Ibarra: Mexican Hot Chocolate

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Tacos may very well be the perfect food, but let's face it, the standard Meximerican fare can get a bit stale after a while. Taco the Town is here to highlight some of the more unusual Mexican finds in the valley. This week: Ibarra, a type of chocolate essential for making Mexican Hot Chocolate.

¿Como se dice?: It may be a warm "winter" day here in el Valle del Sol, but we think hot chocolate is a decadent treat at any time of the year. Mexican hot chocolate made with Ibarra adds much needed oomph to the traditional (let's face it, boring) cuppa chocolate. Hot chocolate originated in Mesoamerica before being co-opted by the Spaniards (and sugar high kids the world over), so it's only fitting that Ibarra, a native Mexican product, be your chocolate of choice.

If that's not reason enough, let Ibarra's packaging further lure you to the dark (chocolate) side with the disclaimer that "because of it's (sic) nature chocolate doesn't contain cholesterol." If that's not reason enough to win over you naysayers, you might want to take your pulse to make sure you're still alive and kickin'!

(sink your teeth into all the spicy details after the jump)

La Comida: Ibarra is a Mexican-style chocolate available at any Mexi-mart worth its weight, and as an import at some of the more upscale, specialty grocers. Produced in Jalisco, Ibarra is packaged in a bright yellow and red container shaped like a hexagon. The Nestlé version is also readily available and is called Abuelita, which translates to grandma. If you can't find Ibarra, try the chocolate with the bespectacled granny on the label.

El Sabor: Mexican chocolate is much different from the rich, cocoa butter compound most folks have floating around their kitchen. The secret ingredients? Granulated sugar and cinnamon.

The granulated sugar gives the chocolate a gritty texture that's muy differente compared to the smoother, European-style chocolate. It can certainly be eaten solo, but is generally a component of baked goods and hot drinks in order to dissolve the sugar and create a smoother texture. The granulation also makes Mexican chocolate much easier to chop than that pesky high cocoa butter stuff that sticks to everything. Ibarra practically crumbles under your knife into a sugary pile of choco powder.

Cinnamon, or canela, is the other secret ingredient in Ibarra. Canela is a softer, more fragrant Ceylon cinnamon than the hard sticks typically floating around your mulled cider. Swing by the bagged Mexican spice aisle and snag a pack that's cheap as dirt (well, tree bark). Grind it yourself in a molcajete (basalt mortar and pestle), or spice/coffee grinder, and sprinkle over your Mexican hot chocolate. Or reserve a couple whole sticks to use as stirrers, because it's always more fun to play with your food.

Bring a bit of Mexico to your kitchen: The receta on the box of Ibarra suggests a ratio of two wedges to one cup of milk, and encourages you to cut corners by just tossing the hot milk with the chocolate in a blender.

We may not own a molinillo, but traditional hot chocolate over the stove is the only way to go. So we created our own Mexican Hot Chocolate recipe using the Ibarra guidelines:

1 wheel of Ibarra (8 wedges), coarsely chopped
3 cups of whole milk
A pinch of ground canela
A pinch of salt
Optional: Malvaviscos (marshmallows) and sticks of canela to garnish

Toss all the ingredients (except the optional garnish) into a pot and whisk constantly over medium heat. Once the chocolate is completely melted and the milk is about to boil, turn the heat off and ladle the Mexican hot chocolate into mugs. Top with marshmallows and cinnamon sticks if desired.

Know of any Mexican gems in the valley? Reveal your family secrets in the comment section.

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