Champurrado is a chocolate-based drink popular in both Mexico and the Philippines. Its origins are debated, with both countries claiming it as their own traditional beverage. This article will examine the evidence behind champurrado’s roots and cultural significance in Mexico and the Philippines.
What is champurrado?
Champurrado is a warm, thick, chocolate-flavored drink made from masa harina (cornmeal), chocolate, and often cinnamon. It has a texture similar to a chocolate porridge or pudding. Both the Mexican and Filipino versions use masa harina as the main ingredient. However, there are some variations in ingredients and preparation methods between the two countries.
In Mexico, champurrado is made by whisking masa harina into water or milk, then adding chocolate, sugar, and cinnamon. The mixture is simmered until it thickens. Mexican champurrado often has a coarser texture, with small bits of masa harina remaining. It has a rich chocolate taste balanced by subtle cinnamon spice.
In the Philippines, champurrado uses a smoother masa harina called galapong. It is whisked into milk or coconut milk, along with cocoa powder, brown sugar, and dried anise flowers. Filipino champurrado has a thinner, more drinkable consistency. The chocolate flavor is mellowed by the coconut milk, with a hint of anise. Filipino champurrado sometimes contains ginger for extra spice.
So while both versions use masa harina and chocolate as the base, small differences in ingredients and preparation result in two distinct champurrado experiences. The Mexican drink is thicker and heartier, while the Filipino version is lighter and more aromatically spiced.
The history and origins of champurrado
Pinpointing champurrado’s exact origins is difficult, as both Mexico and the Philippines make credible claims on inventing the drink.
The case for a Mexican origin
Those arguing for a Mexican origin point to champurrado’s similarities to other ancient Mesoamerican chocolate drinks. The indigenous Nahua people of central Mexico consumed chocolate beverages for centuries, dating back to Pre-Columbian civilizations like the Aztec. These drinks were made by pouring boiled water over chocolate derived from cacao beans, along with cornmeal, spices, and other ingredients. The texture and ingredient list strongly resemble what we know as champurrado today.
Mexico also has the longer recorded history of champurrado on its side. The drink first appeared in Mexican writings in the 17th century, mentioned as a typical breakfast food. Traditional recipes and methods of preparing champurrado remained fairly consistent since then. Its prominence at Christmas and Dia de Los Muertos strengthens cultural ties to Mexico.
Overall, the sheer historical documentation of champurrado in Mexican cuisine lends weight to the theory that it originated in Mexico, descended from ancient Nahua chocolate drinks.
The case for a Filipino origin
However, Filipino culinary historians also find support for champurrado having roots in their own cuisine. They point out that Filipinos have used masa harina from corn in desserts and drinks for centuries, predating colonization. The name “champurrado” itself has possible linguistic ties to Filipino words like “samporado”, meaning a sweet rice or chocolate porridge.
Trade also could have brought cacao beans from Mexico to the Philippines much earlier than recorded. Filipinos may have combined local masa harina with imported chocolate to create an early form of champurrado.
Spain colonized both Mexico and the Philippines, so it’s possible champurrado diffused between the two via Spanish trade routes and cultural intermingling. Turkey and molasses—key ingredients in some champurrado recipes—were introduced by Spain, providing more evidence of colonial influence.
While Mexico has the first written accounts, Filipino historians argue champurrado could have existed unrecorded in the Philippines before that. The similarities to established Filipino masa dishes lend plausibility to champurrado having early roots in their cuisine.
Champurrado as cultural identity
Regardless of its precise origin point, champurrado clearly developed into an iconic drink in both Mexico and the Philippines over centuries of tradition. Beyond ingredients and recipes, its cultural significance and deep ties to local identity matter the most.
Champurrado in Mexican culture
In Mexico, champurrado is considered a comforting, quintessential national drink. It is commonly served at breakfast alongside pan dulce pastries. Champurrado is ubiquitous in the cold winter months, sold by street vendors and ladled from large pots at markets.
The drink is especially prominent around Christmas and Dia de Los Muertos celebrations, when Mexicans drink champurrado to honor their dead loved ones. It makes frequent appearances in Mexican literature, media, and art as a nostalgic symbol of home. Mexican families pass down their own treasured champurrado recipes over generations.
This sense of champurrado being deeply ingrained in Mexican tradition is the strongest argument for its origin. The drink clearly holds a level of cultural meaning in Mexico beyond just sustenance or enjoyment. Champurrado has become tied to Mexican identity itself, with a rich folklore and emotional resonance. For Mexicans, it represents childhood memories, celebrating life’s milestones, and carrying on ancestral customs.
Champurrado in Philippine culture
Similarly, champurrado holds deep cultural importance for Filipinos as a comforting everyday drink and celebratory dish. It is served year-round at breakfast or merienda (snack time), though the warm drink is especially beloved during the rainy months. Street vendors sell piping hot champurrado alongsidelocal sweets like suman.
In the Philippines, champurrado symbolizes family and tradition. The instant version Astro Champurrado will be familiar to any Filipino childhood. Popular champurrado flavors like cheese or malunggay leaves give the drink a distinctly Filipino twist. It is a staple at Christmas Noche Buena feasts, reuniting Filipinos over its familiar chocolatey aroma.
Champurrado is also honored in Philippine folklore, featured in tales like Juan Tamad and legends about the volcano god Apo Namalyari. For Filipinos, champurrado evokes nostalgia about gathering with loved ones and celebrating their cultural heritage. It is passed down through generations as the quintessential native comfort drink.
Settling the origins debate
Considering all evidence around history, ingredients, and cultural significance, where does the truth lie regarding champurrado’s origin?
The strongest consensus is that champurrado originated with Mexico’s indigenous Nahua people before or during the early Spanish colonial period. The ancient roots in Mesoamerican chocolate beverages, its early recording in Mexican writing, and deep cultural ties all suggest Mexico as the birthplace of champurrado.
However, champurrado’s path from there is more complex. Trade, colonization, and cultural diffusion likely spread champurrado from central Mexico through Spanish trade routes into the Philippines. Filipinos then adapted the drink using local ingredients to make it their own. So while champurrado was created in Mexico, the Filipino champurrado also has a centuries-long history and unique cultural identity.
Rather than a story of sole ownership, champurrado has a rich, intertwined origin stemming from cultural exchange. This exchange still continues today, as Mexicans and Filipinos explore each other’s take on the drink and reinvent it for modern tastes. The global spread of champurrado highlights how food and drink both unite and diversify cultures.
Champurrado is a beloved chocolate drink entwined in both Mexican and Filipino food culture. Its origins can be traced to indigenous Mesoamerican civilizations like the Aztec, but the drink became integral to the Philippines through trade and colonialism. While Mexico has the earliest claim as champurrado’s birthplace, the dish has developed its own traditional significance in the Philippines over centuries. More than debating precise ownership, champurrado represents how cuisine adapts across cultures while retaining emotional resonance. Each culture’s version of champurrado reflects their distinct identities, histories, and values. Yet this shared dish also highlights the connecting power food has to bring people together across borders.