Let Them Eat Chocolate

Chocolate is one of the world’s most beloved treats. The mixture of chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter and flavors like vanilla, creates an indulgent taste that would not be made possible without the key ingredient, cacao. However, cacao and chocolate weren’t always easily accessible. Previously reserved as a treat for the elite, as the popularity of cacao increased, so did it’s availability to a wider audience. During the 19th century, chocolate became available to the masses because of industrial changes in production, new recipes and the improved treatment of workers, culminating in a dramatic increase in the consumption of chocolate.

Cacao has had a long and arduous journey to becoming one of the most sought after products. Cacao comes from the cacao tree, which produces cacao pods that house the cacao beans. The cacao tree only grows in twenty degrees south or north of the equator, providing limited number of growing areas.[1] In Mesoamerica cacao was an integral part of the culture and daily lives of the Aztec, Maya and Olmec civilizations. They made beverages out of cacao and used it as currency.[2] When the Spanish conquered Mesoamerica they began to consume cacao and brought it back to Spain. Cacao later spread to Italy, France, and England, becoming as beloved as it was in South America. Drinking chocolate became widely popular, as well as confectionary deserts using cacao. These treats like covered mousse, marzipan, sugared almonds and ice cream became a status symbol for elites and royalty in the 18th century.[3]

Private chocolate chefs typically prepared chocolate confections. The techniques used to make these chocolate deserts were the same as the Mesoamericans. For example, the Thomas Tosier, who prepared King George I and George II’s chocolate, used a metate grinding stone, exactly like the Mesoamericans used to prepare their chocolate many years earlier.[4] By grinding the cacao beans by hand it was difficult to create a fine texture. However, in 1828, Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented the Dutch Cocoa Press, which reduced cacao into a finer grain than had ever been previously possible.[5] As Sophie and Michael D. Coe note in their book, The True History of Chocolate, the cocoa press allowed for drinking chocolate to be sold at much cheaper prices and chocolate began the transformation from a liquid to a solid.[6] This revolutionary press only was the beginning of a string of inventions that changed the way that chocolate was produced. In 1826, Philippe Suchard invented the mélangeur, which mixed the chocolate ingredients together.[7] Later, in 1879, Rudolphe Lindt invented the conching process, which further refined cocoa powder.[8] Lindt’s invention is the reason why modern chocolate has a smooth consistency. Without these advancements, chocolate would have not been able to be produced on a large-scale.




As Sophie and Michael D. Coe note, the Van Houten’s Dutch Cocoa Press marked the beginning of a modern era for chocolate. The Dutch Cocoa Press also changed the color of chocolate, making people think that the chocolate was stronger.[9] Image courtesy of Flickr. 

It was not just mechanical advancements that spurred the consumption of chocolate, new innovations in chocolate products and recipes were created in the 19th century that became the start of modern-day chocolate products. In 1847, the company J.S. Fry & Sons had the revolutionary idea to create bars of chocolate.[10] This was the first time that anyone had made chocolate into a bar. This innovative idea is now a fundamental part of chocolate culture, as nearly everyone around the world has consumed a chocolate bar. In addition, one of the most beloved flavors of chocolate was created during the 19th century. Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate in 1879, by adding powdered milk to the chocolate recipe. This invention would not have been possible without Henri Nestlé, who invented powdered milk in 1867.[11] These new recipes further added to the popularity of chocolate and thus consumption of sugar and cacao rapidly increased.


The solid candy bar that J.S. Fry & Sons had invented in 1847, was first consumed by the rich because the price was so steep. This new invention also led to J.S. Fry & Sons becoming the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world at the time. [12]  Image courtesy of Flickr. 

Due to the increase in the production of chocolate, there was a higher demand for cacao. New farms started in areas outside of South America and the Caribbean, mostly in West Africa.[13] The majority of cacao was produced by slave labor. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century it finally became clear that coerced and forced labor was wrong. However, it was not until the nineteenth century when slavery began to be abolished, which coincidentally was around the same time when new production machines were being invented.[14] These changes in the labor force improved the public opinion of companies and thus increased the consumption of chocolate.

Chocolate companies like, J.S. Fry & Sons, Cadbury, and Lindt, among others, grew into large-scale enterprises that were often under public scrutiny. Companies would be publically shamed for unethical business practices like slavery. Cadbury was subject to this scrutiny when in 1907 an article was published exposing Cadbury for knowingly using slave labor sourced cacao from São Tomé and Principe. [15] The public was shocked by these revelations and as a result Cadbury’s public reputation was tainted.[16] Cadbury rebounded from the scandal by ceasing to purchase cacao from plantations that still used slavery.[17] The São Tomé Cadbury case, illustrates how invested consumers were in the chocolate industry and were concerned about where their products were coming from.

3907609000_9a0eed7ee7_z Bournville was created to house the workers of the Cadbury factory. Since the town was established by Quakers, they did not have any pubs or alcohol allowed in the town, thus creating an environment with no bad temptations.[18] Image courtesy of Flickr.

In contrast, the employees in chocolate factories in Europe and the United States were treated much better than those who worked on plantations. Companies like Hershey’s and Cadbury built towns for their workers and their families to live in. These towns not only housed the workers in the factories but also had schools, parks, and community centers among other attractions.[19][20] These chocolate towns were revolutionary and the quality of product likely improved because of this excellent treatment. In an article by Fortune, titled “Being Happy at Work Really Makes You More Productive”, they discuss a study that has proven results that happier workers lead to more productivity, which leads to an increase in sales.[21] Both Hershey’s and Cadbury have become leaders in the chocolate industry, stemming from the quality products that their workers have produced.

As a result of these advances in production, recipes, and treatment of workers, consumption of chocolate spiked significantly in the 19th century. This trend has continued even today, as the average American consumes twelve pounds of chocolate per year.[22] This includes candy bars, truffles, hot chocolate, cakes and pastries. All of these modern forms of chocolate treats would not have been possible without the revolutionary changes that occurred and made chocolate a commodity for mass consumption. Chocolate has become available globally and is no longer a treat just for the elite. The chocolate revolution allowed for everyone to be able to enjoy this modern treat.




[1] Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate (New York: Thames & Hudson), 19.

[2] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 33.

[3] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 218-219.

[4] “Chocolate Kitchens”, Historic Royal Palaces, Accessed March 8, 2017, http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/chocolate-kitchens/#gs.JM81VM0.

[5] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 234.

[6] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 232-233.

[7] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 246.

[8] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 247.

[9] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 234-235

[10] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 241.

[11] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 247.

[12] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 241

[13] Carla Martin, Slavery, Abolition and Forced Labor (PowerPoint Slides), March 1, 2017, Slide 7.

[14] Martin, Slavery, Abolition and Forced Labor, Slide 42.

[15] Lowell J. Satre, Chocolate on Trial: Slavery Politics and the Ethics of Business (University of Ohio Press), 82.

[16] Satre, Chocolate on Trial, 85

[17] Satre, Chocolate on trial, 98.

[18] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 242.

[19] Martin, Slavery, Abolition and Forced Labor, Slide 55.

[20] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 250-251.

[21] Michal Addady, “Being Happy at Work Really Makes You More Productive”, Fortune, October 29, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/10/29/happy-productivity-work/.

[22] Carla Martin, Mesoamerica and The Food of the Gods (PowerPoint Slides), February 1, 2017, Slide 7.

Head image courtesy of Flickr. 


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