Taking Chocolate Back to Its Mexican Roots

PHOTO: A cacao farmer.
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He calls the seed of his chocolate revolution "kakaw" — an ancient Mesoamerican word — and he's spearheading a movement to take chocolate back to its Mexican roots.

Chef and Chocolatier José Ramón Castillo, now a hiton Mexican TV, is a Willy Wonka of sorts. He owns his own chocolate factory and an indulgent chocolate store in Mexico City.

The ancient Maya and Aztecs serve as his inspiration. They pioneered cacao cultivation, mainly consuming it as a hot drink mixed with water. Chocolate was so valued in their culture, that cacao beans were "currency." It was only after the Spanish came to Mesoamerica that chocolate was exported to Europe.

What's so sweet about Chef Castillo? He only uses homegrown Mexican cacao. He refuses to add cream, butter, or sugar to his "bonbons" and he only uses water and local ingredients to give them an indigenous flair.

For many, José Ramón Castillo has become a new model of Mexican nationalist gastronomy by spreading the delights of chocolate while striving to protect the endangered indigenous crop. The Mexican cacao he holds dear is under threat from an invasive disease. Can he save Mexico's ancient chocolate tradition — and perhaps make chocolate in Mexico what cheese is to France?

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