Chocolate bars currently dominate food and drink originating from cacao. Huge brands such as Hershey’s, Cadbury, Nestle, and others are sold in nearly every gas station, convenience store, pharmacy, and grocery store. When chocolate is brought up in conversation, a chocolate bar is often the first association made. While chocolate has been an obsession of people with access to it throughout history, current chocolate bars are a recent phenomenon in the history of chocolate. The Mesoamerican people who first began eating cacao products primarily drank a mixture of ground cacao and other things. The complex process of creating the original drink made it difficult to transport, but Europeans were able to spread chocolate by sending across the Atlantic in bricks. Chocolate drinking was also popular in Europe at the outset, but as popularity and mass production spread the chocolate bar became the biggest chocolate product due to the ease with which it can be consumed and transported.
Sophie and Michael Coe detail the process the Aztecs used to make their chocolate drink pre-European contact in their book, True History of Chocolate. The Coe’s describe how the Aztecs would grind their cacao, meticulously sift through, and mix with other spices to make a type of gruel drink that would provide a large amount of sustenance. The following object is a molinillo, used as a stirring tool in this process of creating the chocolate drink. The tool was adopted by Europeans as they began mixing their own version of chocolate drinks as well. The meticulous process involved in preparing the chocolate drink and usage of tools in order to make the product made this difficult for people, especially Europeans who didn’t know much about the culture of chocolate, to conveniently indulge in chocolate on their own.
The process of bringing chocolate from the Americas to Europe fueled the creation of the modern chocolate product. Rather than shipping the final chocolate drink to Europe, it was easier to send bricks of cocoa and create the drink in Europe. During the period of time after chocolate was introduced in Europe, it was consumed as a drink in a similar fashion as the Aztecs and Mesoamerican peoples would consume chocolate. According to Sidney Mintz in Sweetness and Power, chocolate during this time was consumed by the elite Europeans as a drink. The reason it wasn’t more accessible to other classes of people can be attributed to the difficulty involved in making the drink and the idea that drinking chocolate together was a social activity.
In the 19th century, the British began to cash in on the increased sugar demand observed by Mintz and began distributing chocolates in solid tablets similar to modern day candy bars. The natural human tendencies to enjoy chocolate and sugar made the bars very popular and lead to the massive industry growth we see today. The major change between Mesoamerican inspired chocolate drinks and European candy bars is accessibility. These bars, like the blocks of cocoa powder pictured above, were easy to transport and mass produce from the supplier side. From the consumer side these chocolates were much easier to eat. Buying and eating a chocolate bar is much more convenient and a lot cheaper than going to elite clubs and having someone grind chocolate drink for you. The rise of chocolate candy bars as the dominate chocolate product is primarily due to the ease with which it can be consumed and distributed as opposed to the more traditional chocolate drink.
1. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.
2. Mintz, Sidney W., Sweetness and power: the place of sugar in modern history. Viking, 1985. Print.
3. “Molinillo” https://chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/blog-post_1-11.jpg
4. “Cocoa press cake” https://chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/cocoa-cake1.jpg
5. “Chocolate Bars” https://chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/chocolate5.png