What is Oaxacan Chocolate

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate? A Sinful 10-Minute Guide

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If you have recently visited Oaxaca, you might be wondering, what is Oaxacan chocolate?

Oaxacan chocolate is a delicious type of chocolate infused with traditional Mexican spices that is made and sold in Oaxaca, and which is a key part of Oaxaca’s magnificent and diverse cuisine.

It is a must-try bucket-list item for any trip to Oaxaca.

In this article we look at what is Oaxacan chocolate in detail, and also delve into traditional cacao processing in Oaxaca, the Oaxacan art of chocolate-making, and much more.

Whet your appetite with us and read on!

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

What is Oaxacan Chocolate?

If you’re asking the key question “What is Oaxacan chocolate?”, then you are in the right place!

Oaxacan chocolate is a delicious form of chocolate produced in Oaxaca using locally-grown cacao beans and traditional Mexican spices.

It is also an important part of the Oaxacan culinary tradition and is used in various Oaxacan dishes, including various types of Oaxacan mole.

Oaxacan chocolate has a distinct flavor profile that combines deep, earthy notes with hints of sweetness and warmth.

The Oaxacan chocolate-making process involves roasting, grinding, and blending cacao with ingredients like cinnamon, almonds, and vanilla.

Its significance extends beyond taste, embodying traditions, history, and the artistry of a region deeply connected to its ancient roots.

Let’s take a brief look at its history before we look at how it is made.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

What Is The History Of Oaxaca Chocolate?

The history of Oaxacan chocolate is deeply intertwined with the cultural fabric of the Oaxaca region.

In Oaxaca, cacao has held significance since ancient times, with the indigenous Zapotec and Mixtec civilizations cultivating cacao trees and valuing its precious beans as a form of currency.

Cacao’s journey into the realm of Oaxacan chocolate began with the Mesoamerican civilizations, where cacao was revered for its sacred and culinary attributes.

The cacao beans were ground into a paste and mixed with water and various spices to create a frothy and bitter beverage enjoyed by nobles and warriors.

With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, cacao’s fate shifted. The Spanish introduced new flavor elements such as sugar, vanilla, and spices, leading to the creation of a more varied and indulgent chocolate.

The mixing of Old World ingredients with indigenous cacao laid the foundation for Oaxacan chocolate’s distinctive flavor profile.

Over time, Oaxaca emerged as a hub for chocolate production due to its fertile lands and proximity to cacao-growing regions.

The region’s chocolate artisans refined the art of chocolate-making, using traditional grinding methods on stone metates to create a paste that could be used to make both beverages and confections.

Today, Oaxaca chocolate is celebrated in festivals, markets, and workshops that showcase the ancient techniques and unique flavors that have been passed down through generations.

Let’s look now at where Oaxacan cacao is produced.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

Where Is Oaxacan Cacao Produced?

Cacao, the soul of Oaxacan chocolate, thrives in the lush landscapes of the region, nurtured by southern Mexico’s diverse climates and rich soils.

Cacao cultivation for Oaxacan chocolate primarily occurs in the coastal areas, central valleys, and the Sierra Norte mountains of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Coastal Areas

The hot and humid coastal regions, such as the Soconusco region of Chiapas, provide optimal conditions for cacao trees to flourish.

Here, cacao trees thrive under the shade of taller trees, creating a harmonious ecosystem that mirrors traditional cultivation practices.

Central Valleys

The central valleys surrounding Oaxaca City offer fertile grounds for cacao cultivation.

In areas like Tlacolula and Etla, cacao is intercropped with other crops, embodying the ancient practice of milpa farming, where diverse plants coexist.

Sierra Norte Mountains

The highlands of the Sierra Norte mountains are home to unique cacao varieties. These elevated regions experience cooler temperatures, contributing to the distinctive flavor profiles of cacao grown there.

Farmers nurture cacao trees through sustainable practices, often passed down through generations. The traditional shade-grown approach preserves biodiversity and offers cacao trees protection from direct sunlight.

The cacao pods are harvested by hand, reflecting the labor-intensive nature of the process. Once the cacao is grown and harvested, it then needs to be prepared for use.

Let’s look now at Oaxaca’s traditional cacao refinement process for making Oaxacan chocolate.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

How Is Oaxacan Chocolate Made?

Photo from Instagram (@chocolateguelaguetza)

To give a proper answer to the question “What is Oaxacan chocolate?”, we need to look at Oaxaca’s cacao production process, which is a meticulous craft deeply rooted in tradition.

There are various steps in the process. We’ve described each of these below.

Harvesting and Fermentation

The process begins with the harvesting of cacao pods, which are then split open to reveal the precious beans covered in a mucilaginous pulp.

The beans are carefully removed and left to ferment for several days, allowing them to develop their distinct flavors.

Roasting And Drying

After fermentation, the cacao beans are spread out in the sun to dry, reducing moisture content and further enhancing flavor.

Once dried, the beans undergo roasting, a crucial step that brings out their complex aromas.

Traditionally, this is done on clay comals over an open flame, imparting a unique smokiness.

Grinding And Mixing

Roasted beans are then ground using a metate, a stone grinding slab, until they form a paste called “cacao liquor.” This paste can be used as is or mixed with spices to create chocolate.

Oaxacan chocolate often includes ingredients like cinnamon, almonds, and vanilla, adding depth and character to the final product. The paste is then shaped into tablets or balls for preservation.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

What Are the Types Of Oaxacan Chocolate?

Oaxacan chocolate boasts a rich diversity of forms, each characterized by distinct flavors, uses, and cultural significance.

We’ve set out below some prominent variations that you will encounter during your time in Oaxaca.

Tablet-Style Chocolate

This is the foundation of Oaxacan chocolate, consisting of cacao paste molded into tablets or discs.

It’s often mixed with other ingredients like cinnamon, sugar, and almonds, reflecting a balance between bitter and sweet.

These tablets can be used to create both drinking chocolate and cooking sauces.

Traditional Drinking Chocolate

Oaxaca is renowned for its velvety and aromatic drinking chocolate, prepared by dissolving tablet-style chocolate in hot water or milk.

The resulting beverage, known for its complex flavor profile, is often enjoyed during breakfast or as an afternoon indulgence.


A pre-Hispanic beverage, tejate is made by blending cacao with roasted maize and mamey seeds. It is frothed with water, producing a frothy and slightly grainy consistency.

Traditionally served cold, tejate carries cultural and historical significance, often associated with celebrations and ceremonies.


A heartwarming drink enjoyed during cooler months, champurrado combines chocolate with masa (corn dough), piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar), and spices.

The result is a thick, comforting beverage reminiscent of hot chocolate infused with the essence of Oaxacan traditions.

Chocolate Confections

Oaxacan chocolate isn’t limited to beverages. It’s also used to craft delectable confections like chocolate-covered fruit, truffles, and more.

These creations showcase the versatility of Oaxacan chocolate, elevating it beyond a beverage into a realm of innovative culinary artistry.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

Is Oaxacan Chocolate Good For You?

Oaxacan chocolate, cherished for its rich flavors and cultural significance, offers a nuanced balance between indulgence and potential health benefits.

While it’s not a health food per se, certain qualities make it a favorable choice in moderation.

Natural Antioxidants

Cacao, the core ingredient of Oaxacan chocolate, contains potent antioxidants that help combat oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.

These antioxidants, such as flavonoids and polyphenols, contribute to overall health.

Mood Enhancement

Cacao contains compounds like phenylethylamine and anandamide, which are known for their mood-enhancing effects.

They can induce feelings of pleasure and well-being, possibly contributing to an improved mood when enjoyed in moderation.

Heart Health

Dark chocolate, like the tablet-style chocolate used in Oaxacan recipes, has been associated with potential cardiovascular benefits.

Its flavonoids may help improve blood flow, reduce blood pressure, and enhance heart health.

Other Potential Medicinal Benefits

Oaxacan chocolate may have other beneficial medicinal aspects.

Theobromine, found in cacao, can have a mild stimulating effect and may even aid in cough suppression.

Dark chocolate’s potential to enhance cognitive function and improve brain health is also under investigation.

Additionally, cacao’s magnesium content contributes to muscle relaxation and stress relief.

Moderation is Key

While Oaxacan chocolate offers potential benefits, it’s important to consume it in moderation.

The addition of sugars and other ingredients can also impact its nutritional profile. Opt for higher cacao content and limited added sugars to reap the most benefits.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

Is Oaxacan Chocolate Used In Oaxacan Festivals?

In various festivals, such as the La Guelaguetza and Day of the Dead, Oaxacan chocolate plays a pivotal role.

It’s used to craft traditional beverages like champurrado and tejate, which are shared among participants as a gesture of hospitality and togetherness.

These chocolate-infused drinks evoke a sense of comfort and connection, as they have been enjoyed for generations.

Oaxacan chocolate also finds its way into festival offerings and culinary specialties. It’s used to create intricate mole sauces that grace festive feasts, infusing dishes with layers of flavor and history.

The artistry of crafting chocolate-based confections and desserts showcases the versatility of Oaxacan chocolate in adding a touch of sweetness to the festivities.

Beyond its culinary contributions, Oaxacan chocolate holds a spiritual and cultural significance during festivals. It’s often used in offerings to honor ancestors during the Day of the Dead, a time when families gather to remember and celebrate their loved ones.

In essence, Oaxacan chocolate is more than an ingredient. It is a thread that weaves through the fabric of Oaxacan festivals, connecting generations and cultures through its flavors, traditions, and heartfelt celebrations.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

Where Is the Best Place to Buy Oaxacan Chocolate?

Photo from Instagram (@chocolateguelaguetza)

If you’ve the good fortune to be in Oaxaca, you can buy Oaxacan chocolate in several different places.

Mercados And Tianguis

Oaxaca’s bustling markets, such as Mercado Benito Juárez and Mercado 20 de Noviembre, offer a treasure trove of authentic Oaxacan chocolate.

You’ll find vendors selling a variety of chocolate products, from tablet-style chocolate to pre-made drinking chocolate mixes, often packaged with vibrant labels that showcase Oaxaca’s vibrant artistry.

Similarly, in local villages surrounding Oaxaca such as Teotitlán del Valle or Tlacolula, you can visit a tiangui (more in the nature of a flea market) and purchase Oaxacan chocolate from the vendors, many of whom produce their own products.

Chocolate Shops

Another great place to look for Oaxacan chocolate is in one of the many artisanal chocolate shops dedicated to preserving traditional chocolate-making techniques.

These shops, like Mayordomo and Chocolate Guelaguetza, craft and sell high-quality Oaxacan chocolate products. Their offerings often extend beyond traditional tablet-style chocolate, including unique blends and creative confections.

If you’re interested in visiting chocolate shops in Oaxaca, check out our related article on the best places to buy Oaxaca chocolate.

Cacao Farms And Workshops

For a deeper experience, consider visiting cacao farms and workshops, such as La Rifa Cacao and Cacao El Mayordomo. Here, you can witness the chocolate-making process firsthand, learn about cacao cultivation, and purchase freshly made chocolate products directly from the source.

Oaxacan Chocolate Tours

Another option is to join a Oaxacan chocolate tour!

There are many great tours available, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions like what is Oaxacan chocolate and many more.

In addition to being able to give you hot tips on the best places to find Oaxacan chocolate in Oaxaca, the guides will have a deep knowledge of the process of making Oaxacan chocolate, and can even teach you how to make it yourself.

And needless to say, any tour will be packed with chocolate for you to try, so you can eat while you learn!

If you’re interested in doing a tour, check out our related article on the best Oaxaca chocolate tours.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

What is Oaxacan Chocolate: FAQs

Hopefully we’ve covered most of the major questions that you have about Oaxacan chocolate.

But in case you have a few more, check out the list of frequently asked questions below to see if you can find an answer!

What Is Oaxacan Hot Chocolate?

Oaxacan hot chocolate is a rich and aromatic beverage made by dissolving Oaxacan chocolate tablets or discs into hot milk or water.

Infused with flavors like cinnamon and often spiced with ingredients like vanilla, it’s a traditional and indulgent treat enjoyed for its unique blend of sweet and bitter notes.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

How is Oaxacan chocolate different from other types of chocolate?

Oaxacan chocolate stands out for its distinctive blend of flavors.

It is made with roasted cacao beans and incorporates spices like cinnamon and may include ingredients such as almonds or vanilla.

Some version even include chapulines, the Oaxacan grasshoppers which are a delicacy in Oaxacan cuisine.

This unique combination creates a complex taste profile, setting it apart from more commonly known chocolates in the world.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

Is Oaxacan Chocolate Sweet Or Bitter?

Oaxacan chocolate can offer a balance of both bitter and sweet notes.

The bitterness comes from roasted cacao beans, while the sweetness comes from added ingredients like sugar or spices.

The combination results in a complex flavor profile that can vary based on the specific blend and preparation.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

What Are The Main Ingredients In Oaxacan Chocolate?

The main ingredient in Oaxacan chocolate is roasted cacao beans, which are often combined with aromatic spices like cinnamon.

Some variations may incorporate additional flavors such as almonds, vanilla, or even chili, creating a unique blend that defines the distinct taste of Oaxacan chocolate.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

Is Oaxacan Chocolate Used In Traditional Oaxacan Dishes?

Yes, Oaxacan chocolate is a cornerstone of traditional Oaxacan cuisine.

It’s an essential element in dishes like mole, contributing to its rich and complex flavors.

Additionally, it’s used to make traditional Oaxacan hot chocolate, enjoyed for its distinct taste and cultural significance.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

Are There Different Types Of Oaxacan Chocolate?

Yes, Oaxacan chocolate comes in various forms.

There’s tablet-style chocolate, often infused with spices like cinnamon. Mole paste incorporates Oaxacan chocolate as a key ingredient.

Additionally, spiced drinking chocolate mixes are available, allowing you to enjoy the unique flavors of Oaxacan chocolate in a convenient and delicious way.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

Can I Use Oaxacan Chocolate For Baking And Cooking?

You certainly can!

Oaxacan chocolate can add a unique depth of flavor to your baking and cooking. It’s commonly used in recipes like mole sauces, beverages, and desserts.

Its blend of spices and cacao enhances both sweet and savory dishes, providing a distinctive Oaxacan touch to your culinary creations.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

Is Oaxacan Chocolate Gluten-Free And Vegan?

Yes, authentic Oaxacan chocolate is typically gluten-free and vegan.

It’s made from roasted cacao beans and spices, without the addition of wheat or animal products.

However, it’s always a good idea to check the specific ingredients and preparation process to ensure it meets your dietary preferences and requirements.

What Is Oaxacan Chocolate?

Final Thoughts

I hope that we’ve persuaded you to go and let your taste buds experience firsthand the answer to the question, what is Oaxacan chocolate!

Trying Oaxaca chocolate is yet another amazing aspect of Oaxaca’s vibrant culture to experience and a bucket-list must for any trip.

Buen viaje!

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