Up until now, we have seen in lectures how important cacao was to various South American cultures. From being associated with Gods, to being restricted to high society only, cacao beans were seen as a sacred product. Frothy drinks were thought to nourish the soul, and the beans were used as a monetary value. The cacao trees were delicately planted and nurtured in order to give the tastiest, and richest, seeds possible. Even to this day, in South America, much care and doting is given to the cacao tree, and the beans are presented as ritualistic offerings to the gods (Martin, Lecture 3-7). So if cacao is so highly regarded, then why has bulk cacao eclipsed fine cacao, when it comes to its production and distribution throughout the world? Because of cultural marketing, certain inventions, and supplementation, chocolate has shifted from a delicacy to a common treat. People no longer look for the richest, finest cacao taste, but rather the sweetest bar with a hint of chocolate.
There are three types of cacao: Criollo, Trinitario, and Forastero. Criollo and Trinitario are considered to be fine cacao, and to have higher quality than the third strand. Up until the early 20th century, it dominated half the global production, dropping to only 5-7% by the time 21st century came. Forastero on the other hand, marginalized fine cacao by expanding its global production to almost 95% (Martin, Lecture 7). So where did this massive shift come from?
I believe it first started with certain inventions which helped refine chocolate. Van Houten’s hydraulic press found an easier, and cheaper, way to remove the cacao butter from chocolate, which made “possible the large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses, in both powdered and solid form” (Coe and Coe, 234).
Later on, Lindt’s conching mechanism allowed for a smoother chocolate that would not have all the roughness and powerful cacao taste that previous bars had had (Coe and Coe, 242). In a way, this reduced the need for flavor intensity and richness, allowing lesser flavored cacao to be used instead of the finer one. Both of these inventions paved the way for bulk cacao to become the reigning choice in chocolate making.
Second, certain additions to the chocolate bar allowed for the finer cacao to be slowly taken out of use. Fry’s blending of cocoa powder with cocoa butter, instead of water, and sugar gave rise to the first edible chocolate, and Nestle’s addition of milk, instead of water, created the first milk chocolate bar (Coe and Coe, 242). I believe both of these additions had a massive contribution towards the fine cacao decline. This is because the taste of milk and sugar, as well as cocoa butter, overpowered the taste of chocolate, and people started craving those instead of the actual cacao in the bar. Even nowadays, most people go for the milk chocolate bar, with some preferring dark chocolate; but even for the dark, the high concentration of cacao (80% and above) is rarely consumed. When people say they crave chocolate, what they actually mean is that they crave sugar. If they craved true chocolate, 90% cacao chocolate would be the highest selling brand. “In the US, most of the chocolate sold and eaten is less than 43%. Why? because sugar is a lot cheaper than cacao” (Coe and Coe, 259). And since people crave sugar and cocoa butter, it gets easier to decrease the quality of cacao one puts into a bar.
Adding sugar into most things, such as medicine, jams, and chocolate (Mintz, 1985), allowed for the chocolate companies to take advantage of this increasing addiction, and start marketing their products to various genders and generations. Kids, girls, and couples became the target demographics. Chocolate started taking on various shapes such as hearts and boxes (Martin, Lecture 5), and a new wave of cultural marketing arose. And like any other product, people were attracted by the packaging and design, rather than the substance, further supporting the bulk cacao’s increasing world domination.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.
Martin, D. Carla, African and African American Studies 199x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Lectures 3-7, 2015.
Van Houten’s Hydraulic Press: http://www.barry-callebaut.com/1591
Chocolate Box: http://9cranesinn.com/specials-and-packages/offers/gourmet-chocolate-box/