Chocolate, which we know comes from the cacao tree, or more precisely “Theobroma Cacao”, has a lesser-known relative names “Theobroma Bicolor”, also known as pataxte or jaguar tree.
Although rarely found outside its native area South and Central America, it is an essential ingredient in a ceremonial drink in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, called chocolate-atole.
There throughout the year, locals harvest pataxte seeds and bury them underground to ferment for one or two years for their preservation.
After they are dug up, washed, and sun dried on woven palm bedrolls, the beans turn white, and somehow similar to the chalk.
For this reason, pataxte is also known as cacao blanco (white cacao), even if actually the raw cacao is green and with a light-brown pulp.
Pataxte is not easy to find, it is expensive, and traditionally, they are only used for these types of foamy drinks.
It has less caffeine than chocolate, but its high fat content, in combination with the fermentation process, creates lots of long-lasting foam.
Chocolate-atole is a rich, thick, caloric-dense beverage simply made with corn masa (basically a dough of ground corn) and water.
It can be flavored with something like pecans, blackberries, or regular chocolate and is found in markets and restaurants across Mexico.
An atole flavored with regular chocolate is known as “atole de chocolate” or, in Oaxaca, as “champurrado”, and it is another thing compared to chocolate-atole as, in it, the atole portion on the bottom is unflavored and simply known as atole blanco.
For foam, the fermented pataxte is ground into a powder and mixed with ground cinnamon, toasted and ground corn (or wheat), and regular ground cacao.
Water is added to the mix, which is then whisked energetically with a wooden tool called molinillo to create the foam.
The result is always served alongside an alcahuete: a flat wooden stick often carved into animal shapes at the top and painted brightly, as the perfect tool to pick up but not deflate the foam, which can be enjoyed on its own or mixed into the atole.
Either way, since pre-Hispanic times, cacao has been very important, both culturally and culinarily.
According to legend, the god Quetzalcoatl gave the cocoa tree as a gift to mankind. Mexico is the eighth largest producer of chocolate in the world, and Oaxaca is one of the main states that produce it.
Both cacao trees (Theobroma Cacao and Theobroma Bicolor) are even mentioned in the foundational, sacred book of Mayan people, named Popol Vuh, and the foamy beverages made with their beans were reserved for religious events or ceremonies.
Not by chance, the foam is associated with fertility, and as early as the 1500s, an image of a woman pouring hot chocolate to create a foam can be found in the Aztec Codex Tudela.
And, still today, in Oaxaca’s central valleys, chocolate-atole remains a ceremonial drink for events such as weddings, mayordomía (when a local mayor is named), or to celebrate a patron saint.
But It’s also a beloved treat, purchased at Sunday markets.
Images from web – Google Research