Chocolate Traditions: From Enlightenment-era Europe to Today

Early European Chocolate Consumption

It is thought that chocolate was brought to Europe in 1544 when the Kekchi Maya of Guatemala visited Prince Philip in Spain and brought chocolate as one of their many gifts (Coe & Coe, 130-131). Chocolate was an essential element of Mayan culture, and this was represented through their gifting of chocolate to an elite Spaniard. This was just the beginning of chocolate consumption in pre-enlightenment Europe, as the appreciation for sugar and chocolate quickly began to spread through Europe. Furthermore, new methods brought the price of sugar production down, allowing wider audiences to gain access to affordable chocolate. Although chocolate started as a commodity accessible solely to the elite, as sugar gradually became more affordable it increased the significance of chocolate as a symbol and way of celebration for a more widespread audience.

After the initial introduction of chocolate into Europe, it remained a luxury product that was typically enjoyed by the elite class. In The True History of Chocolate, the authors explain “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Coe & Coe, 125). Before it was available to people of all classes, chocolate was a symbol that celebrated wealth and status. One tradition among the elite in Spain was the consumption of a chocolate drunk “at the lavish midafternoon soirees called agasajos, as was the fashion in Spain” (Presilla, 24-25). Although these soirees were not used specifically to celebrate holidays, they were celebrations nonetheless in which chocolate was traditionally consumed.

es6373A German sculpture from 1744 depicting an elite couple enjoying a chocolate drink together

The sculpture pictured above by Johann Kändler demonstrates the availability and appreciate for chocolate among upper-class European citizens. However, sugar soon became more affordable and its consumption spiked and became widespread. This was what allowed chocolate to become a true product of celebration, as the common individual could consume chocolate and afford it to celebrate special occasions. In his book Sweetness and Power, Mintz explains “After 1850, as the price of sugar dropped sharply, that preference became realized in its consumption. A rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, sugar had been transformed into a virtual necessity by 1850” (Mintz, 148). Sweetened goods became widely available in Europe beginning in the 19th century, allowing chocolate to be used as a universal means of celebration. The other key contribution to the widespread availability of chocolate was the process of conching introduced by Rodolphe Lindt in 1879. This revolutionized how chocolate was manufactured and allowed companies to inexpensively produce large quantities of chocolate (Presilla 40-41). Chocolate was no longer only served as a drink, and the packaged, hard chocolates that are now so familiar were produced. Furthermore, producers could package chocolate in ways that allowed them to market the product towards certain holidays. For example, Richard Cadbury created the heart-shaped chocolate box that is now associated with Valentine’s Day in 1861 (Henderson).

Modern Commercialized Chocolate Consumption

godiva_32628_45_vd17_vday_paperheart_14pc_2a_008_r2_final
Pictured: Godiva Valentine’s Day Heart Chocolate Gift Box.

Today, many chocolatiers market their products towards specific holidays and events. Like Cadbury in 1861, many companies still use the classic heart shape box to market their chocolates towards Valentine’s Day. The Godiva website describes the chocolate box pictured above as “Seduction in a box: Our new dessert-inspired chocolates in a beautifully illustrated gift box for Valentine’s Day” (“Valentine’s”). The chocolate confection represents something more than just a treat, as it is also a celebration of love and is symbolic of Valentine’s Day. Likewise, some brands use their packaging to convey that their chocolate is specially created for certain times of the year. For example, Hershey’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have a fall line of chocolate that is decorated with falling leaves to symbolize autumn.

product_pbminis_harvest

The Hershey’s website includes the Fall Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures as a part of their Halloween and Fall collection.

The Fall Peanut Butter Cups are no different than typical Reese’s products, except for their fall-themed foiled wrapping. Reese’s caters their products to a large assortment of holidays, including special shaped products for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, and Halloween.

In this Reese’s Halloween commercial from 2013, the advertisement says “Nothing screams Halloween like chocolate and peanut butter”.

Reese’s successfully ties their product and chocolate to celebrations. Although modern holidays are highly commercialized around chocolate, these special holiday-specific creations help to celebrate the holidays and make them extra special. For example, Lindt chocolate makes a Milk Chocolate Santa that is special for the Christmas season. Most individuals in the United States are familiar with chocolate Santas, and eating one may bring on nostalgia associated with the holiday season.

milk-santa-holiday-chocolate-figure_main_450x_477073d2c

Lindt Milk Chocolate Santa

In America, 300 million people consume chocolate annually, which averages to about twelve pounds per person (Martin, “Big Chocolate”). However, Chocolate consumption is at its highest before holidays. Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Halloween are the seasons in which the most chocolate is purchased (Tannenbaum, 2016). Although chocolate is widely available to the average consumer year-around, its purchase and consumption peaks around the holidays because people view chocolate as a means of celebration. chocolate has been used to celebrate special occasions since its discovery, and marketing tactics have increased its connection with celebration significantly. Furthermore, chocolate’s widespread availability at a large spectrum of price points has allowed it to continue its dominance as one of the most popular celebratory indulgences. It is likely that chocolate will continue to be a treat that is enjoyed by all particularly in times of celebration, as its taste brings about nostalgia and happiness.

References

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Fall REESE’S Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures. Digital image. Hershey’s. The Hershey Company, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Henderson, Amy. “How Chocolate and Valentine’s Day Mated for Life.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Kändler, Johann Joachim. Couple Drinking Chocolate. 1744. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Met Fifth Avenue. The Met. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Martin, Carla. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 8 March 2017, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

“Milk Santa 4.4 oz Holiday Chocolate Figure.” Lindt Chocolate. Lindt Chocolate, 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

Reeses. “REESE’S Halloween Cackle”. Online Video Clip. YouTube, 27 Sept. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Tannenbaum, Kiri. “8 Facts About Chocolate.” Delish. Hearst Communications, 05 Apr. 2016. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

“Valentine’s Day Heart Chocolate Gift Box, 14 pc. | GODIVA.” http://www.godiva.com. Godiva, 2017. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

 

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