Mexican Chocolate: A 2,000-Year-Old Ingredient, and an Ice Cream Recipe

November 20, 2020  |  By Peg Kern
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Before chocolate became a worldwide beloved sweet, it was a treasured religious drink of the Maya. Grown from their native cacao trees, the seeds were ground and meticulously mixed using a molinillo with water to make a bitter, frothy drink.

Cook in the Yucatan, Mexico.

Molinillo used to make a Mexican chocolate drinkAs time passed and other cultures influenced the Maya, spices such as chile powder, vanilla, cinnamon, and honey were added to the drink. In today’s world, sugar is a primary ingredient of chocolate to combat the bitterness; however, many people and cultures in Central and South America still treasure the original bitter quality.

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The late Chef David Sterling, who founded our Culinary Yucatan tour, shares one of his favorite contemporary recipes that is heavily influenced by the flavors of traditional Mexican chocolate but in the form of ice cream. Chef David said, “in our classes, we use only 100% pure bittersweet criollo chocolate from Tabasco – considered to be the world’s finest.” Chef Mario, who took up the mantle and now leads the cooking school, follows David’s example!

Check out our interview with chef David.

Mexican chocolate ice cream

Helado de Chocolate Mexicano

Serve: 10
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Cook method: Heat


  • 2 cups Mexican crema (Heavy cream may be used as a substitute)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp canela (Mexican cinnamon)
  • Scant 1/8 tsp dried chile powder (or cayenne)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

Check out an amazing drinking chocolate recipe!


1. Put the first seven ingredients listed above in a saucepan on the stove and stir constantly while simmering on medium heat. This should take about eight minutes, or until the sugar has completely dissolved and the temperature of the mixture is hot but not boiling.

2. Then use an electric mixer to beat the egg yolks.

3. Once the egg mixture is light and fluffy, slowly add one cup of milk mixture until fully mixed in.

4. Reduce saucepan to low-medium heat and slowly add the new egg milk mixture to the rest of the milk mixture, stirring constantly and avoid boiling.

5. After about 15-20 minutes, or when the mixture is thick enough that it coats the spoon, remove the saucepan from the heat and add the chocolate while continuing to stir.

6. Once the chocolate is completely melted, and the mixture has cooled, refrigerate mixture for at least 5 hours.

7. Use an electric ice cream maker to process the mixture (follow the directions of your particular ice cream maker). If you don’t have one, you can churn it by hand with these handy directions.

8. Freeze the final mixture for 2 to 3 hours before serving with any additional toppings desired.

Chocolate moleBesides being the foundation for many amazing desserts and drinks, Mexican chocolate adds a unique flavor to delicious mole sauces found atop enchiladas and meat dishes. It is not sweet as some may first think, but instead brings out the dark, spiced flavor of the cacao seed along with the thick chile base sauce.

Try this recipe for a Mexican ice cream float.

Check out more of Chef David’s recipes, including:

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