Atole is a popular, grain based hot drink in Mexico, which celebrates the use of corn. In some ways it bears resemblance to gruel, and the drink may be thick or thin depending upon a person’s tastes. Recipes for this beverage date back to pre-Colombian times. Like many of the Latin American foods we enjoy today, it is a tribute to the ingenuity of the Latin American people as another inspired recipe that made use of the main grain source in Latin America.
This beverage consists of cooked cornmeal and water mixed with cane sugar blocks, which are called piloncillo. This makes a thin or porridge like drink. Cinnamon is then added, and other ingredients can produce the final result. Chocolate and fruit are the most common additions. The atole is thoroughly blended and then heated.
When chocolate is used, and this is one of the most popular variations, it is called champurrado. Chocolate atole is especially enjoyed during the Christmas season. Both chocolate and fruit atole are both commonly served on the Day of the Dead, which is the first of November. Some recipes suggest ladling pureed fruit on the top of the drink instead of blending it with the other ingredients. Tamales typically accompany the beverage, although it can also be eaten or drunk by itself as a breakfast meal.
In Central America, El Salvadorans make a variant of atole they call atol shuco. Shuco is slang for “dirty,” and the El Salvadoran version does have a somewhat grey, flecked appearance because of its ingredients. Though the drink may still contain sugar, it is more like a purple cornmeal and black bean smoothie, very different from the Mexican version. Some variants include ground chili peppers, and other forms of atol shuco also add pumpkin seeds. Like Mexican atole, it is served hot, but with beans added it is frequently thicker. It’s also a high protein drink since it does include beans as a protein source.
If you’re interested in trying atole, Mexican and South American markets often feature a powdered version that you can make at home by adding milk or water. It may also be found in Mexican and San Salvadoran restaurants. In the American southwest, atole is also enjoyed and powdered versions may be found in many grocery stores, or you can often get fresh versions at local cafes and restaurants.