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|November 13-19, 2008
• Travels across the table
Gunbarrel gets ethnic at Gurkhas
by Clay Fong
• What’s brewing for fall
by Peter St. Onge
The food we hold sacred
by Renee Enna
It seems incongruous that the ingredient so integral to, say, a Hershey’s Kiss, is the same one that for centuries played a major role in religious and cultural rituals. Of course, anyone addicted to Hershey Kisses may not think it strange at all.
Chocolate’s reputation for inducing swoons has centuries of recorded history to back it up. It started with the discovery by Mesoamerican societies that the cacao (kah-KOW) tree’s ungainly looking pods contained edible ingredients.
The tree was known to grow wild in South America, and it’s possible that as early as 1500 B.C. people were cultivating it and eating the pulp that surrounded the cacao beans, said Mesoamerican archaeologist Meredith L. Dreiss, co-author with Sharon Edgar Greenhill of the upcoming book, Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods (University of Arizona Press, $30), and of its companion DVD, a film of the same name that Dreiss made with her brother, filmmaker Grant Mitchell.
But it’s the pod’s beans, not the pulp, that yield the chocolate. The Maya are thought to have perfected the process of grinding the beans into a powder, which they combined with water, spices and chilies to create a drink that was far different from the creamy cocoa we dollop with whipped cream.
“It was either unsweetened or bittersweet (chocolate), it was highly spiced and it wasn’t made with milk — which was not available to the Mesoamericans — it was made with water,” explained chocolatier Mark Sciscenti of Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe, who uses ancient recipes to re-create beverages in the spirit of those times, and which are available on his Website, kakawachocolates.com.
(Sciscenti added that water makes more culinary sense, too, because milkfat coats the tongue and masks the myriad flavors that can be tasted in good-quality chocolate.)
Cacao took off throughout Central and South America, but it was less a recreational foodstuff than a product of cultural significance used as currency, medicine and in religious ceremonies that ranged from baptism to human sacrifice. And it was not just important to the living. Dreiss said that burial vessels found in Guatemala dating to 400 A.D. not only had chocolate inside them, but that recipes for chocolate drinks were written on the pots.
Christopher Columbus is believed to be the first person to transport cacao beans from the New World to the Old in 1502, according to the National Confectioners Association. The cacao that was brought from the New World to the Old by Spanish explorers in the 16th century was a well-kept secret among the royal court. What fascinates Dreiss is that the Spanish were able to keep chocolate a secret for so long: “It wasn’t for about 100 years before it starts spreading through the rest of Europe,” she said.
Chocolate remained, at first, a drink of the Old World aristocracy, often enjoyed with, yes, milk and the seasonings available to them, such as cinnamon, anise, black pepper, sesame seeds and almonds, Dreiss and Greenhill write. It was the addition of another ingredient, however, that took chocolate to a different level: “For when sugar was added to the bitter but sacred drink of the Maya, this beverage from the New World tropical forests came to belong to the rest of the world.”
Eventually, the hoi polloi got a taste of what they were missing.
The Industrial Revolution made chocolate available to the masses, and ushered in the Next Big Thing for chocolate, when somebody (it’s not clear who) was able to combine the melted cocoa butter (the fat that occurs naturally in cocoa beans) with sugar and cocoa powder to create the first solid eating chocolate.
The invention of the Hershey’s Kiss (1907, by the way) was just a matter of time.
Maybe we’re coming back full circle: The growing popularity of chocolate teamed with chili — a combination marketed as an exotic introduction despite its centuries-old provenance — sees this foodstuff returning to its spicy roots.
Or maybe not.
According to Hershey’s website, more than 29 billion Kisses were manufactured in 2007.
80 million: Number of Hershey’s Kisses manufactured daily, according to the Hershey website.
2,300: Approximate number of calories in 1 pound of milk chocolate.
Chili chocolate elixir
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Makes: 1 drink
This recipe, says Mark J. Sciscenti of Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe, represents the quintessential Mesoamerican chocolate beverage. Agave nectar is sold in natural food stores. Ground annatto seeds and chipotle chili powder are sold in Mexican and specialty markets and some supermarkets. The cocoa nibs, sold in specialty markets, add an unusual textural element; if you prefer, you can make the drink without them.
4 to 5 ounces purified water or as needed
1⁄4 teaspoon ground annatto seeds
1 1⁄2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped into small bits
1 to 2 tablespoons agave nectar or honey
2 teaspoons cocoa nibs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1⁄4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder or 1 teaspoon ground ancho chili
1. Heat the water with the ground annatto seeds in a small saucepan until almost boiling; remove pan from heat.
2. Add the chopped chocolate; whisk until melted. Stir in the agave nectar, cocoa nibs, vanilla and chili until combined. Serve hot.
Per serving: 334 calories, 70 percent of calories from fat, 25 g fat, 16 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 32 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 11 mg sodium, 7 g fiber
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