Technology and Mass Consumption of Chocolate

When taking a bite out of a piece of chocolate, one does not usually realize that the delicious treat used to only be enjoyed by a select few. When chocolate first came over to Europe in the 1400s and 1500s, it was only consumed by the upper class (Coe & Coe). Today, chocolate is consumed by everyone. There are many possible reasons for this shift in consumption of chocolate, such as lower prices of sugar and the introduction of slavery for cheaper labor. However, these are not the key reasons for chocolate’s consumption by the masses. Chocolate’s shift from a treat mostly consumed by the elites to a treat enjoyed by the masses was mainly a result of technological advances during the Industrial Revolution that increased the amount that could be produced at a lower cost.

Once cacao beans entered Baroque Europe, chocolate was mainly consumed by the upper class in the form of a beverage at parties, and it was also believed to have medicinal powers (Coe & Coe).

Chocolate entered Europe as a beverage consumed by the elites http://exhibits.mannlib.cornell.edu/chocolate/theelite.php
Chocolate entered Europe as a beverage consumed by the elites
http://exhibits.mannlib.cornell.edu/chocolate/theelite.php

Because of its value, only the upper class could afford it (Bitticks). Over the next couple of centuries, chocolate began to trickle down to the middle class, and by the 19th and 20th century it was consumed by all. Critical inventions occurred during this time that allowed more chocolate to be produced at a lower cost. In the 19th century, Conrad van Houten developed the process of pressing, which allowed cocoa butter to be removed more easily from cocoa powder (Bitticks). Then, in 1879, Rudolph Lindt invented the conche. As seen in the image below, the conching process allows for a smoother mixing and provides a better texture (Coe & Coe). These inventions drastically improved the quality and efficiency of creating chocolate. With less labor required to make more chocolate, the price of making chocolate went down and more could be produced.

The conching process, developed by Rudolph Lindt in 1879 http://www.aidamollenkamp.com/2012/01/food-field-trip-madre-chocolate/
The conching process, developed by Rudolph Lindt in 1879
http://www.aidamollenkamp.com/2012/01/food-field-trip-madre-chocolate/

Chocolate became even more economically efficient to produce when large companies such as Hershey’s began using mass production techniques such as the assembly line (Coe & Coe).

Hershey’s Chocolate, using assembly line techniques http://www.themamabus.com/photo-essay-the-best-of-hershey-cabelas/
Hershey’s Chocolate, using assembly line techniques
http://www.themamabus.com/photo-essay-the-best-of-hershey-cabelas/

The assembly line production of producing and packaging chocolate allowed large quantities of chocolate to be produced at a much lower cost; even fewer workers were needed to work in factories, lowering the price to produce chocolate even more. With a lower cost of production, chocolate was no longer only for the elites; it could be produced enough to be available for everyone.

It could be argued that the introduction of slavery and lower sugar prices also allowed chocolate to spread from an elite food to a treat for the masses. While these factors played a role in chocolate’s shift, however, neither would have sufficiently made chocolate cheap enough to be produced at such a large quantity to support so many people. Slaves were needed to keep up with the demand of cacao beans, but without the inventions in technology during in the 19th century, it would be too expensive to produce enough to satisfy the masses. Additionally, lower sugar prices would have a very small effect on chocolate production if it was not for the development of these inventions in the actual chocolate making process. Without these technological advances lowering cost and increasing production, chocolate would not attain the popularity it has today, as there would not be enough to go around. With less chocolate produced, the price would be very high, making it only attainable for the elites. Once technology progressed, chocolate became a treat for the masses, and became the delicacy enjoyed today.

Works Cited

“The Chocolate Review | The History of Chocolate | Chocolate, Beans, Cacao, Cocoa, Were – The Chocolate Review.” The Chocolate Review | The History of Chocolate | Chocolate, Beans, Cacao, Cocoa, Were – The Chocolate Review. Ed. Tamara Bitticks. 1 Jan. 2008. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://thechocolatereview.com/history-of-chocolate/the-history-of-chocolate.html&gt;.

Coe, Sophia D and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate: Second Edition. Thames & Hudson: New York, 2007.

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