Aztec chocolate is still made in Modica, Sicily – and it’s the best I’ve ever eaten

Have you ever wondered what the very first bar of chocolate, made by the Aztecs, tasted like?

I’ve just found out. I bought some chocolate from Modica, in Sicily, yesterday. It was divine. I found it in the 1,000-year-old market called La Vucciria in central Palermo.

cioc modica

I am quite a chocolate connoiseur. I’ve visited the Lindt chocolate factory in Switzerland, observed the production process and eaten all the free chocolate I could stuff down (quite a lot, as the Lindt board of directors found out to their cost). I’ve toured a chocolate factory in Belgium and gone out probably a stone heavier than when I entered. Yet Modica chocolate is by far the nicest I have eaten anywhere, in my life.

The Spanish invaded Sicily in medieval times and brought cocoa beans from southern America, and the recipe invented by the Aztecs for making it into spectacular chocolate. If anything could make you forgive someone for invading you, surely this must be it?

Modica is now the only place on earth where cold-worked chocolate is still produced using this ancient Aztec technique.

Modica Chocolate

Modern chocolate goes through various stages of production, all mechanised, which results in a product that is completely smooth and melts to liquid in the mouth. It is heated to high temperatures. It is separated and re-mixed with cocoa butter or cheaper fats, and also has other ingredients such as lecithin, emulsifiers, milk and sometimes flavourings added. It is complicated and artificial. I’m not complaining, or anything, I still love it. It’s just that, after tasting Modica chocolate… well, ah!

The only ingredients in a bar of chocolate from Modica are hand ground cocoa beans and sugar. Literally nothing else, unless it is flavoured with one other single ingredient. They toast the cocoa beans and then use a stone called a metate, rather like a mill stone, to grind them. Then they gently warm the ground beans and add the sugar. The mix never goes above 40 degrees centigrade, so the sugar does not melt, and remains granular. This is called cold-working, and it preserves more nutrients and more flavour than modern chocolate-making methods.

cioccolato-di-modica-bio-arancia-400x400

At this stage they may also add other ingredients, to make particular types of raw chocolate. Some of the delicious, and typically Sicilian, ingredients added to Modica chocolate are pistachio nut, almonds, cinnamon, orange or lemon zest, mint, jasmine, black or white pepper, chilli peppers, and wild fennel. There is a type of salty chocolate, which is sugary but also has Sicilian sea salt in it. Whatever type of chocolate they are making, they simply add this single additional ingredient, and nothing else.

Finally, the chocolate is transferred into shaped molds and left to set. The chocolate made this way is, of course, dark chocolate not milk chocolate, but it is not bitter and it is not hard. It has a grainy consistency which is simply divine. I do not know how to express how lovely it is! It melts in your mouth as soon as you start to suck on it. Then, of course, you suffer a desperate and urgent need to eat another piece, and another, and just one more, till you’ve finished the whole bar!

ciocco

The chocolate bar I bought and have already finished eating (Burp!) was chocolate with carob, which had the single additional ingredient of flour ground from carob pods. Carob trees grow all over Sicily. I have picked carob pods straight off the tree and munched them up on the spot, for they are naturally sweet as well as tasty, but in chocolate they are even nicer.

carob pods

Since the Aztecs invented this marvellous way of making chocolate, I cannot understand why people around the world think they have “improved” the recipe with modern chocolate. To me, it seems typical of Sicilians that they are the only people still following the original recipe. To Sicilians, recipes are sacred. If your grandma knew how to make something truly delicious, you had better make sure you follow her instructions TO THE LETTER! Just try suggesting a new recipe to a Sicilian. They will listen politely, nod, and then finally comment, “Interesting. That’s not how my nonna made it.”

If I have succeeded in making you slaver over your keyboard, you can try Modica raw chocolate for youself, for I have found that it is available (expensively) on Amazon.co.uk .

If you are an even worse chocaholic than me, there’s also this website, which promises “free delivery anywhere in Europe on all orders over 100 euros.” They also say their chocolate will soon be available at a shop called Eataly in New York.

This portal links all the main producers of chocolate in Modica, some of which may also sell online: http://www.cioccolatomodica.it/

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55 thoughts on “Aztec chocolate is still made in Modica, Sicily – and it’s the best I’ve ever eaten

      1. I haven’t found it yet, but allegedly I do?

        I know where the grappa and wine factories are if that helps, and they are all staggering distance from my house.

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  1. That chocolate looks scrummy, you are a lucky girl! Not sure I’d put 100 euros into trying it, though…. I’ll just lick my computer screen instead.
    As for Nutella, erratum folks: the stuff has a very tenuous link to chocolate, if any. Hate to be a party pooper, but I’d rather starve than eat that guck. It’s edible wallpaper glue.

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    1. I do agree the ingredients are disgustingly unhealthy, but I still like the taste of it!
      I recently figured out how to make my own natural alternative, using a melted bar of chocolate and some coconut cream. It’s tastier and dairy free (I’m allergic).
      Did you know in Sicily they actually organise Nutella parties for kids? They’re planning one for my son’s end-of-year party at school. I had better get some more Modica chocolate instead!

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    1. Hi!
      Thanks for asking about my son. He’s stil so-so. He had a fever 2 weeks ago and seemed better, but it came back again this week so he’s still off school. I just hope a really good rest over the long sumer holiday will get him on his feet.

      As for this chocolate, I almost wish I had never discovered it! I’ve been having uncontrollable cravings and my son actually burst into tears today because there’s none left in the house, since a certain greedy woman just scoffed the last of it. Hmm. It is a seriously addictive substance.

      Well, the only thing I could find online was this on amazon.com
      http://www.amazon.com/Modica-Sicilian-Specialty-Chocolate-Peperoncino/dp/B001EJKB28
      It’s the peperoncino version, haven’t tried that.

      I guess you could try the amazon.co.uk website and see if they deliver to the US and how much it costs – you can order and go up to the payment box, then abort the purchase if you don’t like the delivery price (I do that all the time when ordering stuff for delivery to Sicily).

      I suppose the other possibility is this Eataly shop, which is apparently a chain in the USA????? One of the Modica chocolate makers’ website said it will be sold there soon, but I checked the Eataly website and it isn’t there at the moment.

      Maybe we should do some import export ourselves? Fancy going into business together?

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      1. Thanks for all the wonderful information. My mouth is watering! I really must find it and will follow your suggestions! Glad your son is headed towards a restful summer. Take care!

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    1. Hi! I’m sorry I haven’t relied sooner – some comments slipped through the net while I was away in England and had to keep begging for a go on other people’s computers!
      The answer is, it costs 2 euros or 2.50 euros in Sicily, and the bars I found on Amazon UK cost Β£5. So yes, if you’re outside Sicily, I’m sorry to say it definitely is expensive. I think that simply justifies booking a holiday in Sicily. This of all the money you could save, if you eat enough chocolate….. πŸ™‚

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  2. My son (13 years wise) tells me he wants to travel overseas (from the USA). When I ask him what he expects to see, he responds with, “They make better chocolate than our country.” I’ll have to put your place in the itinerary one day.

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  3. Oh dear, I read this post and started frantically looking around to see if there was a supplier in the US. Unfortunately it is unavailable on Amazon! So glad to hear your little boy is doing better. You (and he) will have to eat extra chocolate for the rest of us!

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  4. Just in case you may be interested, my friend Kavita Favelle, who BTW lives in London, has put out this appeal:
    “We’re looking for a new chocolate blogger to join the team!
    Think you know about chocolate? Want to share your passion with the world? Come and write for Chocablog!
    To be a Chocablog writer, you must:
    1. Understand how chocolate is made from the tree to the bar
    2. Have experience writing – either professionally or your own blog
    3. Be able to write 1-2 posts per week, 300 words minimum
    4. Love real chocolate!
    Interested? Email me at dom@chocablog.com with your details, your favourite chocolate and an example of your writing”.

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    1. Hi Rosaria! Sorry I took my time replying, as I seriously considered this. Trouble is, I seriously doubt I could write twice a week about chocolate!!! And I really don’t know all the details of how chocolate is made – my professional visits to the factories were to pick through their finances rather than production details! But anyway thank you for thinking of me. On a subject I feel confident I really know about, this would by my dream opportunity! All the best from extremely hot and sweaty Sicily, Veronica πŸ™‚

      > Date: Sun, 9 Jun 2013 18:53:40 +0000 > To: veronica_mai_hughes@hotmail.com >

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  5. OMG, this sounds amazing. Sad to hear it can’t be found yet in US. Is this pretty readily available in western Sicily? I’d love recommendations about where to find it as we are hoping to be there this summer!!

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    1. Your best bet is to go to the Vucciria market, in central Palermo. There are several little exotic grocery stores and stalls that sell it there. You should get it for 2 euros a bar but some places charge 2.50, so walk along till you find one selling for the right price!!!
      The Vucciria is a 1,000 year old market founded by the Arabs and it’s in a great location. The whole area is nice to walk around. You can go up to the cafe on the top of La Rinascente department store for views like this:
      https://siciliangodmother.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/a-birds-eye-view-of-piazza-san-domenico-palermo/
      I hope you have a great holiday!

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  6. Most appealing to a chocoholic with no intention of recovering. I’ve read that Aztec royalty drank chocolate; no idea whether the peasants were privileged too.
    We grew a carob tree in our backyard in Los Angeles, as my forebears had done as well. They The trees, not my forebears) are indeed, nice but they’re not chocolate! One notes that cicocolata e vino are both good for us this week, though expert opinion on that seems transient. Doesn’t however, seem to affect demand in either case…
    It seems that to live in Sicily, is to step back in time, in many ways. Frustrating to moderns no doubt, but nevertheless, a privilege!

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  7. Hi, we are a Sicilian Company that sell Sicilian Specialties. If you are interested we could sell chocolate of Modica in 16 different tastes, like carob, pepper, salt and many others..
    Our chocolate isn’t an industrial product but is an homemade product by master chefs of Modica.
    More at http://www.foodandsicily.it/dolci-c-246_287.html
    If you have any questions or special requirements we are at your disposal.

    p.s. sorry for my english πŸ™‚

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      1. Hello,
        Did you ever hear back from Filippo or Food and Sicily?
        I found your blog while searching for Cioccolato Modica, and read his comment, then used the link and left them a message, and an e/mail separately, regarding shipping to the U.S., and haven’t heard from them (?)
        And I see he didn’t answer your question either…
        It’s a terrible thing to see all those flavours on their website and not know if you can have any.
        They have all the flavours you’ve mentioned above.
        I’ve joined your blog hoping you can let us know what’s happening with them.

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      2. Hello!
        I have spoken to several chocolate producers in Modica and they all described the same problem: they find a shop abroad which wants to order their chocolate, or a customer interested in making a bulk order, and then the best shipping quote they can find would triple the price of the chocolate and just not be economically viable.
        A real shame!
        It seems that to get this stuff you have to treat yourself to a holiday in Modica…. which I can definitely recommend! πŸ™‚

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      3. Thanks for getting back.
        I’ve been contemplating coming there for twenty TWO years now.
        I can’t persuade any of my loved ones to do it with me…none of them.
        (Lightbulb) but I haven’t tried this chocolate angle!

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  8. Hello!
    Great post that made me include Modica in the itinerary of our trip to Sicily end of next week. Any recommendations on which chocolate producers to visit to catch a glimpse of the production?

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  9. I loved Casa Don Puglisi Modicana Chocolate, which was carried by gourmet shops in New York until about two years ago. I managed to get a mail order from California of what might have been the last few bars in the U.S. I don’t understand why we can get these chocolates in the States. They are the best I’ve ever had, and I do an online search every so often to see if I can get them again, which is how I found you..

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    1. Hello,
      I’ve been in contact with Angelo, from “Food And Sicily” foodnsicily.it and he tells me he has no problem sending the Modica to the U.S. but he is not sure what we will be charged in excise and tax on this end. He has asked me to find out, WHAT I can find out from FedEx and U.S. Customs for my own personal shipment and share that information.
      He stocks the Ciokarrua brand in twenty one varieties and they are 100gram tavoletta (tablets)…bars.
      I’ll keep you posted.

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      1. Here’s so far;
        Important first, US Customs tax code for this particular foodstuff is 1806 (1806.32.9000) you need the 1806 for all bureaucratic calculations and reference.
        My FedEx inquiries were fruitful,
        by getting a rounded off shipping estimate with insurance (international economy) $174.00 with an FedEx account (or $198.00 without) a parcel of 36 individual bars costing approximately €80.00, rounded off to $100.00, with a combined product weight of 3600 grams plus the estimated weight of a cardboard box 8″x8″x8″ and packing.
        However my inquiries with US Customs didn’t get me where I needed to be.
        It was an “automated” service that instructs one to press this number key or that, but doesn’t respond to the prompts (?)
        I spent about an hour just to get through the “busy circuits”, and another, or longer, just to get that HS number(1806)
        Please don’t hold me to the following; I’ve surmised that 3600 grams of Sicilian chocolate for personal use, valued at approximately $100.00 is not taxed by US customs…but I’ll do a bit more digging before contacting Angelo.
        I really understand what you mean by; just come here and get the stuff “off the tree” because of the costs, but figure that however much you manage not to eat and bring back…you are going to run out, I mean all it would take to clean me out, would be the holidays or a Afred Hitchcock marathon, or my good Lady and her Granddaughter…or my Nieces! finding my cache.

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  10. I don’t know why my last posted as “anonymous” is there a best way log in when replying? Because I don’t see a “please log in” button and WordPress didn’t recognize me somehow when I used the link from my e/mail.

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  11. we had a holiday in Gardini Naxos Sicilia (May 2016) and came across Nonna Rufina Cioccolato di Modica vaniglia in a store.Tried one, went back the next day and bought 2 and, unbeknown to me, my wife acquired 2 more blocks and hid them in the suitcase and brought them home. Never tasted any chocolate as good, although I would take tiny issue with the chocolate not being hard, it is, but well worth the extra breaking power needed.

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  12. Hello! I feel guilty saying this, but I just bought four bars of Modica chocolate in Sicily, brought it home and I don’t really like the consistency. The flavor, yes, but something about that granular feel that doesn’t work for me. Damn! But I was wondering if you’ve ever tried cooking with it? Add it to chocolate recipes? Let me know, please…and by the way, I loved your book. My (part-Sicilian) mother gave it to me before I left on my trip to Sicily. What a remarkable place! Amazing food, wine, people…the driving wasn’t even quite as bad as you described, although I did not drive in Palermo because of your book!

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    1. I have never tried cooking with it because I cannot actually stop myself from eating it long enough to get it home!!
      But my nephew, who also disliked the consistency, said it made the best drinking chocolate in the world. He just melted it in a saucepan of milk.
      I am glad you enjoyed my book! And sorry I put you off driving in Palermo πŸ˜€ but if it made you do more walking and see all the beautiful details then it’s all good πŸ˜‰

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  13. Just a note, the Spaniards didn’t invade Sicily during the middle age. After the violent deaths of Manfred and Conradin the Sicilians invited the husband of Constance, Peter the king of Aragon, to claim the Sicilian crown in her wife’s right. Peter was welcomed warmly in Sicily, and the Sicilians largely fought on his side on the subsequent 20 years war. There can be no doubt that the Sicilians saw in the sons of Constance, especially James and Frederick, true Sicilian kings as true legitimate descendent of Roger.
    The crown of Sicily was later unified with the crown of Aragon in 1412 by Ferdinand, and the Sicilians generally recognised the king of Aragon and then of Spain as their own legitimate king.
    Sicily was stolen to the Spaniards from the British in 1713, through an ultimatum, thanks to the complete superiority of power of their Mediterranean Fleet, and gave that to Victor Amedeus of Savoy. The latter’s army is told to have exhausted all available lead and gunpower in Sicily in the attempt to keep at bay the Sicilians, and ultimately the Spaniards invaded Sicily the 1st June 1718 (they lost it 10 months later to an Austrian invasion) and then again in 1734, greeted both times as liberators.

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  14. Thanks for this explanation. I bought some in Modica during a recent holiday and was amazed. The only similar chocolate I’ve ever eaten was from Guatemala, so I guess they really have kept to the Aztec recipe.

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    1. Oh, that’s very interesting. I did wonder if they were still making it in South America. Which reminds me…. I need to buy some more of that stuff… πŸ˜€

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