Food preparation in the Aztec community
The Aztec commoners did not live on corn and beans alone. Tomatoes, avocados, and various varieties of squash presented more options in a meal. Chili peppers were used to flavor foods and were so vital to Aztec food that fasting often meant leaving chili peppers alone. Ants, grasshoppers, maguey worms, and jumil bugs, all available in large numbers, provided protein. Commoners collected tequitlatl (blue-green spirulina algae) in large fine nets to provide large harvests of protein. Bernal Díaz del Castillo described the blue-green algae that are sold in the form of cheese-flavored cakes in the markets of Tlatelolco and Tenochtitlan. But these were not the only aquatic goods consumed by the Aztecs. Sahagun writes that tadpoles, frogs, and tentnonmichin (thick, large-mouthed fish) were also eaten. Axolotl newts and acocillin (shrimp-like crustaceans) also offered variety to the diet.
Cocoa was a popular drink among the royal classes and was a valuable commodity; 100 cocoa beans could buy a small mantle. To prepare the beans for drinking, they were first ground and soaked while filtering. A foamy head would form on the surface; later this would be discarded. Water was then added to make a bitter drink. The chocolate drink was so bitter that a variety of additives were used to flavor it: flowers, vanilla, honey, and even chili softened the bitterness of the cocoa bean and changed the color of the chocolate drink from white to colors ranging from red. to red orange to black
Nopalli, or nopal (prickly pear), served as a popular vegetable in the Aztec diet, and Sahagún reported 13 different varieties in his Florentine Codex. He described the nopal plant as having broad, green branches and a smooth, yet prickly, surface that excretes a sap-like liquid. The succulent fruit of the cactus, the nochtli, or prickly pear, had a fine and tasty texture. This fruit, which could be eaten cooked or raw, served as a filling for tamales and was often served as a dessert, although always in moderation. Because the nopal grew throughout Mexico, all Aztecs could enjoy the nochtli fruit; however, only the royal classes enjoyed the more exotic varieties of white, green, and orange nochtli. Quahcamotli and camotli (sweet potatoes); cimatl, a cylindrical or twisted ball-shaped tree root that would cause vomiting and diarrhea if eaten raw; and atzamatzamolli, a bulbous marine plant with white flowers, were also eaten as fruit.
Although not a strictly vegetarian society, the Aztecs ate primarily from the plants that grew in their landscape. Partly due to large population growth and partly due to the lack of many domesticated animals, animal foods were not in significant stock. Domestic animals included dogs, turkeys (uexolotl), which provided both eggs and meat, and the musk duck. Archaeologists have found quantities of fish bones, white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbits, iguanas, dogs, and turkeys in midden deposits, although these finds were not in high, dense concentrations. The upper echelon diet included more variety in foods of animal origin. Rabbit, opossum, venison, crane, goose, quail, and eagle meat added variety to the Aztec diet, but these were probably luxuries profitably enjoyed by the upper class.