It is often said that men and women of genius credit their accomplishments by standing on the shoulders of giants. The history of chocolate has progressed in a similar manner, in which pioneers would draw inspiration from other inventors to create a new process or refine an existing one. As such, chocolate has seen a remarkable metamorphosis from an expensive drink catered to the elite to a cheap solid available to the masses. Technological advances following the Industrial Revolution in various countries caused a rapid evolution in chocolate production techniques, which subsequently shifted the socioeconomic status of chocolate to a more freely available and accessible one for the masses.
There were a host of factors that led to the rise in popularity in chocolate. From the sudden spike in intake of sugar in Europe to the fact that no one believed in the humoral scheme or therapeutic effects of chocolate (meaning anyone could eat it), various considerations led to the increase in consumption of chocolate. However, these factors paved the path as to how chocolate would be consumed henceforth: as a candied product of confectionery and desserts. As such, “candies reigned supreme, and gave rise to the great chocolate fortunes of Holland, England, Switzerland, and, eventually, the United States” (Coe 234).
Van Houten paved the way for future innovators of the chocolate era in 1828 with a revolutionary invention and process. The Van Houten hydraulic press sought to manufacture a powdered chocolate with a low fat content. This invention coupled with the alkalizing process of “dutching” allowed for the large-scale manufacturing of powdered and solid chocolate for the masses. Many chocolate companies and producers utilized his hydraulic press and alkalizing process to further the production and development of their own chocolate products.
In 1847 another milestone was passed in England when the J.S. Fry & Sons Company discovered a method to mix a blend of cocoa powder and sugar with melted cacao butter, producing a “thinner, less viscous paste which could be cast into a mold. The resulting chocolate bars, which they named ‘chocolat Délicieux à Manger’ became the world’s first true eating chocolate (Coe 241). By the economic principles of supply and demand, this produced an effect where solid eating chocolate became a luxury for the elite while cocoa powder became more of a staple for the masses. Although production techniques limited rapid manufacturing of these chocolate initially, the cheaper and mass producing methods implemented by companies in the United States soon fixed this problem.
Chocolate made major leaps forward in terms of taste of product in Switzerland with the development of milk chocolate and the conche. Milk chocolate was notably a collaboration between two men.The first was Henri Nestlé, a Swiss chemist who in 1867 discovered a process to make powdered milk by evaporation (Coe 246). The second was Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolate manufacturer who used Nestlé’s powder in the creation of a new kind of chocolate, and in 1879, the first milk chocolate bar was produced (Coe 247). In the very same year Rudolphe Lindt invented the conche, and the quality of chocolate confectionery was forever changed. The conche repeatedly rolls over chocolate, seeking to preserve flavor while attaining a high degree of smoothness, due to a reduction in the size of particles (Coe 248). Prior to Lindt’s invention, it was widely accepted that chocolate would be relatively gritty and uneven to consume, but it has subsequently produced a standard which the masses demanded.
When America came to join the other European chocolate giants in the Colosseum of chocolate production, they came to win. Milton Hershey created the Hershey Chocolate Factory, which forever changed the world of chocolate by successfully mass producing it on a global scale. By the late 1920s 50,000 pounds of Hershey’s Cocoa was being produced every day (Coe 252). His reputation as “the Chocolate Man” was spurred on by the larger American public who expected a candy maker who “turned a luxury item like milk chocolate into a five-cent treat for the masses to be a kind of Santa Claus, distributing happiness in a wrapper” (D’Antonio 114). As a testament to his success, he was able to create an entire town of people, jobs, and lifestyle surrounded around his company in Hershey, Pennsylvania, demonstrating that chocolate had come full circle in being a product of the people, by the people, and for the people.
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Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and
Utopian Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.
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