cups of milk (I like to substitute a cup or so cream for some of the milk)
- Honey, sugar or both to taste
- Cinnamon Bark
- Dried Chili Peppers
Basically, you will heat the milk with the spices and some honey to a medium heat; you want it hot, but don't let it boil. Then you will be melting the chocolate (use a microwave preferably), and blending that in; or adding the cocoa powder if that is what you are using to the spiced warm milk. Stir and add more sweeteners to taste. It is also nice to froth it up a bit with a hand mixer before you pour it into cups to drink so it's foamy. Talk about yummy!