“What kind of monster could possibly hate chocolate?” -Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel
Chocolate has a long history. It was used by Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs in rituals. Later, through trade, chocolate was introduced to different parts of the world including Europe. The chocolate that most people know today is more sugar than chocolate. It is the European version that we are familiar with; cacao flavored with sugar rather than chili peppers. Today,equipped with the knowledge of both rituals and chocolate recipes, learning the preferences of the original chocolate lovers can help us enjoy chocolate more.
American’s favorite chocolate brand seems to be Hershey’s. This is unfortunate, because Hershey’s chocolate is only 11% cacao and 89% sugar stabilizers and preservatives. Dark chocolate, made up of a higher cacao percentage, has gotten a bad reputation for being too bitter. Many people prefer to have sweeter chocolate, and Hershey’s candy caters to that sugar craving.
As someone growing up in America with parents who don’t eat chocolate I too only knew about Hershey chocolate and I liked it. However, after tasting higher quality and higher grade cacao chocolate, I found that I much prefer a cacao percentage in the 70s and would not mind a higher percentage.
Not only have I learned about the issues around chocolate (slave labor, problematic advertising, and more), but I have learned about chocolate itself. Read the ingredients on the label. Is cacao the first ingredient? Do you hear a snap when you break chocolate? How does it melt in your mouth?
With a change in my own chocolate preferences I wondered if other people had the same experience. So I conducted an online survey which yielded 150 respondents. I also interviewed one person in more depth.
I interviewed J, a woman in her 60s who spent her childhood in Germany. While Germany seems to have many types of fine chocolates in J’s home it was considered only appropriate for special occasions and only for adults. It would be eaten when company came over.
J’s first chocolate experience was in November 1959, when she came to the United States. Someone at elementary school had a chocolate bar that was very sweet to her. While she liked chocolate, J didn’t get to eat much more chocolate except during holidays such as Easter. “My cousin who had eaten a lot of chocolate in the form Easter bunnies gobbled it down. I ate the small eggs. At the end of the first year our dentist suggested I not eat chocolate.”
When J was at college, she made up for lost time. “Cookies. Chocolate chip cookies. A dozen at a time,” she reminisces.
“Like once a week?” I ask.
“Once a week? More like three times a week,” she laughs.
J also got to branch out in terms of the chocolate she ate.”My roommate really liked chocolate so she would bring things home. That’s when I got to try other kinds of chocolate, like truffles, high end chocolate filled with nougat.”
J married a man who likes sweet things, so she made chocolate cakes, cocoa, and ate chocolate ice cream. When asked if she felt any luxurious feeling from chocolate, she cited hotels that left squares of chocolate on pillows. “The first time I went to a hotel with chocolate, I felt special,” she said.
As she grew older, she became more knowledgeable about chocolate. She tried chocolate bars with nuts, in different degrees of cacao. J learned her preferred cacao amount is 70%. Her tastebuds are less sensitive, so now she wants Chocolate with a lot of flavor. She can now eat bitter chocolate and enjoy it. She prefers to consume chocolate as a flavor in protein shakes and smoothies, not so much as pure chocolate.
We’ve all heard that dark chocolate can have benefits to our health. Many of these benefits are especially useful for older adults. Dark chocolate can raise the good HDL cholesterol and lower the bad LDL cholesterol, which can help prevent cardiovascular disease. Flavanols in chocolate can also improve cognitive function.
In addition to talking to J, I sent out a survey on Facebook to see how a larger group interacts with chocolate. There were 150 responses. Most responders were female and a majority were under 30. I started off with a simple question: what is your favorite brand of chocolate?
I was surprised to learn that a large number chose Ghirardelli or Lindt as their favorite. I had thought that there would be more Hershey’s fans.
Most people ate chocolate several times per week, but not many ate chocolate more than once a day. Not everyone loved chocolate as much as those in Dr. Martin’s chocolate class.
When people did eat chocolate, many preferred to have it in a baked good. I expected lots of people to like chocolate in a bar, but also thought chocolate candy, such as Snickers or Kit-Kat, would be a more popular choice than it was.
More than half of the people surveyed preferred a percentage of cacao higher than 50%.
Taste ruled when it came to what people liked most about chocolate, as was to be expected.
Organic is a label that is prevalent in grocery stores, which accounted for many people recognizing the organic brand. Fair Trade was in second place, which may be because it is also a popular label. Both refer to many products, not only chocolate.
In many studies, the majority of people have been shown to be willing to pay more for chocolate if they felt it was made more ethically. This was also shown in one study at the University of Brussels and Oxford University, that gave the exact same chocolate to test subjects, but told them that one was more socially ethical. People reported that the ethical chocolate tasted better.
I also asked some open-ended questions, for example: Why do you eat chocolate? The majority said they ate chocolate because they liked the taste. Some also said they liked chocolate because it gave them a feeling of luxury. Chocolate also comforted, gave stress relief, and made them happy.
When asked if they knew anyone who didn’t like chocolate and why not, there were many humorous responses, including, “They have no soul”, “insanity”, and “Yes. theyre not a fan of sweets. or anything that generates delight in the world”. Serious reasons for people who didn’t eat chocolate were allergies, migraines, digestive problems, or the person did not like the taste.
Lastly, I asked, “Do you have a special memory with chocolate?” Many people listed memories, and a few are below:
“This survey brings to mind my ethics class in 7th grade when my teacher put Nestle chocolate in front of us and told us we could eat it but only after hearing how horribly people were treated in the making of said chocolate. I ate the chocolate anyway but felt bad about it later.”
“Whenever a friend goes out of the country, they’ll give me some sort of chocolate or candy from whatever place they visited. :)”
“I toured a chocolate factory when I lived in Germany as a wee lad, and got to taste the product during each section of the bar making process.”
“I bit down on a Nestle Crunch nutcracker at Christmas and lost my first tooth”
Advertisements have been known to use emotion such as nostalgia and family to sell products. The responses above show that when people look back on their moments with chocolate, they tend to include friends and family.
Chocolate is multi-cultural. It is enjoyed by many. Millennials have shown a renewed interest in chocolate, not only for the eating of chocolate, but also the ethics of how it was obtained.
Carefect Blog Team. “Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate for Seniors – Home Care Blog by Carefect.” Home Care Blog by Carefect. 2014. Web. 11 May 2016.
Martin, Carla. (2016) “Psychology, Terroir, and Taste.” AAAS 119x Lecture 12.
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 02 March 2015. Lecture.
Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.
Marcel, Presilla E. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. 17 February 2016. Print.
Michail, Niamh. “Ethical Foods Make Consumers Feel Morally Superior – and Food Taste Better.” FoodNavigator.com. 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 11 May 2016.