Pozole: A Delicious Dish With A Dark History

The ancient Mexica prepared the pozole with meat of the captives sacrificed in some festivals, mainly dedicated to Our Lord the Flayed, Xipe Totec.

During the holidays, many of us have the opportunity to enjoy the delicious typical Mexican cuisine. Among some of the dishes we like to eat are the birria, pambazos, enchiladas, carnitas. But surely you will agree with me, when I say that a highlight of any celebration is always the pozole.

This dish was documented by several of the friars (some peninsulares, others criollos or even mestizos) who arrived in New Spain years after the fall of Tenochtitlán. Among them stands out Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, who wrote about the singular dish in his monumental work: General History of the Things of New Spain. We can affirm that he wrote it with disgust, since the ancient Mexica prepared the pozole with meat of the captives sacrificed in some festivals, mainly dedicated to Our Lord the Flayed, Xipe Totec. In this celebration, which was called Tlacaxipehualiztli, were made the famous sacrifices of scratching or gladiatories, where a captive warrior was tied to a temalacatl (a large cylindrical stone, eg Stone of Tizoc, the former Palace of the Archbishop or the Stone del Sol) from the waist to face the great Mexica fighters (Cuauhpilli and Ocelopilli) armed to the teeth. After being killed, the captive was skinned and dismembered for consumption. The right thigh always went to the Huey Tlahtoani palace, to express gratitude and respect. According to Sahagún’s chroniclers, the thighs were the part where meat was found with the best taste and texture. The left thigh and both arms were owned by the warrior who had captured his enemy in battle. Although he could not consume them, since from the Mexica worldview the captor became his father and the captured his son. Their relatives, comrades in arms, the leaders of the calpulli were preparing to eat it at a large banquet. It is important to clarify that among the Mexicas there was ritual anthropophagy, in other words, the consumption of human flesh for religious purposes. This privilege was segmented into a select group of the great population of Tenochtitlan, the nobles, the rulers, the warriors and the teteuctin (lords). When these rituals were carried out Sahagun comments that the human flesh for consumption was never roasted, but boiled.

One of the most common ways to consume human flesh was in pozolli, a word that in Nahuatl means foamy or boiled (foam is called apotzontli, potzonalli). Since the times of Excan Tlatolloyan (Triple Alliance) a variety of corn was used, which we currently call cacahuacintle, whose main characteristic is the large size of its grains.

For the preparation of the pozole, first the corn grains are precooked in water with lime (50 mgs of lime, 5 liters of water and one kilo of corn). When it releases the first boil it is removed from the fire to let it rest all night. This process has the purpose of more easily removing the hard cover of corn grains. The next day the corn grains are rubbed to literally “skin them”. Then the head of each grain is removed. The meat, either human, turkey pork or chicken with the pre-cooked grains is then placed in a large pot / pot to boil for several hours until the corn burst. The ancient Mexica said they were transformed into white flowers.

This typical Mexican dish is served with slices of horseradish, striped lettuce, avocado, toast or cream cheese. In the Guerrero area it is typical to add pork rinds. To enhance its flavor is added ground piquin pepper and the famous oregano. I take the audacity to mention that remains of this condiment have been found in the Teotihuacan housing complexes (Escalante Gonzalbo, Pablo et al., History of Daily Life of Mexico Volume I, Mesoamerica and the indigenous areas of New Spain), the same way as the epazote.

Currently, the pozole has undergone changes and differences associated with the region where it is prepared and consumed. In the state of Guerrero white and green are prepared, while in Mexico City, Sinaloa, Nayarit and Jalisco the red variant is consumed.

Due to the aberration that the ritual anthropophagy that was practiced among the Nahuas caused to Europeans, they decided to import a large amount of pigs since the Indians said that their flesh was very similar in taste, texture and amount of fat than that of the human. This is one of the main reasons why Mexico is one of the countries in the world where more pigs are consumed.

Archaeological Data: In the archaeological zone of Tecoaque Sultepec located near Calpulalpan in the current state of Tlaxcala there is a lot of evidence of ritual anthropophagy, even the Europeans led by Juan Yuste did not escape from this destination. Their bones tell us the horrible end they had, since they were sacrificed and later boiled to be consumed. How do we know this? Because in them there are obsidian dish marks that were used to remove their meat. They were also altered by the high temperatures they were exposed to when boiled. Finally something similar happens with an Otomi girl, who was dismembered alive and then devoured (image). Their bones reunited them later to be buried along with votive offerings related to the pulque deities such as Ome Tochtli and Tepoztecatl. Curious are the vessels in the shape of a maguey that accompanied her in her funeral. This was not done for reasons of cruelty, but to emulate the myth related to the benefits of pulque related to the deity Mayahuel and Quetzalcoatl.


Graulich, Michel. El sacrificio humano entre los aztecas. FCE. México 2016
González, Yollotl. El sacrificio humano entre los mexicas. FCE, CONACULTA, ,INAH. México 2012
González, Carlos Javier. Xipe Totéc. FCE, INAH. México, 2011
Escalante, Pablo y Gonzalbo Pilar et al. Mesoamérica y los ámbitos indígenas de la Nueva España en Historia de la vida cotidiana en México. FCE. México, 2009