Cooking Like A Mexican

Tascalate beverage
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Tascalate is ancient history in a cup. The word comes from the Nahuatl work tlaxcalatl, which means tortilla water. It’s made from corn, cocoa, achiote (a Mexican spice), pine nuts and cinnamon, and is traditional in the state of Chiapas. Its consumption dates back from before the Spaniards conquest.

In 1566 the bishop Diego de Landa described it as a “beverage made from toasted corn and flavored with chiles and chocolate”, and he stated that it was very popular in the south of the country.

The beverage is a reddish color, that can be prepared with either water or milk, served cold and can be sometimes sweetened with sugar. The indigenous people of Chiapas called it the beverage of love -because of its reddish color and intense flavor-  and drank it at parties.

Lately, the government of Chiapas has accomplished making Tascalate a staple product from Chiapas, with a certificate of origin which has helped microentrepreneurs register their own mix of the ingredients and sell them in little 20-ounce pouches.

Tascalate is an ancient heritage of the indigenous people of Chiapas. It is not easy to find, and nowadays only a small number of people know about it. It is usually prepared starting with a reddish powder bought already prepared, but it can be easily made at home, according to one’s taste. Using milk gives it a more intense flavor and more consistency, while water results in a more refreshing drink. It is the perfect drink on a hot day. Because the corn powder does not dissolve completely in the liquid, it might form a little deposit: honestly the best part is to scoop it out at the end with a spoon, sort of licking the batter spoon clean.

The two main ingredients here are ancient Mexican, cacao and achiote.

Cacao is of Mexican origin, and since ancient times has been a fruit of great value (and flavor) for the Aztec and Maya civilizations. It was used by the Maya as currency, being a key element in the commercial exchange between peoples. Imagine carrying cocoa beans in your hand and being able to buy food and other merchandise with them! Before the world was as we know it today, cacao (or chocolate) was already among us under the protection of the Maya god Ek Chuah.

Being a product of great importance, cacao had the protection of the god Ek Chuah (“black scorpion”) who also symbolized acts of war and provided protection to merchants. Let us take a moment to remember the duality of many Maya deities: this god could be represented with black tones, like the color of war, with a spear in his hand and in full combat action; or, with a bundle of merchandise on his back, like the image of someone on the street, constantly trading and traveling.

Its consumption used to be reserved for the upper classes and its energizing and stimulating properties were known, either through the seed or prepared in liquid form, so it was greatly appreciated. There are many versions of how its use and production expanded in México; what is certain is that with the Spanish conquest the seed was taken to Europe and from there a whole chocolate tradition was born in countries like Belgium and Switzerland.

Achiote, the other main ingredient of Tascalate, is an orange-red condiment and food coloring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree. It is often used to impart a yellow or orange color to foods, but sometimes also for its flavor and aroma. Its scent is described as "slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg" and flavor as "slightly nutty, sweet and peppery".

The color of Achiote comes from various carotenoid pigments, mainly bixin and norbixin, found in the reddish waxy coating of the seeds. The condiment is typically prepared by grinding the seeds to a powder or paste. Similar effects can be obtained by extracting some of the color and flavor principles from the seeds with hot water, oil, or lard, which are then added to the food.

Achiote also called Annatto, and its extracts are now widely used in an artisanal or industrial scale as a coloring agent in many processed food products, such as cheeses, dairy spreads, butter and margarine, custards, cakes and other baked goods, potatoes, snack foods, breakfast cereals, smoked fish, sausages, and more. In these uses, Achiote is a natural alternative to synthetic food coloring compounds and is of particular commercial value in the United States because the Food and Drug Administration considers colorants derived from it to be "exempt of certification".

Tascalate is from the coast of Chiapas, Chiapa de Corzo, Suchiapa are the biggest places where it’s consumed. It is mostly consumed during the summer for it’s refreshing properties, and there has been a spike in Tascalate sales since more tourists and curious foodies have heard about its deliciousness and high protein.

Ingredients:

2 pounds of tortillas

8 ounces of toasted cacao seeds

2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

1 oz of achiote (1/4 of a 100gr bar from any supermarket)

1 piece of piloncillo

2 cups of milk or water, to taste.

Grate the piloncillo and set aside. Toast tortillas in a comal over medium heat and break in pieces (this is a great way to use leftover tortillas, once they have become a little tough after heating, make sure they are toasted to the point where they break, if they are still a little flexible you need to toast them a bit more)

Dry blend tortillas, the toasted cacao seeds, the ground cinnamon, achiote and a teaspoon of the piloncillo, until you have a uniform powder.

Eight spoonfuls of Tascalate powder are enough for two cups of liquid, make sure you stir well and make a little foam (you can use a traditional chocolate beater, the wooden ones)

Serve over ice and enjoy! You can add more piloncillo to taste.