Tales from Chocolate Mecca: Oaxaca

07/24/11 11:27:45
75 posts

An update on Dave & Nat's research forMadre Chocolate in Oaxaca, Mexico....

After the success of finding exactly the right delicious cacao in Xoconusco, Chiapas to make you all hundreds of bars of Royal Aztec Chocolate, our trip to Oaxaca state was an even bigger success, where we located great sources for Vanilla from its geographic origins in Chinantla, Rosita de Cacao flowers and the foamed chocolate drink Tejate they are used to make, tons of nifty molinillo foaming sticks, plumeria flower infused bupu foamed drinks in Juchitan, and plenty of other chocolate drinks and preparations wherever we turned. As soon as you enter Oaxaca city you are struck by the wonderful rich smell of chocolate drinks like champurrado , mole vendors in each market, and cacao grinders on practically every corner, grinding up ingredients for chocolate recipes to your specifications. Though there is almost no cacao grown in Oaxaca state, this is truly the Mecca for traditional chocolate use and where the idea for starting Madre Chocolate was sparked.

The most common form in which you see chocolate in Oaxaca is in mole . There are many kinds of mole (at least 8 in Oaxaca alone) with different colors, spices, and bases, but the one most known outside of Mexico and the one with chocolate, mole poblano meaning it is a mole that comes from the state of Puebla. It usually has roasted chilis, roastedpumpkin seeds, tomatoes, raisins, almonds, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, and many other indigenous Mexican spices. To make a mole base, you can spend hours toasting, peeling, and grinding cacao and other spices or you can go to one of the plethora of these cacao grinding shops:


Where you can just tell them what amounts of cacao, cinnamon, cloves, and almonds you want ground together and they'll do it for you in a few minutes for a tiny charge. The Soledad shop I talked to said they grind about 400 lbs a week on their machines and they have to redress the grinding stones each week! The smell in these shops is absolutely heavenly for any chocophile, and you can get plenty of chocolate drink bases (with the rich cocoa butter still in there, not just cocoa powder) to satisfy your chocolate cravings by making something like this excellent champurrado with corn, water, and loads of rich chocolate:


Another part of our chocolate that was inspired by Oaxaca aside from the company idea was our Amaranth Crunch bar, based on the Alegria bars that are easily found in any market or street corner vendors. Alegrias are like rice crispy treats made most commonly from the popped healthy supergrain amaranth mixed with honey but also can be found made from pumpkin seeds, puffed corn, sesame seeds, peanuts, or a blend of all the above. Collect the whole set like we did pictured here in a small market in SE Oaxaca city in front of a tasty glass of horchata, a delicious and refreshing drink made from rice milk, almonds and cinnamon.


When Dave was living in Oaxaca last year he so loved snacking on the healthy & tasty amaranth alegrias that he was decided we just had to make a chocolate bar with the popped amaranth. Amaranth is the north American relative of quinoa, both supergrains in the spinach and beet family that have a complete set of amino acids, unlike regular grains like rice, corn, and wheat in the grass family which need to be mixed with legumes to have a complete set of Amina acids. Because of its nutritiousness, amaranth was a staple crop of the Aztecs that the Spanish conquistadors unfortunately outlawed since they thought its use in making temple sculptures was sacrilegious. This outlawing of their staple food possibly contributed to the downfall of the Aztecs and its use and growth now are supposedly at about 1/10th the levels at the height of the Aztec empire! We met the great group Puente de la Salud Comunitaria who are working in Oaxaca to encourage the replanting and use of this great food. It's a beautiful ornamental to boot that grows easily intemperate North America, Hawaii, andMexico (as pictured here at the gorgeous lush Oaxaca ethnobotanical garden).


TheOaxaca ethnobotanical garden is the only solely ethnobotanical garden we've ever seen or heard of in the world and it's a stunning celebration of all food, medicinal, dye, and psychoactive plants of the West Coast of Mexico. Another plan that was great to see there was the rosita de cacao, flor de cacao, cacahuaxochitl, or poyomatli , an incredibly heady smelling flower said to be redolent of maple syrup, fenugreek, and curry. Here a vendor in the vast Abastos market sells rosita de cacao along with several of the other spices used to make the delicious foamed drink tejate , like pixtle or the seed of the mamey sapote fruit, cloves, jaguar cacao, and regular cacao:


Just around the corner from the spice and flower vendors, you can find women selling the white foamy tejate, which theyve been mixing and foaming all day with sticks or tools called molinillo (little grinder) that are like low-tech hand blenders and were introduced by the Spaniards centuries ago where they quickly supplanted the Mayan foaming technique of pouring back and forth between to vessels from a height of several feet. The molinillos you can find in Abastos market as well, in nearly a million sizes and configurations:


The foam stirred up by the molinillo comes from the combination of the fat from the cacao beans, calcified jaguar cacao, and some of the spices. This foam is what most people in Mexico enjoy most about chocolate drinks. When you are served this drink in the beautiful jicara (painted calabash fruit shells) you can see at this vendors stand, you actually mainly get a bowl of foam that you eat with a spoon, not a liquid. I like to say that the indigenous Mesoamericans were making high-tech foams with keen plant chemistry thousands of years before the new rash of molecular gastronomists like Ferran Adria and Grant Achatz, who are obsessed with foams, were even born. This white foamy drink is a bit chalky at first from the calcified jaguar cacao, but the flavor and aroma are so addictive that you find yourself craving this foam that is like breathing in chocolate laced with the beautiful scent of the Oaxacan air.


These great flavor combinations and spices unknown outside of this area of Mexico are what we are trying to bring to the rest of the world with chocolate bars like our rosita de cacao bar made with Xoconusco cacao. With all of your incredible help backing us and spreading the word, weve gotten over halfway to our $15,000 project funding goal in just 1/2 the time allotted. Wed love it if you could continue to tell your friends, family, and coworkers who lovedeliciousartisanal chocolate or like supporting organic farmers about our project so we can make the final push to fund our project before the deadline in 20 days and get all those chocolate bar rewards out to you!

In our next update wellcover the last part of Oaxaca- Juchitan where they make the mythical bu'pu chocolate drink with the super fragrant plumeria or flor de mayo flower, commonly found in Hawaii leis, and how our Xoconusco chocolate with rosita de cacao was a smash hit at the Fine Chocolate Industry Association meeting in Washington DC last weekend. Stay tuned for more great updates!

updated by @nat: 04/09/15 04:28:40
Stu Jordan
07/25/11 00:37:16
37 posts
What a great post. Makes me want to go off & explore the world of Cocao!
Jeff Stern
07/25/11 15:02:16
78 posts
great post! lots of amaranth here too and the wonderful amaranth popcorn too!
Terri Gunderson
07/27/11 20:27:42
1 posts
I live in Oaxaca city and would love to know about your trip here. Can you recommend some places to visit. think we can put a tour together? I do gardening tours and general tours now but chocolate is my passion.
Ice Blocks!
07/28/11 15:40:35
81 posts

Any idea how they prepare pixtle or the seed of the mamey sapote?

I have two Mamey Sapote trees growing in the garden and have never tried to eat theseeds.

The flesh is wonderful.

The seeds are quite large and have a thick black shiny case. I presume they are roasted?

08/01/11 03:46:32
75 posts

Hi Ice Blocks,

Yes, the mamey seeds have to be carefully roasted to detoxify them of the cyanide that makes them smell so wonderfully almondy. Mexicans and Guatemalans do this differently but both involve some combo of roasting, drying, and boiling that we're still getting the hang of. Because of the cyanogenic compounds, I wouldn't want to adviseyou incorrectly how to do this. Get a book like Diana Kennedy's Oaxaca al Gusto for detailed directions.

Ice Blocks!
08/01/11 04:43:05
81 posts
Thanks for the warning. I found a couple of references to grinding and roasting (and smoking) which I presume is a translation error.


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