The Aztecs were traditionally a vegetarian peoples because their diet depended heavily on agricultural produce. This is why the Aztecs specialised in many innovations in agriculture, such as the floating gardens of Tenochtitlan.
The Aztecs also consumed meat but crops such as maize were the major ingredient of their food. Aztecs grew many herbs, fruits and other exotic plants and maintained large gardens, both at their homes and outside the capital city of Tenochtitlan.
Maize was the staple food of Aztecs. They used many different kinds of foods and drinks using maize.
Among the foods created using maize was a flat bread called tortilla, which is still popular in Mexico today. This bread was made from maize flour.
A drink of maize called “atolli” was popular among the Aztecs. It was made using maize, water and lime and was often drank at breakfast time by the commoners.
A sort of soup or stew, called “pozole” was also made using maize.
Aztecs uses flavourings such as chili pepper and honey to lace their drinks. Chili pepper was for instance added to the atolli drink.
A variation of the atolli drink was called “pozolli”. Pozolli was made from finely ground maize flour and was a refined drink, meant for the noblewomen.
Tamales was another popular food prepared from maize. In preparing tamales, corn flour was kneaded in dough and turned into balls. This ball-shaped dough was then filled with chili peppers and meat at the centre and cooked by being wrapped in maize leaves and steamed. Tamales were a popular food among the commoners.
Beans and squash were some of the most popular food ingredients, besides maize. These were grown in the home gardens of the nobles, or the gardens which were maintained on the waters of Lake Texcoco. Beans were often used in combination with maize.
Amaranth plant was a popular food source for the Aztecs. It was consumed in many ways. Amaranth dough was used to create little figurines depicting gods which were consumed at religious rituals.
Aztecs grew large portions of their food ingredients by using floating gardens on Lake Texcoco. They did this by setting up canoes with layers of dirt and then growing different kinds of vegetables on the dirt. These canoes floated on the water and were anchored to the bottom of the lake or to the nearby trees.
Cocoa was an important ingredient in Aztec cuisine. It was considered a mark of luxury and was available only to the elite and the rich of Aztec society.
Aztecs were among the earliest people who made chocolate and enjoyed it as a regular part of their cuisine.
Chocolate was made from cocoa but it wasn’t consumed in solid form. Rather, a chocolate drink was made by mixing the cocoa powder with water and then adding different spices to it. The drink was exclusively limited to the nobility and was frequently consumed. Women generally didn’t consume the chocolate drink either, even if they belonged to the nobility.
Cocoa beans were also used as a popular form of currency. The same was true for regular beans. However, cocoa beans carried more value and were usually used for transactions by the nobles. Aztecs often demanded their tributary states to pay their sums in cocoa beans.
Apart from cocoa, Aztecs also knew and grew the exotic plant of vanilla. Vanilla was liked for its fragrance and was routinely used as a herb in foods. Its use was limited to the nobility who grew vanilla plants in their personal gardens.
Aztecs made use of hallucinogenic mushrooms and herbs in their foods. Such ingredients were particularly common in the foods cooked on the occasions of religious festivals and ceremonies.
Many spices were used in Aztec foods. In general, Aztec cuisine was quite spicy and different kinds of spices were extensively used in everyday meals.
Among the spices commonly used by Aztecs was chili pepper, coriander, anise, oregano, the bark of canella and a kind of garlic vine among others. Spices also carried certain religious significance in the Aztec society.
Alcoholic beverages were a part of the Aztec diet, though not routinely common. Different kinds of alcoholic beverages were prepared and consumed in Aztec society.
Octli was an alcoholic beverage that was consumed by the common people. It was made from maguey sap.
“Xocolatl” was a kind of alcoholic mead which was meant for the nobility. It was bitter in taste and was consumed by the warriors and members of the nobility.
Aztecs consumed a large variety of fruits which included pineapple, prickly pear, avocados and papaya among others. They grew some of the fruits in their gardens while obtained the others from the forests near Tenochtitlan.
Evidence has been found that the Aztecs actively domesticated bees to get honey. This may explain the extensive use of honey in the drinks and foods of the Aztec nobility.
For meat, Aztecs domesticated turkeys and dogs. These animals were consumed whenever a need for meat arose. Usually, the meat of both kinds of animals was reserved for feasts and major occasions.
Turkeys were also used as a source for eggs.
Apart from domesticated sources of meat, Aztecs also hunted and fished. Hunting brought meat from animals such as rabbits, possums, armadillos, deer, hares and wild boars among others. Meat consumption was mostly limited to the rich nobility while the commoners mostly subsisted on non-meat food.
Aztecs developed nets and many innovative techniques for fishing in Lake Texcoco. They caught and consumed turtles, frogs, fish and seashells. When the Aztec Empire reached the Gulf of Mexico, fishes and other marine catch from the seas was imported to Tenochtitlan to be consumed by the rich Aztecs.
Aztecs gleamed off a certain kind of algae from the surface of Lake Texcoco. This algae was then treated in a special way so that it became a cheese-like, edible item.
Aztecs hunted and consumed many species of birds as well. These included cranes, partridges, pigeons, turkeys, ducks, geese, pheasants and quails. Consumption of hunted birds was also mostly limited to the nobility.