What Is Mexican Chocolate?

A Guide to Buying, Cooking With and Storing Mexican Chocolate

Mexican Chocolate
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At its most basic, Mexican chocolate is made from coarsely ground cacao, granulated sugar, and cinnamon. Chiles, nuts, and spices can also be worked into the mix, resulting in a complex, intense flavor. Besides its added ingredients, Mexican chocolate also has a more rustic texture than many other styles of chocolate. Find out just how unique the tradition of making Mexican chocolate is, how to use it in recipes, and more. 

Fast Facts

Varieties: Can include cinnamon, chiles, or nuts

How it's Used: In drinks or in recipes

How to Store it: Airtight jar in a cool, dark place

What is Mexican Chocolate?

The craft of chocolate making can be traced back to 1900 BCE in Mesoamerica and in fact, it appears the way the Aztecs prepared it is similar to how Mexicans do today. The cacao beans are typically roasted, peeled, and then ground into a paste using either a metate, which is a traditional tool for hand-grinding materials or with a molino, a mill. Sugar is then mixed in and from here, cinnamon is traditionally added.

That said, chocolate making in Mexico has evolved over the years and regional differences do appear. In fact, Germán Santillán of Oaxacanita Chocolate says that in some regions of Oaxaca, Mexico, the shell of the cacao bean is left on, resulting in a more bitter flavor. As the birthplace of chiles, Mexican chocolate also often features chile varieties like guajillo, pasilla, and habanero, which are typically finely ground and blended in. When the Spanish arrived, they brought certain ingredients with them, like nuts and spices. This is where the common practice of adding almonds and cardamom into Mexican chocolate stem from.

Finally, the chocolate is worked into its final shape, which is most often a disc or log. This rustic presentation works perfectly since Mexican chocolate is still made by hand in many regions.

Varieties

Instead of chocolate being labeled as “milk” or “dark”, it’s common for Mexican chocolate to be labeled with the percentage of sugar it contains. As mentioned, varieties with spices, chiles, and nuts are commonly seen, but as the art of chocolate making evolves, many makers are opting to add in unique, funky ingredients like lavender and popped amaranth.

Mexican Chocolate Uses

Mexican chocolate is frequently made as hot chocolate, chocolate atole, or used in recipes like mole negro. Mexicans traditionally whip their hot chocolate into a froth with the help of a tool known as a molinillo. It’s also believed that the addition of almonds helps Mexican style hot chocolate achieve this texture. Interestingly, this presentation may harken back to the Aztec era, where anthropological evidence shows these peoples enjoying a bubbly, chocolatey drink.  

What Does it Taste Like?

Mexican chocolate should taste intense and have a rustic texture. Its flavor is due to the fact that the cacao beans are simply roasted and ground into a liquor, whereas a lot of European-style chocolate takes things a step further, using a conching machine to aerate the chocolate liquor and mellow out its flavor. Conching also helps smooth the chocolate liquor, so the fact that Mexican chocolate skips this step accounts for its grainy texture. Lastly, just like wine or coffee, the cacao fruit picks up the flavor of the soil it's grown in and today, the majority of Mexican chocolate does not source its beans from Mexico. This may not matter to you but if it does, it's good to know so you can shop around for the right option.

Mexican Chocolate Recipes

Mexican chocolate can be eaten by itself, but it’s more commonly used in drinks and recipes. Remember that it already contains sugar, so depending on your preferences you may want to avoid adding extra.

Where to Buy Mexican Chocolate

If you’re looking for in-store options, Mexican grocers will surely carry it, but Mexican chocolate is also easily accessible online. That said, the chocolate business has seen its fair share of corruption, with farmers being paid next to nothing and the local ecosystems destroyed in service to cacao cultivation. If you’re interested in stopping this, look for brands that pay the farmers directly and who take care of soil health. Some brands include Oaxacanita Chocolate, which is 100 percent Mexican grown and produced chocolate, or Taza Chocolate, which sources its beans outside of Mexico but has Mexican-style chocolate available.

Storage

Whether it’s Mexican style or otherwise, always store chocolate in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Try not to store it in the refrigerator, as it can absorb the flavors of the surrounding food and develop the infamous sugar bloom, or when the sugar rises to the surface due to moisture condensation. Stored properly, Mexican chocolate should last 6 months to one year.