Theobroma Cacao’s favorable adoption and portrayal in popular culture throughout the centuries played a vital role in facilitating “the food of the god’s” transition from little known product, to the preferred drink of the elite, and then the masses, in a trend that continues to this day.
Late 16th and early 17th century Spanish explorers, friars, and merchants, such as Juan de Cárdenas, and Juan de los Barrios brought back with them from the new world varied accounts and manuscripts extolling the medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties of the newly discovered Theobroma cacao (Coe and Coe, 123; Van Patten, 161). These accounts contributed to the popularity of cacao in Spain, and eventually led to the widespread adoption in courts throughout Europe. Less than half a century later, cacao was being consumed regularly in drink form by the political elite, to the extent that it mired the Catholic church in debate over the legality of drinking cacao during the Catholic fast (Coe and Coe, 147-150).
While still mainly reserved for the elite, by the early 18th century, chocolate houses, such as White’s and Ozinda’s had opened up across England, in which anyone, regardless of status could purchase a cacao drink if they had the monetary means. Samuel Pepys, a naval administrator under King Charles II and King James II wrote extensively in his diary on how he often enjoyed cacao drinks as he rose up through the ranks of English society (Coe and Coe, 166-168).
With the procurement of sugar-producing lands from the Portuguese, and the widespread use of slave labor, Britain witnessed a massive increase in sugar production (Mintz, 39-55). Increased sugar production combined with the technological advancements within the cacao industry (such as the hydraulic press in 1828, and the conch in 1879), led to inexpensive production of cacao, allowing the middle class to partake in cacao products, previously reserved for the elite, on a regular basis (Presilla, 39-41). In “Smyth’s Travels in Virginia, In 1773”, it is noted that the lower and middle classes ate chocolate for breakfast (Grivetti and Shapiro, 285). As a result of this increased demand for cacao products, by the late 18th century, there existed over 70 chocolate companies in North America (Grivetti and Shapiro, 282-283).
The populace’s dive into the world of cacao was further spurred by articles appearing in the media, such as the 1841 edition of “The Family Magazine,” which discussed the virtues of cacao and its superiority to coffee and tea. Additionally, chocolate was frequently referenced in popular books at the time, such as Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities,” and even in the music industry, where the early 1900’s singer G.H. Elliot became known as (what would now be considered un-pc) “The Chocolate Colored Coon” (“CHOCOLATE”, 380; Dickens; “G H Elliott”).
Many of the large chocolate manufacturers, in order to boost their sales and the overall reach of cacao in society, initiated cultural customs based around chocolate that exist even today. In 1868, Richard and George Cadbury created the first heart-shaped box of chocolates, which soon became a hallmark of Valentine’s Day (Chocolates – history.com). Cadbury was also responsible for the invention of chocolate easter eggs (cadbury.com.au).
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Chocolate and cacao are now imbued in much of our popular culture; with references to, and entire episodes on chocolate in TV shows from “I Love Lucy,” to “Seinfeld” to the “Simpsons,” books such as Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and even video games such as “Minecraft,” played by over one hundred million people (“Adventurize”).
Video Credit: Daniel Harris, produced for this blog post
While it is difficult to directly attribute the dramatic rise in chocolate and cacao consumption to the popular culture that surrounded the much-loved product, it assuredly contributed to its consumption in a circular fashion (i.e., the more people wrote about chocolate, the more people ate it, the more people wrote about it, and so on).
Six centuries after Europe was first introduced to the cacao bean, and proceeded to spread “the food of the gods’” across the entire planet, cacao has become ingrained in our books, TV shows, movies, history, and cultures. Cacao has become an increasingly sought after, and irreplaceable global resource.
- Coe, Sophie D, and Michael D Coe. The True History Of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
- Van Patten, Nathan. “THE MEDICAL LITERATURE OF MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA”. The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 24.1/2 (1930): 150-199. Web.
- Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness And Power. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1985. Print.
- Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste Of Chocolate. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2001. Print.
- Grivetti, Louis, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2009. Print.
- “CHOCOLATE”. The Family Magazine; Or, Monthly Abstract of General Knowledge 1841: 380. Print.
- Dickens, Charles, and Charles Dickens. A Tale Of Two Cities. New York: Penguin Books, 2010. Print.
- Chocolates, Celebrating. “Celebrating Valentine’s Day With A Box Of Chocolates – Hungry History”. HISTORY.com. N.p., 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.
- “The Story Of Easter And Easter Eggs”. Cadbury.com.au. N.p., 2016. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.
- “G H Elliott”. Bigredbook.info. N.p., 1882. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.
- “Adventurize™ – The In-Game Minecraft Advertising Network”. Adventurize.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.