How Chocolate is Used as a Spice in Mexican Cuisine

Most people think of chocolate as a sweet substance that is used to create delectable, sweet desserts. Although that certainly is one of its main uses, the traditional cuisine of Mexico has long featured chocolate as a spice. Mesoamerican chefs have been grinding up cacao beans and using them in savory dishes for centuries. In fact, chocolate was never used in sweets until after it was taken to Europe by Spanish explorers. It was the Belgians that first started creating sweet desserts out of the ground up beans.

The traditional Aztec chocolate drink, Xocolatl, was bitter, spicy, and said to be sublime. Only the wealthy were allowed to drink it. It was made with water, ground cacao beans, chili peppers, and vanilla. The vanilla undoubtedly added a bit of sweetness, but the drink was nothing like the sweet stuff of today. The ancient people traditionally enjoyed it cold. Most modern diners have no taste for this historic nectar, which is why cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar are now routinely added to beverages served in Mexican restaurant San Diego.

Although chocolate beverages have evolved in Mexican cuisine to satisfy modern sweet tastes, a sauce called mole is still crafted the same way that is was many centuries ago. Mole sauce is served over various types of meats, rice, and beans. There are many different varieties of mole sauces, although the most well-known is called mole poblano, a thick, rich sauce that originated in the city of Puebla.

Each region of Mexico has at least one mole sauce that is specific to that area. The state of Oaxaca has seven such sauces. The most widely known is mole negro, which is crafted from chili peppers, garlic, chocolate, and a variety of spices.

Moles of all kinds are used as celebratory foods in Mexico and areas with Mexican populations. Weddings, holidays, and other special occasions aren’t complete without a main dish prepared with a mole sauce. Although mole is strongly associated with Cinco de Mayo, it can usually be found in any type of communal or familial celebratory event.

Despite chocolate being used as an ingredient in traditional Mexican moles, the sauces aren’t sweet. The sauces aren’t made with modern, sugared chocolate but rather with the same ground cacao beans that the ancient people used to flavor their favorite beverage.

Moles contain such diverse ingredients as sesame seeds, raisins, bit of dried plum, tomatillas, oregano, chicken broth, almonds, and salt. Diners who experience a traditionally prepared Mexican mole never think of chocolate in quite the same way ever again.

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