Chocolate has often been referred to as “The food of the Gods.” The Aztecs and Mayas drank a spicy libation made from the cocoa bean during their religious ceremonies and was considered a drink of the elite. Cocoa was a very important commodity in Mesoamerica and was even used as a currency and payment for debts and taxes. The entire cocoa pod was of value not just the beans as the white pulp surrounding the bean was fermented to make an alcoholic beverage. Cocoa beans were of great importance and were thought to have been of divine origins. The Aztec Emperor Montezuma was known to consume large quantities daily of a cocoa beverage made with roasted beans, toasted corn and chili peppers. It was said to be bitter tasting but deemed as an Aphrodisiac as well as an energy giving source.
When the Spanish conquistadors saw how much the cocoa bean was an essential part of the Aztec economy, they knew that they had stumbled upon an elixir of great value and they transported it to Spain. Initially, the Spanish Royal Court was not impressed by the Cocoa bean drink prepared in the original Central American recipe. It was not until the 16th century when sugar was added that Europeans had a frenzied love affair with the cocoa bean and chocolate. Today, they are undoubtedly masters in chocolate confections. It is certain that the world has an insatiable appetite for chocolate in all of its forms. It is prepared in both sweet and savory foods and adored by all age groups. The connection of chocolate and love has been promoted and capitalized by chocolatiers the world over for at least 200 years. Today, what would Valentine’s Day, Christmas or Easter celebrations be without chocolate?
The cocoa plant is native to the Amazon basin and Central America and thrives in tropical climates. The tree bears large pods of fruit which encase a sweet white pulp covering 20-40 beans. Today, cocoa is grown all of the world, with the top 3 producers being Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia. Many cultures embrace this special bean and revere its wonderful properties. The health benefits of cocoa range from relief for high blood pressure, constipation, diabetes and high cholesterol to the healing properties of cocoa butter. Cocoa is rich in iron, calcium, phosphorus, copper and magnesium.
When I first came to Haïti, I realized that there were many new things to learn about the country, its people, the culture and its food. One Sunday morning I tasted Haitian hot chocolate or chokola peyi. To my surprise, it was so very different from any other chocolate drink I had ever had before. I had not even considered that hot chocolate could be prepared differently from the Swiss Miss packs of instant hot chocolate available on the market. It was a thicker and richer tasting drink made with milk and enhanced with Caribbean spices. It was delicious and for me, quite a revelation. I loved it!
The Haitian chocolate, chokola peyi in kreyol is made from locally grown cocoa beans. It is unrefined artisanal chocolate which is prepared locally. The cocoa bean is roasted, ground and mixed into a disc or ball. Originally it was wrapped in banana leaves and left to harden. Now it is found in more modern packaging with foil wrappers and some manufacturers even add spices to the solidified mass. The ground chocolate can be grated and melted for use in hot chocolate beverage. Chokola peyi is traditionally prepared on Sundays for breakfast after church and often accompanied with artisan bread for dunking. It is also a favorite beverage for many to be had with local pastries or pâtés. For some, Sunday morning would not be the same without a cup of this delicious beverage.
It is said that the quality of cocoa grown locally here in Haïti is excellent. The Haitian grown beans are floral and have a rich flavor. As with every agro industry good quality raw products will always give you great outcomes and the growers and experts are seeing the huge potential for growth in this country. The 2 strains found in Haïti are the Criollo and the very sought after Trinitario varieties. They are cultivated in several parts of the country, by small farming communities. Compared with countries which boast strong cocoa farming and agro industry, the quantities grown in Haïti are small. Perhaps in the not so distant future the cocoa industries in the country will grow and strengthen creating more jobs and opportunities for the country. In addition to the companies producing unrefined cocoa product in Haïti , we now boast an innovative local manufacturer of delicious refined chocolate bars. They use the locally grown cocoa beans of Haïti and the product is made in the north of the country by Haïtians.
Here’s to drinking and producing more fabulous Haïtian Cocoa and products.
Haitian Style Hot Chocolate or Chokola Peyi
1 disk or ball of unrefined Haitian Chocolate 3.5 oz
3 cups water
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup brown sugar. (You may use less and then sweeten later as you desire.)
1/2 tsp salt
1 piece of cinnamon
1 star anise
3 whole grains of black pepper
1 piece of lime zest
1 tsp butter
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 small sliver of ginger or a pinch of ground ginger* optional
1. In a medium pot put water along with whole spices to boil. If using ginger, add as well.
2. When the water begins to boil, add the chocolate and stir occasionally until the unrefined chocolate has melted.
3. Take off if the heat and strain the mixture with a very fine sieve. The unrefined chocolate has a coarse grain. The large particles give a grainy texture so this step is necessary in making a smooth chocolate.
4. Rinse your pot and pour the strained chocolate liquid back into the pot. If you wish an intense spice flavor, rinse your cinnamon stick as well as the star anise and reboil them with the milk. Add the evaporated milk and sugar. Stir well and also add the vanilla and almond extract as well as the salt and lime zest. Taste for sugar.
5. Put the chocolate mixture back in the stove top at medium low heat and stir until a low simmer.
6. Mix the cornstarch in a small bowl with a bit of water to form a slurry. Add to the mixture and combine well. Add the butter and cooking for 2 minutes then remove from heat. Take out whole spices and lime zest. Serve warm.
If the hot chocolate thickens too much, you can add some more milk or a little warm water to thin it out.
Makes enough for 4 servings.