The history of chocolate begins with the Olmecs and then was past along to the Mayans and the Aztecs as one civilization conquered another (Presilla 23). All of these ancient civilizations began the process of harvesting cacao pods from the tree and finished by preparing it as a drink – the entire process they completed themselves. It cost nothing for them besides time and labor, so it was a relatively common drink at the time.
1An Aztec woman is depicted above pouring her chocolate drink from one vase into another. This process was used to aerate the chocolate in order to make the drink frothier (Presilla 20). The Molinillo was later invented to create the same results as from this technique (Martin). This technique traveled all the way from the Aztecs to Europe and the Americas.
After the Spanish colonization of the Aztecs in the early 16th century, the Spanish noticed the special chocolate drink they had been making. Bringing this back to their country, they decided to add sugar to the drink that had previously only been flavored with different spices but had yet to be sweetened in such a way (Presilla 25). This addition of sugar is the reason why chocolate was once exclusively for the elite but has since become something that people of all classes can afford and want to enjoy.
When chocolate was first introduced in Spain, it was a drink of the elite due to its exotic and luxurious association (Presilla 25) , along with the cost of labor to import and produce it from the pod. After chocolate had reached Spain, it was then sent to Italy, then France, then Britain, so that other European elite could have what those of Spain did (Martin). At that time, sugar prices were also extremely high, for they have been perpetually decreasing over time, and sugar was considered to be a rarity in 1650 (Martin). Regardless of how the price of cacao was at the time, the price of sugar mattered very much for the cost of the overall product. Since sugar was part of the drink when it was introduced to the other parts of Europe, it became fully associated with it (Martin).
2The European nobility, pictured above, are seen sipping cups of chocolate, which was poured from a special chocolate kettle. This represents how only the wealthy were able to consume chocolate during the 17th century, since it was too expensive for everybody else.
It wasn’t until after 1800 that sugar was able to be mass consumed in the United Kingdom (Mintz 147-148). This was due in large part to the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the steam engine, which began to power sugar mills in places like Jamaica, one of the largest producers of sugar for Europe (Monteith 242-243). This resulted in a huge increase of sugar, which therefore lowered the price, making it more attainable for all. Given the huge role that it has in chocolate, whether in a chocolate drink as it was in the past or as an ingredient in the more recently developed solid chocolate candy, this decrease in price greatly impacted accessibility.
This transition can now be seen as “Culinary Modernism”, which results in affordable food for all that was once considered a luxury only for the elite (Laudan 40). This was able to occur because of the technology that sped up the process of harvesting sugar and the speed of transportation upon exporting it. Mintz claims that after 1850, sugar transformed from a luxury into a necessity for almost every member of society (147-148).
In addition to being cheap, sugar has been an important part of chocolate because consumers have been increasing their desire for and consumption of sugar inversely to the price, so the cheaper it is, the more people have been buying it. in 1880, each person in the United States was consuming about 38 pounds of sugar per year (Mintz), and today that number has risen to about 110 (Blodget). A similar statistical trend is apparent for the amount of chocolate consumed in the United States over the past century, increasing all the way to 38 pounds per person per year (Blodget).
Sugar has also affected the way that the large chocolate companies in the market advertise their products. Children have a natural inclination towards things that taste sweet, so sugary chocolate is something one would assume that most enjoy.
3The advertisement above represents the sweet girls that would love to have some sweet milk chocolate. This advertisement displays the cheap price of only 5 and 10 cents for a chocolate bar. The little girl also appears to be very excited about the chocolate bar she has, which the Hershey Company wants to be the case for all of the young children being targeted by this ad.
As tastes have changed over time, from the sugar-free Aztecs to Western civilizations that now include about 87 grams in one serving of milk chocolate (USDA), sugar has always played a key role in who gets to consume chocolate. The addition of sugar was once an expensive luxury that the wealthy got to experience, but once the price of sugar significantly dropped the price of chocolate did as well, making it available for everyone.
Blodget, Henry. “American Per-Capita Sugar Consumption Hits 100 Pounds Per Year.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 19 Feb. 2012. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.
“Food Composition Databases Show Foods List.” Food Composition Databases Show Foods List. USDA, 2017. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
3Hershey’s Sweet Milk Chocolate from Chocolate and Cocoa Town. Digital image. Explore PA History. WITF, Inc., 2011. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food.” Gastronomica 1 (2001): 36-44. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
2Longhi, Pietro. The Morning Chocolate. Digital image. Public Domain, 2013. Web. 7 Mar. 2017.
Martin, Carla. “Chocolate Expansion.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 8 Feb. 2017. Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. N.p.: Penguin, 1986. Print.
Monteith, Kathleen E. A. Jamaica in Slavery and Freedom: History, Heritage and Culture. Kingston: U of the West Indies, 2003. Print.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.
1An Aztec woman generates foam by pouring chocolate from one vessel to another in the Codex Tudela. Digital image. Ancient Origins. Public Domain, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.