Drinking Chocolate: History and Recipe

November 13, 2015  |  By Liz SanFilippo Hall
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Drinking Chocolate: History and Recipe

Long before chocolate was turned into solid form (and the origins of the solid bar of chocolate vary, depending on who you ask), it was enjoyed as a drink, from the Americas to Europe. But this is no mere ‘hot cocoa’ we’re talking about. Drinking chocolate has all sorts of depth of flavor, as well as a reputation as a symbol of power that, throughout history, was most often enjoyed by society’s elite.

Frothing chocolate during the time of the MayasThis long and storied history all starts in Central America, where the Mayas turned cacao beans into a liquid, and according to Chef David of our Yucatan cooking vacation in Mexico, blended in spices like allspice and achiote (also known as annatto) and other ingredients like vanilla, chile, honey, and salt. It was also here where it first started to be seen as a drink of the “elite.” After all, cacao beans were also used as a form of currency. As such, cacao and chocolate were ‘prestige’ items that were expensive and seen as a luxury.

While there were various chocolate drinks, one things both the Aztecs and Mayas could agree on was that their chocolate should have some ‘foam’ on top. They did this — as depicted in the photo to the right — by blending it back and forth between two containers. Nowadays, instead of foam atop our hot chocolate, we often use a marshmallow!

But Mexico wasn’t the only place where drinking chocolate was enjoyed. When chocolate traveled to Spain int he 17th centuries, it remained a luxury item only enjoyed by the elites, who also added milk and sugar to the mix. Other additions to the tasty beverage followed, including black pepper and cinnamon, to create a variety of flavor combinations.

Pouring drinking chocolateOver in Italy too, the drink spread in popularity, and it’s thought — according to one story — that it was Catherine Michelle of Spain who introduced it to the Italian court. Following that visit, as the story goes, the royal Savoy family often enjoyed it as an afternoon snack, and today drinking chocolate is still quite popular in Piedmont, particularly Turin.

But drinking chocolate is a favorite throughout Italy as well, including Sicily, in no small part due to the fact that it was once under Spanish rule. Modica, for one, is famous for their chocolate, which is made straight from cacao and doesn’t have any added soy lecithin or cocoa butter.

For one traditional drinking chocolate, Chef Katia, of our Love Sicily cooking vacation, is happy to share the recipe from her grandmother, who loved to make this hot chocolate to warm up on a cold day. It’s quite a simple recipe really.


  • 1 liter milk
  • 100 grams cocoa (in Modica, cocoa is made by grating chocolate)
  • 150 grams sugar
  • 50 grams potato starch (or corn starch)


1. Start by mixing the sugar, starch, and cocoa in a little bit of the milk. While mixing, aim for a smooth paste that doesn’t have any lumps.
2. After this has been mixed well, add the rest of the milk to the pot, and put over the stovetop (or fire). Continue to stir it, while letting it simmer for at least 10 minutes. By doing this, it will help keep the chocolate thick.
3. Once down, pour into a mug and enjoy!

What’s your favorite way to drink chocolate?

By Liz Hall

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By Liz SanFilippo Hall
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