Among one of the best things that I make is a Mexican hot chocolate recipe. Cuddling up on a blustery fall evening with a cup brings back good memories of my childhood. But recently it got me asking exactly where it all begins. We think of chocolate often times as being from places like Switzerland and France, but in fact chocolate has its roots all over Central America and largely in Mexico.
Chocolate making in Mexico begins with the tropical tree Theobroma Cacao. It is indigenous to Mexico, and has been farmed there for around 3 thousand years. The earliest reported usage of cacao was around 1100 BC. Chocolate is produced with the seeds of the cacao tree into a raw or processed food. The flavour of the seeds is very bitter naturally, and must be fermented to make the flavour more palatable.
Mesoamerican peoples have made chocolate beverages for a long time, including the Aztecs and Mayans. The Aztecs made a beverage from it whose name translates as \”bitter water\”. Both the Aztecs and Mayans used chocolate in both royal and religious events where priests would present seeds of the cacao tree as offerings to the gods. In addition they served chocolate liquor during sacred rituals. The Aztecs even instructed other peoples that they conquered that harvested cacao to pay it to them as a levy or tribute.
The development procedure for chocolate making in Mexico starts off with fermenting the cacao beans, and then drying and cleaning them before roasting them. After they are roasted, the shell is removed. This leaves what is called cacao nibs, that are then ground up to produce pure chocolate in raw form, often referred to as cocoa mass. Cocoa mass is usually liquified and molded along with other ingredients into chocolate liquor, which can be then further processed into cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
If you taste unsweetened baking chocolate from the store, you\’ll notice it has a slightly bitter taste since it is made up of cocoa solids and cocoa butter in various proportions. The more common types of chocolate known today as sweet chocolate are simply combinations of cocoa solids and cocoa butter with other fats and sugar. When sweet chocolate is mixed with condensed milk or milk powder you get milk chocolate. White chocolate is similar to milk chocolate but contains no cocoa solids.
The history of chocolate in Mesoamerica shows that chocolate was used as a drink for nearly all its history. In the 15th century, the Aztecs dominated Mesoamerica, and had adopted cacao into their culture associated with the goddess of fertility Xochiquetzal. Chocolate beverages were often used as sacred offerings. The Aztec drink was called Xocolatl, and was a frothy, bitter and spicy drink. It was fancied to be able to fight fatigue, and was seasoned with achiote (annatto), chile pepper and vanilla. Cacao was extremely difficult to grow within the dry central Mexican highlands, so it was imported and was considered an extravagance good. Cacao bean were also used as a form of currency during the Aztec Empire.
Chocolate is made of cacao beans, which are the partially fermented beans of the cacao tree (Theobroma Cacao). Theobroma is a scientific term that literally means \”food of the gods\”. The three main types of cacao beans used in making chocolate are called forastero, criollo and trinitario. Forastero is the most commonly grown bean from a large group of cultivated along with wild cacaos mostly indigenous to the Amazon basin. It is typically powerful in the classic chocolate flavor, but has a short duration and is not supported by any secondary flavors, making it a rather bland type of chocolate. Criollo comprises no more than five percent of all grown cocoa beans, making it the rarest and most costly available for purchase. They are tricky to grow, and susceptible to a variety of environmental threats, which regularly causes low yields per tree of cacao. Criollo has a soft yet complex taste, with less classic chocolate flavor, though with more seconday notes of flavor and of longer duration. Trinitario is a natural hybrid of both forastero and criollo. Over the past 50 years, most of the cacao produced has been of the forastero or lower-grade trinitario varieties.
Today, Mexico produces chocolate candies which are mostly imported into the Usa for Love day celebrations. Since 2002, imports from Mexico have more than doubled into the US as cheaper labor and sugar is drawing candymakers south of the border. As an example, Hershey features a 1,500 square foot chocolate factory within the northern Mexico capital of scotland- Monterrey to exchange plants it has already closed in the united states as well as in Canada. Moving to Mexico actually started in the past while using makers of hard candies with confectioners looking to survive a difficult business climate brought on by high sugar prices in the united states propped up for years by government subsidies. Hershey has created its new plant in Monterrey a model because of its corporate $575 big cost-cutting plan.
At the very least for all of us makers of chocolate, moving to Mexico have their advantages in the form of lower wages. Mexican processed food industry workers during 2009 made typically only $2.70 an hour. An equivalent worker in the united states during 2009 was making between $19 and $25 an hour. However, despite having this advantage, Mexican cacao growers (mostly inside the small state of Tabasco) find it more and more difficult to compete with the even cheaper imports from Brazil, Ivory Coast and Indonesia.
More of the chocolate making in Mexico has become assembly (maquila) work, instead of farm work. This is due primarily to floods and disease (frosty pod rot) which has caused Mexico\’s manufacture of cacao to drop from 47,000 tons in 2003, to lower than 20,000 tons in 2008. This can be leaving Mexican chocolate production in an exceedingly tenuous situation, whilst exports of Mexican chocolate are increasing so when chocolate factories are multiplying in number.
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