For the majority of the 18th century, the elite primarily consumed chocolate. It was served as a beverage in fancy dishes, and was associated with matters of wealth and prestige (Presilla, 2009). During this time, chocolate production was costly and required a significant amount of human labor. As a result, cacao beans were sold at relatively high prices and were often used as currency for trading (Presilla, 2009).
The fine taste of cacao beans was cherished and sought out by consumers. Its strong, bitter flavor was an acquired taste, but also a sign of high-quality production and tree cultivation (Presilla, 2009). The varying flavors of cacao trees could often be distinguished and low-quality cacao beans were generally recognized (Presilla, 2009). These factors made chocolate an unattainable good to anyone besides those of high social rank.
The 19th century sparked a significant change in the production of chocolate. The Industrial Revolution brought about machinery that remarkably improved the efficiency of chocolate production (Coe & Coe, 2013). Given that the cultivation of cacao was such a laborious process, these machines also contributed to cut down the cost of chocolate production.
One invention, in particular, had a crucial impact in this transformation. In 1828, Conrad Van Houten created a hydraulic press, which was used to separate the fat from the cacao liquor to create cacao butter and a cacao mass (Presilla, 2009). The cocoa butter could be used to make soaps or could be recombined with the cacao mass to make solid chocolate. The hydraulic process both accelerated the production process of chocolate as well as allowed for chocolate to be consumed as a solid (Coe & Coe, 2013).
The Industrial Revolution certainly made chocolate more economically available to the masses as it became cheaper to produce and it became easier to produce mass quantities of chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013). However, I would argue that it was not sufficient in transforming chocolate from a luxury good to a food of the masses. The availability of the chocolate does not explain how the lower classes established a desire to consume it. Nor does it explain the shift in attitudes surrounding the preferred taste of chocolate. Therefore, while the Industrial Revolution may have sparked this shift, the integration of sugar into chocolate recipes was a necessary supplement that ultimately generated this transition.
Since sugar became a cheap commodity around the same time chocolate did, its addition to chocolate recipes quickly became very popular. This resulted in significant altercations in the attitudes surrounding taste preferences for chocolate. The taste of high-quality cacao became less important and the taste of industrialized, sweetened chocolate was desired (Presilla, 2009). The less-potent flavor of sweetened chocolate made it instantly appealing to a wider array of people, particularly children. In fact, Sidney Mintz simply states, “no society rejects sweetness as unpleasant” (Mintz, 1985, p. 17). This further enhances the argument that sugar is universally accepted as a having a very gratifying flavor. As a result, the immediate appeal to the flavor of sweetened chocolate played an integral role in the change in chocolate’s consumption patterns.
These advertisements portray the shift that developed once sugar was introduced to chocolate recipes. The popularity of sweetened chocolate encouraged big chocolate companies to use the flavor of ‘sweetness’ as a marketing tactic in promoting chocolate. They did this by promoting the sweet nature of innocent children in the majority of their advertisements, emphasizing their new fascination with chocolate.
Furthermore, large-scale chocolate companies, such as Hershey’s and Cadbury, began developing strategies that ultimately cut down the amount of pure chocolate in any given recipe. As such, sugar was used in higher quantities since it was much cheaper than cacao (Coe & Coe, 2013). While this allowed for production costs to be further reduced and allow for chocolate to be sold at lower prices, it also illustrates the shift from quality to quantity in chocolate consumption (Coe & Coe, 2013).
This was first depicted when Mars Company created the Milky Way in 1923. The introduction of a sweetened caramel substance in the middle significantly reduced the amount of chocolate per bar. This made it possible for Mars to outcompete Hershey’s by selling their bars at a cheaper price. From this point on, chocolate worldwide was being mass-produced and consumed on a daily basis.
It is clearly evident that the addition of sugar to chocolate recipes was conducive to the shift in chocolate consumption patterns. Its desirable and addictive properties combined with its cheap production costs explain how chocolate went from being a drink of the elite to a daily snack of the masses. While there are certainly other factors that contributed to this shift, sugar’s influence is undoubtedly justified.
- Coe, S., & Coe, M. (2013). Chocolate conquers Europe. In The true history of chocolate (Third ed.). New York: Thames and Hudson.
- Image. Accessed 3.08.15. <http://www.sugarcraft.com/catalog/candies/HERSHEYS1934.jpg>
- Image. Accessed 3.08.15. <http://buytheway.annenbergcourse.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/herseykisses.gif>
- Image. Accessed 3.08.15. <http://kayakdave.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Milky-Way-Bar-Split.jpg>
- Mintz, S. (1985). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York, N.Y.: Viking.
- Presilla, M. (2009). A natural and cultural history of chocolate. In The new taste of chocolate: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.