Mexican Chocolate

mexican chocolate with molinillo

History And Lore

The botanical name for chocolate is Theobroma, which means "food of the gods".  The name is appropriate for the importance of chocolate in the Mexican culture.  Chocolate is among the many things the Spaniards acquired from the Aztecs.  The native Aztec people made a variety of drinks made of chocolate combined with honey, nuts, seeds, and spices.  The drink was used in rituals by priests as well as nobleman. While many historic references are made to the Aztecs and chocolate, the Aztecs actually adopted the use of chocolate from the earlier Mayan Culture.

European Adaptation

Chocolate was so revered it was used by the Aztecs as both a food and currency. The Spanish explorers were so enamored with the flavor that they took chocolate back to Spain where it became the the Kings' Official Drink in the New Spain and Europe.  Around the end of the XVIII century(1780 - 1800) , Europeans started preparing chocolate with milk and sugar to create what we know today as Hot Chocolate.  In fact the drink became so popular many of the leading European porcelain manufactures such as Limoges in France began making specialized pots and cups just to serve chocolate.

chocolate set

This photograph is a nice example of a chocolate set made by Haviland, Limoges. Sets normally included a pot, cups, and many times matching saucers, trays.  These sets are still manufactured today. The antique and vintage pieces have become quite collectable and valuable. Chocolate cups and pot image by tburns


Mancerina And Jicara

 mancerina saucer and cup

This is a Mancerina and jícara (chocolate cup and fitted plate). As the story goes; a Spaniard watched ladies trying to balance their cups of chocolate on their laps so he devised this special cup with a built in "holder" so the chocolate would not be so easily spilled.  Photo by: Museuceramica

Traditional Uses For Mexican Chocolate

mexican chocolate diskHot Drinks -  The most traditional use for chocolate was for hot beverages such as Atole, Champurrado and Mexican Hot Chocolate.  Learn more about Mexican Beverages. Also see the recipe links on this page.

Atole is frequently served with tamales.  Champurrado is also served as a dessert with Churros or a sweet bread call Pan Dulce.  These drinks are whipped up using a wooden whisk called a molinillo (moh-lin-nyee-oh) (or, a blender).  The whisk is held between the palms of your hands. Then using a back and forth motion the whisk moves back and forth in the mixture until it is aerated and frothy.

Tejate - A Oaxaca specialty. An interesting cold drink is made of dark chocolate, corn masa, cocoa flowers, then marinated and frothed.

Mole (moh-Lay) - Mole is a sauce that varies in content depending on the region.  The traditional red mole contains chilies, garlic, nuts, tomato, spices and chocolate.  It is important to note that the amount of chocolate is very small and enhances but does not overpower the sauce.  The sauce is served with turkey or chicken.  Mole does not use the highly sweetened Mexican flavored chocolate but instead a dark bitter, unspiced version.

The Molinillo (Chocolate Stirrer)

The molinillo was actually an invention of the Spaniards.  The tool was used to froth chocolate which in the early days was not processed and defatted and tended to clump.  Read more about the Molinillo.

molinillo hueco
mexican molinillo (chocolate whisk)

Mexican Hot Chocolate Preparation Tools

 Mexican Olla - Chocolate Pot  Molinillo Fino  Jarro from Oaxaca w/Molinillo
olla de barro for making chocolate molinillo fino mexican jarro with molinillo

Make Chocolate The Traditional Way

How To Make Chocolate, the Old Way...

In this century most people simply buy chocolate.  In some villages chocolate is still made by hand. The cocoa beans are roasted, then ground using a metate y mano that has been heated over coals. The crushed, heated beans melt and are combined with sugar, spices and sometimes nuts.

We normally associate the advent of chocolate bars with the European culture.  In reality, the women of Guatemala formed ground chocolate into bars for storage, long before the Europeans began the practice.

The picture below shows a woman making chocolate using a nice large metate y mano.

woman making chocolate with metate

Woman making chocolate using the traditional metate y mano. Photograph from: RCI Endless Vacation, March/April 2002. This is from an exhibit at the Field Museum, in Chicago, Illinois.


Mexican Hot Chocolate - Mexican chocolate mixed with warmed milk then frothed with a molinillo.

Mexican Champurrado - A special hot chocolate thickened with masa and flavored with piloncillo and anise seeds.

Atole - A warm almost porridge-like drink made thick with masa. The chocolate version is Champurrado, other versions are flavored with fruits or nuts.

Mole Poblano - Made with chilies, garlic, nuts, tomato, spices and chocolate.

Where to Buy Mexican Chocolate

Common brands of Mexican chocolate include Ibarra and Nestle (Ibarra being the older brand of the two).  If you are in an area with a Mexican grocery store it will surely be there.  If not, check the "Ethnic" food section of your local grocer.

Buy Online

GourmetSleuth Shop -  We carry Mexican chocolate disks as well as piloncillo sugar and the molinillo chocolate whisk in a convenient "beverage kit".  You can also purchase a complete line of traditional cooking items such as molcajetes, tortilla press, metate y mano, comals, and lemon/lime squeezers. 

Make Mexican Style Chocolate at Home

Zarela Martinez has perfected a method of making a homemade Mexican style chocolate blend. The recipe uses dried cocoa beans, canela, and superfine sugar. View recipe.

Sources and Resources

  • Mexican, Healthy Ways with a Favorite Cuisine
  • Authentic Mexican : Regional Rick and Deann Bayless
  • Ibarra Chocolate Company, Guadalajara, Mexico
  • Chocolate - Read more about the history, uses, and health benefits of chocolate
  • Mayordomo Oaxacan Mexican Chocolate -  The local legendary factory produces chocolate for drinking and baking as well as a famous mole sauce. Learn about the history, recipes and uses for this famous Mexican chocolate.

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.