Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 44)
[NOTE: This book has far more information than can be paraphrased here. It also contains separate historic entries for many of the foods referenced above. If you need more details ask your librarian to help you find a copy.]
"Like all Mesoamerican peoples before and since, the Aztecs depended heavily on maize, or corn...for their sustenance. Maize is a remarkable plant whose domestication made possible the evolution of Mesoamerican civilizatoins. Maize exists in many different varieties, adapated to specific local conditions of soil and climate, and it can grow nearly everywhere in Mesoamerica except for the cold high mountains...Maize was eaten in a variety of forms. Most common was the tortilla, a round, flat, toasted bread that has been a staple of Mesoamerican cuisine from the Classic period through the present. Tortillas were prepared by first soaking the shelled corn in an alkali grinding the corn into a four on a metate or grinding-stone; then, shaping tortillas by hand; and finally, cooking them on a clay griddle called a comalli. Instruction in tortilla-making was one of the fundamental lessons mothers taught their daughters...Tortillas could be eaten fresh from the griddle, or they could be stored for later use, including meals eaten away from home by farmers, merchants, soldiers, or other travellers. Also popular were tamales, a more ancient, steamed food. Xoars, a maize dough was shaped into balls, often with some beans, chiles, or sometimes meat in the center, then wrapped in maize leaves and steamed in a large clay pot. Other forms in which the Aztecs ate maize were atole, a thin gruel of fine maize flour in water flavored with chilies or fruits; pozole, a soup or stew containing large maize kernels (hominy); and elote or corn on the cob. Maize figured prominently in Aztec religion and thought....The symbolism of maize permeated Aztec thought...Beans were second only to maize in the Aztec diet. Like tortillas, they were served at every meal. Tomatoes, avocados, and several varieties of squash were also common, and squash seeds were eaten in several forms. A large variety of chili peppers gave spice and flavor to food. The seeds of domesticated chia and amaranth plants were ground in the same manner as corn and eaten in several ways. The Aztecs shaped amaranth dough into small figures of the gods and ate them on ritual occasions. Amaranth leaves were also eaten as greens, and chia seeds were pressed to extract oil. Nopal, the prickly pear cactus, was cultivated in the Valley of Mexico for its sweet succulent furit and paddle-shaped leaf, which was a popular vegetable once the spines were removed."
---The Aztecs, Michael E. Smith [Blackwell:Oxford] 1996(p. 65-6)
"Aztec farmers inherited a knowledge of plants that had developed over thousands of years...Maize was the universal staple, and the basis of the was a very versatile foodstuff that could be used to create a variety of dishes. The many species of beans were a principal source of protein. Aztec diet featured a diversity of chiles, whith a wide range of flavors and hotness. Chiles are imporant sources of vitamins A and C, and also serve as condiments and stimulants. Squahsed and calabashes (used as containers) were a third important crop. Huautli (amaranth) was a very high protein grain that was second in importance only to maize...The Aztecs raised several varieties of onions, as well as red tomatoes, xictomatl, and green tomatoes, tomatl. Sweet potatoes, camotli, were grown as an important root crop. The jicama was also steamed or stewed with other ingredients in a variety of dishes. Peanuts and popcorn were other significant elements in the diet. The Aztecs chewed gum (chicle), bitumen, and other natural gums to clean their teeth...Squash seeds and many fruits were cultivated, including mamey, white and black zapotes, chirimoyas, guagas, and custard apples. Other important vegetable crops were nopal cactus paddles (tunafruit), and manuey agave, whose fermented juice provided pulque...
---The Aztecs, Richard F. Townsend [Thames and Hudson:London] 1992 (p. 172-3)
"Dogs, turkeys, and the Musovy duck were the only domesticated animals in ancient Mesoamerica. All were used for food, but they made only a minor contribution to the Aztec diet. The Aztecs also fished and hunted wild game, but again these food sources were limited...Archaeologists do find the bones of fish, deer, rabbit, iguana, dog, turkey, and other animals in Aztec domestic trash deposits, but rarely in dense concentrations. Meat from large animals was a minor part of the Aztec diet. Early Spanish observers noted the widespread use of insects among the Aztecs, including ants, grasshoppers, manuey worms, and jumil bugs. Insects are high in protein, tasty, and could often be harvested in large numbers. The Aztecs also gathered great amounts of blue-green spirulina algae...from the surface of the lakes. This algae, known as tecuitlatl, is extremely high in protein, grows rapidly, and abundantly, and is easy to gather with fine nets...The Spanish soldiers and priests had a low opinion of the palatability of this algae, but it was much prized by the Aztecs."
---The Aztecs, Smith (p. 67)
"The basic diet of the Aztexs was...vegetarian...supplemented by game animals, fish, turkeys and other birds, and various kinds of insects."
---The Aztecs, Townsend (p. 172)

"Among the more well-known spices were chenopodium, coriander and sage. Vanilla, extracted from the pods of a species of orchid, was among the most esteemed flavorings. Chocolate was prepared by grinding roasted cacao beans, sometimes with parched corn, and them mixing the powder with vanilla orchid pods or sweetened with honey. Like tea and coffee, this beverage is rich in caffeine and was much prized in ancient Mesoamerica."
---The Aztecs, Townsend (p. 173)
"The basic Aztec method of preparing chocolate...was about the same as that prevalent among the Maya; the only real difference is that it seems to have been drunk cool rather than hot as seems to have been the case among the Maya of Yucatan. One of the earliest notices of this drink is by the hand of a man known to scholars as the Anonymous Conqueror, described as "a gentleman of Hernan Cortez," whos description of Tenochtitlan was publishe in Venice in 1556: These seeds which are called almonds or cacao are ground and made into powder, and other small seeds are ground, and this powder is put into certain basins with a point... and then they put water on it and mix it with a spoon. And after having mixed it very well, they change it from one basin to another, so that a foam is raised which they put in a vessel made for the purpose. And when they wish to drink it, they mix it with certain small spoons of gold or silver or wood, and drink it, and drinking it one must open one's mouth, because being foam one must give it room to subside, and go down bit by bit. This drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else.' To this encomium the Anonymous Conqueror adds the comment that "it is better in hot weather than in cool, being cold is its nature...According to Sahagun's native informants, fine chocolate was called tlaquetzalli ("precious thing"), and was prepared by the seller in this way: She grinds cacao [beans]; she crushes, breaks, pulverizes them. She chooses, selects, separates them. She drenches, soaks, steeps them. She adds water sparingly, conservativley; aerates it, filters it, strains it, pours it back and forth, aerates it; she makes it form a head, makes foam; she removes the head, makes it thicken, makes it dry, pours water in, stirs water into it.' The inferior product, the informatns tell us, was mixed with nixtuamalli and water--in other words, a chocolate-with-maize gruel drink...There is no mention in these primary sources of the grooved wooden beater or swizzle stick (Spanish molinillo) for the production of the much-prized foam, nor does any word for it appear in the first Nahuatl-Spanish dictionary, that of Alonso de Molina, published in Mexico City in 1571. This item, so important later on in chocolate preparation in America and Europe, must have been introduced from Spain during the 16th century. By the time the Jesuit Francesco Saverio Clavigero published his detailed report on native Mexican live and hsitory (in 1780, in Italian), he describes the use of the molinillo, but totally omits the pouring from one vessel to another to produce a good head on the drink...There is, however, ample mention of stirrers or stirring spoons. These were fashioned from tortoise or sea turtle shell. Some of these survived the Conquest, for among the confiscated goods of two Aztec sorcerers arested by the early Spanish Inquisition were many of these stirrers, along with cacao and the cups from wich chocolate was drunk. Which brings us to the cups themselves. A reading of our sources indicates that these were small, hemispherical bowls which could be of polychrome creamic; calabash gourd...painted or lacquered with designs; and even gold, in the case of the huei tlatoani."
---True History of Chocolate, Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe [Thames & Hudson:London] 1996 (p. 86-88)
[NOTE: This book contains far more information than can be paraphrased here. It also includes notes on the use of chocolate in Mayan civization.]
Need a recipe for class?
Here is the recipe for Mexican hot chocolate from Food and Feasts with the Aztecs, Imogene Dawson (p. 29). It is adapted for modern kitchens:

Need a recipe for class?
Here is the recipe for Mexican hot chocolate from Food and Feasts with the Aztecs, Imogene Dawson (p. 29). It is adapted for modern kitchens:

"Mexican hot chocolate
1/2 lb semisweet cooking chocolate
4 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 drops vanilla
1. Break the chocolate into small pieces. Put the pieces in the top of a double boiler or into the heatproof bowl.
2. Fill the bottom of the double boiler or a large saucepan with cold water. Then bring the water to a boil. Turn the heat down so that the water continues to boil gently.
3. Put the container with the chocolate over the one with the boiling water. With a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate until it has melted.
4. Measure out the milk and pour it into another saucepan. Heat the milk gently but do not let it boil. Pour the melted chocolate into the hot milk.
5. Add the cinnamon and the vanilla to the mixture and brin the mixture to a boil.
6. Turn the heat down and whisk the mixture for 2 minutes until it is foaming.
7. Pour the chocolate into mugs and use the small whisk to whisk the chocolate again, so that there is foam on the top of each mug."
Makes 4 mugs.
1. Cooking with boiling water and sharp knives can be very dangerous. Have an adult help you in the kitchen.
2. Before you bring this in to class, print a copy of this recipe and give it to your teacher. She can tell you if anyone is allergic to any of the ingredients.