If you've never heard of Mexican chocolate before, prepare to be pleasantly surprised! While much different in texture than your typical bar of chocolate, this prized food is infused with flavors like cinnamon, vanilla, and more.
Find out everything you need to know about what Mexican-style chocolate is and how to use it in this detailed guide!
Table of Contents
📖 What is Mexican chocolate?
The question of what it means to be Mexican chocolate is not a very straightforward question to answer. But in general, it is made up of ground cacao nibs, cinnamon, and sugar.
It is almost always sold in discs that are around the same size as a hockey puck. But, you can also find it in other forms like bars, tablets, or syrups.
The texture is very granular compared to chocolate bars you may be familiar with...
"Why?" you ask.
To answer this, we'll have to travel back thousands of years to the pre-hispanic era when cacao was only available in Mesoamerica.
🌎 History of Mexican chocolate
In the tropical climates of South America, Theobroma trees thrive, which ancient civilizations began cultivating many years ago.
Before this delicacy reached Europe and the rest of the world, cacao was a very sacred ingredient to groups like Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs — Theobroma is derived from the Greek language and loosely translates to "food of the gods."
So, it only makes sense they used it for important things like currency, trade, and many types of religious ceremonies.
Typically, cacao beans were ground into a paste on a metate (a stone tool for grinding spices and other foods).
The paste would harden into a disc shape, which could then be heated with ingredients like chiles and masa (corn dough) — an early form of champurrado.
Mayan warriors were even known to drink 100% cacao mixed with water as an antioxidant-rich, energizing drink.
When Spanish colonists arrived, they found the bitter taste of these drinks to be unsuitable for their palates. After cacao was introduced to Europe, people began mixing in sugar to sweeten things up.
The Spaniards also brought Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka to Mexico, which was discovered to be a delicious addition to chocolate (amongst other dishes).
Today, Mexican chocolate can be thought of as a culmination of old world and new world traditions. It's a product of many cultures, stemming from Olmec to Spanish and other nations.
🍴 Flavor profile
On its own, Mexican chocolate has a very rustic and bitter flavor due to the roasted cacao nibs. While cinnamon is the most common addition, you may find other spices like:
Depending on the recipe you're looking to make, different flavorings will work better for certain instances. Also, the sugar content varies from brand to brand, so some will be sweeter than others.
🍎 Health facts
The main component of cacao, theobromine, is an important nutrient for many reasons.
An extremely close relative to caffeine (literally one methyl group away), theobromine is touted for its energizing properties without the negative side effects of caffeine like addictiveness, jitteriness, or anxiousness.
Chocolate has also proven to be very beneficial for controlling blood pressure due to nitric oxide being released by theobromine.
Note: Mexican chocolate is generally vegan-friendly since it doesn't contain any dairy products. Some brands don't market themselves as vegan-friendly (potentially due to the sugar or processing facility), so keep that in mind.
🔪 How to use it
Mexican chocolate pairs well in both savoury and sweet recipes. Since it's almost always melted or mixed into sauces and the like, we recommend chopping it up for faster melting times.
All you need to do is roughly chop it on a cutting board using a chef knife and you should be good to go (careful with your fingers)!
📋 Recipes with Mexican chocolate
As you've now gathered, Mexican chocolate is not meant to be consumed in the same manner as European-style chocolate. Instead, try it in dishes like:
Of course, you can still eat it by the square like a candy bar if you'd like. The choice is yours!
As long as it's kept in a cool, dry, odorless environment like a pantry or cupboard, your Mexican chocolate will last a long time.
Keep it in an airtight container once opened and it should last up to 12-18 months. Try not to store it in your fridge as it can absorb the flavors of other foods and form a sugar bloom.
💰 Buying guide
At this point, you are probably itching to get your hands on some Mexican chocolate! Take a look at the following recommendations to make sure you're purchasing top-quality products.
What to look for
When searching for Mexican chocolate, the first thing you'll want to look for is that the beans are actually sourced from Mexico.
A lot of companies use cacao from other South American and African countries (specifically Côte d'Ivoire). Much like the issues with European-style chocolate, the working conditions are often less than ideal.
One of the goals we've set for ourselves in the new year is to be more mindful of where the food we purchase comes from. If that sounds like you, do some digging into the company to make sure their practices align with your values.
Where to buy
Mexican chocolate is sold in most large supermarkets in the international or ethnic food aisles.
Some of these may not be available outside of Mexico, but you can either load up if you ever visit or try to source companies that ship to the country you live in.
This list isn't exhaustive, so if you know of other Mexican-based chocolate producers, please leave us a comment so we can add it to the list!
If you can't get your hands on Mexican chocolate, there are a few options that make good replacements:
- Bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and cinnamon. Use an equal ratio of chocolate with a pinch of cinnamon to the recipe you're making. You can also add in vanilla, almond extract, or other spices.
- Cacao powder. For every ounce of Mexican chocolate, use 1 tablespoon of cacao powder, about 1 tablespoon of cane sugar, and 1 tablespoon of cacao butter or coconut oil. Add in a pinch of cinnamon the same as you would with bittersweet chocolate.
In general, Mexican-style chocolate does not contain ingredients like milk or other dairy products. However, some companies do not list themselves as vegan-friendly (perhaps due to the processing facilities or sugar).
As long as it is stored properly, Mexican chocolate should last for months. It may lose its flavor potency, but it doesn't expire.
Although there are lots of health properties found in cacao, we would still recommend consuming Mexican chocolate in moderation due to the sugar content.