For most of us, chocolate symbolizes a tasty, rich, wholesome experience. Many even choose to only consume chocolate with natural or organic ingredients, to support the integrity of its savor and our palatal desires. There is a feeling of power and an experience of imagination that is connected with the ability to choose the contents and texture of the chocolate one wishes to consume. Yet, there was a time when this power, imagination and choice was willed to chocolate manufacturers, unbeknownst to the consumer. Consumers trusted the labels of their food to read what they consumed–with no knowledge that what they were actually consuming was intentionally omitted from labeling and advertising. The most craved food in the world that we historically associate with love, relief and medicine, was tainted with foreign materials and poison to mask and stretch its consistency for financial profitability. It was the early 18th century-where the adulteration of our beloved chocolate, began.
The adulteration of chocolate initiated in 1815 (Coe 2013, 243). The purpose of adulterating was that chocolate had transitioned from a food symbolizing wealth, consumed upper echelon of society to being made available to everyone for mass consumption. Thus, the demand for chocolate grew exponentially. And while this massive growth opportunity for manufacturers could have been observed as a time to create legal cost effective methods to expand their viable products; for some, it became the impetus for lies, greed, deceit and manipulation of vulnerable consumers. Instead of continuing to use wholesome ingredients, which were good enough for their wealthy clients, some manufacturers chose to dilute and enhance the ingredients of their chocolate product with foreign and dangerous products, to stretch its consistency. This action prepared chocolate to be consumed by the masses and provided profit increases, while cutting the costs of production (Coe 2013, 243-44).
There were two main categories of adulteration:
- expensive cocoa butter was removed from the chocolate, sold to external buyers and replaced with olive oil, sweet almond oil, egg yolks or suet of veal or mutton (Coe 2013, 243); and
- foreign materials, such as potato starch, wheat, barley, flour, ground brick, cacao shells and other ingredients were added (Coe 2013, 243-44). Poisonous additives were also added, such as lead and vermilion (Coe 2013, 244).
A third form of adulteration was liquid. In an article published by Peterson’s Magazine in 1891, chemical adulteration such as alkali substances and ammonia were exposed as being used to modify the color [by darkening] of chocolate (Storify). This modification was intended to deceive consumers into believing they were purchasing authentic dark chocolate. The article went on to detail the potential hazards that alkali (a chemical metal compound) could potentially cause – such as gastritis and inflammation of the stomach’s mucous membrane. Likewise, ammonia (an industrial chemical) was noted to potentially “excite the catarrh of the stomach and intestines” (Storify). Thus, the lives of consumers were placed at risk with every bite of chocolate consumed.
Following the publishing of the article, chocolate giant Walter Baker & Co. reacted by advertising their chocolate as “easily digestible” and “pure” (Storify). However, fellow manufacturer Cadbury Company, who previously advertised their brand around purity, later confessed to adulterating their chocolate with starch and flour (Coe 2013, 245). Amongst the public backlash and protests, Cadbury rebranded their chocolate as “the only pure one” (Coe 2013, 245). Yet, they worked tirelessly for decades to earn back public trust and rebuild the integrity of their brand to its former success. The British Food and Drug Act of 1860, and Adulteration Food Act of 1872 were set in place to end and regulate the adulteration of chocolate (Coe 2013, 244). However, these laws failed to police or enforce the criminal acts.
Overall, the adulteration of chocolate caused the once safe and trustworthy natural source of purity and goodness to become a hazardous substance–resulting in a need for policing and regulating its ingredients and consumption. The deceit and betrayl of manufacturers committed against their consumers was a crime. In their quest to make chocolate affordable and consumed by the masses, the commitment to preserving capital proved more valuable than the health and safety of their consumers.
Coe, S., Coe M.D. (2013). The True History of Chocolate. London:L Thames & Hudson Ltd.
Chocolate Adulteration and Brand Marketing. The use of chocolate purity as a marketing tool. Blog post by AAAS119x548. (2013). Storify. https://storify.com/AAAS119x548/chocolate-adulteration