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The pre-Hispanic origins of Mexican “atole”
Maize, as well as cocoa, were the main ingredients of beverages created in Mesoamerican empires - Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

The pre-Hispanic origins of Mexican “atole”

05/01/2019
14:24
Adriana Durán
Mexico City
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Originally conceived as a blend of maize and water, the recipe has changed over the years

This traditional hot beverage dates back to pre-Hispanic times. Originally conceived as a blend of maize and water, it has acquired new and delicious variants over the years, including the introduction of chocolate and milk during the colony.

Maize, as well as cocoa, were the main ingredients of beverages created in Mesoamerican empires. To this day, said ingredients continue to be used in Mexican gastronomy.

Thus, the making of “atole” was born out of its most important element: Maize. An ingredient that is also used to make tortillas and tamales, which were also an essential part of the ancient Mexicans’ diet.

With the arrival of the Spanish, Mexican traditions underwent radical changes as a consequence of the introduction of certain foods, rites, and customs that were unknown to ancient Mexicans. On its part, “atole” has always been part of festivities and daily life. Through the years, however, the ancient recipe also changed when the Spanish introduced cow milk instead of water for its elaboration.

In his Ancient History of Mexico, Francisco Javier Clavijero tells that atolli (Náhuatl for “atole”) was unpleasant to most Spanish people, though they drank it whenever they fell ill, since it was said to have medicinal powers. Similarly, the Mexican people have drank this beverage as breakfast since ancient times, giving laborers enough energy to endure field work.

Corn cobs are crushed and pressed to give “atole” its characteristic sweet flavor. Mexicans usually drink it to accompany bread and different types of breakfast offered by Mexican cuisine.

Nowadays, “atole” still appeals to the taste of most Mexicans, specially in states such as Guanajuato, Querétaro and Michoacán, where it is served with flavors such as strawberry, chocolate, rice, pinole, peanut, and nut to accompany Three Kings’ Bread.
 

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