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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.

Mexican Chocolate Broken Up
Mexican chocolate is not what you think!

🍫 What is Mexican chocolate?

Mexican chocolate is a unique and flavorful ingredient that is used for both sweet and savory dishes. It is primarily made with roasted and ground cacao nibs, cinnamon, and sugar, but other spices and seasonings are sometimes added.

The texture is very granular compared to European-style chocolate bars, but this is because it isn’t meant to be eaten like a chocolate bar! It is supposed to be incorporated into recipes like mole, hot chocolate, and champurrado.

Mexican chocolate 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.

🫘 Ingredients in Mexican chocolate

Here is a more thorough breakdown of the main ingredients found in Mexican chocolate:

  • Cacao beans: The cacao beans used in Mexican chocolate are roasted, ground, and molded into the quintessential circular shape of traditional versions.
  • Cinnamon: Cinnamon, which is extremely popular in Mexican cuisine, is often added to give the chocolate a warm, spicy flavor.
  • Sugar: Sugar is added to balance out the bitterness of the cacao beans.
  • Flavorings: You’ll often find other flavors added to Mexican chocolate, like vanilla, nutmeg, or anise. Each one imparts a unique taste, enhancing recipes even more. These extra ingredients are usually what differentiate one brand from another.

🤔 How is Mexican chocolate made?

Mexican chocolate is made through a long and rigorous process that involves harvesting, processing, roasting, and grinding cacao beans. Next, cinnamon, sugar, and other spices are added to the mixture.

Once the ingredients are combined, they are molded and shaped into discs or tablets and packaged for consumption. This unique process is what really separates Mexican chocolate from European chocolate that most of the word is familiar with. 

Mexican Chocolate Bar
Mexican chocolate is also sold in bars

🌎 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.

Spanish influence

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:

  • Vanilla
  • Almonds
  • Chiles
  • Coffee

Depending on the recipe you’re looking to make, different flavorings will work better in certain instances. Additionally, the sugar content varies from brand to brand, so some varieties are sweeter than others.

Mexican chocolate in a wrapper.
Mexican chocolate disc

🍎 Health facts

The main component of cacao, theobromine, is an important nutrient for many reasons.

An extremely close relative to caffeine (one methyl group away), theobromine is touted for its energizing properties without having the negative side effects of caffeine like addictiveness, jitteriness, and anxiousness.

Chocolate has also proven to be very beneficial in controlling blood pressure since nitric oxide is 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 Mexican chocolate

Mexican chocolate pairs well in both savory 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’s knife and you should be good to go (careful with your fingers)! You can also use a cheese grater to break up the chocolate into even smaller pieces. 

📋 Mexican chocolate recipes

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!

🌡️ Storage

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.

Packages of Mexican Chocolate
There are many brands of Mexican chocolate

💰 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.

The most widely available brands outside of Mexico are probably AbuelitaIbarra, or Taza, but if you would prefer to support smaller producers, try ordering from brands like:

Some of these may not be available outside of Mexico, but you can load up if you 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!

♻️ Substitutions

If you can’t get your hands on Mexican chocolate, there are a few options that make good replacements:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


Is Mexican chocolate vegan?

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).

Does Mexican chocolate go bad?

As long as it is stored properly, Mexican chocolate should last for months. It may lose its flavor, but it doesn’t expire.

Is Mexican chocolate healthy?

Although there are lots of health properties found in cacao, we would still recommend consuming Mexican chocolate in moderation due to the sugar content.

Is Mexican chocolate gluten-free?

Mexican chocolate is usually gluten-free, but it’s always best to double-check the wrapper. 

Can Mexican chocolate be used in place of regular chocolate in recipes?

We don’t recommend replacing regular chocolate with Mexican chocolate because the taste and texture is very different. This is especially true if you’re thinking of using it in baking recipes.

🤓 Learn about more ingredients

If you’re wondering what ingredients like piloncillo or tomatillos are and how to use them, take a peek at some of our other guides:

🎁 Conclusion

We hope you now understand what a versatile ingredient Mexican chocolate is! It has a rich and unique history with influence from pre-Hispanic and European cultures.

Its unique texture and blend of cacao, cinnamon, sugar, and spices make it ideal for both sweet hot chocolate and savory mole. You can find it in disks, powder, and bars, all of which have their own use-cases.

Since Mexican chocolate is both gluten and dairy-free, we encourage you to explore its incredible flavors in cultural and modern dishes!

Note: We’ve updated this post to include new information and helpful tips about the recipe.

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