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Saturday, January 04, 2014

Chocolate: Much Better When It's Hot!

This is the very first Saturday Smorgasbord entry of 2014, and I have to admit that I had a really tough time trying to come up with a topic. I think part of the reason is that because the first week of the Saturday Smorgasbord is supposed to be about toys and games, and admittedly, I'm still a little burned out from the post-Christmas blues to even think about doing another blog entry on toys and games. I saw enough of them in the days after Christmas to even do one this week.

So, I hope you all understand my decision to forego the toy/game theme for this week. I promise that it will return next month in February 2014. I just need to take a break from toys and games for a month.

Of course, this leads to a dilemma. What should I talk about if I don't want to do a blog entry on toys or games?'s so hard to come up with an idea on an empty stomach. Hold on a second while I check and see what I have in the pantry.

Ah, hot chocolate. And, not just any hot chocolate either. I'm talking about honest to goodness Laura Secord hot chocolate with a smidgen of mint flavouring. What a perfect beverage to drink on a really, really cold day.

(And, believe me when I say that it's really cold. With the windchill, this area feels like it is at least minus thirty degrees Celsius!)

I mean, why would anybody willingly want to go outside and freeze every single part of their body (and when I say willingly, I mean those of you who don't have to go outside because of work commitments - and if you are one of those people who have to work outside in these frigid temperatures, you have my deepest sympathies), when they could stay inside and sip on a cup of hot cocoa?

Say...that would make a great topic for today.  Hot chocolate!  Not THAT Hot Chocolate.  But I suppose that in a pinch, I could use it for a future Sunday Jukebox.

I mean that delicious treat that has been long associated with winter that can be served with or without a dollop of whipped cream on top (for me personally, I prefer my hot chocolate sans whipped cream).

I know that some people would rather drink coffee on a frozen day than hot chocolate, and that's fine - provided you enjoy coffee.  I myself cannot stand coffee (unless it's ion a chocolate bar known as "Coffee Crisp"), so whenever I want a hot beverage, I always go for the cocoa.

And, these days there are many varieties to make hot chocolate.  Most often, you can simply buy containers of the stuff from your local supermarket or coffee shops, but they also make hot chocolate Tassimo and Keurig containers so you can enjoy a perfect cup every time.  You can also mix baking cocoa and water together and heat it up, and then just add a little milk for homemade hot chocolate from scratch.  I suppose that one could even melt a candy bar and mix it up with heated milk to make a hot chocolate like beverage.

(I've never actually tried that method yet, but it sounds like it would be delicious.  I wonder what a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup flavoured hot chocolate would taste?)

So, I have some trivia for you.  How long ago do you think that hot chocolate has been enjoyed as a beverage?  A hundred years?  Five hundred years?

Try two thousand years!

Approximately 2,000 years ago, the Mayans (the same people whose calendar made some believe that our world would be no more after 2012) reportedly made the very first chocolate beverage.  And believe it or not, it was served cold! 

Though, not in the form of a Yoohoo, I'm afraid. 

No, the recipe for the 2,000 year old precursor to hot chocolate was as follows.  Take some cocoa seeds, and ground them up into a paste (which must have been a tedious job as they had no such thing as blenders or coffee grinders two thousand years ago).  From there, the Mayans would add other ingredients to the chocolate paste such as water, cornmeal, chili peppers (!), and other things that could be found within their spice collections.  Once the mixture was completed, they would pour the mixture from a cup to a pot repeatedly until the liquid began to foam up.  Once the liquid foamed up, it meant that it was ready for consumption.  And, what was cool about this beverage was that it was readily available for people of all social classes.  No discrimination to be found in Mayan times - though admittedly the wealthiest social circles of the Mayan culture drank their chocolate beverages from elaborately designed chalices.

The beverage wasn't called hot chocolate though (mainly because it was served cold).  The Spaniards named the concoction "xocolatl".  And, let's just say that when xocolatl was first brewed, not a lot of people liked it.

You see, nowadays most hot chocolate beverages are made with some form of sugar or artificial sweeteners.  Back in the days of the Mayans, sugar was hard to find - especially in the Americas (my, how times change), so xocalatl had a spicy and bitter taste to it.  

Admittedly, I would likely not be a fan of xocalatl.

Now, it's really unknown as to when xocalatl was first served heated up, but it is estimated that the first true cup of hot chocolate was served sometime in the 16th century, as Spanish Jesuit missionary Jose de Acosta made reference to people serving the beverage known as xocalatl heated around that time.  But I think it's safe to say that once sugar became more readily available to people worldwide, sugar permanently replaced the ingredients that made the drink hot and spicy.

Because really, who wants to have chili powder in their hot chocolate nowadays?  Not this person!

(By the way, the hot chocolate that we all come to love now was perfected in the 17th century in Europe.)

And, these days, hot chocolate is consumed for pleasure...but it's also said that the drink has some health benefits.  Apparently, drinking enough of it can prevent certain types of cancer, and that the drink can also be used as an aid for digestion purposes.  Who knew?

So, that's our brief look back on the history of hot chocolate.  I'm just going to kick back with my hot chocolate now and try to come up with some ideas on what to write about in my next entry.

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