Cacahuatl to Chocolate

Spanish conquistador and native woman
Detail of an oil painting reproduced in "Pasado y Presente de la Colonia Santa Maria la Ribera," by Guillermo Boils.Mexico, D.F.: Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, Unidad Xochimilco.

Initially, the Spanish were far more interested in cacao’s use as currency rather than its culinary use. As the Spanish colonists settled in, taking native women as wives or concubines, a kind of hybridization, or creolization, between the two cultures began to take place. This resulted in the addition of cane sugar to the unsweetened drink of the Aztecs and the replacement of indigenous seasonings such as chili and various dried flowers with spices familiar to Europeans: cinnamon, anise and black pepper.

Cultural hybridization not only changed the drink, it changed the name of the drink. By the 1570’s, the Spanish were using chocolatl, a combination of a Mayan (chocol=hot) and an Aztec (atl=water) word. One theory put forth for the name change is that the first two syllables of cacahuatl, the Aztec word for cacao, are a vulgar term for feces in most Romance languages.Test