Back in the days of old, chocolate was almost as good as a King’s gold…yet somehow we’ve gotten ourselves almost right back where we’ve started as hipsters of today’s society want chocolate to be something that is pure and aristocratic as it once was. Let’s flashback in time to see how it all started, and then travel forward into present day opinions on chocolate processing.
Before the wheels and gears of the industrial revolution started turning, chocolate was considered an aristocratic treat. As a beverage, this was a status symbol. It was in the mid 1500’s that chocolate was first encountered in Europe (Thames and Hudson p. 108). Chocolate kitchens could be found in a King’s kitchen and were also common among the nobility, both to show off their luxurious lifestyle and to replicate the traditional preparation process as closely as possible. This specialized type of kitchen inside of large palaces and castles was just the start to chocolate being found in residential environments.
The Industrial Revolution took place between the 18th and 19th centuries (2). Chocolate itself entered the revolution in 1828 when Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented the hydraulic press (Thames & Hudson p.234). With this invention, cocoa butter and cacao powder could now be produced in massive quantities; predating this cocoa butter and cacao powder were produced at much smaller amounts and at a much slower rate. The next important piece of the revolution was Rudolphe Lindt’s invention of the conching process in 1879 (Thames & Hudson p.248).
Overall, conching is now a crucial aspect of chocolate production as we know today. The flavors in the chocolate become evenly distributed, and through the process of aeration, fatty acids and acetic acid aromas are removed. With the loss of acidic aromas, other subtle flavors are able to shine through. When a chocolate is properly conched, it is creamy and smooth, bitterness is balanced along with roast notes and acidity. The amazing part, or rather, the revolutionary aspect of this invention is that it allowed chocolate to evolve from a sophisticated, luxurious, upper class desire for sophisticated palates, to an affordable, yummy, and instantly classic treat among all classes. Jean Tobler, the creator of Toblerone filled bars, was the first to begin the trend of coated chocolate candy bars. While this may seem like a smaller contribution,
Tobler actually opened the door for many future chocolate producers and chocolatiers. In addition to not having Toblerone without Jean Tobler, there would be no Twix or Snickers, even KitKats!
With these novel changes, chocolate became an easily obtainable product for the common homemaker. With chocolate among other items that were now mass produced, much of the not as enjoyable tasks were transferred out of the home and to the machines. This meant that households would no longer need to rely on their own talents to provide for themselves; “The household today is not self-sufficient. Its welfare is no longer determined by the skills and capacities of its members but by the opportunities offered to wage earners.” (Gray, Greta 243) Just after the industrial revolution, the age of women as housewives, staying home to watch the kids, prepare meals, and clean was in full swing. All of these stereotypes can be related back to how chocolate was being marketed at the time.
Chocolate was a mother’s solution to having enough energy to entertain her toddler, the sugary chocolate milk was a way for her adolescent son to get the nutrients he needs to grow with strong bones, and most importantly chocolate always makes a good snack! This ensured chocolate was deeply planted into the minds of the masses.
Today, chocolate is mainly produced in mass quantities by chocolate manufacturers or in smaller batches by a craft chocolate maker or a chocolatier. There’s a segment of society now rebelling against big name, big production chocolate companies. It’s almost peculiar how our society has always been obsessed with new technology, whether it is mechanical or digital, and now, in a sort of pretentious manner, it has become preferred to purchase small batch artisan chocolate. This goes along with the way people are wrapped up in having all natural, all organic, non-gmo, gluten free, soy free, nut free etc… to the point where all that’s left is air. It’s understandable that everyone wants to treat their bodies like a Mercedes Benz and to only have the best, but in the present day it has simply gone too far. The industrialization of America and Europe was a wonderful thing, but it’s getting to the point where everyone is so concerned about what these machines (and the people designing/operating them) are doing to their products in turn. It is good to think twice about how much processed food we are putting into our bodies, but it is also good to take a step back and think about how much progress we as humans have made in developing amazing and new technologies that will in turn propel us into the future.
Resources and Citations
1: Thames and Hudson. “The True History of Chocolate” 3rd edition (2013)
2: Industrial Revolution, History.com : http://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution Thames and Hudson. “The True History of Chocolate” 3rd edition (2013)
2: Gray, Greta. “Changes in the Household Resulting from the Industrial Revolution.” Social Forces 11.2 (1932-1933): 242-248.