The forbidden uses of chocolate

For a long time, chocolate was considered a forbidden fruit due to its alleged reinvigorating powers

The forbidden uses of chocolate
For many years, chocolate was considered a dangerous beverage - Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
English 29/11/2019 19:54 Mexico City Nayeli Reyes Actualizada 20:08
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Salvador Novo said that bread is not a good match with atole, but essential for chocolate, but in 1925, he wrote: “That is why unharmonious people are called ‘bread with atole’.”

In the times of the New Spain, religious people were known as gluttons; the people called “monk cup” to the big cup in which they drank chocolate. “The chocolate bowls, indeed, were common among priests, with their corresponding cakes. People of lesser quality drank it with bread with butter,” said in 1927 the archivist of the newsroom of EL UNIVERSAL.

These delicacies were not free of guilt: historian Sonia Corcuera points out that in the 17th century the beverage was a topic for discussion, for it was even considered a synonym of sensual pleasure.

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Chocolate beverages were undermined when the Spanish arrived in Mexico. The researcher María Águeda Méndez says that it acquired “biased notes and sexual overtones.” One of the contributors was chronicler Bernal Díaz del Castillo, who describes the golden cups with a cacao beverage presented to Moctezuma “that said that was used to have access to women.”

Chocolate nuns
“I, Sister María Josefa Beatriz de San Juan Bautista, profess and promise obedience, chastity, poorness, and perpetual enclosure to God… likewise, I vow not to drink chocolate, nor to be the cause of another one drinking it.” From 1616 to 1949, these were the vows of the nuns of the Order of Virgin Mary of Mount Carmelo.

A discalced Carmelite receives me in the hall of a recent cloister in the Álvaro Obregón borough, far away from their first venue in Mexico City in the 16th century: the Convent of the Old Saint Teresa, currently the Ex Teresa Arte Actual cultural center.

They do not leave unless it is necessary. After closing a fence with a symbol representing solitude and silence, she also writes the story of the Carmelites and prefers to remain anonymous in the publication of her books, as is the tradition among her sisters.

“They say we have, and it’s a fact, very austere rules… now you can hear those voices and those laughs because we’re in the Christmas party, but normally, there is spiritual reading, in contrast to other orders where they talk while they eat,” she says.

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The first Carmelite order in Mexico City was founded by Inés and Mariana, two sisters of the Immaculate Conception. The idea was not liked by some people who commented, “How are these chocolate nuns found the Carmelo, which is one of the most austere orders?”

Back then, chocolate was used in convents, including one of the Conceptionists, “a bit of chocolate… it was made with water, but they liked it a lot at mid-morning,” says the Carmelite.

To show the seriousness of her intentions, the founders left behind the practice and promised not to consume it as sign of austerity: “our mothers wanted to be very radical,” explains the nun with a very soft voice, “austerity is deprivation for the love of God… to be like him who embraced a life of poverty.

The nuns of this order only had a piece of bread and tea for breakfast, and later foods like nopales, chickpeas, wheat bread, fish, and meat were only for the old and sick, “our mothers also had a wine to recover from the flu,” she asserts.

Due to the harshness of the food habits, many nuns became sick and left, such as the case of poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, who before being a Jerónima nun, was a Carmelite.

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In the 80s, there were more changes; some advice for the religious life from the Second Vatican Council were implemented: they stopped being vegetarian, they got rid of the veils, and expanded the fence of the cloister to see their relatives and friends.

For her part, doctor Lourdes Aguilar Salas explains that the chocolate restriction in the Carmelo was due to its association to some feelings in the body, even aphrodisiac, that was linked to partying, noises, and excitement: “chocolate leads them to a series of things that prevent meditation, contemplation, praying, and the state a person must have in a religious life.”

In addition, it was also expensive. Its consumption was limited to the high society, “the nuns were allowed to drink it very dissolved in what we know today as atole or champurrado, but they stole bars from the kitchen… they scraped a bit and shared it among them,” explains Aguilar.

This vow was retired in 1949 when General Priest Fray Silverio de Santa Teresa visited that Carmelo community, “no, here we’re gonna quit that chocolate thing and you will drink it whenever God seems fit.”

The anonymous Carmelite did not experience this restriction, in the convent, they used to drink this beverage on Sundays, Her health does not allow her to drink milk anymore, but when she could she said: “two, in honor of our mothers.

Fasts and breakfasts
Debates on cacao beverages in times of the New Spain asked whether chocolate was breakfast, explains Corcuera, "Can such a delightful and seductive beverage as chocolate be considered a food?” Several Popes were also involved in the conversation; they decided it was not breakfasting but conservatives kept the prohibition because it calmed the hunger.

Mexico City’s Carmelites were far from these chocolate dilemmas: until the decade of the 1980s, their fast consisted of half a bread with a bitter herb called Saint Mary, with an orange flower infusion. Nowadays they eat bread with tea and, at noon, rice or beans.

In Chiapas, some people were convinced of the revitalizing power of chocolate. In 1625, Thomas Gage wrote about women who asserted it was impossible for them to go through a whole mass without drinking a cup during the ceremony due to their “weakness of stomach.”

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The local bishop, Bernardo de Salazar, decided to excommunicate anyone who had this habit. After this restriction, the cathedral was left empty and without alms; the religious man got sick, they say his cup was poisoned: “He criticized chocolate so much at church, that the one he drank at home was not good for him,” wrote Gage.

In times of the New Spain, chocolate was also mixed with herbs, blood from menstruation, or water used to clean dogs, to create mixtures for fortune-telling, able to calm husbands or lovers, to cause sexual impotence, to calm aggression, subdue people, make someone fall in love, or breaking with all the things before mentioned.

Researcher Águeda Méndez found documents in Mexico’s General Archive where the heterodox use of chocolate is denounced to the Inquisition.

In the 1600s, a man called Mathías Ángel, accused of heresy; he was ignored and wrote about his innocence with a straw inked with the chocolate he was given to drink in his enclosure and use old white underwear as paper. Curiously, the document is still readable,

In the book Like Water for Chocolate, Tita also gives shapes to her suffering by grinding toasted cacao in a metate, mixing it with sugar until she cannot tell them apart in the mix and makes round long bars, according to the size of her sadness.

Laura Esquivel writes: “While Tita gave shape to the bars, she longed with sadness the Three Wise Kings days of her childhood when she had no serious problems. Her biggest worry back then was that the Kings never brought her what she wanted but what Mamá Elena thought would be the best for her.”

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