Chocolate as Medicine in France

Several theories exist for how chocolate was first introduced in France, the theory that is most likely to be true and is supported by documented evidence, is that chocolate was first introduced in France as medicine.  This theory, as described in The True History of Chocolate, is also found to be credible due to its alignment with the medicinal practices of the time.  (Coe and Coe, 2013)

The Cardinal of Lyon, Alphonse de Richelieu, is believed to be the first in France to consume chocolate, and he considered his consumption to be medicinal, “…he used it to moderate the vapors of his spleen, and that he had the secret from some Spanish monks who brought it to France” (Coe and Coe, 2013).  Further evidence that chocolate was first introduced as medicine in France comes from René Moreau, a physician from Paris, who was “consulted, before 1642, by the Cardinal of Lyon, on the therapeutic properties of chocolate” (Coe and Coe, 2013).  The word of chocolate as medicine continued to spread through France, with Alphonse de Richelieu telling others, including his brother, who was an influential politician, of the benefits of chocolate. 

The first patent in France for chocolate was written in 1659 and finalized in 1666.  This patent provided David Chaliou with exclusive rights to make and sell chocolate in France.  The patent document described that through trips to Spain and other places in Europe, Chaliou had “…become acquainted with a certain composition which is called chocolate, the use of which is very healthful.” (Coe and Coe, 2013).  This again reinforces the understanding throughout France that chocolate was healthy, and perhaps considered medicinal by many. 

The Cup of Chocolate by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier
The Cup of Chocolate by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier

During this time in France, chocolate was consumed as a drink and was mainly enjoyed by aristocrats.  “Chocolate arrived in Europe with the aura of an exotic luxury for the cognoscenti” (Presilla, 2009).   Although we have learned that chocolate was often viewed as healthful during this time, there are conflicting messages of the views of chocolate when reading letters written by aristocratic women of this time.  In a letter written by Marie de Rabutin-Chantal in 1671, she recommends chocolate to her recipient, “But you are not well, you have hardly slept, chocolate will set you up again.” (Coe and Coe, 2013).  Interestingly, shortly after this positive review of chocolate, she writes another letter warning this person to stay away from chocolate,

       “Everyone who spoke well of it now tells me bad things about it; it is cursed, and accused of causing one’s ills, it is the source of vapors and palpitations; it flatters you for a while, and then suddenly lights a continuous fever in you that leads to death” (Coe and Coe, 2013).

In the letters following, Marie described dramatic and negative rumors about the effects of chocolate on pregnant women.  And again in a strange shift in her view just 3 days later, Marie wrote a letter stating that she was drinking chocolate again and that “…it gave me all the effects I wanted. That’s what I like about it: it acts according to my intention.” (Coe and Coe, 2013).  Clearly, chocolate was not yet well understood in France.  Through these correspondences and documentation, it is clear that chocolate was viewed as powerful and having effects on the body.

Portrait of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal by Claude Lefèbvre
Portrait of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal by Claude Lefèbvre

The confusion surrounding chocolate may have been lessened in 1684 when Joseph Bachot, a Paris physician stated that “chocolate, well known, is an invention so noble, that it should be the nourishment of the gods, rather than nectar or ambrosia.” (Coe and Coe, 2013).  Chocolate has a complex history in France.  Despite all of the rumors and uncertainty surrounding the benefits and possible harms of consuming chocolate, the French became one of the innovators in chocolate making devices through the creation of the silver chocolatière, which was used throughout France, in many European countries and in the British American colonies. (Coe and Coe, 2013).

A silver chocolatière
A silver chocolatière

Works Cited

Coe ,S., & Coe, M. (2013). The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Presilla, M. (2009). The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with recipes. United States: Ten Speed Press.

Claude Febure.(1665).  Portrait of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal.  Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMarquise_de_S%C3%A9vign%C3%A9.jpg

Musée historique de Strasbourg : Chocolatière en argent du 18e siècle, aux armes des Boecklin de Boecklinsau.  Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AStrasbourg-Chocolati%C3%A8re-18e_si%C3%A8cle.jpg

Jean-Baptiste Charpentier le Vieux.  (1768).  Retrieved from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALa_famille_du_Duc_de_Penthi%C3%A8vre_dit_la_tasse_de_chocolat.jpg

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