(Another activity I meant to write about back in, oh, May. I never claimed to be efficient.)
We are Story of the World users. Sometimes we do the suggested activities, sometimes not. Sometimes we come up with our own.
In Chapter 32 of Volume 2: The Middle Ages, we covered the Mayan, Aztec, and Incan Empires. The kids were particularly interested in the importance of cocoa to the people of pre-Columbian Meso-America, which lead, of course, to a discussion on chocolate.
We enjoyed this video, where the boy demonstrates how cocoa pods are harvested, and how to roast and grind the dried cocoa beans to make hot chocolate. My kids thought this would be fun to do themselves.
I envisioned a chocolate tasting session. I do it for the kids.
One shopping trip and three bars of Mast Brothers Chocolate later, we gathered around the table to examine a small bowl of cocoa nibs, which are pieces of fermented, dried and roasted cocoa bean.
The kids checked out the craggy cocoa nibs, rolling them around in their hands. The deeply aromatic, dark brown bits smelled just like chocolate. They popped the nibs in their mouths.
“Um…oh, that doesn’t taste like chocolate!”
I wish I could have gotten a picture of their collective faces. If you’ve ever eaten unsweetened chocolate when you were expecting it to be sweet, you’ll understand.
“They’re kinda crunchy.”
They went back for more.
“They taste a little like chocolate…but a little sour.”
Personally, I like the taste of cocoa nibs. They are crunchy yet tender, and seem buttery in the way that nuts are, (from the cocoa butter). The chocolate flavor is intense, yet not sweet. The flavor just takes some getting used to.
Apparently they had gotten used to the flavor, as they kept slipping nibs into their mouths throughout the rest of the session.
We talked a bit about the cocoa tree, (genus Theobroma, which is Greek for food of the gods), the parts of its pod, and how the Aztec and Mayan people used it to make a cocoa drink, called xocolātl, which means “bitter water”.
The kids took turns with the mortar and pestle, grinding up the nibs to steep in hot water.
We strained our cocoa water and added a little honey, remembering that the people did not have access to sugar at that time. We had read earlier about the different flavorings and spices the Mayans and Aztecs may have added to their cocoa and debated which ones might taste best.
At least one kid liked the cocoa water. Everybody else was underwhelmed.
We all knew that the chocolate we drink or eat in today’s world was different from what we had just tried. We discussed how the Spaniards brought cocoa back to Spain and added sugar; eventually it made its way to the rest of Europe, where the process of making our contemporary chocolate was born.
“Let’s try some chocolate!” Big whoops all around.
We opened up the different bars and tried a little of each. I had chosen Mast because they are single-origin chocolate bars, meaning cocoa that has been harvested from one variety from one region, with the sole addition of a small amount of sugar. I wanted the kids to taste just how different the chocolates could be.
We started with Belize since that was from the area we had been studying. The responses were mostly “yum.”
On to Dominican Republic.
“Oooh that tastes different!”
Of course we went round again because now they could taste the differences and better compare the three.
Everyone offered up their favorites. I don’t even think there was a clear winner.
We looked up the different growing regions on a map. I pointed out that they were all fairly close to the equator.
“The trees must grow better in warmer weather.”
“And with rain.”
“Where else do you think they might grow cocoa trees?”
“What about Canada?”
Not quite ready to end our sweet session, we whipped up a batch of hot chocolate. Rich, slightly milky, barely sweet.
We all enjoyed it very much. Although one of us kept hold of a mug of cocoa water. She was sticking with both.