The preparation of chocolate is a realm that has historically been dominated by women. In ancient Mesoamerican societies, women would prepare a chocolate drink by drying, roasting, and grinding cacao beans. The resulting paste was then mixed with water and maize and repeatedly poured from one vessel to another in order to create a frothy top layer. Though consumed by both men and women, Mayan and Aztec cultures emphasized consumption of this chocolate drink by men, as it provided warriors with energy during long treks and battles. It was also consumed by men, including the groom and the bride’s father, during wedding negotiations (Coe & Coe, 2013).
This ancient history placing women as the producers of chocolate and men as the consumers contradicts current notions of chocolate making, which feature men as the producers of the sweet and women as the primary consumers. Thousands of ads around the world push the message that women rabidly crave chocolate products, going to extreme lengths to get them and becoming increasingly aroused when consuming chocolate. The following video shows a man turning into chocolate after using chocolate-scented Axe Body Spray. Nearly every woman he passes becomes unable to control herself, with one woman even taking a bite out of his pants on public transportation.
Despite the extremes that these women appear to go to for the rich delicacy, preparation of chocolate is not included in any of their actions. Of course, chocolate companies have little reason to advertise their preparation of chocolate for consumers since they are selling already prepared chocolate for consumers. In fact, many large companies endeavor to keep their preparation methods a secret from competitors, going so far as to hire detectives to investigate potential employees to weed out spies from other companies and having all workers sign confidentiality agreements before beginning work (Brenner, 2000). Yet even when company advertisements include idealized portrayals of preparation methods, women are noticeably sparse. The following commercial by Lindt Chocolate shows “Lindts master chocolatiers,” all of whom are male, preparing their signature chocolate truffles. The next scene shows attractive women sensually consuming these truffles. Not only does this commercial play on stereotypes of men’s and women’s roles in chocolate production and consumption, but it also reinforces these stereotypes by eliminating contact between the male chocolatiers and the female consumers.
Commercials like these, which push the notion that women do not make chocolate but only consume it, reflect and reinforce societal notions of what professional chocolatiers look like. The International Chocolate Awards 2016 World Final granted 151 awards, out of a total of 263 awards—almost three fifths of its awards—to male chocolatiers; only 50 awards went female chocolatiers. The remaining 62 went to companies that didn’t list the head chocolatier or listed both a male and a female chocolatier (International Chocolate Awards, 2016).
The lack of women working and being acknowledged as professional chocolatiers reflects the larger societal issue of women being underrepresented in traditionally male occupations, including that of professional chefs. The job of professional chef, however, seems to be inherently contradictory. Traditionally, across many cultures, women have occupied the domestic sphere, which included the preparation of food for the family. Whenever men were involved in the preparation of food, it was a much more public—and thus more important—affair than home cooking, such as the preparation of meals for ancient Egyptian royalty or the ritualistic sacrifice and preparation of meat by priests (Harris & Giuffre, 2015). Compare these examples to modern ideas of the male realms of food preparation, including celebrity chefs and outdoor barbeques, and the evolution of modern notions of gendered spheres of cooking become apparent.
Harris and Giuffre, 2015, note that as men began working for wages, women’s “unpaid labor in the home became defined as unproductive.” When women finally did begin entering the workforce, the jobs they were given were often assistant jobs to men (e.g. secretary to businessman, nurse to doctor, flight attendant to pilot, etc.) and were much less valued than the jobs performed by men. In addition, women were still expected to complete their domestic duties, including the nourishment of families.
In the same pattern, as men began earning wages for professional cooking and other food-related jobs, domestic cooking became devalued. Despite the fact that male chefs were originally seen as a servant class, preparing food for elites, personal chefs were a sign of wealth, positioning their culinary expertise above that of homemakers. The first personal chef to garner celebrity status was Marie Antoine Careme, who is credited with separating the importance of medicinal properties from food served in restaurants and emphasizing, instead, the artistic value of food (Harris & Giuffre, 2015). With the fall of aristocracy, personal chefs turned to restaurants to showcase their creative works. These centers of gastronomic indulgence became associated with promiscuity, and as such were deemed inappropriate for women to not only work in, but also enter (Ferguson, 2006).
Despite the devaluation of women’s work, the emergence of professional cooking as a male occupation was very much dependent on the knowledge of women in the domestic sphere. Rural women, often faced with scarce resources, combined whatever was available to create flavorful and diverse meals. “Despite this inventiveness and creative innovation by domestic women cooks, most historians of food and cooking, both male and female, focus almost exclusively on the ‘great culinary achievements’ of famous male chefs and gastronomes,” (Swinbank, 2002).
The dependence on women’s knowledge of food extends into the chocolate industry as well. During the colonization of Mesoamerica by Spain, many Spanish men often took indigenous wives, who were in charge of domestic duties in the household, including the preparation of chocolate (Norton, 2006). As argued by Norton, 2006, “Europeans unwittingly developed a taste for Indian chocolate, and they sought to re-create the indigenous chocolate experience.” The experience that Europeans sought to recreate was based entirely on the chocolate recipes of indigenous women. Additionally, some chocolate makers of the Bean-to-Bar movement have pushed for a return to these indigenous recipes in modern chocolate placing more traditional ingredients in their bars, highlighting the lasting impact that indigenous women have had on the product.
Another example of the influence of women’s knowledge in the production of chocolate is that of the Mars Corporation. Frank Mars’s first ventures into the candy industry were built on confections he made using his mother’s personal recipes. Although his first attempts at the candy business failed, the main ingredient of his signature creation, the Milky Way, is the nougat he made using his mother’s knowledge. Although the bar has undergone many changes since it first hit the market, the initial success of the Milky Way is undeniable, bringing in nearly $800,000 in sales its first year, the equivalent of over $11 million today (Brenner, 2000).
While the devaluation of women’s cooking has contributed to the underrepresentation of female chefs, and subsequently, of female chocolatiers, the positioning of women as consumers of chocolate rather than producers of chocolate in advertisements, as noted above, has also played a large role. Advertisements for chocolate have targeted women since the early twentieth century. Many of these early advertisements appeal to notions of heterosexual romance, implying that chocolate gifts for women were the best way to show affection (Robertson, 2009). These advertisements formed the foundation of the stereotype of the irrational woman who can only be calmed down with chocolate.
During the 1960s, a different sort of advertisement began to appear. Taking advantage of the second-wave feminist movement, these advertisements featured more independent women. Companies began to appeal to women’s newfound financial independence (Nutter, 2009). The women of these advertisements were consumers completely who were unapologetic about enjoying chocolates, as in the example below. They also appealed to more relaxed attitudes about women’s sexuality, serving as precursors to modern advertisements such as the Axe commercial shown earlier.
Presently, advertisements continue to play off of ideas and stereotypes set up by advertisements created nearly a century ago. These stereotypes contribute to the barriers that women face in the world of chocolate. The 2009 film, Kings of Pastry, documents the competition for the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, France’s most prestigious award for professional craft trades. A scene from the movie is shown below. Notably, not only are the head chefs all male, but so are the assistant chefs.
The production of haute chocolate is a relatively new phenomenon seeking to distance itself from mass-produced cheap chocolates. The movement melds art with chocolate to create new experiences, both visually and gastronomically, for consumers. Haute chocolatiers create massive and beautiful sculptures and include some of the world’s most expensive ingredients. The following video shows Chef Marc Guibert’s chocolate pudding, which doubles as a replica of a Faberge egg.
Haute chocolatiers include world-renown culinary experts as well as small chocolate producers hoping to increase the quality of chocolate available to consumers. Despite the wide range of advocates, however, women in haute chocolate are sorely underrepresented. This conceals the influence that women have had in the preparation of chocolate throughout history, and speaks to a larger societal problem about the lack of women in professions traditionally reserved for men.
Although the International Food Awards awarded less than one fifth of its awards to women owned and run chocolate companies, the contributions that women have made to the field of chocolate are immense. The positioning of women as consumers of chocolate in advertisements as well as the exclusion of women in the realm of professional cooking have contributed to the scarcity of female chocolatiers. As women begin to gain traction in fields that were traditionally reserved for men, the number of female chocolatiers receiving recognition through these awards will likely increase as well.
Brenner, J. G. (2000). The emperors of chocolate: Inside the secret world of Hershey and Mars. Broadway.
Coe, S. D., Coe, M. D., & Huxtable, R. J. (2013). The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson.
Ferguson, P. P. (2006). Accounting for taste: The triumph of French cuisine. University of Chicago Press.
Harris, D. A., & Giuffre, P. (2015). Taking the heat: Women chefs and gender inequality in the professional kitchen. Rutgers University Press.
International Chocolate Awards. (2016). World Final Winners – 2016. Retrieved from http://www.internationalchocolateawards.com/2016/10/world-final-winners-2016/
Norton, M. (2006). Tasting empire: chocolate and the European internalization of Mesoamerican aesthetics. The American Historical Review, 111(3), 660-691.
Nutter, K. B. (2008). From romance to PMS: Images of women and chocolate in twentieth-century America. Edible ideologies: Representing food and meaning, 201.
Robertson, E. (2009). Chocolate, women and empire: a social and cultural history. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Swinbank, V. A. (2002). The sexual politics of cooking: a feminist analysis of culinary hierarchy in western culture. Journal of Historical Sociology, 15(4), 464-494.
Image 1: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/182044009910644909/