The elixir of modern life - hot chocolate! There's nothing like a mug of steaming hot chocolate to warm the hands and soothe the soul, and in Guatemala the beverage is so beloved that is has received a very special designation as part of the country's cultural heritage.
In an effort to recognize the historical importance of hot chocolate and protect the labor-intensive traditional preparation of the beverage, Guatemala has designated the drink a "national patrimony."
AdvertisementThe Culture Ministry issued the decree "to promote centuries-old customs" and throw a spotlight on the complicated and mostly manual process used to make the drink, which has been winning raves for as long as anyone can remember.
"Chocolate is really a symbol of the Mixco region, we have been making it the same way for more than 500 years and the Spanish colonizers always said this was the world's best chocolate," said Osberto Gomez, with Mixco's culture office.
Beloved around the world, the cacao tree from which chocolate is made has been an important part of indigenous culture for time immemorial in Mesoamerica -- areas we now call Mexico and central America.
The tree is thought to have originated in South America but local Central American varieties are especially prized.
Back in colonial times, chocolate was so deeply valued that beans from the cacao pods were used as currency -- and even counterfeited. It was not until the rise of coffee in the late 1800s that cacao's local importance waned.
While "gold standard" Mixco chocolate can be found in supermarkets, it is still most widely distributed the same way it always has been: peddlers travel around the country bringing it to local markets and door-to-door to Guatemalan homes.
The traditional preparation of chocolate in Mixco has been women's work.
It is almost entirely done by hand: women pull the seeds from cacao pods, slow-roast them, and then grind them in mills, often by hand.
The complex process is not taught in any formal setting -- know-how is still passed on mostly at home and on the farm, from one generation to the next.
Over the years, locals have branched out, tweaking the original hot chocolate recipe with cinnamon, adding vanilla and rice or even almonds or other nuts, looking for a broader market.
But the old standby remains the classic hot chocolate, frothy and rich. Now it is sold in large bars to prepare hot, as well as in liquid concentrate.