Long before the conquistadors arrived, chocolate was a condiment in Mexican cookery. It was a bitter cocoa powder made from cacao trees, so valued it eventually became a currency.

Bitter chocolate came before sweet chocolate. In Mexico, they called it “the food of the gods.”

Long before the conquistadors arrived, chocolate was a condiment in Mexican cookery. It was a bitter cocoa powder made from cacao trees, so valued it eventually became a currency.

Its primary use was in a semi-sweet beverage, which survives today. This is a ceremonial wedding drink, where the bride and groom drink it from the same goblet. Cacao beans were fermented and crushed, forming a foamy liquid. Part of the crop went into a spice, flavored with hot chilies, vanilla, honey and other ingredients. It was craved on caramelized roasted meats.

To the Europeans, chocolate was the first caffeine-stimulated drink, followed a century later by coffee and tea.

Today, cocoa powder is similar to the old. You can make a steak rub with it or purchase a cocoa-chile blend, such as McCormick’s. Nestle sells solid Mexican chocolate under its Abuelita brand. Hershey’s markets unsweetened cocoa powder in baking departments.

COCOA CHILE BLEND

1 tablespoon unsweetened (natural) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon chile powder
1⁄2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
pinch dried oregano
pinch dried thyme
pinch garlic powder
pinch onion powder
pinch coriander powder

Mix together and store in a tightly capped glass bottle. Rub on steak or poultry on both sides and refrigerate for 2 hours, covered. Then grill the meat as usual.

MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE

1⁄4 cup unsweetened coca powder
1⁄4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
31⁄2 cups milk
1⁄2 cup half and half or cream
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat milk to just below boiling. Whisk in remaining ingredients. Reheat on low to combine. Serve hot with milk chocolate shavings or whipped cream on top. Makes 3-4 servings.