Chocolate Culture in Europe after Industrialization

For over twenty-eight centuries leading up to the Industrial Revolution, chocolate had been a drink for the elite and opulent (Coe 232). The Industrial Revolution era in Europe, however, was the turning point leading to the unprecedented mass-distribution of Chocolate, allowing a commodity for the elite to become a ubiquitous good for the masses. Although positively regarded because of the financially beneficial effect it had for both consumers and producers, the Industrial Revolution didn’t just lower the production costs of chocolate, but also the European cultural significance it possessed, which can be demonstrated by the intents of innovation, displays of advertisement, and the additives introduced to chocolate during this time. As you will soon see, consuming chocolate went from being a social privilege, to a universally commonplace necessity.

Chocolate was fundamentally revered in the pre-Industrialization era for its rarity, habitually criticized because of the unknown effects it had on one’s health, and specifically prepared due to the lack of longevity characterizing its desired state. Because of these reasons, chocolate represented an unpopular culture of privilege, but the Industrial Revolution shifted this culture to one of paramount and general essentiality.

First and foremost, the industrial revolution expedited the creation process of chocolate, eliminating chocolate’s place in Screenshot 2015-05-06 15.48.54society as a rare commodity. Although it would make sense to assume that Industrialist entrepreneurs had the taste and texture of chocolate in mind when creating their revolutionary inventions, their main focus and intent was to produce chocolate at a fast rate and large scale. Coenraad Johannes Van Houten, for example, created a hydraulic press (pictured on the left), significantly reducing the cacao butter content in the chocolate from 53 percent to 27-28 percent (Presilla 28, Coe 234). To allow the remaining product to mix well with water, he treated it with alkaline salts. This procedure made the manufacturing process much more streamlined, but “made the chocolate darker in color and milder in flavor” (Coe 235). The end result of this entire process was the large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate in both powdered and solid form (Coe 235). Clearly, quantity was unprecedentedly prioritized over quality.

In contrast, prior to the Industrial revolution, gradual production of chocolate was praised, because it ensured quality. Tools similar to the metate, a ground stone tool originating in the New World, were used, allowing the unique production of stone-ground chocolate, making it “difficult to add adulterants,” since the production of chocolate was already difficult to begin with (Coe 233). More interestingly, general cacao technology had hardly changed from the time “of the Olmecs, Maya, and Aztecs to that of the confectioner of Enlightenment France” in the 18th century (Coe 220). Such care and standardization of the chocolate-making process prior to the Industrial Revolution suggests intricate efforts to preserve the quality of the commodity, which is counter to what the efforts were after the Industrial revolution—to guarantee mass-production and ubiquity of the good.

Secondly, the industrial revolution also came along with the industrialists’ wants to capitalize on this unprecedented proScreenshot 2015-05-06 16.07.04duction of chocolate. This need was adequately epitomized through advertisements during this time, which characterized chocolate as a fundamental nutritional necessity, whereas it was strictly considered a luxury in the past. Cadbury, for example, made an advertisement (pictured on the right) saying that their product “makes men stronger.” It portrays workers in an industrialized setting, suggesting that it is so nourishing that even general-skilled laborers can depend on it in order to do work. Further inspection of the advertisement validates this assumption. In smaller font, it states that this brand of cocoa is “the most refreshing, nutritious, and sustaining of all cocoas.” This statement accentuates not only that this brand of chocolate is nourishing, but also that other brands of cocoa products, although nourishing as well, aren’t as nutritious as Cadbury Cocoa. This direction in advertisement (and competition), in an unprecedented fashion, appealed to the lower-class workers, which diluted the reputation chocolate had of being a good for the elite. An even more profound advertisement by Hershey’s (pictured below), actually depicts chocolate as being “a meal in itself,” which is highlighted by the display of customers lingering in a restaurant-like environment, suggesting that bonding over chocolate is akin to catching up with an acquaintance, friend or even a loved one over a traditional meal.

Screenshot 2015-05-06 16.10.18

This perception of chocolate was a drastic change from the eloquence demonstrated by chocolate-centered gatherings or events in the 1700s. In Spain, for example, refrescos, or social gatherings for the Spanish upper class, were organized with chocolate drinks being the centerpieces of the events. One French foreigner who attended a refresco, detailed that it was such a formal occasion that the hostess received her guests “as gravely as the Queen at a hand-kissing” (Coe 209). This formality and fundamental exclusivity surrounding chocolate ended with the Industrial Revolution. The innovations during the Industrial Revolution further distributed chocolate to such an effective extent that, as the advertisements just mentioned showed, chocolate became accessible to all classes and to people working all kinds of occupations (Coe 232). Whereas the inventions described earlier facilitated the production of chocolate, making it a ubiquitous good, these advertisements showed that there was also an emerging goal of characterizing chocolate as a commonplace commodity. Speaking about the intentions of advertisements, Robertson states, “adverts offer ways of using commodities such as chocolate to say things about…our social world” (Robertson 19). Here, the message was clear—chocolate was no longer for the opulent. As a matter of fact, once a luxury for the elite, chocolate was literally becoming perceived as a fundamental necessity for the common people.

Lastly, the Industrial Revolution also introduced new additives to chocolate, changing the manner in which it was consumed. The Fry enterprise, for example, found a way to mix a blend of cocoa powder and sugar with melted cacao butter, producing a thinner and less viscous paste, which could be cast into a mold. Because of this, for the first time, the world was introduced to eating Screenshot 2015-05-06 15.49.11chocolate (Coe 241). The success of these new Fry chocolate bars (pictured on the left), introduced an entirely new mindset that fostered experimentation and diversification of the commodity. In Switzerland, for example, milk chocolate was invented in 1879 by adding sugar and milk (Coe 246). After the advent of the chocolate bar, other forms of adulteration completely eliminated the purity of the chocolate altogether, where some producers extracted the expensive cacao butter, and replaced it with olive oil, sweet almond oil, or egg yolks (Coe 243). Starches, and other substances of the like, were also added to serve as thickeners (Coe 245). For the first time, we start to see producers concentrated on improving the flavor and texture of chocolate at the expense of jeopardizing the purity that had always been preserved leading up the Industrial Revolution.

In contrast to the post-Industrialization era, the pre-Industrialization era saw the production of pure chocolate in a systematic and non-experimenting fashion. In fact, there was very little difference “between the chocolate quaffed in the 18th century, and that of the Baroque Age which preceded it: the method of preparation…the spices and flavorings were all more-or-less the same” (Coe 203). Moreover, since there was only chocolate in drink form, its quick consumption was the norm. With the adulterants and tempering methods introduced during the Industrial Revolution, proper preservation of chocolate in its solid form was secured, increasing the longevity of the good (Owen 11). This is particularly significant, because it highlights the importance placed on chocolate prior to industrialization, since its desired state was so short-lived. So, apart from becoming both ubiquitous and essential, chocolate was now also becoming preserved.

In sum, chocolate in Europe was a commodity that, prior to industrialization, was prepared at a slow pace, considered a good for the most opulent, and produced using holistic and standardized methods. Respectively, this made chocolate rare, praiseworthy, and unique. After industrialization, chocolate became mass-produced, targeted for all classes, and adulterated to affect long-term texture and flavor. Respectively, this made chocolate ubiquitous, essential, and diverse. Through innovation, advertisement, and adulteration, chocolate producers during the Industrial Revolution had a heavy hand in changing chocolate culture in Europe. They managed to make eating chocolate an accessible necessity for the masses, when, just a century before, it was a luxury only the most privileged could consume.

Works Cited

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

Owen, Gregory. How Chocolate is Made. Princeton University: Institute for Chocolate Studies. 5 Jan. 2013.

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

Robertson, E. (2009): Chocolate, women, and empire.  Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Multimedia Sources

Hydraulic Press:

Cadbury’s Cocoa Advertisement:

Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Advertisement:

Fry Chocolate Bars:


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