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A Molinillo is a Mexican wooden whisk, used for frothing hot chocolate and drinking atoles. It is a very old kitchen tool with very little historical records prior to the arrival of the Spanish Conquitadores to Mexico. In indiginous Mexican times, chocolate was the drink of Gods, so it was reserved for royalty and for the ruling classes in pre-hispanic Mexico.
The froth or foam in the chocolate was believed to be a live force which had a spiritual connection to the Gods, so the frothier the drink, the better. The froth was also believed to have curative powers and was linked to fertility. In less serious terms, the froth gives the hot chocolate a more satisfying quality and a much more pleasing texture to the palate.
Throughout time, cooks devised all sorts of utensils to create a long-lasting, big bubble froth. The Mayans preferred the decanting method, which was literary pouring the hot drink from one container to another from a certain height several times to create foam; others used wooden branches from local trees, added the petals of a local flower that created foam, etc. Cooks who could create long lasting foam were greatly valued.
Very little is known of the origin of the Molinillo; The Aztecs called it aquaujul or aquahuitl (which means chocolate stirrer). It was meticulously descrived several times by Fray Bernardino de Sahagun in the 16th Century's Codices Florentinos (Florentine or Aztec Codices) and later on by the Jesuit scholar Francisco Javier Clavijero. The word Molinillo was given by the Spaniards as it was a sort of milling instrument for chocolate.
I adore my Molinillo, and like most Mexicans, I think it's all about the foam, so I have one at home. I couldn't make hot chocolate any other way!