BEVERAGE A popular comfort drink in winters, hot chocolate was once only for the elite
This is a truth, across the walls of age, and continents too. Come a wintry day, a brew that you frequently think of whipping up is a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Or what many call drinking chocolate. Easy to concoct, it is such a mug of joy on a freezing day.
Worldwide, hot chocolate is one of the top comfort foods for reasons like this. And its history is rather interesting, and 3100 years old! Though we identify the drink more with Europe and the U.S. today, hot chocolate was born far away from these geographical stretches in South America.
According to scientists, 3100 years ago, the Mayans knew how to stir up a chocolate beverage. The brew, made from cocoa, was an important part of Aztec food habit. It used to be served cold. Experts arrived on this piece of information after unearthing vessels dating back to 460-480 A.D. with Mayan glyph for cacao (cocoa) on them with deposits of a chocolate drink. These vessels were dug out from a Mayan tomb in Guatemala.
Also, according to a recent research report after digging a site dating 1100 B.C. in Honduras, the Aztecs tried making beer with cocoa and ended up making drinking chocolate. So this bitter brew was initially drunk as a celebratory beer-like drink. The beverage was introduced to Europe through Mexico, where it is considered a national drink today. Some scientists also believe that it could be the Spaniards who brought it to Europe from the Aztecs.
The concoction obviously went through several modifications as it travelled, from Mexico to Europe, and then to the U.S. So that is why you will see drinking chocolate is served with a dollop of whipped cream somewhere, too thin a brew somewhere else, or mixed with vanilla and other spices in some place else. In Spain, it is traditionally served with snacks like churros. The Mayans used to make a paste of cocoa seeds and mix it with cold water, cornmeal and other ingredients. According to records, the drink was popular with all strata of society there, though in Europe, it became the brew of the elite initially. May be because cocoa was not grown in Europe then.
Now in India, hot chocolate finds place in almost every restaurant or café. Either served with a blob of cream or as a rich creamy drink with cocoa powder sprinkled on top. Though, I prefer to make my own hot chocolate, the Mexican way — with cinnamon. Take a few pieces of dark chocolate and liquefy them in a thick-bottomed pot. Next, boil a cup of whole milk and simmer for sometime till it becomes a bit thick. Mix the liquid chocolate and cinnamon sticks. You can also use other herbs or other flavours, say orange, peppermint or even bay leaves. Take it off the burner and serve hot with whipped cream on top if you want.
Tipplers may add a dash of whiskey or brandy, though I think it goes best with the liqueur Kahlua. The adventurous ones can buy a bottle of rum and a dropper!
Sangeeta Baruah Pishoroty