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ethnography: Molinillo

The molinillo is a Mexican stirrer, most often used for making chocolate. It is thought that the molinillo was introduced in Mexico by Spaniards who arrived in the early 16th century. However, given that chocolate is an indigenous plant in Mexico, it is probable that there were other utensils used for mixing chocolate and or other liquids.

The word molinillo comes from the word molino, a mill, but refers uniquely to an implement with a long wooden handle with a ball-like form at one end adjacent to a set of concentric rings which move loosely near the end. While these rings move loosely, the molinillo is made of ONE PIECE of wood, which adds to its beauty and uniqueness.

When making chocolate the traditional way, the chocolate is first roasted and ground into a fine powder on a stone grinding slab called a metate. As the grinding is almost finished, raw sugar, called piloncillo is ground into the chocolate mix. The chocolate-sugar powder is put in the bottom of a jarro, a ceramic jug with a handle. Hot water is poured on it and the molinillo is placed into the Jarro.

With the top of the molinillo stick between the palms spinning back and forth, the molinillo mixes the chocolate-sugar-water mixture. A froth forms, the liquid is poured from the jarro into smaller cups, jarritos, and the hot chocolate is ready to be drunk.

A woman mixing chocolate with a molinilloIn a report from the College of Wooster, we find that “pre-Hispanic Latin America, chocolate was revered as the drink of the god, and often reserved for the ruling elites of society.” Some sources indicate that the froth itself, created from using the molinillo, or else pouring the chocolate drink from one cup to another contained spiritual properties, serving to connect the drinker to the gods.  The froth was also associated with fertility and was said to have curative properties.

A Word or Two on Chocolate
Chocolate, a word often assumed to be English, comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) language word chocóllatl. The Spaniards had a difficult time pronouncing the final “-tl” of many Nahuatl words and simplified the pronunciation “-te.” (Another example is the word "tomatl" which referred to the red fruit unknown in Europe until explorers tasted it in the Americas and took it back to Spain, France, England, Italy and other countries. Still with the difficulty of pronouncing the final “-tl” sound, tomatl became “tomate” and “tomato.”)

Partial text reference: College of Wooster with specifics from the Valley of Oaxaca and Highland Puebla, Mexico

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A woman mixing chocolate with a molinillo

Red Trunk Project

A woman mixing chocolate with a molinillo

A woman mixing chocolate with a molinillo

Red Trunk Project

A woman mixing chocolate with a molinillo

Red Trunk Project

A woman mixing chocolate with a molinillo

Red Trunk Project®

Red Trunk Project

A woman mixing chocolate with a molinillo