Throughout the 1800s, the consumption of chocolate and sugar increased significantly. This was due to a combination of decreased sugar prices and technological advancements in the chocolate production. Sugar went from being a rarity to a staple of many people’s diets. This was important to the production of chocolate because sugar was and still is a major ingredient in chocolate. Several people also invented new machines and methods that made it easier for chocolate to be available for the masses. Without the decrease in sugar prices and these inventions, chocolate would not have become as important a part of society as it is today.
In 1828, Van Houten made one of the first big technological advancements in chocolate production by inventing the hydraulic press. The hydraulic press separates chocolate liquor into cocoa powder and cocoa butter. This made it both cheaper and easier to produce chocolate. “Van Houten’s invention of the defatting and alkalizing processes made possible the large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses, in both powdered and solid form” (Coe & Coe 235). His hydraulic press is pictured below. It uses high amounts of pressure to separate the chocolate liquor. Without this invention it would have been much more difficult for further advancements in chocolate production to occur, like chocolate bars.
Thanks to Van Houten’s invention of the hydraulic press, another man named Fry was able to invent the chocolate bar. As Coe & Coe explains, “[w]ith Van Houten’s breakthrough, the Fry enterprise-and the Fry dynasty-was ready to move into high gear… A milestone was passed in 1847, when the Fry firm found a way to mix a blend of cocoa powder and sugar with melted cacao butter… this produced a thinner, less viscous paste which could be cast into a mold… this was the world’s first true eating chocolate” (Coe & Coe 241). Without the separation of chocolate liquor into cocoa power and butter, it would have been difficult to create a mixture that could have been combined in such a way. Below is an image of an advertisement for Fry’s chocolate bars. This image shows the shift from chocolate as something that only the rich might eat into something available for the masses, and specifically poorer families and children. Sugar and chocolate became a replacement for other foods as their prices decreased. The lack of time required for preparation also contributed to this.
In 1840-1870 there were big price drops in sugar. Mintz explains that “In the 1800s, the national consumption was about 300 million pounds per year; once the duties began to be equalized and the price to drop, consumption rose, to a billion pounds in 1852… Without the price drops, consumption could not have risen so fast” (243). If sugar prices had not decreased it would not have been so easy for chocolate bars like Fry’s to be made available to the general public. It is also interesting that “the biggest sucrose consumers, especially after 1850, came to be the poor, whereas before 1750 they had been the rich” (Mintz 148). This is especially important because part of the reason that chocolate is so popular today is that it is affordable for everyone. It is also interesting to note that Fry was able to produce chocolate bars around the same time that sugar prices drop. This likely would not have been possible without the drop.
In 1879, Rudolphe Lindt invented “conching,” which improved the quality of chocolate making (Coe & Coe 248). Conching led to an important improvement in the taste of chocolate. The taste and texture of chocolate that most recognize today is largely thanks to Lindt. As Coe & Coe explains, “After 72 or more hours of such rock-and-roll treatment, the chocolate mass reaches the desired flavor, as well as attaining a high degree of smoothness, due to a reduction in the size of particles. Before Lindt, eating chocolate was usually coarse and gritty; now it had achieved such a degree of suavity and mellowness” (248). A conche is shown in the image below. This specific machine was used at Hershey. The ridges and rollers pictured below create this “rock-and-roll” treatment. In some factories, like Hershey’s, there would be entire rooms filled with conche machines.
The production of chocolate was revolutionized thanks to the above inventions and the decrease in the cost of sugar. Without these things, chocolate would likely not be as pervasive in society as it is today.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
Hydraulic press: https://i1.wp.com/www.worldstandards.eu/images/cocoa%20press.jpg