Tony Ryals | 30.04.2009 01:50 | Ecology
Like a living archeological artifact as well as a little used plant of great social and economic value…..A while ago I came across a person from the Philippines enquiring on the internet about Theobroma bicolor,called pataxte in Mexico and Guatemala,(by the few there who even know it exists) and Macombo in Brazil named for the Afro-Brazilian religion of that same name.I hope they find this
writing and plant some pataxte in the Philippines.In fact there may be pataxte in the Philippines already........
… They rejoiced over the discovery of that excellent mountain that was filled with delicious things, crowded with yellow ears of maize and white ears of maize,… with pataxte and chocolate, with countless zapotes and anonas, with jocotes and nances, with matasanos and honey… - quote from Maya Popol Vuh
We accidentally discovered or rediscovered ‘pataxte’ several years ago at the Tostaduria Antigua ,(in Antigua, Guatemala corner 7th Avenida and 6th Calle),when we found it mixed in the chocolate beans we were roasting and grinding.In order to grind after lightly roasting cacao or chocolate beans to make unsweetened ground chocolate and chocolate honey bars,(we are the only ones in the world to use honey instead of sugar as a chocolate ‘candy’ sweetener to my knowledge),we used to remove the thin ’shell’ that wraps each of the many seeds or ‘beans’ or ‘nibs’ before grinding.Well you might imagine my surprise to find one white ‘pataxte’ seed in every 3 or 4 pounds of chocolate and imaging it to be a ‘mutant’ chocolate bean or seed that had somehow turned white as if it were a chocolate ‘albino’ and simultaneously it had lost all hints of the bitterness of a cacao bean and it’s taste was-is almost neutral - a lot like cow’s milk in a seed ! In fact the only known modern use for pataxte that I have found is a drink called ’tiste’ that also contains ground tortillas and a plant called ‘achote’ when in fact I find it makes a very good nut milk by itself with a taste very much like cow’s milk that other nut milks - almond,macademia - can’t duplicate.Also the pataxte butter or fat content is amazing in terms of both its similarity to and difference from cocao butter.I only found maybe less than a dozen pataxte seeds mixed in our cacao beans after perhaps 3 or 4 years of roasting but maybe that is because we ceased pealing and husking the cacao beans thin shell or skin and simply ground the beans,thin shell and all.In fact I’m not sure if shell is the correct word,it’s not a nut after all, but like a nut, it is a seed…….
It was the very whiteness of pataxte or Theobroma bicolor that gave me the immediate idea of making a real ‘white chocolate’ out of it in the first place.I searched the internet at the time and found that no one else had suggested such an idea although some Spanish language websites did call Theobroma bicolor ‘chocolate blanco’ or ‘white chocolate’, only they didn’t take their own spanish slang to its conclusion and suggest making a wholesome white chocolate candy or confection with it,much less using honey to do so.At least one chocolate website whose owner and blogger visited our store a while back took the concept for her own without mentioning pataxte white chocolate was my idea but she concluded that her Guatemla pataxte experiment tasted like ‘matza balls’ which might be alright for certain occasions but luckily not the way our pataxte experiments and honey bars have turned out.
What’s most surprising to me about the list of plants quoted from the Mayan Popol Vuh above,(aside from the strange omission of beans and chiles,etc.,from the Popol Vuh list),is the fact that two Theobroma species - both Theobroma Cacao and Theobroma bicolor or chocolate and ‘pataxte’ - are mentioned ! So it would appear that 1200 year old Mayan ceramic or clay pottery that has been shown to still contain traces of the theobromine molecule common to cacao and other Theobroma plants after all those years may not be from chocolate alone and could as well have come from preparing and storing pataxte or Theobroma bicolor as from cacao itself .
What we have discovered at the Tostaduria Antigua is that pataxte or Theobroma bicolor has a butter or fat content very similar to cacao itself in terms of texture and hardening and melting properties ! And because cacao butter is comparable to olive oil in terms of nutrients inclusing omega fatty 3 acids,etc., it stands to reason that its relative pataxte or Theobroma bicolor also has a nutritious high quality fat or butter content as well.In fact because the Amazon region of South American also has a variety of Theobroma bicolor other researchers in Brazil have done some research on its powerful antioxydants as well as other beneficial molecules of Theobroma bicolor,whose common name is macambofor the Afro-Brazilian religion of that same name.And I have run across mention that Theobroma bicolor is indeed used in the Amazon to extract its butter fat in order to supplement or compete in the market for cacao butter or cacao butter alternatives.
We at the Tostaduria combine honey with ground pataxte to make a real ‘white chocolate’ with all or many of the same nutrient values as whole chocolate beans;(that we also roast grind and combine with honey).’Traditional’ white chocolate (dating to 19th century Europe),is nothing but cocoa butter,sugar and milk and even then chocolate confectioners often sustitute even hydrogenated oil for cocoa butter in their race to make their product as cheaply as possible ! Pataxte ‘white chocolate’ sweetened with honey just like our regular chocolate ‘nibs’ bars is like the best of darck chocolate cacao bars containing not only antioxydants amino acids vitamins as well as a high quality butter fat that is comparable to olive oil.
Our research shows that pataxte or Theobroma bicolor makes a very interesting nut milk with a creamy nut butter of its own as well and can be used as the base for a white sauce very much like U.S. southern style gravy or as the base for a cheese sauce,(just as gravy or white sauce can be),replacing the need for flour,butter or milk !And while we have a dearth of information on how the Maya may have prepared pataxte,it was probably prepared as a drink just like cacao and was held or stored in the same ceramic vases used to prepare or hold cacao drinks.The still existing tradition of preparing a drink,’tiste’,from pataxte in old cacao growing Pacific coastal plains land is about the only remaining historic or even modern use of this marvelous tree that can provide shade for its plant relative, cacao.
It certainly would have made - and an enterprising chef could certainly make at present - a mole sauce which is made by grinding and cooking seeds and nuts including cacao or chocolate into a spicy sauce.I also found a reference to a ‘mole blanca’ or white mole sauce on a Mexican food recipe sauce but pataxte should make the ultimate rich and creamy real white mole sauce !While pataxte is as neutral in flavor,particularly unroasted, as unsweetened cacao is bitter it has has all the qualties of the finest of nuts in the world. Like its cacao plant or bush relative that it can provide shade and soil stablity for,pataxte seeds or ‘pepitas de pataxte’ ,come inside a large fruit that falls from the tree when ripe.To my knowledge no fermenting or leaving seeds in the rooting fruit to ferment is required or desired of pataxte, only removing the seeds from rthe fruit to dry…….
Pataxte habitat appears to have been marginalized on the Pacific coastal plain of Guatemala in the last decades of the 20th century by large scale agricultural mono-culture, especially cotton and sugar cane and cattle.Paradoxically many cacao growers do not even have pataxte growing on their land and providing shade and soil protection and biological diversity as was once the tradition.
Perhaps pataxte like cacao could be used to reforest depleted lands devoted to open field agriculture for too many years and to even provide a crop of equal or greater economic demand than sugar cane cotton or cattle do at present.
Nonetheless pataxte cultivation and reforestation should be encouraged whereever possible in low land humid tropics and particularly to to compliment and diversify cacao crops.
Maybe at some point in the future consumers of chocolate may enquire about pataxte and other ecological and soil protecting shade trees when enquiring about a particular cacao growing region or chocolate product from a particular chocolate manufacturer or confectionaire just as coffee drinkers often enquire about shade trees in fincas(large coffee plantations) or cafetales(small
Pataxte like cacao produces a fruit with the seeds inside that from a commercial viewpoint are,like cacao, more important than the fruit itself.
And pataxte like cacao also appears to produce fruit and thus seeds all year round but fruit and thus seed production increases substantially in the rainy season which in Guatemala is about from May to September or October.And while at present demand for pataxte seeds or ‘pepita de pataxte’ appears to be mainly local and women and some men prepare a drink called tiste using ground tortillas,achote,pataste,etc.,it is hard to find outside of the immediate cacao producing area of the Pacific coastal plain and most Guatemalans don’t know what pataxte is even though it is mentioned in the Mayan Popol Vuh !
Pataxte is not marketed or bought or sold in Guatemala City for instance and few Guatemalans know the tiste of the coastal plain.In fact it appears that some tiste recipes ignore it as an ingredient altogether so that even all tiste drinks don’t necessarily contain pataxte.So strange as it may be pataxte appears to have no market and all history of its use by indigenous culture in general and Maya culinary history in particular appears to be lost.
One distributer of cacao who was actually the person who sold us the sack of cacao beans or seeds or nibs with the few pataxte seeds inside that led to our discovery of pataxte in the first place stated that in his opinion finding a few pataxte seeds mixed in with your cacao beans is a sign of cacao quality.He is probably correct.Pataxte or Therobroma bicolor and other trees in a cacao agroecosystem should provide a number of benefits to the cacao growing environment.
When in Antigua,Guatemala come by the Tostaduria Antigua and check out pataxte seeds or ‘beans’ or to try a pataxte-honey bar for yourself as well as the natural historic dark Meso American chocolate,Theobroma Cacao criollo that made cholcolate and the culture of chocolate consumption famous that we lightly roast and grind and mix with honey,a process that we pioneered over the last few years here in Antigua and find perfect for pataxte as well.Also while pataxte-honey alone may be the best,pataxte’s neutral flavor makes it ideal for spicing up in a way cacao alone isn’t.When you add cinnamon,cardamom,nutmeg,allspice,lemon,etc., to pataxte that or those are the flavors you get whereas cacao has a tendency to hide other flavors in its bitter sweetness.
Less perhaps than 10% of of cacao production is now from the historic criollo variety consumed by Maya,Aztec and probably Olmec and lesser known indigenous groups of Meso Americans,perhaps for millenia.The Amazon cacao variety, Theobroma Cacao Forastero, planted around the tropical world in recent times,particularly in Africa, all because of the fame of Meso America’s historic criollo variety that made all chocolate famous,comprises probably over 90% of the world cacao production at present but most real connossieurs of chocolate admit that Theobroma Cacao Criollo is a better quality and no one doubts its history as the chocalate of chocolates and the cacao of civilizations.
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