The cocoa tree (Kakawatl), whose fruits called cabosse were dried in the sun, toasted, ground and dissolved in water to make the chocolate, was already known by the Maya. In the thirteenth century, also the Aztecs began to cultivate it and produce chocolate, associating it with the cult of Xochiquetza, goddess of fertility. Often flavored with vanilla and chilli, or sweetened with honey, this drink was consumed by priests and élites, and offered as a sacrifice to the gods, as illustrated by the ancient paintings on the vases and the illuminated codices.
The history of cocoa and chocolate for Europeans begins in 1519 with the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés. The Aztec emperor Montezuma bowed before him (believing him the god Quetzalcoatl), offering him precious gifts and baskets full of cocoa. "A cup of this precious drink - Cortés wrote to his emperor Charles V - allows a man to endure a full day's walk without taking other food".
Thus, the precious seed of cocoa arrived in Europe brought by Cortés to Charles V in 1528, and the chocolate conquered the palates of the nobles and of the monastic orders, especially the Jesuits, who added to it sugar and vanilla, removing pepper and chilli pepper.
It is clear that cocoa seeds crossed Sicily (which at that time was the Spanish viceroyality) and above all the powerful County of Modica, which was the most important feudal state in southern Italy.
From the 16th century, Modica became the privileged place of chocolate production, that was prepared, first domestically and then industrially, according to the Aztec tradition. It was milled on the metate, a curved lava stone, and cold worked (without the subsequent phases which have been later discovered in Europe). The recipes were multiplied by mixing the cocoa with brown sugar, sesame and other spices, such as chili pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, citrus peel, and lately with many other flavors.
Having become a symbol of Sicilian confectionery excellence, Modica chocolate is rich in organoleptic properties, and can be considered as a real "drug food", recommended within a healthy and balanced diet. Its calories are significantly lower than those contained in traditional chocolate, and also its fat content is low because it is produced with only cocoa mass (obtained by milling the seeds), without adding cocoa butter. Moreover, the high percentage of flavonoids, natural antioxidants contained in cocoa beans, is ensured by the special "cold" processing, in which the sugar does not reach the melting point. This processing, which gives the product a special, crisp and pleasantly granular consistency, maintains unaltered the organoleptic properties of flavonoids, fundamental for the well-being of the arteries and the cardiovascular system. This chocolate is also a good-humored friend because it contains serotonin and phenylethylamine which, interacting with our metabolism, foster a sense of happiness and natural fulfillment.
According to Leonardo Sciascia, it is a product "of unmatchable flavor, so that it seems to have come to the archetype, the absolute". The Modica Chocolate (called ciucculatta muricana), which is raw, granular and crumbly, black with brown reflections, is used to prepare many sweet and savory recipes: we can find it, for example, in some pasta dishes, in the famous Sicilian caponata, even in the meat (the famous breadcrumbs of Modica), and also in the tasty cocoa liqueur.
This delight to the palate has been recognized as "Traditional food product" and from 2003 it is protected by the "Consortium of protection of Modica chocolate". To Modica chocolate is dedicated the unmissable event "ChocoModica": three days in December to savor, taste and know this sweet Sicilian excellence.