Hospitality was always a part of prehispanic life in Mexico. When guests arrive, they weretypically offered tasty and carefully prepared meals and beverages. These culinary delights were passed on generation after generation. Girls were not considered marriageable until they could grind corn and make atole.
So what’s atole? Glad you asked. Atole is a corn-based drink somewhat like gruel. The word comes from the Nahuatl word atolli. Atole Blanco (white) is the base drink without sugar or other flavorings, also called atole de masa.
There are oodles of flavors available. Atole negro (black) is made with the shells of the cacao bean. Atole de pinole is cornmeal atole flavored with piloncillo (brown sugar), a popular beverage among the Tarahumara people. Chileatole is prepared with chocolate, chile peppers, vanilla, and honey. There is also a salty chile atole made with green chiles, onion and epazote.
Atole de almendra is almond flavored. Atole de frijol is atole with beans. Sometimes fruit such as guayaba (guava) is added.
Atole de pepita chica is flavored with toasted and ground pumpkin seeds. Atole de maiz de teja is made with toasted and ground sunflower seeds. Atole de changunga, also called atole de nanche, is made from the small, yellow fruit of the same name and is a traditional drink of Purepecha people in Michoacan.
Atole de zitún or zarzamora is blackberry atole. My personal favorite! Atole de guayaba is flavored with guava. Atole de aguamiel is sweetened with the sap of the agave plant. Chocolate atole is called champurrado.
Atole can also be made using a rice rather than a corn base as is done with atole de arroz. Atole colado de maiz adds milk to the basic masa mixture. Atole de flor de San Juan includes the yellow flowers of Saint John’s Wort. Atole malarrabia from Veracruz has fish in it, but I’m not sure which fish. Atole de naranja is flavored with orange juice. Atole de camote is made with sweet potatoes.
Atole de coyol is flavored with a fruit that tastes similar to the coconut. Atole de piña is made with pineapple. Atole de avellana includes ground hazelnut. Atole de cacahuate has ground peanuts. Atole de chicozapote is made with the fruit sapodilla that grows in the mangroves region of the Yucatan Penisula. Atole de plátano is sweetened with pureed banana. Atole de mandarina is flavored with tangerine juice. Tanchucúa is an atole made in the Yucatan that includes chocolate, black pepper, and anise.
So how does one make atole? In 1651, Francisco Hernandez reported that “Atolli was eight parts water and six parts maize, plus lime, cooked until soft. The maize was then ground and cooked again until it thickened.”
There you have it, folks! The secret recipe. If you need more specifics, click on one of the recipe links or videos I’ve included in this post.
Remember, the best atole is cooked in an olla de barra (clay pot) and served in a clay cup. The Mayan loved their atole so much they even went so far as to have glyph engraved vessels for their drinks, complete with the maker and flavor listed.
As the extensive list above demonstrates, although atole is sweetened, it’s not always sweet. The following Mexican dichos (sayings) make reference to this fact.
When newly in love, you might hear this expression “Contigo la milpa es rancho y el atole champurrado.” (With you the corn field is as scenic as the countryside and the atole is always sweetened with chocolate) But later on, after a few years, once the romance has dimmed, you just might hear “Más vale atole con risas que chocolate con lágrimas.” (It’s better atole with laughter than chocolate with tears.) Simple and happy over rich and sad any day!
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