Choco-Tech: How technology helped to create chocolate as we know it

The 1800s saw rapid increases in chocolate consumption. As Mintz notes, in this time, chocolate went from being a luxury a necessity in the everyday person’s life [1]. One important driving force behind this change was the technology developed during that time. This blog post aims to illustrate that inventions in the 1800s by people like Joseph Fry and Henri Nestlé were crucial to the chocolate’s rapid growth in popularity by making it cheaper, widening the contexts in which chocolate can be consumed or used, and improving its taste. Given the claims in Mintz about the importance of chocolate and the sugar trade in the development of capitalism, this would also indicate that such innovations were key to the formation of capitalism.

Innovations in Form/Usage

Hydraulic Press
Figure 1. van Houten’s Hydraulic Press was a key innovation, making chocolate cheaper and expanding its use cases [3].
In 1828, van Houten invented the hydraulic press, which provided an inexpensive way to separate the cocoa powder from the cocoa butter. The hydraulic press had two important effects. First, it lowered production costs for chocolate such that it became more affordable to the mass market. Secondly, because cocoa powder could be extracted, it became possible to mold chocolate into different forms, ushering in the new use for chocolate as a confectionary ingredient [2]. These lower costs and new use cases increased the popularity of chocolate, signifying the importance of van Houten’s hydraulic press.

 

Another innovation came in 1947, when Joseph Fry managed to craft the first chocolate bar. What this did was make chocolate portable, allowing people to consume it more often. Though not strictly in the 1800s, an example of how this boosted chocolate’s popularity worldwide is World War II, where American troops often carried “military chocolate” as a source of energy [4]. Thus, not only did innovations affect the food make-up of chocolate, but also in its form and how it was consumed, helping chocolate become more popular among working class citizens.

New Chocolate Varieties

MilkChocolate
Figure 2. Milk chocolate is the most popular variety of chocolate, amounting to about 51% of the consumption share [5].
As an avid fan of milk chocolate, the next innovation is very near and dear to me, as well as being an important to this blog’s argument. In 1876, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé found a way to dehydrate milk to create powdered milk. Using this innovation, Peter and Nestlé were able to invented milk chocolate. Today, milk chocolate is the most widely consumed type of chocolate, making up about 51% of consumption in the United States. Thus, it’s clear to see how great an impact this creation had on chocolate consumption worldwide.

Innovations in Taste

Finally, we have Joseph Lindt, who the chocolate company Lindt is named after. In 1879, Lindt developed the conching process. Conching involves heating and mixing the chocolate’s ingredients (e.g. cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar) for hours, fully developing the chocolate’s taste and texture [6]. Thus, aside from changes in form and variety, the taste and texture of the chocolate were also being innovated on, improving the experience of eating chocolate, thereby increasing popularity.

Chocolate, Sugar, and Capitalism

So far, we’ve shown the integral role that these inventions have played in chocolate’s rising popularity. With this growth in popularity comes the potential for large profits for certain participants of the chocolate trade. In particular, these participants were the owners of plantations in Africa and the West Indies, as well as the middle men in the growing shipping industry. These businessmen also spent much of their time lobbying government to enact favourable policies for their corporations [1]. The profitability of these roles incentivized more people to take them on, and created many of the capitalist practices we see in today’s society (e.g. large multinational corporations, lobbying). Indeed, Mintz notes similarities between work being done on sugar and cacao plantations as those being carried out in factories during the industrial revolution [1]. Thus, not only did these inventions make chocolate more popular, but in doing so, they expanded the potential for profit, incentivizing practices and organizational structures typical for a capitalist society.

Addressing the Alternative View

ChocolateDrink
Figure 3. As an expensive beverage, chocolate would have had to compete with coffee and tea for popularity before these innovations changed how we consume chocolate [7].
Those who disagree with this blog post’s thesis would likely argue that chocolate would have still have had the large impact it did on capitalism without these technological advancements. Tt is difficult to determine with certainty whether they did or not, since we cannot go back in time and test what the world would’ve been like without these inventions. That said, before any of these inventions, chocolate was consumed primarily as a drink and consumed far less often than coffee or tea, because of its very high price [3]. This suggests, that chocolate’s popularity might not have grown as it did without these innovations lowering the production price and moving it into the food category instead of the drink category, where it would have had to compete with coffee and tea.

Final Thoughts

To conclude, the innovations and improvements in technology in the 1800s were instrumental to chocolate’s rise in popularity during this time period. These advancements made chocolate taste better, more useful in a variety of contexts, and more convenient to consume. Furthermore, by contributing heavily to the rise of chocolate, these inventions also contributed to the rise of capitalism. As an afterthought, note that today, technological innovation is a large driver for many aspects of the economy. Thus, it is interesting to see that this also the case 200 years ago.

Sources

[1] Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

[2] “The Sweet History of Chocolate.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2016.

[3] “1700 – 1900.” Callebaut –. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2016.

[4] Progressive Grocer. “Chocolate Consumption Share in The United States in 2012, by Type.” Statista – The Statistics Portal. Statista. June 2013. Web. 5 Mar 2016. <http://www.statista.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/statistics/260125/chocolate-consumption-share-in-the-us-by-type/&gt;

[5] “D-Day Rations: How Chocolate Helped Win the War.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2016.

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

[7] “History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Official History and Citizenship Website.” Home Page of History.org : The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Official History and Citizenship Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2016. <https://www.history.org/foundation/journal/winter12/images/chocolate_ex9.jpg&gt;.

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