A Good for the Masses

Today’s consumption of chocolate is virtually ubiquitous and fundamentally varied. Initially a good reserved strictly for Gods and religious rituals in Mesoamerica, Europe began to embrace this commodity for consumption as early as the 15th century. Chocolate maintained a royal connection, as was the case in the Mesoamerican region from which it came, but, even so, the elites consumed chocolate with reservation (Coe 125). Although initially an unpopular commodity upon arriving to Europe due to its bitter taste, chocolate, with the addition of sugar and other condiments, became favorable among the European elites. Though it took great time, chocolate eventually became favorable among non-elite Europeans, as well. The spread of chocolate popularity from these elite Europeans to non-elite Europeans resulted from the increase in efficiency of the chocolate-making processes during the Industrial Revolution, making chocolate more affordable and delectable for the common man.

cocoa press
Figure One: Van Houten’s Hydraulic Press (1818)

With the rise of technological advancements during the Industrial Revolution, the creation of chocolate became more streamlined and efficient, allowing more availability of the commodity for the consumers due to cheap production. Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten sought to reduce the difficulty faced when removing most of the cacao butter from chocolate, which was necessary to facilitate chocolate digestion. Initially a task completed by simply boiling the chocolate and skimming the cacao butter, this method was expedited in 1828 with the introduction of Van Houten’s Hydraulic Press (Presilla 28). This piece of revolutionary machinery reduced the percent of cacao butter from 53 percent to 27-28 percent, leaving a “cake” that could be pulverized into fine powder (Coe 234). Van Houten’s machine accomplished this by introducing multiple stages of “squeezing,” which separated the cocoa butter from the cocoa mass using the same functionality for each stage. Pictured above, you can see how this redundant functionality makes sense with the redundant architecture of the machine. Ultimately, Van Houten also added alkaline salts to the resulting powder, allowing it to mix well with water. The end result of this entire process was the large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate in both powdered and solid form (Coe 235).

After this technological breakthrough resulting from the Industrial Revolution, many sought to elevate the success in chocolate making, by focusing not only on the quantity of chocolate produced, but also on the quality of the chocolate produced. One of the most important innovators concentrating on this aspect of chocolate production was Swiss Rodolphe Lindt in 1879. He invented conching, the effects of which are comprehensively detailed in minutes one through four of the embedded video below. This is a segment of an MIT lecture by Professor Michael Cima for his “Introduction to Solid State Chemistry” course.

As shown in the video, the newly formed conching machine has a marble that rolls back and forth within the chocolate mass, agitating it’s chemical composition. Not only does the acidic acid of the chocolate mass drop, but also the level of water composition, allowing sugar to disperse. Once sugar becomes dispersed, its crystals become rounded off, allowing the viscosity of the mass to drop (Presilla 29). Ultimately, after typically 72 hours of conching, the chocolate mass obtains a desirable taste and a high degree of smoothness (Coe 248). This allows for easy melting, which inherently allows the molding of chocolate to become effortless.

Screenshot 2015-03-14 15.15.33
Figure 2: Fry’s Chocolates Advertisement

Although the increase in chocolate production, due to cheap production costs, preceded the increase in chocolate quality, due to the conching machine and other pieces of machinery that followed afterward, these two changes ultimately complemented one another. The efficiency of the process would virtually serve no purpose, if the chocolate wasn’t made enticing for most consumers. Additionally, the techniques making the chocolate delicious wouldn’t even exist if it were not for the technological advancements, to begin with. These facts and the emerging post-Industrial Revolution advertisements centered around children (example on the right) all comprehensively support the notion that technological advancements involving chocolate-making are accountable for the universal distribution of chocolate to a significant extent. There truly can be no better way of showing that chocolate has become a good for the common man, than with an advertisement showing that even a mere child could purchase and enjoy the good.

Multimedia Sources

Figure 1: http://www.worldstandards.eu/images/cocoa%20press.jpg

Figure 2: http://www.worldstandards.eu/images/Fry’s%20chocolate%20ad.jpg

Video 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK22-MhMuZ8

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. 238. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print.


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