The Transformation of Chocolate

Roasted Cacao Beans
Figure 1: The Cacao Bean

What comes to mind when you hear the word chocolate? Most Americans think Hershey’s. Yet Hershey’s milk chocolate is comprised mainly of milk and sugar, hardly bearing any resemblance to the cacao bean. What do we define as chocolate? Chocolate is “a preparation of the seeds of cacao, roasted, husked, and ground, often sweetened and flavored, as with sugar and vanilla” (“Mesoamerica”). The chocolate flavor comes from the cacao bean, depicted in their pod in Fig. 1, which traditionally is the main ingredient in chocolate. In the ancient Mayan society, chocolate was mostly consumed as a beverage. It consisted of cacao, fresh or roasted combined with spices and corn or other seeds. Fig. 2 depicts this handmade, authentic process. 


Figure 2: Mayan Chocolate Making


However, over the years, chocolate has transitioned to a product with less cacao and more sugar and other ingredients. What is now considered chocolate is a very processed food that barely resembles the traditional chocolate. The industrialization of the food industry has transformed chocolate from an authentic cacao product to something is almost unrecognizable.

The four main factors that ultimately lead to the industrialization of the food industry were preservation, mechanization, transportation and retail (Goody, 72). Preservation prevents food from going bad while being transported and thus could be shipped further, which lead to the rise of globalization of food. The most notable form of preservation during this time was the canning of food as well as artificial freezing (Goody, 78). Initially the production was not more efficient because assembly lines were constrained to manual labor. Therefore, the amount produced was determined by how much food the people could can in a work day. However, these assembly lines were later replaced by machinery, which allowed them to can significantly food for cheaper. Transportation was also mechanized, as a system was developed to allow large quantities of foods produced by the large factories to be distributed globally. One major result of globalization was the distance created between the producer and the consumer, since food was no longer being consumed locally and depended on transportation and distribution companies (Goody, 82). This gap was expanded as the wholesale business emerged. The consumer could no longer buy directly from the consumer, but instead would go to the grocery store for their food. Processed foods also became more frequent in grocery stores. This was a result of increased advertisement, as the foods would be packaged, labeled and advertised in attempt to appeal to the consumer (Goody, 84). Food is becoming increasingly processed and mostly pre-made, as less of the cooking is being done at home and instead by the food industry itself. As a result, “the foods that line the grocery shelves and are served up in fast-food and convenience outlets today are what Brazilian nutrition researcher Carlos Monteiro has called ‘ultra-processed foods,’ foods processed so far beyond their original form as to be better described as fabricated rather than grown” (qtd. in “The Rise of Big Chocolate”). The industrialization of the food industry has transformed food from being whole, natural, local products to highly processed, packaged, artificial items that often do not resemble the original foods from which they were made.

Figure 3: Hershey’s Chocolate Making

This transformation is particularly evident in the chocolate industry. Fig. 3 depicts the chocolate making process of Hershey. Compared to Fig. 2 this chocolate is much less natural, as it is made by a machine and has a smooth, waxy texture rather than the authentic look of the Mayan chocolate. Hershey was the first candy maker to have their product sold across the country, as they found a recipe that could be mass produced (Brenner, 54; D’Antonio, 107). It was able to be processed faster than the Swiss recipe, which allowed to make their chocolate fast then the European chocolate makers (D’Antonio, 108). Although the taste was different, Americans has not tried the Swiss version, allowing Hershey to define the taste of milk chocolate in America D’Antonio, 108). Other American companies had not yet figured out how to preserve their products through the shipping and distribution process (Brenner, 54). Mars had a different advantage in the production process when they created the Milky Way. Although it is considered a chocolate bar, the main ingredient is a malt-flavored nougat, a whipped filling made of egg whites and corn syrup (Brenner, 54). The only element of chocolate, is the milk chocolate coating, although it still had the chocolate taste. The bar is also larger than the regular chocolate bar, making it look more appealing. However much of it’s size was made of cheap ingredients making is cheaper to produce. However, a Milky was, as with may of the processed products on the shelves today, hardly resembles the cacao bean. The ingredients list on these candy bars is alarming. Below are the ingredients for the Hershey’s and Milky Way bars. Ingredients are listed in the order in predominance by weight.

Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar: Milk Chocolate (Sugar, Milk, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Lactose, Milk Fat, Soy Lecithin, PGPR, Emulsifier, Vanillin, Artificial Flavor).*

Milky Way: Sugar, Glucose Syrup (Sources include Wheat), Milk Solids, Vegetable Fat, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Barley Malt Extract, Cocoa Powder, Egg White, Emulsifier (Soy Lecithin), Salt, Natural Flavour (Vanilla Extract).*

These chocolate bars hardly consist of cacao at all, and are in fact mostly sugar and some unfamiliar ingredients. These chocolate products are hardly identifiable as chocolate, yet in American society are two of the most standard chocolate bars.

Chocolate has undergone a significant transformation as a result of the industrialization of the food industry. Cacao on its own is a healthy food and in modern day is even considered to be a “superfood.” It has amazing anti-inflammatory properties and is sold in many health food stores today. However, the most popular forms of chocolate are the most processed forms, mostly made of sugar. These processed foods are actually detrimental to health and can have consequences. The American population is becoming increasingly overweight and obese and one possible solution might be to cut back on the amount of processed, unnatural food that is being consumed. The industrialization of the food industry may have benefitted the big companies, such as Hershey and Mars, but was not beneficial to the health of the American population. In fact, the products consumed by the Mayans probably was a much healthier product.


Brenner, Joel Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World on Hershey & Mars. Broadway Books, 2000.

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire and Utopian Dreams. Simon and Schuster, 2006.

Goody, Jack. Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. Rutledge,  2013.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” African and African American Studies 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 1 February 2017, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market” African and African American Studies 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 8 March 2017, Harvard University, Cambridge, Lecture.

Figure 1. Digital Image.

Figure 2. Digital Image.×682.jpg.

Figure 3. Digital Image.


*Ingredient lists were found on the back of the physical candy bar.





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