Think museums are boring? Maybe you aren’t going to the right ones. These are photos of my tour of the ChocoMuseo in Antigua, Guatemala, where education is dipped in chocolatey goodness.
Cacao beans. You know that saying, “Money doesn’t grow on trees”? Well, at one point, it did. Records have been found showing that the Aztecs used cacao beans as currency. They are being roasted here and, like the smell of the roasting house on the coffee plantation, it is one of those aromas I wish I could preserve forever.
Making our own chocolates. Well, we didn’t actually make the chocolate. There wasn’t time for that. We were given the chocolate, which we poured into molds and could enhance with various nuts and spices. This was actually one of the first things we did, so that the chocolate could cool and we could take it with us when we left. Because it wasn’t tempered, it wasn’t very durable (e.g. body heat would start melting it almost immediately) but it was still delicious.
Post-grinding. See the shine? That’s the cocoa butter. A bean is about 55% butter and 45% everything else. It’s the cocoa butter that gives chocolate its smooth, creamy texture. Unfortunately, it is more profitable to sell it to the cosmetics industry, so more and more candy manufacturers are using palm, sunflower and safflower oil in its place and hoping people don’t notice. If your favorite chocolate starts tasting waxy or dirty, check the label. Odds are, you’ll see those oils.
Pablo, our guide on the tour. Talk about a natural showman. Always nice to meet someone who loves what they do, and this man loved chocolate. Here, he’s showing us how to make it the way the Aztecs did. Keep in mind, chocolate wasn’t actually a food until the Industrial Revolution in the 1800’s. Up until then, it was consumed as a drink. The Incas are credited with discovering it and used it primarily as medicine. At that point, it was just water, chocolate, chile power and a little blood to appease the gods. Yum. Then the Aztecs came along and turned it into a drink for royalty by sweetening it with honey. They also saw the blood ceremony and thought “Noooooope”. They figured that the reddish color of the spice achiote would appease the gods just as well. In the photo, you can see some achiote on Pablo’s wrist. As a side note, achiote extract is also used to color Cheetos, which makes total sense, as Cheetos are the food of the gods.
How was it? Well, I’d say it’s an acquired taste. A little gritty, with chocolate more bitter than sweet and a spicy kick from the chile. Not exactly the hot chocolate I’m familiar with, but it is cool to think that this was the origin of the chocolate we know and love today.