The Luxury Chocolate Tasting of R-Dizzle Rich

Purpose of the Tasting

The purpose of my chocolate tasting was to see whether the attendees could discern between the four various categories for the sourcing and materialization of chocolate as discussed in class and the readings: (1) Direct Trade, (2) Fair Trade, (3) Organic, and (4) Industrialized. Because much of Chocolate class was about the social, anthropological, and economic impacts of and differences between each of these chocolate types, I thought this would be an excellent theme to my tasting that brings historical, socioeconomic, and taste-related views.


Figure 1. The fancy invitations I used to invite 7 participants to my tasting.


Figure 2. The participants of my chocolate tasting.

Types of Chocolate in the Tasting

(1) Direct Trade There are four general types of chocolate (based on its production processes) that we have learned in Chocolate class. The first is Direct Trade, also known as bean-to-bar chocolate, as these companies have control of its manufacturing process from growing and harvesting of the cacao bean all the way to its packaging and selling into a bar. Direct Trade chocolate is usually a chocolate company that directly deals with farmers. There’s a bit of variation in its manufacturing processes, but this leaves more room for negotiation from the different chocolate companies. Direct Trade companies may place environmental and labor factors into consideration, but not to as far of an extent as other chocolate types such as Fair Trade. In Direct Trade, there is less regulation because it is assumed that there is maximum control between the cacao harvesters, manufacturers, and packagers of the chocolate product. However, the very direct control of these Direct Trade chocolate companies costs a high premium, making their products quite expensive. Because of the rarity of a chocolate company having complete control of an entire chocolate farm, which is usually located outside of the U.S., solely for their company, the quantity of Direct Trade producers which exists is very low.

(2) Fair Trade The second category of chocolates presented was the Fair Trade chocolate type. These mass-produced confections are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacao. According to Michael D’Antonio of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, using liquid condensed milk instead of the powdered milk that the Swiss favored, Schmalbach’s mixture was easier to move through various processes: “…it could be pumped, channeled, and poured — and it required less time for smoothing and grinding. Hershey would be able to make milk chocolate faster, and therefore cheaper, than the Europeans” (D’Antonio 2006: 108). With techniques like these that were melded again and again by Hershey a century ago, efficiency of methods for the mass-production and -distribution of chocolate was possible. However, these efficient industrialized methods definitely compromise the ethics of labor, environmentalism, and health-focuses of these chocolates.

(3) Organic The third type of chocolate that is explored in this tasting is Organic chocolate. Organic chocolates place an emphasis on health and the environment. They do not use pesticides, and because it places such a large, conscious emphasis on these issues, there is a loss of yield that occurs in terms of its production and consumption. These chocolate products also tend to be extremely expensive, for there is usually a rearrangement premium placed on their price tag. Additionally, although organic chocolate products focus on health-related and environmental issues, there is no standard for the laborers of its production. Organic chocolate products must also all undergo certification, and usually the bars themselves are sold in small proportions.

(4) Industrialized The final category of chocolates which were presented during the tasting was Industrialized chocolate. Fair Trade chocolates emphasize the moral ethics of the chocolate production. They prioritize producing ethical, labor-regulated goods, and for this reason they also weigh between ingredient and product. These products also require a certification by one or more of the various Fair Trade certification companies. These groups usually require a type of price threshold, which makes this type of chocolate a little bit more expensive. Fair Trade chocolates also take the environment into account, although oftentimes not as much as Organic chocolates do. Fair Trade chocolates also focus on community development.



Figure 3. The advertising and packaging used for each of the four chocolates used in my tasting.

(1) Direct Trade:

Taza Chocolate, Seriously Dark, 87% Cacao, Organic Dark Chocolate

Screenshot 2019-05-16 16.00.59

Observations of Packaging:

  • Girly
  • Bright colors
  • Easy-to-read font that pops out

(2) Fair Trade:

Seattle Chocolate, Pike Place Espresso, Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar with Decaf Espresso

Screenshot 2019-05-16 16.01.55

Observations of Packaging:

  • “Adult-like”
  • “Rainy coffeehouse hipster”
  • Elegant
  • Cloudy color scheme (not as bright)

(3) Organic:

Lake Champlain Chocolates, Cacao Nibs & Dark Chocolate, 80% Cocoa

Screenshot 2019-05-16 16.03.04

Observations of Packaging:

  • Simple
  • “Typical coffee colors”
  • Compromise between adult- and kid-themed packaging (could theoretically work for either audience)

(4) Industrialized:

Cadbury, Royal Dark, Dark Chocolate

Screenshot 2019-05-16 16.04.53

Observations of Packaging:

  • Shiny
  • “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
  • Regal, luxurious


Works Cited

“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–126.



Alter Eco – Changing The Chocolate Industry As We Know It

The chocolate industry has received significant criticism in the past decades for unsustainable practices stemming from questionable labor practices, use of low quality ingredients, poor production standards and problematic advertisements trends. These troubled elements combined have been brought to light by professionals analyzing the human, environmental, economic and social impact of chocolate on communities across the world. Indeed, most of the problems highlighted within the industry are still rampant today. Very few companies can pride themselves for having sustainable practices from a bean-to-bar perspective. Alter Eco, based out of California, France and Australia, prides itself in providing its clients with “healthy, sustainable and socially responsible foods” (Alter Eco, 2015). Through its high standards for quality and social responsibility, Alter Eco is a powerful response to the problems highlighted with today’s chocolate industry and attempts to mitigate the problems rampant within the multi-billion-dollar industry of cacao.


Alter Eco Foods provides its clients with a multitude of products ranging from chocolate bars, truffles, quinoa, and rice. Mathieu Senard, the co-founder and CEO of Alter Eco, states: [The company] started with chocolate, and then [evolved to] grains such as quinoa and rice. Our goal is to buy directly from cooperatives and, more importantly, pay a fair price” (Kaye, 2017). Alter Eco’s mission remains the same through its line of products. The company prides itself in its concept of “full circle sustainability” for all the products in its line. Full circle sustainability, in its most basic form, presents solutions to most of the problems highlighted by specialists in the chocolate industry. Most of the problematic companies view sales and production as a two-way street between the client and the business. Alter Eco views its everyday business practices from a different perspective by adding the environmental impact of production in their equation. With its globalized market, Alter Eco Foods is showing its competitors that sustainable practices in the labor, ingredients, production and marketing spheres is both attractive and delicious to consumers across the world.

The issue of child labor is an epidemic in Cacao plantations across the globe, and even more dominantly in Cote D’Ivoire. Chanthavong, in his analysis of child labor in chocolate production, writes: “Slave traders are trafficking boys ranging from the age of 12 to 16 from their home countries and are selling them to cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire. They work on small farms across the country, harvesting the cocoa beans day and night, under inhumane conditions.” The problem of child labor, regardless of the production goals, is an incredibly sensitive issue that many governmental and non-governmental organizations are attempting to handle. In its efforts to limit the spread of child labor in Cote D’Ivoire and across the glove, Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from South American farmer-owned plantations, more specifically Peru and Ecuador. Furthermore, the company sources its Cacao butter from Dominican Republic, cutting any sort of possibility for economically- or socially-encouraging abusive labor practices. The company undoubtedly prides itself in its “single origin, highest quality cacao beans.” Alter Eco’s sustainable labor standards go much further than avoiding cacao originating from questionable sources with risk of child labor involvement. The company aims to rectify the issue of unsustainable labor practices through fair trade relationships, development programs, and women empowerment programs. Fair trade relationships are at the forefront of the sustainable labor practices push forth by the company’s values. Professor Martin from Harvard University writes: “Landlessness remains a serious problem among the descendants of enslaved people throughout the cocoa producing world today.” To further remedy these rampant issues, Alter Eco prides itself in sourcing all of its products from small-scale, farmer-owned cooperatives. Alter Eco is partners with the Institute of Marketecology (IMO), Fair Trade USA and the Fair Trade Labelling Organization (FTLO). This list of high-level certifications provides clients with the certainty that the labor practices for producers are socially acceptable and sustainable and that the values of the company for providing producers with good living and working conditions are followed.


Alter Eco’s efforts to offer a socially- and ethically-acceptable product do not stop at the location and origin of its labor force. The company put in place a variety of development programs in order to increase the likelihood of sustainability of its producers and workers. Its Fair Trade Premiums, which allocate money throughout the supply chain, have allowed Alter Eco’s sugar cooperative, Alter Trade, to build a training center for their employees in the Philippines, simultaneously serving as an assistance center for families to visit. Furthermore, in its full-circle attempt to provide all workers with social and economic support, Alter Eco addresses an underlying issue in today’s farming practices in its development of leadership and empowerment programs for women. Women within the farming industry are often viewed as second-class individuals due to the utterly and outrageously outdated assumption that they will not be as useful as men on the land. Alter Eco writes: “Gender equality is an important aspect of the Alter Eco business model, all the way down to the field.” Through such a stance, Alter Eco attempts to remedy the gender disparity and inequality within the farming industry through maintaining that “women will assert their due role and space in both the management of the homestead farming economy and in the governance of [the land]” (


The issue of unsustainable environmental practices within the chocolate industry is one Alter Eco addresses with strength. Indeed, as stated earlier, Alter Eco prides itself in adding the environment in its equation for sustainable production practices, which is something very few businesses work towards. Professor Martin from Harvard University, in her presentation entitled “Psychology, Terroir, and Taste,” states that Terroir and Harvesting practices can strongly affect, both positively and negatively, cacao quality and quantity. Furthermore, “the use of pesticides on the farms can lead to the destruction of part of the soil flora and fauna through both physical and chemical deterioration” (Ntiamoah, 2008). Alter Eco prides itself in assuring that all of its cooperative farms maintain their fields within American and European standards for organic certification. Such a certification makes sure the consumers are aware of what they are getting: a product “free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and [that] must not [have been] processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering” (Henry, 2012). Such sustainable ecological and organic practices put forth Alter Eco’s values in promoting a product that is good for farmers, earth, and consumers. Alter Eco’s efforts in promoting sustainable environmental practices do not end at the farm or on the plantation. Although the company goes to great lengths to maintain its organic certification, it even goes steps further in pushing forward its values of sustainability. Through its commitment to becoming a carbon-negative business, Alter Eco has already received its Carbon-neutral certification, which confirms the company offsets the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) as it produces. “Alter Eco works closely with PUR Project and [its] farmers to plant trees for the amount of CO2 [produced]” (Alter Eco, 2017). Furthermore, in its efforts to become a carbon negative business, Alter Eco started its emission subdivision called PUR Project. “Contrary to offsetting, which consists in handling carbon compensation in other places by uncorrelated people and means, the insetting includes the handling of carbon compensation into the commercial dynamics of the company” (PUR Project, 2017). In other words, Alter Eco’s insetting efforts are rooted deeply in the idea that you must give back to the soil and air from which you took. In having an impact within its supply line, Alter Eco can assure that its efforts are not in vain, and that, although it plans to plant an additional 7,776 trees in 2017, the 28,639 trees (Alter Eco, 2017) already planted since 2008 are truly being put to good use to reinvigorate the soil from which so much is produced.

Alter Eco’s efforts to make their products more environmentally-friendly do not stop at their carbon-neutral status. They indeed go even further to make their products truly “full circle sustainable.” The packaging in which their chocolate and truffles are placed are fully compostable. Plastic and the conventional polyethylene packaging are quite detrimental to the environment due to the astronomical quantity of plastic sent to landfills or that finishes its life course in the oceans. The packaging developed by Alter Eco provides an eco-friendly alternative to the original plastic packaging found for most chocolate bars. This new packaging is made from compostable materials, GMO free, and without any toxic ink. Mathieu Senard adds: ““We believe the impact of our packaging is just as important as the product itself. How could we call ourselves a responsible, sustainable company when much of our packaging was going to landfills to live for hundreds of years?” (Alter Eco, 2015). This question raised by Senard is one answered by very few companies, which makes Alter Eco that much more efficient in its goal of changing the dynamics of chocolate production across the globe. To top off its environmental goals, Alter Eco has partnered with the 1% For the Planet Fund, which gives 1% of the company’s sales to a non-profit with environmental improvement goals.



Businessman David Ogilvy was once quoted for saying: “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.” Advertisements and marketing are truly at the forefront of the chocolate industry’s sales. Whether it is for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, or Halloween, chocolate advertisements are all over television networks, the internet, and social media. Nonetheless, there are many problems and complaints associated with today’s chocolate industry and its marketing techniques. During her lecture at Harvard University about “Race, Ethnicity and Gender” in today’s chocolate industry, Professor Carla Martin elaborated on today’s chocolate marketing techniques and its associated prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. Most of this discrimination comes in the form of racism or sexism. Women are portrayed as irrational in the presence of chocolate while men are portrayed as sexualized bodies. Simultaneously, race is also being portrayed in stereotypical and offensive ways. Alter Eco attempts to go against all these rampant problems with marketing for chocolate. The company presents its potential buyers with an honest, informative advertising. Fagerhaug (Honest Marketing, 1997) writes: “The main point about honest marketing is to run the business in such a way that a customer at any time can feel the certainty any customer longs for; that he or she made the right choice.” When a customer purchases a product from Alter Eco, there is a directly associated certainty in the quality and honesty of the product received.


In conclusion, Alter Eco attempts to provide its clients around the world with a sustainable chocolate product that tackles most, if not all the problems associated with today’s chocolate market. Through its fair labor practices, honest ingredients, conscientious production techniques and reliable advertisements, Alter Eco gives its customers exactly what they can expect. If more companies put as much care and attention in their products as Alter Eco does, the world would be a much better place. Alter Eco is undoubtedly part of the solution to the problems in the world’s chocolate and cacao industries.


Works Cited:

“Alter Eco – B Corporation”. B Corporation Website. Fair Trade & Organic Foods, 2017.

“Alter Eco Foods”., Web. Accessed 05.03.2017.

“Alter Eco 2015 Impact Report”. Pages 7/7. 2017.

Business Wire Magazine. Alter Eco Logo Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17.

Chanthavong, Samlanchith. “Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote D’Ivoire.” TED Case Studies. American University. Pages 17/17. 2017.

Fagerhaug & Andersen. “Honest Marketing: A Coherent Approach to Conscientious Business Operation.” Norwegian University of Science and Technology. 2017.

Henry, Alan. “What Does Organic Really Mean, And Is It Worth my Money?” 2012.

Laye, Keon. “Alter Eco Wants to Make Chocolate a Regenerative, not Extractive, Industry.” Triple Pundit Online Publishing, 2017.

Lovely Package. Alter Eco Packaging Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17.

Martin, Carla D.“Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements”, Harvard University, CGIS, AAAS 119x, 2017.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, abolition, and forced labor”, Harvard University, CGIS, AAAS 119x, 2017.

Martin, Carla D. “Psychology, Terroir, and Taste”, Harvard University, CGIS, AAAS 119x, 2017.

“Mission/Values.” Fair Trade USA. Fair Trade USA, 2016.

Ntiamoah, Augustine. “Environmental impacts of cocoa production and processing in Ghana: life cycle assessment approach.” Journal of Cleaner Production, Print. 2008.

Plan Vivo. Pur Project Logo image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17.

Smedley, Tim. “Forget About Offsetting, Insetting is the Future.” The Guardian. Web, 2015.

Squicciarini & Swinnen. “The Economics of Chocolate”, Oxford Scholarship Online, 2016.

Slave Free Chocolate. Chocolate’s Slave Trade Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17.

The Problem of Child Labor in the Cocoa Plantations. Africa News Service, Feb 2, 2012

WordPress.Willandmegan. Alter Eco Chocolate Bar Image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17.

Chocolate in Society and in Context

For many Americans, chocolate and chocolate products are a staple of any sweet dishes, and a marker of luxury. Consumers appreciate the versatility of chocolate, as it can be found in pastries, breakfast foods, desserts, and eaten on its own. Despite the course’s exploration on the definitions of fine chocolate products, for many, chocolate does not need to be of high quality to be seen as a luxury. Even the most basic and common chocolate products never feel common. The role of chocolate in our lives is greatly influenced by and intertwined with the history of the chocolate industry. The efforts made to shape the public’s perception and consumption of chocolate has controlled its role in the lives of consumers. Chocolate’s taste and ability to move the consumer out of a negative emotional state aided its acceptance into traditions and customs. Common misconceptions about the health benefits of chocolate encouraged the consumption of chocolate as a dessert with heath benefits.  Specific marketing practices for chocolate, its ability to cheer up the consumer and the suggestion that chocolate is good for you helped furnish the public’s fascination with chocolate and its role in society today.

Speaking with one regular chocolate consumer revealed how individuals relate to chocolate and how they consume it. When asked about their relationship with chocolate, the interviewee stated that chocolate comforts them, and always feels like a special treat. They believe that they’ve associated chocolate with celebration and relaxation. The role of chocolate in their life is to help relax them. It is the perfect treat for the end of a stressful day or week, and it goes hand in hand with celebration. This celebration can be for an achievement, a milestone, or a holiday. The use of chocolate for celebration takes many forms, but often conveys love. Chocolate can represent romantic love; the love between a parent and child in the form of a stocking stuffer, Halloween candy, or spontaneous brownies; it can be self love in the form of an end of day treat; and it can be platonic love in the form a chocolate birthday cake for a friend. Each of these uses for chocolate create a feeling of comfort and security. In this sense, chocolate is undeniably a comfort food.

For the interviewee, chocolate has changed in their life both in its significance, and also in the manner of consumption. As a child, the interviewee felt that chocolate was meant to go with nearly everything. Chocolate should be consumed as much as possible in a variety of forms. At this stage in their life, chocolate was a form of external validation for the interviewee. It was given by parents or relatives as a reward for good behavior, or as a birthday or holiday celebration. Chocolate played a strong role in shaping the behavior of the interviewee, and likely the behavior of many other children, as a source of positive reinforcement. For example, parents often use Halloween candy as a bargaining chip with their children. Part of the reason chocolate plays such a role for many children is likely because young children cannot easily gain access to chocolate on their own, and thus needs the supervision or permission of adults to purchase or retrieve chocolate.

As children age, they grow into being able to buy or retrieve their own chocolate treats. To the interviewee, this change caused a shift in the way they related to chocolate and how they consumed it. Once they had access to more chocolate, they became more selective about its use. Chocolate desserts were no longer the only options, and they learned that chocolate could actually smother more subtle flavors in certain dishes. Once they were an adult and could access as much chocolate as they wanted, they learned to appreciate other flavors separate from, or in tandem, with chocolate. This change in consumption also introduced the interviewee to dark chocolate and cacao based foods like mole. Changing consumption also affected the significance of chocolate in their life. Chocolate became a means of conveying love or celebration as stated by the previous discussion on the significance and role of chocolate. Due to chocolate’s role as a symbol of love and celebration, it also became a food that was craved when the interviewee was in a bad mood or tired. A constant in the interviewee’s life has been that chocolate acts as a comfort food: it reassures children that they are behaving properly, and it helps adults feel loved and appreciated.

The feelings and ideas expressed by the interviewee are not at all uncommon, and it would be a reasonable statement to say that they are common among most Americans. Americans have had a taste for chocolate for a long time, and our love of chocolate has been a part of popular culture for a long time. In the 1952 episode of I Love Lucy titled “Job Switching”, the plot of the episode centers on Lucy and Ethel working in a candy factory while Ricky and Fred do housework (I Love Lucy, 1952). While working at the candy factory, Lucy and Ethel cannot resist eating the candies that they are supposed to be packaging (I Love Lucy, 1952). Lucy and Ethel’s inability to control themselves clearly demonstrates how deeply a love for chocolate is embedded in the American psyche. However the importance of chocolate in American culture did not come naturally, and in fact it was manufactured. The connection between chocolate and romantic love is most easily examined through the relationship between Valentine’s Day and chocolate. Although both chocolate and Valentine’s Day have separately been part of European and American cultures for centuries, the association of chocolate and Valentine’s Day began in 1861 according to Amy Henderson’s 2015 article in Smithsonian Magazine (Henderson, “How Chocolate and Valentine’s Day Mated for Life”, 2015). According to Henderson, Richard Cadbury began to manufacture “eating chocolates” that were packaged in decorated, heart-shaped boxes as a way to sell the pure cocoa butter extracted in Cadbury’s chocolate making process (Henderson, 2015). This practice became very popular in England, and spread to the United States of America in the early 20th century (Henderson, 2015). In 1907, Milton Hershey began marketing mass produced Hershey’s Kisses, and eventually Russell Stover became an important maker of Valentine’s Day chocolates as well (Henderson, 2015). Chocolate’s role as a symbol of romance in the United States and England was created by chocolate makers who saw Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to sell more chocolates, and used marketing and packaging to boost their sales and completely alter the way that the world views chocolate.

Valentine’s Day and romantic love are not the only ways that corporations have influenced how society views chocolate. Halloween is also an important holiday for purchasing candies, but these purchases are intended for children rather than adults. In Samira Kawash’s 2010 article in The Atlantic, “How Candy and Halloween Became Best Friends”, she explains that the tradition of dressing up on October 31st became widespread in the late 1940s (Kawash, “How Candy and Halloween Became Best Friends”, 2010). However, at that time, candy was not handed out to trick-or-treaters; trick-or-treaters usually received cookies, fruits, nuts and other non-candy treats as often as candy (Kawash, 2010). It wasn’t until the 1970s that candy and chocolates became the only item to be given to trick-or-treaters (Kawash, 2010). Due to fears of poisoned food, consumers saw commercially wrapped candy as a much safer choice compared to homemade candies, and this fear aided the growth of candy and chocolate on Halloween (Kawash, 2010). As chocolate companies secured Halloween as a day for children to receive candy, they cemented children’s love of chocolate. The 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, reflects how strongly that our society believes children love chocolate. Similar to the scene in I Love Lucy, where Lucy and Ethel cannot control themselves around chocolate, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory demonstrates how children cannot control themselves around chocolate:

Wilder, Gene, Jack Albertson, Mel Stuart, and Roald Dahl. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Online Video. Directed by Mel Stuart. Los Angeles: Paramount Pictures, 1971. Posted on Posted by Movieclips. December 29th, 2016.

Just as chocolate makers manufactured the association between romantic love and chocolate, they also created a connection between children and chocolate. Marketing chocolate towards children helped them grow to love it, and cemented the role of chocolate as a marker of celebrations and holidays.

Although the role of chocolate in our society was manufactured by chocolate makers, our love and craving of chocolate was not. As the interviewee stated, chocolate can act as a comfort food. It helps the consumer feel relieved and rewarded, and these feelings contribute to its popularity and the successes of the campaigns to associate chocolate with childhood fun and romantic love. In David Benton’s 2004 article, “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving”, he examines why people enjoy eating chocolate. Chocolate is a very chemically complex substance, and contains many potentially psychotropic compounds (Benton, 2004). Benton provides an in-depth examination and review of studies that have investigated the effects of compounds found in chocolate, such as phenylethylamine, caffeine, and theobromine, on the brain (Benton, 2004). Empirical studies of each of these compounds demonstrates that although they can have measurable effects on human and animal brains, chocolate would need to have significantly higher levels of these compounds to cause any effect that would provide a biological reason for why we enjoy chocolate so much (Benton, 2004). Studies found that when consumers were in a negative emotional state they were more likely to consume chocolate, and this chocolate consumption can be considered comfort and/or emotional eating (Benton, 2004). In the absence of observable biological effects of chocolate, the article suggests that the taste, mouthfeel and optimal fat and sweetness combination make chocolate so desirable (Benton, 2004). Benton’s findings demonstrate the psychological effects of chocolate as a comfort food, and reinforce the interviewee’s assertion that consumers seek out chocolate when upset, and it helps consumers feel relaxed. Chocolate’s acceptance into society results from its comforting taste and mouthfeel which can help move consumers out of negative emotional states.

Examining the components that make up chocolate helps further explain why chocolate holds such significance in our society. Benton points out that part of the taste appeal of chocolate is that it holds nearly the optimal sweetness to fat combination (Benton, 2004). Chocolate, and milk chocolate in particular, contains a great deal of sugar. This sugar is added to help balance out the natural bitterness of the cacao (Benton, 2004), and the sugar and its sweetness contribute to chocolate’s popularity. In Robert Albritton’s 2012 essay, “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”, he points out that American consumption of added sugar has grown significantly since the beginning of the 20th century (Albritton, 2012). He asserts that the increase in sugar consumption has contributed to the increase in childhood obesity in the United States (Albritton, 2012). It is also likely that the previously discussed growing importance of candy and chocolate to holidays like Valentine’s Day and Halloween have contributed to greater sugar consumption in the United States. Albritton points out that part of the reason that sugar consumption has grown so much is because sweetness is the most desired taste, and that there is evidence that sugar itself might be addictive (Albritton, 2012). Understanding people’s desire for sugar aids in understanding the popularity of sweet chocolates. The presence of sugar in sweet chocolate likely helps drive people’s desire for it. As Benton asserted, chocolate has a nearly ideal combination of sweetness and fat, and while this combination helps make chocolate unique and desirable, human craving for sugar helps motivate consumers to eat sweet chocolates.

Chocolate is unique among other sweet foods, as it has a history of being considered healthy for the consumer, and these views impact how consumers separate chocolate from other similarly sweet foods.  As pointed out in several lecture discussions, since cacao was brought back to europe from Mesoamerica, there have been many assertions that cacao had various health benefits. These benefits usually had to do with digestive or cardiovascular health, and these perceived benefits lingered in our society and helped consumers purchase chocolate without as much fear of the negative health consequences often associated with other sweet foods. More recently, researchers felt that cacao and chocolate were the key to improving cardiovascular health (Howe, 2012). In Jame Howe’s 2012 article in Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered”, Howe examines the findings of Dr. Norman Hollenberg. Hollenberg found that an indigenous population called the Kuna had few cardiovascular problems and low blood pressure, and he determined that their improved cardiovascular health was due to environmental factors (Howe, 2012). Hollenberg attributed the health of the Kuna to their prolific consumption of chocolate beverages, and believed that the flavanol epicatechin was the compound responsible for the health benefits of chocolate (Howe, 2012).

Despite the fact that many researchers accept Hollenberg’s assertions as fact, Howe casts significant doubt on Hollenberg’s claims (Howe, 2012). He points out that the Kuna consume a variety of beverages along with chocolate, and also that there are other indigenous groups who do not consume chocolate and have cardiovascular health similar to the Kuna (Howe, 2012). Howe’s points indicate that a different factor contributes to the Kuna’s health, and that chocolate is not the superfood that Hollenberg believes it to be (Howe, 2012). While there have been other findings that point out the health benefits of cacao and chocolate, these findings suggest the consumption of dark chocolate in moderation (Steinberg et al., 2003) rather than the extremely large amounts that Hollenberg believed had health benefits for the Kuna. Past beliefs about the health benefits of chocolate and cacao helped shape the modern public’s perception that chocolate and cacao have significant health benefits. This perception is evidenced by the fact that Dr. Hollenberg attributed the Kuna’s cardiovascular health to the chocolate that they consumed rather than a more probable environmental factor. While cacao does have health benefits (Steinberg et al., 2003), Hollenberg demonstrates the eagerness of our society to attribute incredible health benefits to cacao. This eagerness likely arises from our desire to justify consuming more chocolate, and the possibility of yet undiscovered benefits to chocolate enables our society to fall further in love with chocolate and cacao. Hopefulness for the healthiness of chocolate aids to the feeling of comfort in consuming it, and helps alleviate the guilt that comes after its consumption.

Through an interview with an avid chocolate consumer, we see one person’s point of view on the significance and role of chocolate in our society. The interviewee pointed out chocolate’s importance as an expression for multiple forms of love and celebration, and through several sources, we saw how chocolate’s role in Valentine’s Day and Halloween was manufactured by chocolate makers in order to sell more chocolate (Henderson, 2015)(Kawash, 2010). Despite the relatively recent introduction of chocolate into these traditions by chocolate manufacturers, they are firmly cemented into our culture. Although chocolate was introduced by chocolate making companies, it was able to take hold because of its appeal. Many consider chocolate to be comforting, versatile and a treat to consume, and although there is no biological explanation for people’s affinity for chocolate, studies support the claim that chocolate acts as a comfort food (Benton, 2004). People’s desire for the taste of sweet foods, along with its function as a comfort food, bolster the appeal of chocolate (Albritton, 2012).  Consumers are further enabled to indulge with chocolate by suggestions that chocolate is healthy, and while some of these suggestions are supported by research, others might be widely accepted but unproven. The point of view of one avid chocolate consumer provided several observations that properly represent the significance of chocolate in society, but these observations must be taken in context to fully understand why chocolate is so popular.

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik, 356-66. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” In Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, edited by Astrid Nehlig, 205-18. 1st ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2004

Henderson, Amy. “How Chocolate and Valentine’s Day Mated for Life.” Smithsonian Magazine. February 12th, 2015.

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12, no. 1 (2012): 43-52.

I Love Lucy. “Job Switching.” Episode 36. Directed by William Asher. Written by Jess Oppenhemier, Madelyn Pugh, and Bob Carroll Jr. CBS, September 15th, 1952.

Kawash, Samira. “How Candy and Halloween Became Best Friends.” The Atlantic. October 21st, 2010.

Steinberg, Francene M, Monica M Bearden, and Carl L Keen. “Cocoa and Chocolate Flavonoids: Implications for Cardiovascular Health.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 103, no. 2 (2003): 215-23.

Wilder, Gene, Jack Albertson, Mel Stuart, and Roald Dahl. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Online Video. Directed by Mel Stuart. Los Angeles: Paramount Pictures, 1971. Posted on Posted by Movieclips. December 29th, 2016.

A Moral Contradiction

The history of chocolate spans centuries; yet while many people enjoy the sweet treat, far fewer understand just how deeply chocolate’s history is embroiled in traditions of controversy, violence, and racialized prejudice. This blog post will narrate one small yet impactful period in chocolate’s history, concerning one of the biggest players in chocolate’s history and present: Cadbury. At the turn of the 20th century, the then-called Cadbury Bros. company found itself wrapped up in an international scandal over its business ethics, and more specifically their labor practices. This controversy did not only concern economic practices, but also political affairs of Britain, Portugal, and their condoning of colonial extralegal slavery (not in name, but in practice) in the Carribean. From 1905 to 1914, journalist Henry Nevinson sought to hold Cadbury accountable — in court — for their purchase of cocoa beans from the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe (Satre 12), , despite the fact that the beans were the product of illegal, brutal enslavement and forced labor of native and African people. Though Cadbury condemned slavery in name, the company imported tens of millions of pounds of cocoa beans from São Tomé and Príncipe between 1900 and 1910 — nearly a century after slavery had been legally abolished in Britain (though certainly not practically or economically). Over the course of this period, challenges to Cadbury’s company business ethics in Sao Tome versus in Britain reveal an apparent disregard for the violence against thousands of enslaved laborers, despite their proclaimed intentions to enact fair labor practices within their company.

Workers at the Cadbury chocolate factory in Bournville, England (NPR 2010

John Cadbury first opened his tea and coffee shop in Birmingham, England in 1824. After incorporating use of the newly invented hydraulic press, the company finally gained success in the 1860s. Cadbury grew into a factory business, employing 3,310 workers by 1900–in whom the owners “took a paternalistic interest” (Satre 15). This was because the Cadbury brothers were proud pillars of Britain’s Quaker community, and aimed to run their company “in accordance with Quaker tenet in providing aid to those less fortunate” (Satre 15). Despite long hours and close control over the employees, Cadbury factory jobs were highly sought after. According to a 2010 interview with descendant Deborah Cadbury:“”As soon as they were able,” Cadbury says, “they were doing things like raising the wages of their workforce, introducing Saturdays off, introducing pensions, introducing unemployment benefits and sickness benefits, and even free doctors, free dentists and vitamin pills for staff” (NPR 2010). However, despite an emphasis on fair conditions at home, Cadbury’s actions abroad painted a very different picture of their labor ethics.

After visiting Trinidad in 1901, William Adlington Cadbury (1867-1957) was tasked to investigate reports that slave labour was producing Cadbury’s cacao beans on São Tomé (Satre 18). Though W. Cadbury claimed overall ignorance about conditions on São Tomé and Príncipe at this time, the chocolate firm had purchased over 45% of its cocoa beans from the island by 1900 (Satre). Moreover, nearly eight years passed before decisive action was taken about Cadbury’s influence on the slave contract labor being used on the islands. Curiously, this period of lack of action coincides with a series of donations made to the Anti-Slvery Society in Britain by William’s brother George, a member, totaling to 510 pounds between 1900 and 1908 (Satre 21). Throughout this time, extended investigations, written and rewritten reports, suppressed publication of the controversy in British news (on the part of Cadbury), and diplomatic meetings between governments and chocolate companies resulted in no action until 1908 at the latest. Moreover, Henry Nevinson’s report, a project begun in 1905, was not available to the British public until 1908 (Satre). Meanwhile, William Cadbury spoke many times on record about opposing slavery yet vehemently opposed a boycott of purchasing the islands’ cocoa amongst the coalition of chocolate makers in Britain. In fact, he explictly went on record saying that his firm would like to continue purchasing cocoa from the islands (Higgs).

Though his Quaker anti-slavery humantarianism was expressed publicly, it seemed not to extend to the laborers in Sao Tome, based on the company’s extensive purchases of Sao Tome’s cocoa throughout this period: in 1902 Cadbury Bros. alone purchased 20% of São Tomé and Príncipe’s cocoa. This number decreased by 1907 (likely due to the pressure applied by journalists like Henry Nevinson)–to around 13% of Sao Tome’s total cocoa export, around 7.4 million pounds. This amount is still significant despite the change over time, especially when considering the violence experienced by thousands of enslaved laborers all for the sake of this export. According to Satre, Sao Tome held a total of around 40,000 slave laborers and Principe held around 3000 laborers at this time. He goes on to explain that 14% of laborers died in São Tomé died every year, and 20% of laborers died in Príncipe every year. This means that during this 8-year period of reluctant inaction on the part of Cadbury to address their investment in slave labor as a means to fund their business growth, a total of 43,200 enslaved peoples died. With regards to the company’s business ethics, this tends to reveal an interesting practice: that is, to keep a clean home but leave muddy shoes outside the door, so to speak.

These challenges to Cadbury’s business ethics remind me of a quote from artist Felix von der Weppen on his series “Chocolate Slavery” (above): “I wanted to create images that lead the viewer into a moral contradiction between desire and rejection. Hands stand for the power of action of individuals. By losing the power to act, we lose liberty, equality and are most likely controlled or enslaved by others” (Cargo Collective). Within the context of Cadbury’s inaction — not to mention today’s chocolate makers continued investment in forced labor — the violent impact of business practices like Cadbury’s during this period on human lives becomes even more salient.


Satre, Lowell, 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business.

NPR, 2010. “The Sweet, Social Legacy of Cadbury Chocolate.”

Higgs, Catherine, 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa.

Cargo Collective, “Stop Chocolate Slavery.”


NPR, 2010. “The Sweet, Social Legacy of Cadbury Chocolate.”.


Felix von der Weppen’s “Chocolate Slavery.”

A Spoonful of Sugar: Chocolate Marketing and the Reproduction of Labor

Kit Kat Poster 1957-58
From Nestlé (link)

The above image, originally uploaded by Nestlé, is a 1950s print advertisement for Kit Kat chocolate bars. The advertisement features a marketing slogan used by Kit Kat to this day: “Have a break… have a Kit Kat!” The “break” refers to the signature snap of the Kit Kat bar’s internal wafer as well as the worker’s much-coveted reprieve from labor. The implication of this play on words is that the small indulgence of consuming Kit Kat bars can serve as a (minimally disruptive) break from work; eating a Kit Kat bar on the clock feels like an almost rebellious act of self-care but in fact, as this blog post will show, merely maintains the existing (exploitative) system of labor and consumption.

This blog post will describe the history of chocolate advertisements’ insidious appeals to alienated workers. While chocolate has been advertised as a reprieve from the dehumanizing and alienating nature of wage work, this blog post will demonstrate that these advertisements encourage workers to consume chocolate merely so they can continue working. These advertisements redirect the worker’s feeling of alienation, exhaustion, and exploitation toward resignation and complacency rather than the capacity for rebellion. This advertising practice can be seen as a recuperation (by capital) of the seeds of discontent that could otherwise flourish into anticapitalist revolution. [By “recuperation,” I refer to the practice of normalizing radical ideas in order to render them impotent—in other words, recuperation is when “the ruling class… twist[s] every form of protest around to salvage its own ends” (Downing 59).]

Marx writes in Kapital of alienation as the dehumanizing phenomenon in which workers are reduced, essentially, to machines that produce value for capitalists. The worker is treated as nothing more than an “instrument of labor” (qtd in Hochschild 3). A very disturbing 2010 Kit Kat commercial depicts a scenario that seems to literalize the Marxist comparison of alienated workers to machines:

In this commercial, a man working at a supermarket checkout counter acts as though his body is literally a checkout scanner—literally a machine. Having recognized the dehumanizing nature of wage work, however, the commercial promises that the purchase and consumption of a Kit Kat bar will allow the man to “have a break.” There is no need for him to organize for better working conditions, the commercial implies, no need even to question the system that so dehumanizes him; being a consumer is all he needs.

A similar sentiment is expressed in the above Instagram post, published on the official Kit Kat page in 2019. The Kit Kat bar is made to resemble a watch, again invoking and recreating the association between chocolate and a reprieve from labor. But the Kit Kat’s visual resemblance to a watch also betrays a bleaker reality: that the cycle of consumption itself is a constituent part of the system of capitalist exploitation that has transformed the human experience of time into labor-time.

Kit Kat’s slogan “Have a break; have a Kit Kat” and its associated advertisements very obviously reflect the chocolate industry’s positioning of chocolate as a reprieve from work that in fact merely reproduces labor (by making the worker able to work again) and reinforces the existing economic system (by making the worker double as a consumer). But other chocolate companies use similar messaging in their advertisements. Take, for instance, the following Snickers commercial:

This commercial depicts a crew of workers performing the very physically demanding and dangerous labor of handling timber. One worker expresses a reluctance to continue and questions the purpose of this work. He is then handed a Snickers bar and transforms back into the diligent and docile worker he is expected to be. “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” the voiceover intones. Questioning the reasons for one’s hunger, one’s underpayment, one’s exploitation is depicted as the irrational whining of someone who needs more sugar. Snickers are depicted as a balm for one’s immediate discontentment—a balm that can take the place, it seems, of actual systemic change.

Chocolate companies have been insidiously recuperating anticapitalist discontent (or progressive ideals) for as long as they have existed, often depending on the comforting and indulgent associations of chocolate itself to maintain positive brand images. During the Progressive Era, “the greater American public… embraced [Milton S. Hershey] as a kindly type of industrialist and an oddly selfless capitalist,” a reputation that “dependent, in part, on the playful sweetness of the product he made” (D’Antonio 114). How could a man who “distribut[ed] happiness in a wrapper” (114), who sold what had once been a luxury product to the sugar-hungry masses, be anything like the greedy and heartless robber barons denounced by the socialist organizers of the time (113)? Cheap and sweet, mass-produced milk chocolate seems like a populist treat, and this association allows chocolate companies to continue making money off the blood and backs of workers (both producers and consumers) while appearing sympathetic to their plight.

Works Cited

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Downing, John. Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements. Sage Publications, 2001.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell 1940-. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. University of California Press, 2012.

Slave Labor in 19th Century Britain: A Bottom-Up Perspective

When one thinks of the slave trade, sugar production, and the abolitionist movement, it is easy to conclude that the eradication of the slave trade and the emancipation of slaves in Britain, the global hegemon at the time, was delayed until 1806 and 1834 respectively (Shapiro, 2008) largely because wealthy sugar plantation owners wanted to keep the cost of labor down, protect their massive estates, and safeguard their sugar empires. While this story may have held true in the early days of the slave trade, a much more complex situation unfolded once sugar became democratized and was commonplace among the British working class. I argue that the rise in the standard of living that poor British laborers experienced by having cheap access to “luxurious” sugar created a growing demand for the product, and, in turn, prolonged the use of slave labor on sugar plantations. 

The Changing Economics of Sugar from the 18th to 19th Century

An oversupply of sugar in the late 18th Century coupled with the eradication of protectionist policies which safeguarded the monopolistic control that West Indian planters had over the commodity led to a drop in the price of sugar and subsequently a much larger consumer base (Mintz, 1986, p. 161-162). Most early sugar plantation owners were furious that the British government ended its preferential treatment of West Indian sugar and resisted the government’s actions.

“They put up a determined resistance to…the abrogation of their monopoly. They were always on the warpath to oppose any increase of their duties on sugar.”

Mintz, 1986, p. 170

Despite the backlash from West Indian planters, the British government went ahead with pursuing a “free market” approach towards sugar and repealed the lower tariffs that it had previously afforded exclusively to West Indian sugar. As a result, competition among sugar producers increased, lowering the price of sugar, and making the product accessible to the masses for the first time (Mintz, 1986, p.161). Once sugar became more affordable in the 19th Century, the product quickly became a staple in almost all British households (Mintz, 1986, p.157). In fact, demand for the sweet commodity began to skyrocket as sugar became an important part of people’s diets, lives, and, most importantly, family budgets (Mintz, 1986, p.167) .

Real Sugar Prices and Sugar Consumption Per Capita in England, 1600-1850
Source: Hersh and Voth, 2009, p.15

As time progressed and sugar became even cheaper, the commodity was used in an array of new sweet delights including:

  1. Marmalades and Jams
  2. Condensed Milk 
  3. Chocolate
  4. Sherbert

Moreover, sugar became a critical source of calories for laborers who worked long hours in the factories and would often replace entire meals with a simple cup of tea sweetened with sugar. Lastly, from a cultural perspective, sugar continued to seem like a luxury and thus poor, working class Brits were finally able to join in and experience the feeling of privilege that comes with serving and being served sugar and sugary goods (Mintz, 1986, p.173).

The Changing Economics of and Sentiment Towards Slave Labor

It is in the context of the working class’s seemingly insatiable hunger for and dependence on sugar that the production of sugar from slave labor became inextricably linked to working class consumption of sugar in Britain. The fate and destiny of African slaves was no longer in the hands of the few political elite and ultra-wealthy plantation owners, but rather the British working masses who came to habitually consume the sugar they produced.

As British working-class laborers became accustomed to the higher standards of living that the fruits of slave labor afforded them, they also started to perpetuate a radical strain of racism that classified black slaves as sub-humans and disregarded their calls for emancipation (Hanley, 2016, p.108). For instance, working-class Brits felt that slaves neither deserved the attention of British abolitionists nor were “intellectually or morally equipped to appreciate it properly” (Hanley, 2016, p.103-104).

Figure 1. From Charles White,  An Account in the Regular Gradation in Man (1799). An example of some of the racist beliefs held at the turn of the century in Great Britain and other Western countries.,_An_account_of_the_regular_gradation_Wellcome_L0031530.jpg#/media/File:C.White,_An_account_of_the_regular_gradation_Wellcome_L0031530.jpg

In fact, the growing animosity towards slaves that working-class Brits felt in the early 1800s stood in direct opposition to the growing abolitionist sentiment that was developing among political and economic elites (Hanley, 2016, p.103). For example, some wealthy Brits who—unlike the working class—no longer considered sugar to be a novelty began forming abolitionist groups and referring to sugar as “blood sugar” as it directly contributed to the exploitation of African slaves (Morton, 1998, p.87). Moreover, many of these well to do abolitionists attempted to dissuade their fellow Brits from consuming sugar by linking consumption of the commodity to the evil forces of “colonialism and exploitation” (Morton, 1998, p.88). 

“Sweetened drinks of tea, coffee, and chocolate were rendered suddenly nauseating by the notion that they contained the blood of slaves.”

Morton, 1998, p.87-88 

Meanwhile, most working-class Brits felt that their plight was being overlooked by political leaders and that the money and resources that were being poured into the abolitionist movement would have been better spent on improving the lives of white British laborers (Hanley, 2016, p.104). As a matter of fact, the large majority of the British working class was still excluded from voting and was angered by the fact that some political leaders appeared to be more focused in securing the political rights of a “distant and less deserving ethnic other” rather than laboring Englishmen (Hanley, 2016, p.104).

Great Reform Act of 1832 (above) transformed the British voting system and increased the number of Englishmen who were eligible to vote


The evolution of sugar and the slave trade in Britain were interconnected: as sugar became more accessible to the working masses, demand for the commodity, and the slave labor that produced the commodity, increased. As a result, the economics of slave labor became a bottom up story, that is, the demand for slave labor was no longer driven by a few wealthy plantation owners but rather the entire British working class. Moreover, as sugar became more affordable, working class Brits became accustomed to the fruits of slave labor and fervently opposed abolitionism and any attempts to put an end to the lifeblood of their gradual increase in living standards. Ultimately, as capitalism flourished and sugar became more accessible to the working masses in Britain, the emancipation of slaves was significantly delayed.

Works Cited

Hanley, R. (2016). SLAVERY AND THE BIRTH OF WORKING-CLASS RACISM IN ENGLAND, 1814–1833. The Alexander Prize Essay. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society26, 103-123.

Hersh, J., & Voth, H. J. (2009). Sweet diversity: colonial goods and the rise of European living standards after 1492.

Mintz, S. W. (1986). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin.

Morton, T. (1780). Blood sugar. Romanticism and Colonialism: Writing and Empire1830, 87-106.

Shapiro, S. (2008, July). Review: After Abolition: Britain and the Slave Trade Since 1807. Retrieved from

The Missing Story: The Spread of Cacao and the Popularity of Cocoa Production in Asia

It is no secret that chocolate was popularized in the Western world by the Europeans, particularly the Spanish, after discovering cacao in the New World. However, since Europeans began to dominate the chocolate industry, particularly relying on colonialism to exploit and export cacao from their colonies, the preeminent narrative has become one of widespread European production and consumption of chocolate. However, the historical focus on how chocolate spread from the European royalty to more broad audiences, such as the “common people” in Europe and in North America, limits the scope of understanding for the global popularity of cacao and chocolate production. The existing research tends to focus on chocolate as it spread from Europe to America, but this leads to a more narrow understanding of cacao and its popularity in other regions like East Asia.

The global narrative of chocolate cultivation, production, and consumptions begins in Mesoamerica. Cacao cultivation and chocolate production originated in Mesoamerica during the early BCE era, and for the Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs, and other Mesoamerican civilizations, cacao (or kakawa) was reserved primarily to produce drinks for the elite (although it also functioned as a form of currency) (Coe 2013, 78-81). Beginning around the early sixteenth-century, chocolate was introduced into the Spanish culture by Hernán Cortes and originally was similarly regarded as a popular delicacy of the European royalty. “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe,” (Coe 2013, 125). Chocolate remained an elite drink in Europe during the Baroque Age, as it spread in popularity from Spain and Portugal to Italy to France. In fact, the French are credited with the invention of the silver chocolatiére, pictured below, which was a chocolate-pot used to produce and serve the chocolate beverage produced from cocoa. The chocolatiére is significant because the invention evolved from the Mexican practice of producing a cacao beverage using a wooden molinillo, also depicted below. However, the French took this concept and produced the silver chocolatiére in which the European nobles could consume their chocolate beverages (Coe 2013, 156-157).

18th century French silver chocolatiére pictured third from the left, among other styles and types of chocolate-pots.

However, once chocolate spread to Britain in the seventeenth century, it also began to spread in popular consumption from the elites to the general public. Like the already-established popular coffee and tea houses, chocolate houses too began to pop up, one of which is depicted below. Chocolate houses were originally frequented by the British nobles and upper class citizens, as demonstrated by the noble style of dress (including the British wigs seen worn by the men in the image), as chocolate still cost more than did coffee (although not as much as tea). While chocolate was still an expensive commodity, the prevalence of the chocolate houses contributed to the spread of chocolate consumption from the elites to the masses as chocolate became popularized in British culture (Coe 2013, 167).

London Chocolate-house c.1708. Silver chocolatiéres can be seen on the tables, while British nobles (dressed accordingly) enjoy the delicacy.

Much of the existing literature on the global spread of chocolate focuses primarily on its path between South and Central America, Europe, and North America. In the 1660s, however, cacao began to spread not only to Europe but also across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines and the South Pacific region (C-spot, A Concise History of Chocolate). Cacao cultivation was especially successful in the Philippines, which at the time was a Spanish colony: “They have brought from New Spain to the Philippines the Cacao plant,” Italian merchant and voyager Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Carreri wrote of his travels to the Philippines in the seventeenth century. “[The Cacao plant] has multiplied so well, although it has degenerated a bit, that in a short while they can do without that of America,” (Coe 2013, 173). The Philippines was chocolate’s “one Asian success,” according to Sophie and Michael Coe; but cacao continued to spread beyond just the Philippines.

Map depicting the main routes for the spread of cacao globally, including to the Philippines and South Pacific/Southeast Asia regions.

As pictured in the map above, from the islands of the Philippines cacao cultivation first spread south to Indonesia, where the suitable climate, vast unused land, and large and inexpensive labor supply made the two Southeast Asian regions prime for Spanish exploitation (Sampeck and Thayn 2017, 93). Cacao cultivation grew in popularity in the Philippines and Indonesia specifically because their agrarian systems were characterized by the plantation sector, which excelled at producing tropical cash crops like cacao (Hayami 2001, 181-182).  Cocoa farming remained popular, however, because local farmers and large-scale plantation systems alike could cultivate cacao; the video below demonstrates that even now, cocoa farming continues to be popular in the Philippines, despite the global narrative about European production of chocolate and American consumption of chocolate.

Indonesia particularly grew in their share of the global cocoa market, while the Philippines began to grow in production of coconut oil instead (Hayami 2001, 190). Later in the nineteenth century, cacao spread from Indonesia westward across Asia and into Sri Lanka (C-spot, A Concise History of Chocolate). Not only was cocoa farming successful in the Philippines and Indonesia, the video below shows that ecological and technological advances allowed cocoa farming to become even more accessible, widespread, and environmentally conscious in the Philippines than it originally had been. So why does the narrative often stop at the introduction of cacao to the Philippines as a Spanish colony when there is so much more to the story? 

Although the widespread acceptance of chocolate in the Western world is a crucial element in the global history of chocolate, much of the existing research focuses solely on the European and North American cultivation, production, and consumption of chocolate as it spread from the elites to the masses. This leaves out an important element in the story of how chocolate rose to popularity in the global market: Asia, particularly regions in Southeast and South Pacific Asia, played a vital role in contributing to the successful cultivation and production of cocoa.

Works Cited

Chocolate House London C.1708. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons.

“Cocoa Farming – The Good Chocolate.” Video, 05:33. Youtube. Posted by John Croft, January 20, 2012.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate: With 99 Illustrations, 14 in Colour. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

“A Concise History of Chocolate.” C-spot.

French Chocolatieres. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons.

Hayami, Yujiro. “Ecology, History, and Development: A Perspective from Rural Southeast Asia.” The World Bank Research Observer 16, no. 2 (Fall 2001): 169-98.

Sampeck, Kathryn E., and Jonathan Thayn. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” In Substance and Seduction. Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck, 72-99. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.

The Two Faces of Chocolate: Food of the Gods and the Harbinger of Violence

A Brief History: Cocoa and Chocolate

The creamy, luxuriant, dark brown sweet of pure bliss – chocolate is the enticing candy with an irresistible taste of heaven and the Gods. Yet, little do we know, chocolate has had its tie to Gods since its origins in the New World. The story began in Mesoamerica where the cacao tree, termed Theobroma cocoa or “the food of the Gods”, flourished among the Mayan and Aztec civilizations way before the arrival of European colonizers (Coe and Coe, 1996). The cocoa beans were adopted in every aspect of life – beyond food, they were medicine; an offering in religious, marriage, and burial rituals; and money. The social, religious, and economic significance of cocoa was markedly noted by European ethnographers like Bernardino de Sahagun, and with the arrival of Columbus along with other colonizers, cocoa was brought to Europe. Using sugar, Europe transformed cocoa into chocolate, as the delicacy we know today, which quickly became a widely desired, palatable treat for the rich and poor alike. Not long after, chocolate was mass produced by chocolate manufacturers, and consequently, the chocolate empire took root.  

Underneath the Veil

Hidden beneath the veil of sweetness, however, the history of chocolate reveals a much more bitter reality weaved with violence. To satisfy the insatiable demand in the chocolate market, chocolate manufacturers turned to an incredibly exploitative system of obtaining their raw ingredient, cocoa. Chocolate, like many other imperial commodities, was the refined product of slavery and forced labor on plantation farms, and the consequences of this system can be felt up to today in the global racial, economic, and social landscapes.

The Atlantic Slave Trade

What fed into the imperial market and its strong economic interests was none other than the trans-Atlantic slave trade that uprooted millions of African people to the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe [figure 1]. An internal system of slavery persisted in Central and West Africa before the European exploitation, and this indigenous slavery provided fuel for the rise of this global slave trade (Rodney, 1966). The local slave trade was initially recorded and taken of interest by Portuguese chroniclers, who, in the 16th century, were the first to engage in the trade trans-Atlantic (Rodney, 1966). Other Europeans soon followed, and the slave trade bloomed into what supported colossal economies of commodities like sugar, coffee, tobacco, cotton, and of course, cocoa. By the 19th century, various countries passed laws to ban the importation of slaves, including Britain, the United States, Spain, France and Portugal, but at that point, demands soared, and cocoa’s market had become wholly dependent on the slave trade for mass production. Here, we saw a surge of illegal slave trading under the pretense of contract labor.

Figure 1. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Route

The Chocolate Islands – Cadbury’s Cocoa Scandal:

The persistence of slave labor despite efforts to end it unfolded in the Cadbury cocoa scandal of the 1900s. Cadbury Bros, the British Quaker-owned chocolate company, dominated the market at the time and came under criticism when despite warnings of labor conditions and potential use of slaves, they continued to purchase cocoa produced by the plantations of the island of Sao Tome, a Portuguese colony (Satre, 2005). Notably, Henry W. Nevinson, a journalist who documented his encounters with slavery in Portuguese West Africa in his later published book, “A Modern Slavery” [figure 2], marked that the dynamics of the labor market were as reported – laws passed to ban slavery were worthless, commercial interests begged to be satisfied, and by signing a paper, the slave was a “free” worker and everyone was happy. His report brought into light injustices against native Africans disguised in the legal pretense of contract labor. Disregarding Nevinson and other accounts of anti-slavery campaigners, Cadbury chose to make their own investigations into labor conditions of Sao Tome. Yet, even when these confirmed conditions on par with slavery on the cocoa plantations, Cadbury continued to be a major consumer of the cocoa product from Sao Tome, simply choosing to lobby the Portuguese government to more strictly implement their labor contract laws (Satre, 2005). While Cadbury did make some effort against the use of slavery, they undoubtedly fell short of their Quaker moral and ethical principles of justice and fair trade. The key issue in the persistence of slavery is highlighted here – commercial interests for profit constrain moral action from truly taking root.

Figure 2. “A Modern Slavery” accounted Nevinson’s encounters with slavery in Portuguese West Africa, a land where slavery should have been banned by law. The book became the center of controversy in the English political, economic, and humanitarian landscapes and eventually brought Cadbury to court for their purchase of cocoa from Sao Tome.

Modern Slavery, Child Laborers, Implications

This also comes to explain the reality we see today in “modern slavery”.  At the turn of the 21st century, widespread media reports uncovered child slavery on cocoa plantations in Cote d’ Ivoire, one of the major exporters of cocoa to the world market  (Manzo, 2005). An estimated 15,000 children workers were found to be working as slaves on the 600,000 cocoa farms in Cote d’ Ivoire and were subjected to inhumane conditions and extreme abuse (Chanthavong, 2002). The existence of a form of labor practically parallel to old slavery in modern times implicates many contributors in play, intentional and non-intentional. Whether it be the cocoa  farmers, the slave traffickers, the Ivorian government, the chocolate manufacturers, or us the consumers who buy chocolate at a supermarket, all are relevant to the existence of slave labor and the sufferings it incites. Perhaps the wake of a ravenous market like cocoa and chocolate inevitably demands cheap labor that spirals into exploitative systems of forced labor driven by greed and convenience, but we all have the responsibility to challenge the inevitable. We can begin to ask the next time we stand in the sweets aisle for a Hershey bar, are we playing into the cycle of perpetuating labor abuses? What can we do in our power to mitigate these abuses?

Figure 3. A Child Laborer in the Ivory Coast Harvesting Cocoa Pods

Works Cited

Chanthavong, Samlanchith (2002). Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote d’Ivoire. TED Case Studies, Number 664.

COE, SOPHIE DOBZHANSKY (1933-1995)|COE, MICHAEL D. (b. 1929). (1996). The True History Of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Manzo, K. (2005). Modern slavery, global capitalism & deproletarianisation in West Africa. Review of African Political Economy32(106), 521–534. doi: 10.1080/03056240500467013

Rodney, W. (1966). African Slavery and other Forms of Social Oppression on the Upper Guinea Coast in the Context of the Atlantic Slave-Trade. The Journal of African History7(3), 431–443. doi: 10.1017/s0021853700006514

Satre, L. J. (2006). Chocolate on trial: slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Athens, OH: Ohio Univ. Press.

“A White Woman Dipped in Chocolate” Misogynoir and Cocoa Throughout History

When an aptly named German chocolate brand “Super Dickmann’s” posted this image of Meghan Markle, some people got upset while others laughed at their sensitivity.

The infamous tweet depicting mixed-race Meghan Markle as a chocolate-covered marshmallow

The German employee in charge of the corporate Facebook account was likely not aware that the comparison between African women and chocolate is imbued with historical misogynoir. Misogynoir, a term coined by black feminist Moya Bailey (Anyangwe, 2015), is double discrimination faced by black women where bias is both race and gender-based (Verve Team, 2018).

While women have long been seen as buyers, preparers and religious devotees of chocolate, the earliest depictions associated with chocolate were those of infants such as cupids or angels (Martin, 2020). Later, chocolate became associated with an idealized image of white womanhood, as society women became an important consumer demographic. An 1874 New York Times issue announced that wealthy women were the biggest purchasers of an “elaborate style of French candies.” New ads featured elegant white women and were meant to appeal to both the tastes of upper-class consumers and the aspirations of lower-class ones (Robertson, 2010).

Aspirational chocolate advertisements, such as this image from the 1970s, continued into the late 20th century

Such ads put white consumers at the forefront and minimized chocolate’s roots in West African agriculture. Romanticized images of white agricultural workers such as of this milkmaid carrying pails attempted to further erase chocolates’ African origins (Robertson, 2010).

Early 20th century Cadbury advertisement

These fictionalized images associated the labor required to produce chocolate with “wholesome whiteness” in the minds of consumers (Robertson, 2010). Notably, a 1930 Cadbury ad that does feature African women, shows them as faceless silhouettes balancing baskets brimming with cocoa pods on their heads (Robertson, 2010). While white women associated with chocolate were bestowed with good taste and wholesomeness, black women were dehumanized and fetishized through racist depictions.

In 1947 a new character “Honeybunch” was created to advertise Rowntree’s Cocoa (Robertson, 2010). Honeybunch looked infantile – barefoot and with bows in her hair. In this ad, she is dehumanized through the juxtaposition of her “imagined” character to “real” white people in the ad (Robertson, 2010).

Honeybunch and “real” white consumers

A 1950 ad goes further to depict Honeybunch as a spring bouncing out of tin of cocoa – an example of a common trope of Africans drawn as actual cocoa (Robertson, 2010) This association of a person with an edible object further solidifies the idea that black people are false commodities (Polanyi, 2001). According to Polanyi, labor is one of those fictitious commodities to which the market mechanisms should not apply (2001). According to Polanyi, not only labor but also the laborer can become commodities for sale if the commodity function of labor is prioritized (2001). Commodity function of labor is the low labor cost for the sake of lower prices, and in the case of chocolate, low labor costs help support higher remuneration for cocoa processors and chocolate producers instead of African workers. This problem persists into modernity: according to the Cocoa Barometer, cocoa farmer households earn merely 37% of living income in Côte d’Ivoire, the leader in cocoa bean production supplying 40% of world’s cocoa (2018).

Blackness is also objectified and commodified through the association between black skin and chocolate – a trope that still pervades today. Food-related descriptions have long been used to describe dark skin. While light foundation shades are often called “nude” or “fair,” darker shades are often named after commodities such as cocoa or coffee. This further solidifies the toxic idea that white womanhood is the default, and objectifies black womanhood through comparisons with edible objects.

A 2004 ice cream advertisement conceived in Brazil

Even black women of the same status as the white women in chocolate ads are not immune to dehumanizing fetishization. In 1976, a magazine editor described supermodel Iman as “a white woman dipped in chocolate,” (Oliver, 2015). The editor’s baffling comment is akin to Charlie’s question about whether the Oompa Loompas, which were distinctly African in the original book, are made out of chocolate (Robertson, 2010).

The fact that class cannot protect black women from misogynoir sheds critical light on “respectability politics,” an ideology that emphasizes the need for black people to gain respect and “uplift the race” by correcting ‘undesirable” characteristics and embodying desirable ones (Harris, 2014). Racist treatment of Iman despite her social prominence parallels the way companies such as Rowntree or Cadbury used depictions of black girls and women like Honeybunch for their “distinct difference” while dehumanizing them.

Pat McGrath, one of the most prominent makeup artists of the century, also had a cocoa related story that shed light on how designers who hire black models failed to provide them with equal supplies. McGrath often had to use cocoa powder on set because she wasn’t provided with darker makeup shades (Prinzivalli, 2019).

A group of black women has found a way to use the association between dark skin and chocolate for their benefit, creating a food-inspired makeup brand “Beauty Bakerie,” which counts cocoa-flavored powder among its products.

The “Beauty Bakerie” website

And what about Pat McGrath who had to use food instead of makeup? Her beauty empire is now worth almost a billion dollars – and her dark foundation colors are named Medium Deep and Deep instead of cocoa and chocolate (Mpinja, 2018).


Anyangwe, E. (2015, October 5). Misogynoir: where racism and sexism meet. Retrieved from

Fountain, A and Friedel, H. (2018). Cocoa Barometer

Harris, F.C. (2014). The Rise of Respectability Politics. Dissent 61(1), 33-37. doi:10.1353/dss.2014.0010.

Mpinja, B. (2018, July 23). Why Makeup Artist Pat McGrath Is the Self-Made Beauty Billionaire We Need. Retrieved from

Phillip, N. (2018, October 23). My Very Personal Taste of Racism Abroad. Retrieved from

Oliver, D. (2015, September 10). Iman Opens Up About Deeply Upsetting Career Moment. Retrieved from

Polanyi, karl. The great transformation: the political and economic origins of our time. Boston: bEACON, 2001. Prin

Prinzivalli, L. (2019, May 21). Why Makeup Artist Pat McGrath Grew Up Using Cocoa Powder as Foundation. Retrieved from

Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.

Team, V. E. R. V. E. (2018, September 4). Feminist Facts: What is Misogynoir? Retrieved from

Chocolate Practices During the Enlightenment Era from Europe to the Colonies

Today, coffee shops are a modern staple. While everyone goes to them to buy an assortment of teas and coffees, they also go for the ambiance. They go to study, to catch up with friends, and to do business. What we know today as the modern coffee shop – whether that be national chains like Starbucks or local neighborhood joints – has its origins in the Enlightenment period.

In fact, the modern coffee shop is closely associated with, surprisingly, the history of the social practices that developed out of the “Age of Reason’s” economics and social understandings of chocolate. This age saw rapid rises in both consumerism and critiques of social norms, and although it spawned more well-known events like the American and French Revolutions, this time period also drastically changed how Europe and the British colonies engaged with chocolate, coffee, and tea.

Each region’s interaction with these drinks depended on a series of economic and cultural factors. On the surface it might appear as if economic factors were solely responsible for dictating how and why chocolate was consumed in different regions. However, cultural and social understandings were also crucial for influencing the ways that countries engaged with chocolate, coffee, and tea.

Northern Europe               

In Northern Europe, the consumption of chocolate – which at the time was a beverage – grew alongside the region’s consumption of coffee and tea. All of these drinks were served in the first coffeeshops, which were called coffeehouses. These places became popular due to rising demand for spaces where the middle class and gentry could come together to discuss social issues, politics, and develop critical opinions of the established social norms.

Coffeehouses were boisterous places of debate as Dr. Matthew Green reminisces in his TED talk, and these spaces contributed to literary, philosophical and radical innovations (McComb, White). The first coffeehouse was opened in Britain in 1655 by a Turkish merchant, and from there, the institution grew rapidly (Mintz, 111). Coffeehouses became places where people could get both their news and their cheap, quick fix for the day.

“You have all Manner of News there: You have a good Fire, which you may sit by as long as you please : You have a Dish of Coffee ; you meet your friends for the Transaction of Business, and all for a Penny, if you don’t care to spend more”

– Late 17th Century French Traveler (Mintz, 111)

In English coffeehouses, chocolate was consumed at a significantly lower rates than coffee and tea. In 1680, coffee was consumed at about 224,000 pounds a year as chocolate was only consumed at about 6,000 pounds a year. At first chocolate competed with coffee, but by 1750, it was served alongside coffee and not in competition to the drink (McComb). There were two prominent reasons why chocolate was not consumed at as high of rates.

First, it was more expensive than coffee and tea. The transportation costs of getting cacao to Europe from the Americas were expensive, and high tariffs also radically increased the price of the good (Gay). However, while the price made chocolate less desirable, this is not the whole story; the social associations that Northern Europeans had with chocolate also decreased the amount it was consumed.

Chocolate was heavily associated with the Catholic clergy, so many philosophes in coffeehouses avoided chocolate beverages out of principle. They understood coffee to be a sobering stimulant that led to productivity, while in contrast, chocolate was associated with leisure and the aristocracy (Coe). Moreover, in England, nobility was not the same as it was in Spain: only the eldest sons could inherit land and titles and the rest became commoners. Because of this, there was less incentive to maintain chocolate as an aristocratic privilege, as it was mostly a drink only for the elite in most countries because of its price. Men in coffeehouses preferred egalitarian environments for diverse debates, so coffeehouses became places where people of all ranks sat alongside each other. Hence, chocolate lost its aristocratic allure in England as men let go of class distinctions and flaunting wealth in coffeehouses (White).

Southern Europe

In Southern Europe, chocolate was heavily consumed. Throughout Europe, Spain – the nation of chocolate drinkers – was known for producing the best chocolate. Chocolate was the preferred drink of the church hierarchy, and it was only reserved for the upper and middle classes. At breakfast, they ate it with cold water, and at night, they consumed it before their evening siestas (Coe).

Because Spain did not have a popular movement of philosophes building coffeehouses, coffee was in short supply in Spain until the latter half of 18th century. When coffee-houses finally sprung up in Madrid, only men were allowed inside, while women had to stay in their coaches and have cold drinks brought to them (Coe). This was a common practice in coffeehouses because of the common belief that women were not able to reason.

As chocolate became with royal and papal absolutism, which were “inimical” to the Enlightenment, Spain eventually popularized tea and coffee. Spain wanted to hold a dignified position among modern nations, but chocolate beverages did not lose their cultural popularity among the elite. As coffee and tea came to symbolize civilization and liberty, the Spanish still partook in social gatherings that centered around their traditional chocolate consumption. These traditions were characterized by foreigners as “tedious and boring” (Coe).

The Americas

In general, British colonists consumed more chocolate than those in Britain even though they were isolated from the phenomenon of British coffeehouses and mostly took their chocolate drinks at home (Coe, Gay). They consumed more because chocolate was cheaper in the Americas. They did not have to pay importation duties or the steep costs of shipping cacao across the Atlantic Ocean. However, chocolate consumption varied between the Northern and Southern colonies.

The Northern and Mid-Atlantic colonies became large-scale chocolate manufacturers, and in the 18th century, the colonists knew a lot about the chocolate they were eating. They would refer to chocolate by its port of origin, and they knew much more about where their chocolate was coming from than could even be possible to trace in the present day. However, while they produced a lot of chocolate, they exported over 70% of the chocolate they produced to Europe. Instead of consuming chocolate in exorbitant amounts like the aristocratic elite in southern Europe, they looked to coffee as a stimulant to increase their productivity like Northern Europeans (Gay).

The Southern colonies, on the other hand, were mainly consumers of chocolate: they modeled the posh customs of the aristocracy in Spain. Chocolate was a sign of wealth in social circles, However, southern colonists adapted recipes to meet the needs of their own cultural tastes. Because many did not like the fattiness of traditional chocolate drinks, southern colonists steeped cocoa shells in hot water, which created an infusion similar in flavor and color to coffee. This was not seen as a “lower” sort of drink for those who could not afford chocolate, but instead, was a product of the wealthy. Southern colonists also ate cocoa in puddings, creams, and ice creams, and developed chocolate almonds which became a staple recipe in many households (Gay).

As these three examples demonstrated, economics played a role in how, where, and by whom chocolate was consumed. However, cultural and social associations did as well. Some chose to consume chocolate to raise their social status in their communities while others rejected it to support the egalitarian and “productive” communities around them. While these traditions birthed the coffeeshop (albeit it looks much different today), it also might still influence our understandings of coffee and chocolate. Most people drink coffee to stay awake and be productive, while chocolate is seen as an indulging activity that we consume when we are sad or wanting to be unproductive.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.

Gay, James F. Chocolate Production and Uses in 17th and 18th Century North America. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009, Productio.pdf

McComb, Sophie. Fostering Enlightenment Coffeehouse Culture in the Present. The University of Texas at Austin , May 2015,

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking, 1985.

White, Matthew. Newspapers, Gossip and Coffee-House Culture. The British Library, 11 Apr. 2018,

Visual media

Epic Chocolate: Chocolate in Mythology, Rites, and Reality

            Cacao was an almost divine substance to the Classical Maya, often venerated as the “food of the gods.”[1] This was not without reason as cacao doesn’t only taste good, it also provides a myriad of medicinal benefits. Many Mayan myths and rituals were based off the existence of cacao, from the myth of creation to rites of death. Like all myths, Mayan myths involving chocolate have some basis in fact. In this post, I will explore two Mayan myths –the myth of the Hero Twins and the revival of the Maize God– and explain their relationship to Mayan rites and the real-world benefits of cacao.

            All three myths and rites discussed in this post are part of the greater creation myth of the Maya. This Smithsonian video sums up the creation myth, and briefly describes some of the mythology behind the stories in this post:

Smithsonian video about the Mayan myth of creation

The Hero Twins

            The video from the Smithsonian somewhat describes the Hero Twins’ relationship with cacao – they were born from it. The Popul Vuh narrates the divine origin of cacao, with the cacao tree as the embodiment of the Maize God and cacao as the seed with which he impregnates an Underworld maiden, who then gives birth to Hunahpu and Xbalanque, the Hero Twins.[2] The Hero Twins were, quite literally, born from cacao. Their lives are subsequently chronicled in the Popul Vuh, in which they are described as, among other things, great ball players,[3] and strong and witty warriors.[4]

The Mayans likely believed that those traits of the Hero Twins could be transferred to themselves when they used cacao, the fruit responsible for the life of the Hero Twins. Warriors who consumed cacao before battle were energized and considered invincible, and cacao pods were often worn as a form of spiritual protection, or as a costume for ball games.[5] This is consistent with the reality of cacao – cacao contains methylxanthines like caffeine and theobromine, and methylxanthines are shown to have stimulant effects.[6] Therefore, it is quite likely that the consumption of cacao was beneficial to warriors and ball players, and thus easily connected with the customs of the Mayans and their myths.

The Revival of the Maize God

            After getting killed by the gods of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld, the Maize God was decapitated, and his head was placed into a barren tree. The tree, which had never borne fruit until that point, flourished and became covered in round fruit indistinguishable from the head of the Maize God, turning into the calabash tree.[7] It is likely that the “calabash tree” in which the head of the Maize God was placed was a general cauliflory tree, as the Maize God was able to produce cacao for birthing the Hero Twins. The resurrection of the Maize God was the success of the Hero Twins. This late-Classical codex-style plate depicts the Hero Twins aiding the Maize God in his escape from Xibalba:

Codex-style plate depicting the escape of the Maize God

The athletically gifted Hero Twins defeated the gods of Xibalba in a ball game, enraging the gods so much that they slew the twins. Yet, this was part of the twins’ ingenious plan, as they enlisted the aid of men stuck in Xibalba to grind up their bones and throw them in one of the rivers running through Xibalba. Once the twins’ bone dust settled in the river, they were reborn with godly powers, that they used to outwit, overpower, and slay the gods of Xibalba, opening up a path for their father, the Maize God, to come back to life.[8] The Hero Twins were not only able to travel into and out of Xibalba safely, but were also able to defeat the evil gods.

It is quite likely that the Mayans believed that the Hero Twins, those born of cacao, would provide some protection for when the Mayans died and traveled to Xibalba. Thus, cacao was an important part of funeral rites – people, particularly royals, were buried with chocolate drinking vessels filled with beverages derived from cacao, meant to spiritually ease their transition into Xibalba.[9]

Rio Azul Vessel

The famous Rio Azul vessels pictured above, found in the grave of a dead lord and believed to have contained several types of chocolate drinks, are a great example of this.[10] They were the first physical, chemical evidences of Mayans being buried with chocolate beverage, and, along with other codex depictions, show the importance of chocolate in funerary rites. This connection between funerary rites and myth is once again consistent with the reality of the benefits of cacao. Cacao contains epicatechin, a compound whose effects are similar to a mild anesthetic,[11] and can serve to create normal blood flow in humans, especially those with high blood pressure.[12] For those close to death, cacao would provide some amount of relief, and would help ease them into their deaths, and thus into Xibalba.

[1] Coe & Coe, 17.

[2] S. Martin, 164.

[3] Popul Vuh, Chapter 9.

[4] Popul Vuh, Chapter 13.

[5] C. Martin, Lecture 2, Slide 52.

[6] Franco et al.

[7] S. Martin, 164.

[8] Popul Vuh, Chapter 12-14. 

[9] C. Martin, Lecture 2, Slide 41; Coe & Coe, 41.

[10] Coe & Coe, 41.

[11] C. Martin, Lecture 2, Slide 53.

[12] Hooper et al.

Text Sources

Coe, Michael D. and Sophie D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate, 3rd edition. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Franco, Rafael, et al. “Health Benefits of Methylxanthines in Cacao and Chocolate.” Nutrients, vol. 5, no. 10, 2013, pp. 4159–4173., doi:10.3390/nu5104159.

Goetz, Delia, and Sylvanus G. Morley. Popul Vuh. Plantin Press, 1954.

Hooper, Lee, et al. “Effects of Chocolate, Cocoa, and Flavan-3-Ols on Cardiovascular Health: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 95, no. 3, 2012, pp. 740–751., doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.023457.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”. Lecture, February 5, 2020.

Martin, Simon. “Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion: First Fruit from the Maize Tree and Other Tales from the Underworld.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica a Cultural History of Cacao, by Cameron L. McNeil, University Press of Florida, 2006, pp. 154–183.

Multimedia Sources

Hall, Grant D., et al. “Cacao Residues in Ancient Maya Vessels from Rio Azul, Guatemala.” American Antiquity, vol. 55, no. 1, 1990. JSTOR,

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. “Codex-Style Plate.” Codex-Style Plate – Works – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, The Creation Story of the Maya. YouTube, 14 June 2012.

Slave to Pleasure: How the Demand for Labor to Produce Cacao and Sugar Drove the Slave Trade

The slave trade was a brutally dehumanizing affair that ultimately resulted in the forced displacement of more than 12 million African men, women, and children. Driven by the demand for cheap labor, greedy traders – primarily from the United Kingdom, Portugal, and the Netherlands – stole people from their native lands across the continent of Africa and shipped them to the new world as involuntary labor for the colonies (The Transatlantic Slave Trade). These enslaved individuals were then forced to produce many of the cash crops (see image below) that powered the emerging industrial economies of Europe and contributed to the creation and consolidation of immense wealth for those individuals who were in positions from which they could take advantage of the free labor, namely those in the planter class and professionals who provided the initial cash in the form of collectives. Given these conditions, it is important to recognize that the slave trade was a manifestation of the extant power dynamics between Africans and Europeans. Africans, as a result of the distinct fragmentation and systems of rule in their tribes in comparison to the Europeans, were unable to design effective systems in which they would be able to resist the infiltration of the Europeans, and this, ultimately, left their people vulnerable to enslavement as a result of local war, kidnapping, ransoming, and other horrific, deceitful acts committed by the Europeans. Identifying political tensions, religious differences, economic crises, etc. as weaknesses, the Europeans chose to exploit them for their own benefit and seized the opportunity they saw to obtain free labor to produce those crops that were becoming essential to the European economy (The Transatlantic Slave Trade). The growing popularity of cash crops (sugar, cotton, cocoa, etc.) and expanding European consumption powered the enslavement of Africans and maintained the system of slavery that would quickly emerge in the colonies as a direct result of demand outpacing the capacity of free production; the plantation owners’ constant needs for labor would outweigh any moral obligation to fellow man.

An image of the cash crops most dependent on slave labor: sugar, rum, rice, cotton, tobacco, coffee, and cocoa.

The Europeans’ engagement in the commodification of human beings exhibited a callous disregard for human life. Lowell Satre’s Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business specifically analyzes the evolution of slavery in the Portuguese colonies as it related to the production of chocolate. In the opening chapter, Satre details the journey of one English journalist, Henry Nevinson, into Angola’s interior, commonly referred to as the “Hungry Country.” Nevinson’s trip uncovered the sordid details of the new version of slavery occurring in the early 1900s despite the fact that Portugal had abolished slavery in all of its colonies in the 1870s (Satre 2). This new system was occurring under the guise of “contract labor.” Under this system, “the curator general of Angola was responsible for ensuring that the contract binding a worker for five years was legal and that its provisions….were appropriate” (Satre 7).  This “contract” was renewable after five years and magistrates were required to enforce the conditions; however, this protection was only provided in the legal sense, and the serviçal (contract laborer), in reality, was not free (Satre 7). Despite the fact that Portugal had abolished slavery in the 1870s, they had done nothing to replace the “free” labor that the plantation owners had grown accustomed to, and as a result, the owners’ desperate need for workers led to the emergence of a contract labor system that was, in reality, not contractual labor. Within the Portuguese empire, as well as in other systems that were transitioning from slave labor, this system of indentured servitude without the promised repatriation and wages (workers were often forced to spend their money at plantation stores on food and clothing and other necessities), was a disguise for slavery. 

An image of Henry W. Nevinson, the man who published the first reports of the redesigned slavery occurring in the Portuguese empire.

The abolition of slavery, particularly in the crop producing colonies, was not easy, especially given the many varied interests. In the case of the chocolate companies, the first conflict arose because of reports that laborers were not free, and this posed a serious problem for many company owners, particularly the Quaker chocolate producers like Cadbury, Rowntree, and Fry. Morally, these companies all objected to the use of involuntary/slave labor and the discovery that their chocolate was produced in such a manner caused them a great deal of strife. On the one hand, if they chose to boycott the plantations, they would lose their bargaining power; on the other hand, by maintaining their business with these plantations, they were complicit in the maintenance of a new system of slavery. This tension led to their inability to take strong, assertive action to remedy the situation and put the appropriate amount of pressure on the Portuguese government. (Satre). These tensions faced by the chocolate producers illuminate just how interlinked different systems of power were with slavery. From owners of the means of production to government to people who provided the news to the citizenry, everyone was tied to the profits of slavery. The company owners who benefitted from the cheap price of cacao produced on San Tome and Principe had a lot to lose if they wanted to guarantee that labor was voluntary; it would have driven the cost of their product up and affected their gross profit. 

Another obstacle to the abolition of slavery was the relationship between various governments. As English subjects, the chocolate companies looked to the British Foreign Office to put pressure on the Portuguese, but the British were limited in just how much pressure they could apply – the Portuguese were involved with the labor they were “employing” in South Africa and would view any action they took as hypocritical. Moreover, the general ineffectiveness of the Portuguese officials prevented any real action from being taken. Nevinson wrote that, “Portuguese authority was ineffective. Portugal’s civil and military officials, and its traders as well, operated outside the law, and whatever authority officials exercised was either misused or abused” (Satre 6-7). The planters also had a huge stake in the abolition movement. If slavery was truly abolished, they would see all of their profits quickly disappear. Cash crops were already a very risky business (fluctuating prices cause a lot of people to go bankrupt), but the end of slavery would signify the total destruction of their way of life. In addition, many of them truly believed that they were not doing anything wrong. A few planters asserted that they “have a right to transfer labour from colony to colony at will without foreign interference – this is not emigration while under one government and therefore no repatriation is needful”  (Satre 96). These planters also had the support of government officials. In Catherine Higgs’ Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa, she quotes Jerónimo Paiva de Carvalho, a Portuguese government official on the island of Principe, who states, “Laborers…enjoyed working conditions superior to those of crews who served on British ships and they were also treated better than most rural workers in Europe….On the Porto Real and Esperança roças on Príncipe… great attention was paid to worker’s housing, clothing, labor assignments, salaries, and healthcare…. ‘If this is slavery, then we are completely in the dark about the problem of manual labor in the colonies’” (Higgs 139)

A map of colonized Africa, circa 1898, displaying the various possessions, protectorates, spheres of influence, and occupation of each country.

Overall, the issue of slavery was not an easy one to answer.  The interconnectedness of various systems created a cycle that reinforced itself – as more goods were produced in the system and generated more wealth, the demand only increased, which further increased the demand for labor.

Works Cited

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Pp. 133-165

Mintz, Sidney W. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power. Pp. 151-214

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Pp. 1-32, 73-99

“The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” AAME,