Monthly Archives: March 2019

Heating Pad and a Bar of Chocolate

Femininity winds itself through the cultural history and current understanding of chocolate. Women’s sexuality and domesticity have been alternatively leveraged to sell chocolate for hundreds of years. In this blog post, I hope to illustrate how chocolate intersects with women’s health both as a cultural consideration and medical reality. Examining how chocolate relates to women’s relationship with menstruation and how marketers capitalize on those stereotypes reveals a new lens through which we can better understand chocolate’s complex role in society

Chocolate as Medicine: Past and Present

TheFlorentine Codex, an 16th century ethnographic study of Mesoamerica written by a Bernadino de Sahagún, provides the earliest analysis of chocolate and its role in Mesoamerican culture. Friar Sahagún wrote a detailed account of Mesoamerican society and culture, casting him as one of the world’s first anthropologists. In his account, he included passages and images that described Aztec interaction with chocolate. He highlighted the use of frothed chocolate as a medicinal supplement used to cure and treat a multitude of ailments. He warned against consuming unripe green cacao, but advocated consuming well prepared cacao in order to fortify oneself for battle.[i] Sahagún’s studies mostly involved how chocolate affects men’s health and virility. M. De La Cruz’s 1552 Badianus Manuscriptexpands on the medicinal uses of chocolate, citing its ability to cure disease and invigorate the body.[ii]

Image from Florentine Codex depicting ritual chocolate consumption

            In the 19th and 20th century interest in chocolate as medicine faded and was replaced by sole consideration of chocolate as a foodstuff. However, in recent years, a renewed interest in the medicinal qualities of chocolate has given rise to a number of influential studies that declare various benefits of chocolate. Peer reviewed research has led to claims that chocolate has many different health benefits, many specifically aimed at women’s health issues.[iv] For example, a sustained consumption of dark chocolate can reduce women’s risk of stroke and diabetes because of chocolate’s antioxidant content.[v]

            Spanish colonial forces slowly adopted a belief in chocolates medicinal properties and Europeans tried to work chocolate as medicine into their established frameworks for understanding medicinal practices. Carl Linneas solidified Europe’s peak perception of chocolate as medicine, claiming that the food could cure a variety of ailments from wasting to hemorrhoids.[iii]

            However, chocolate’s role as a self-prescribed medicine taken by women to help quell their period pains and satisfy their cravings during menstruation highlights how chocolate as medicine occupies a muddy place between fact and fiction. Chocolate as a treatment or supplement for women on their periods is as much a cultural creation as a medical reality.

Menstrual Marketing

Rom-com tropes of caring boyfriend bringing his girlfriend chocolate when she’s on her period abound in mediocre movies and TV shows. In popular culture, chocolate is seen as universally craved by menstruating women. There is some science to back up this cultural projection. A survey of menstruating American women reported that about half of respondents intensely craved chocolate during the premenstrual phase of their cycle. Chocolate does have caffeine content and antioxidants that can help with the symptoms that accompany premenstrual hormonal changes. However, Dr. Amy Stavnezer, a professor in psychology and neuroscience specializing in women’s health believes that women’s perception of chocolate as period treatment is actually a learned cultural behavior.[i]

            Messaging associating chocolate with periods is everywhere. Marketers have sold the idea that chocolate can tame the irrational or wild women. Irrationality and wildness are both culturally associated with menstruating women. In a 2006 Nestle ad, a crazy, irrational woman uses a voodoo doll to torture her boyfriend. She then finds some chocolate, eats it, and begins to treat the voodoo doll lovingly.

            In the movie Chocolat, chocolate also is shown to calm and cure the irrational wild woman. A side character, Josephin, is mistreated by her husband and widely considered the town loon. Eventually she gets taken in by Vien, the exotic and alluring new chocolatier on the scene, and begins to mystically calm down and gain confidence. The movie tracks this development though Josephine’s chocolate intake, the chocolate makes her less crazy.

Sample Box from the PMS Package:

            Countless new startups focused on aiding menstruating women depend on this understanding of chocolate as a period necessity. There is a new micro-industry that sells subscription boxes to menstruating women in order to help ease their suffering. The boxes are usually cutely and irreverently packaged and filled with goodies. Some pack in luxury self-care products like face masks or aromatherapy and others provide ibuprofen samples and heating pads. The only thing constant across every box was chocolate. Each box contained chocolate in some form: hot chocolate mix, chocolate bar, caramel-filled truffles, you name it.[ii]  


Society’s perception of chocolate as a medicinal product has contorted over the past 600 years. Mesoamerican cultures relied on chocolate as medicine, European adopters promoted certain uses, and modern-day practitioners explore its uses. Chocolate’s intersection with women’s health, especially menstrual health, reveals the unique position that chocolate occupies in our understanding. Chocolate and its uses are intensely affected by both scientific realities and cultural constructs

[i] “Why Do I Crave Chocolate During My Period?” Psychology Today. Accessed March 11, 2019.

[ii] “I Tried 5 Different Subscription Boxes For My Period So That You Don’t Have To.” Accessed March 7, 2019.

[i] Sahagun B. General History of the Things of New Spain [Florentine Codex, 1590] School of American Research, University of Utah Monographs of the School of American Research, and Museum of New Mexico; Santa Fe, NM, USA:

[ii] De la Cruz M. The Badianus Manuscript, Codex Barberini, Latin 241, Vatican Library: An Aztec herbal of 1552. Johns Hopkins University Press; Baltimore, MD, USA: 1940.

[iii] 1981Von Linné (Linneaus) C. Om Chokladdryken. Fabel; Stockholm, Sweden: 1741.

[iv] Wilson P.K. Chocolate as Medicine: A Changing Framework of Evidence Throughout History. In: Paoletti R., Poli A., Conti A., Visioli F., editors. Chocolate and Health. Springer Verlag Italia; Milano, Italia: 2012. pp. 1–16

[v] “Women Should Eat More Chocolate !,” Medical News Today, accessed March 7, 2019,

Chocolate: From Sheep Droppings to American Staple

Chocolate is arguably the most versatile candy in the United States. From cakes to brownies to fondues, Americans consume chocolate in a multitude of ways. Not only is chocolate extremely versatile, it is one of the most popular forms of candy in America. According to internal sales data examined by, last year almost half (eleven to be exact) of the top 25 candies sold on Halloween in the United States were some form of chocolate. (Daily Meal 2018) However, this wasn’t always the case. English-speaking Europeans weren’t very impressed by cocoa beans upon first meeting. In fact, the first English and Dutch sailors to discover cocoa beans on a Spanish treasure ship threw them overboard, confusing the beans with sheep droppings. (Cadbury) So how did chocolate make the transition from sheep droppings to a staple American delicacy that is easily available to anyone? Let’s take a look at its long journey.

Cocoa beans are home to Central and South America, and is speculated to have been a central part of Olmec culture since as far back as 1500 B.C.. (History 2018) The Olmecs passed their knowledge of chocolate on to the Mayans, who primarily used it in drinks to make something most similar to what we know today as hot chocolate. Although cocoa was a central part of Mayan culture, it was available to pretty much everyone in society. The rich and the poor were able to enjoy hot chocolate as a delicacy. However, the Aztecs saw chocolate in a completely different light. To them chocolate was a gift from their gods and was only available to the lower class at celebrations like weddings. Because it came from the gods, chocolate was believed to have divine properties and was used in the most Sacred rituals in Aztec society such as birth, death, marriage and sacrifice. Chocolate was regarded so highly in the culture that Aztec ruler Montezuma II drank gallons of chocolate a day as an energy boost and an aphrodisiac, and also kept cocoa beans reserved for the military should they ever go to war. In Aztec culture, cocoa beans were more valuable than gold, and it is speculated that many European countries were first introduced to chocolate by the Aztecs.

There are differing stories about how and when chocolate first arrived in Europe, however most agree that chocolate arrived in Spain first. The Spanish took the Mayan recipe and added some of their own spices like cinnamon and cane sugar. Soon after arrival, hot chocolate became a popular commodity, and by 1585, Spain was importing chocolate into its ports.  As its popularity continued to soar in Spain, simultaneously other European countries were visiting parts of Central America and bringing cocoa beans back to their individual countries. By the 17th century, chocolate was a popular drink throughout much of Europe, though it was reserved for the upper class. Similar to the Mayans and Aztecs, Europeans believed chocolate had medicinal, nutritional and even aphrodisiac properties. Chocolate would remain exclusive to the upper-class until the late 1700s when the steam engine made mass production possible. As imperialism spread to the Americas, chocolate went with it. Chocolate arrived in the British colony Florida in the late 1690s and by 1773 it was available to all people in the American colonies. Like the Aztecs, Americans believed that chocolate was beneficial in war, and thus soldiers were rationed chocolate in the Revolutionary War. In fact, chocolate was so highly regarded, that it was often given to soldiers instead of actual wages.

There were a number of different factors that led to chocolate being able to be mass-produced at an affordable price, and in the different forms that we are familiar with today.  First and foremost, Imperialism played a major role in the spread of chocolate. As European countries attempted to conquer the Americas and spread their influence across the world, they came in contact with chocolate. Some historians believe that Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes was the first to  discover chocolate when the Aztecs mistook him for a deity and welcomed him with a big feast where they served him large amounts of chocolate. (History 2018) This allowed him to bring the beans back to Spain, and aid in the spread of chocolate across Europe. A major breakthrough occurred in 1828 when a Dutch chemist discovered a way to make chocolate powder. (Fiegl 2008) His discovery paved the way for solid chocolate and the many different forms of chocolate that we are familiar with today. Later in the 1800s companies in Europe and America began making and selling different forms of chocolate candies. For the first time, chocolate became available to consume in different forms to everyone in society.  Another breakthrough, and perhaps most important was the creation of the steam engine. Before the steam engine, the process of creating chocolate was still very remedia, and hadn’t improved much from the formula used by the Aztecs. Before the introduction of the steam engine, grinding cacao beans into chocolate was a grueling process done by hand. It was inefficient to say the least. However, the steam engine allowed chocolate makers to make much larger quantities of chocolate. Joseph Storrs Fry was the first to buy a steam engine for chocolate production, and his success inspired others to do the same. (Coe and Coe 2013) As more people began streamlining their chocolate process, the price of chocolate also fell, which allowed all classes of people to enjoy it.  

Works Cited:

The Daily Meal, 2018. The 25 Most Popular Halloween Candies in America., 2018. History of Chocolate.

Fiegl, A., 2008. A Brief History of Chocolate

Coe, Sophie D., Coe, Michael D., 2013. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, London. Image Citations:

Mostafa, H., 2016., Chocolate And Children’s Teeth And Gums

World Kids, 2017., A Sweet (and not so sweet) History

Johns, A., Spych, B., Kompler, C., Caruthers, D., Caruthers, D., & Green, R. (n.d.). James Watts Steam Engine, 2018. 18th Century Canvas Print–dorling-kindersley–science-museum-london.html?product=canvas-print

Producing what they don’t consume

West African farmers rarely consume the finished product despite producing the largest proportion of the cocoa beans. The video below shows N’Da Alphonse, an Ivory Coast farmer who has never seen or tasted the finished product.

The inaccessibility that West African farmers experience, as seen in this video, serves a reminder that despite providing the raw materials to fuel the industry, farmers remain marginalized from the finished product. The last line said by the workers in the video perfectly summarizes the injustice:

“We complain because growing cocoa is hard work. Now we enjoy the result. What a privilege to taste.”

This lack of access to chocolate is a common theme among West African producers and their respective countries. For example, Ghana is the second largest producer of cocoa beans capturing 18.7% of world share (Leissle 80). Despite this, Ghana’s yearly chocolate consumption is 0.5kg per capita, which is extremely low compared to European countries like Switzerland who consume 5.7kg per capita and the United States where consumption is 2.3kg per capita (“The Challenges Facing West Africa’s” 1). Why is it the case that Ghana, like other West African countries, has low chocolate consumption?

One commonly cited reason is the economic constraints that prevent West African populations from consuming chocolate (Leissle 84). The daily minimum wage in Ghana is 10.65 Ghanaian Cedis (GHS), which is roughly $1.91.The average cost of a chocolate bar in Ghana is 5.84 GHs (Haden 1 ). This means that buying a chocolate bar requires a Ghanaian to set aside 54.84% of a days salary. To put this into perspective, the average daily minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 per hour and the average cost of a chocolate bar is $1.59. Comparatively, a U.S worker needs to work around 13 minutes to be able to afford a chocolate bar. The differences in economic constraints are quite evident.

In recent years, this lack of local consumption has come to the attention of the Ghanaian government as well as to entrepreneurs. What are these actors doing to increase chocolate consumption in the area?

School Feeding Programme

In September of 2018, the Ghanaian government announced that chocolate drinks would be included in the school feeding programmes worldwide. The Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, believes this program will expand the local appetite for chocolate. Dr. Owusu affirms that the consumption of a food item is a result of developed taste and preference. This program would seek to introduce young kids to the taste of chocolate from an early age (“Cocoa Drink Now Part” 1).

Niche Chocolate

Niche chocolate is an entrepreneurial solution to the low consumption levels of chocolate seen in Ghana and other West African countries. The company was founded on the premise of producing chocolate locally that is also accessible to the Ghanaian population. Niche provides high-quality chocolates at affordable prices. This effort, in turn, seeks to eliminate the economic constraint that historically marginalized West Africans from chocolate consumption (“Niche Cocoa to Increase” 1).

World Cocoa Day

The Ghana Cocoa Board was founded on the premise of supporting and increasing production, and processing and retailing quality chocolate among other products in Ghana. This board launched a World Cocoa Day in Ghana in an effort to increase local consumption of chocolate through a marketing campaign. The iteration of the event in 2017, featured the president of Ghana who thanked farmers in the region for their hard work that has kept this cash crop growing (“President Akufo-Addo” 1). The visibility given to chocolate and to this event was a means to market the economic and social importance it holds in Ghana.

The three distinct propositions explained are a good step towards spreading the desire for local community members to consume chocolate. However, local consumption in the case of schools, may not be the best approach. Primarily because chocolate does not have the highest nutritional value. The Ghanaian government should consider investigating whether chocolate can be given to young kids on a daily basis. Furthermore, the government should provide further insight into what chocolate products are being introduced into the school programme. With regards to the company Niche, it is clearly an innovative company that is having a favorable impact in Ghana. Niche is increasing processing capacity in the region while maintaining fair pricing to capture the local market. In the coming years, we may start to see the spillover effects of lowering chocolate prices for locals in increased consumption levels. It is important for farmers and the populations in the countries which they reside to not be marginalized from the consumption of chocolate.

The process of harvesting cocoa beans is a labor-intensive one but as the farmer said in the beginning video one that yields an end product that is  “a privilege to taste.” For this very reason, it is important that Ghana and the other major West African countries make it an effort to promote the local consumption of the cocoa crop.

Works Cited

Scholarly Sources

“Cocoa Drink Now Part Of School Feeding Programme.” Modern Ghana, Modern Ghana, 21 Mar. 2018,

“Cocoa Farmer Income: the Household Income of Cocoa Farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Strategies for Improvement.” Fair Trade International , 2018,

“President Akufo-Addo Celebrates Cocoa Farmers On World Cocoa Day.” The Presidency Republic of Ghana, 2 October 2017,

Haden, Alexis. “ South African Food Prices from 2008 vs 2018.” The South African, 31 Aug. 2018,

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

“Niche Cocoa to Increase Local Cocoa Consumption.”, 14AD, 2017,

“The Challenges Facing West Africa’s Chocolate Industry.” Ghana Talks Business, 26 Sept. 2017,

Multimedia Sources

Niche Cocoa Bars. Digital image. Graphic Online. 14 February 2017,

Ghana Cocoa Board Banner. Digital image. Ghana Cocoa Board. 10 May 2017,

“First Taste of Chocolate in Ivory Coast – Vpro Metropolis.” YouTube, VPRO Metropolis, 21 Feb. 2014,

The Social Drink of the Spanish Elite: Chocolate and its Significance in the Enlightenment Era

The Enlightenment Era, also known as the Age of Reason, took place in Europe and North America prominently in the 17th and 18th centuries. This time period is most known for advancements in philosophy, art, and culture among educated intellectuals. The era is characterized by using reason and logic to question longstanding truths surrounding Christianity and science, as well as prevailing government practices, and freedoms surrounding the human condition (Power, 2002).

In the Salon of Madame Geoffrin in 1755 painted by Lemonnier in 1812

It is often overgeneralized that the “salon-like” philosophe social gatherings were similar in structure, however, during this period across Europe, patterns of socialization were unalike and individual in their own respects. Each gathering was unique to its region and largely influenced by cultural tradition with respect to chocolate. Out of all of the different social gatherings observed in the Western World during the Enlightenment Era, chocolate being served as a drink was most prevalent in the Spanish Tertulia social gatherings. Such gatherings played an essential role in shaping European Enlightenment culture, although this influence is often overlooked and underplayed.

Tertulias were social gatherings of the wider Spanish social classes where chocolate was served during the latter end of the 18th century Enlightenment Era (Samper 2001). These gatherings happened periodically, like a modern-day book club would convene, to discuss and debate current political issues, philosophical dilemmas, the arts, or even upcoming social gatherings such as bullfighting. These social gatherings took place in private, and semiprivate areas, and were an important catalyst for political, and cultural change in the Enlightenment era. Tertulias, in particular, were known for sharing and circulating various literary works and art. They shaped patterns of socialization, facilitated the exchange of ideas, and helped the spread of information amongst Spaniards with chocolate playing a pivotal role at such events.

A Gathering in Santiago, 1790 by Claudio Gay in 1854

Chocolate was first adopted by the upper classes of Spain as a type of entertainment drink. It became so popular especially among the noblewomen who hosted each other for social gatherings. This was in part because Spanish noblewomen were marrying French royalty, and the Jesuits were bringing over the custom of drinking chocolate (Llopis, 1998). Chocolate was a regular offering at such tertulias along with various sweets, pastries, ice cream, and shaved ice. Traditionally in Spain, chocolate refreshments were served hot and made with a water base; however, as the Enlightenment era progressed Spaniards started crafting the drink the French way by using milk. Chocolate was a central component to the offerings delivered and was deemed the star of the gathering as it was the trendiest drink to be served.

Hot Chocolate by Raimundo Madrazo y Garreta in 1884

These chocolate drinks were a signal of elegance, sophistication, and extravagance.. These chocolate refreshments were plentiful and free-flowing within the tertulia. Chocolate took on a prestigious, and rich connotation because the chocolate drinks at this time had become an important staple amongst the Catalan nobility. Chocolate was the favorited drink among the Spanish enlightenment socialites from the 16th century until the 18th century, when coffee became popular in a similar fashion to how chocolate had been served at social gatherings. Overall, chocolate was the prevailing favorited non-alcoholic drink of the Spaniards at these tertulias.

When one thinks of the Age of Reason, often the first thing that comes to mind is the French salons. Surprisingly, among the French philosophes, coffee was a more popular drink than chocolate (Coe, 2013). In Tastes of Paradise, Schivelbusch describes chocolate in Europe as being Catholic, aristocratic, and particularly southern, while coffee is described as northern, protestant, and middle class. It was truly at Tertulias in the south of Spain where chocolate drinking was so vital to the Spanish upper class. While chocolate was still being served in different forms in countries such as England, Italy, and America as part of food, medicine, and even poison at the time, chocolate took on a level of popularity in drink form in Southern Spain that was unseen anywhere else during the time. Chocolate drinks were essential to the Tertulias and played a central role in gathering Spaniards to discuss relevant Enlightenment issues.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

“En Ce Moment Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture.” Lemonnier, Anicet-charles-gabrie ||| History ||| Sotheby’s N08952lot4csp3fr. Accessed March 22, 2019.

Gay, Claudio, 1800-1873. Una tertulia en Santiago, 1840 . Disponible en Memoria Chilena, Biblioteca Nacional de Chile Accedido en 3/21/2019.

Llopis, Manuel Martínez. Historia De La Gastronomía Española. Barcelona: Altaya, 1998.

Madrazo Y Garreta, Raimundo. Hot Chocolate. 1884.

Power, Marcus. “Enlightenment and the era of modernity.” The companion to development studies (2002): 65.

Samper, María de los Ángeles Pérez. “Spaces and practices of sociability in the eighteenth century: social gatherings, refreshments and coffee in Barcelona.” Notebooks of modern history 26 (2001): 11-55

Cadbury Chocolate Debate: Resolving Moral and Economic Contradictions

In 1901, the Cadbury company, which employed workers in Britain to make chocolate, started becoming aware of a brewing ethical crisis. Though the company prided itself on caring for its employees with Quaker hospitality, they now learned that São Tomé and Príncipé, African islands in the Portuguese Empire, were potentially using a form of labor that was effectively slavery on the cocoa farms. The drama primarily unfolded amidst the clash between the harsh reality of economic self-interest and a universal liberal moral consensus of antislavery. Ultimately, the work of investigative journalists made it untenable for Cadbury and other stakeholders to continue to triangulate between the two contradictory forces, and the forces of liberal consensus proved to be more powerful for Cadbury.

To understand how Cadbury ended up in this quagmire, it is helpful to understand that the company’s identity held contradictory elements from its beginning. The company insisted that its mission was not solely to make money, but to also model a morally superior Quaker society. Religious discrimination prevented Quakers from many areas of social and political power, but the Quakers provided support for each other, and many were able to succeed in business (Satre 14). The Cadbury family was highly involved in charity work, and aimed to build the rural village of Bournville (also the name of the factory) into a model city as part of the “Garden City movement, designed to improve the living conditions of its people” (Satre 16).

Still, even before the Cadbury debate, there were hints that this best of both worlds narrative, which portrayed the company as both morally and economically superior, was covering over disheartening contradictions. Specifically, the company often would choose money over morals. The company operated under a “marriage bar,” which forced female employees to leave upon becoming married. Cadbury justified it by explaining that “Cadbury did not want to take mothers away from their homes and children” (Newkey-Burden). Yet Cadbury employed large numbers of single women to keep expenses down, and had to separate the sexes in the factory to protect the single women. Further, many Cadbury workers could not afford the rents in Cadbury’s model village (Satre 16). These factors raise fair suspicious that Cadbury’s actions were sometimes motivated more by economic factors (i.e. young, single women could be paid less) rather than by their proclaimed moral intentions (i.e. promoting motherhood).

As the scandal burst onto the public awareness after journalist Henry Nevinson’s articles (Satre 82), Cadbury’s reputation was in a particularly vulnerable position. Its predicament was summed up well by a journal’s wry observation that “the cocao and chocolate which are turned out in this country by philanthropic manufacturers with the most scrupulous of care for the welfare of their employees, should have been grown under the most infamous and revolting conditions of murderous slavery” (Satre 83). This contrast can be displayed through a 1960 BBC video clip of Bessbrook model village (link, BBC) with images from slave condition. Bessbrook served as inspiration for Bournville, and the BBC reporter notes its “quiet dignity,” and remarks that the park and childrens playgrounds are “well-kept and free from litter”. As a goose gracefully swims in lake, the reporter nostalgically describes the bygone era in which the Quaker companies “were concerned with the social welfare of their workers.” Even after scandals of São Tomé and Príncipé, the benevolent image continued to hold its place in the public’s mind, as evidenced by the wistful mood of the video.

In contrast, Nevinson’s image (link, Nevinson) of the slaves being transported by ship encapsulates the complete disempowerment of the slaves. While the BBC video extols the parks and playgrounds, the mass of woman and their children are crowded lifelessly on the deck, with no space to leisurely roam about even if they wanted to. Only a few of the women in the picture have the energy to sit up, and of those, many appear to avert the gaze of the camera, perhaps in shame. The two women who do make eye contact appear mournfully resigned to their predicament.

The advertisement for Cadbury provides another contrasting example. Two woman happily look down at the expansive, well-manicured soccer field that the children are playing on (link, Wilson). The field is surrounded by impressive architecture of Cadbury, perhaps signifying the benevolently paternalistic ethos of Cadbury. The women appear pleased to be contributing members of the model society, and their lively children on the soccer field contrast sharply with the hapless children resting in the laps of the women slaves.

Not only was slavery against the proclaimed morals of the Quaker’s, but the major players in the debate were united, at least ostensibly, in a liberal moral consensus of antislavery. Slavery had already been officially banned in both the British and Portuguese empires, so the debate was not over a moral dispute about slavery, but over a dispute of fact (Satre 2). Portugal claimed that the native laborers were voluntarily entering five year labor contracts, but Nevinson brought forth evidence the Portuguese system of “contract labor” was effectively the same as slavery (Satre 7).

Portugal’s insistence on its own propriety had a practical effect of constraining its ability to reign in threats such as Nevinson. Even though the “slave traders were aware of Nevinson’s presence and purpose” (Satre 5), he was allowed to proceed in peace (except for a poisoning incident which was possibly intentional). Instead of actively confronting Nevinson, slave traders avoided Nevinson by taking alternative paths, camouflaging the slaves as carriers, and taking other steps to disguise their practices (Satre 5). Since the Portuguese insisted they had nothing to hide, they even promoted visits to a “‘model’ plantation in São Tomé, ‘a show-place for the intelligent foreigner or for the Portuguese shareholder who feels qualms as he banks his dividends” (Satre 10). Nevinson was not impressed with the “model” plantation, especially when the doctor admitted a twelve to fourteen percent annual death rate, with the chief cause being “‘anaemia’ brought on by ‘unhappiness’” (Satre 10).

When Cadbury company decided to send William Burtt as a representative to investigate the allegations of slavery, the Portuguese not only tolerated Burtt, but actually consistently displayed hospitality to him (Higgs 141). As Cadbury negotiated with the Portuguese over reforms to the labor system, the Portuguese emphasized that they shared the company’s “‘liberal and humane sentiment’”(Higgs 141). While the Portuguese might have secretly wished to forcefully end the investigations from Nevinson and Burtt, their options were limited by their official stance of antislavery.

Cadbury was rightfully fearful of the consequences of the public outrage generated by journalists such as Nevinson. It was a “public relations nightmare” for the firm, with consumers mailing Cadbury with comments such as “You pious Frauds” (Higgs 153). The public image fallout even impacted the members of a jury, in which they ruled in favor of Cadbury’s libel lawsuit against a critical article, but only rewarded one farthing (one quarter of a penny) in damages, strongly implying their lack of sympathy for the company (Higgs 152). While a cynical interpretation is that companies and countries only act in their own self-interest, journalists such as Nevinson demonstrate that when journalists are allowed to do their jobs, the public has a chance to demand changes to the status quo.

Works Cited

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business.

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa

Wilson, An. 2010. How the Cadbury family of the Victorian age would put today’s fat cats to shame

Nevinson, Henry. 1906. A Modern Slavery

Newkey-Burden, Chas . 2018.Who were the Cadbury Angels?

BBC Roving Reporter, 1960.

Equal Potential, Unequal Opportunity

A Historical Analysis of Gender Imbalances in Ghanaian Cocoa Production

Women in cocoa.
Photo by K. Keukelaar in the village Mantukwa, Ghana.

West Africa is the greatest regional producer of cocoa in the world (Leissle 2018, p. 4). In Ghana alone, there are 720,000 farmers growing cocoa, 25 percent of which are women (Barrientos 2014, p. 796). Despite exhibiting both quality and productivity levels equal to if not greater than men, women’s income and farm ownership are severely disproportionate to men. Women sell a mean of 8 bags of cocoa per year, equalling ~$980 in annual income. Men, meanwhile, sell a mean of 23 bags of cocoa per year for an annual income of ~$2,817.50 (Leissle 2018, p. 23). Through an analysis of Ghana’s cocoa farming history, there are several sociopolitical factors that have led to the development of gender inequality in the sector. The combination of exogenous changes in the agricultural market and women’s social roles in farming and the household have shifted cocoa production power to men and constrained how women participate in the cocoa market. Traditional land inheritance laws have constrained women’s access to farming plots. Finally, the gendering of work in the cocoa sector has perpetuated the gender gap and prevented women from becoming independent cocoa farm owners. While the historical development of cocoa farming has led to these gender imbalances, the success of female cocoa farmers despite these adversities has spurred new initiatives to eliminate gender inequality in the cocoa sector.

Cocoa arrived in the Portuguese colonies of Sao Tome and Principe in the early 1800’s and expanded throughout mainland Africa by the end of the century. Before, most cocoa had been produced in South America and the Caribbean. During the nineteenth century, the abolishment of slavery throughout the region and disease such as witch’s broom severely limited the amount of cocoa South America and the Caribbean could provide. This supply restriction coincided with an acute increase in demand for cocoa. More successful marketing strategies and new innovations such as the Dutching process and the Swiss conche made smoother, creamier milk chocolate products that attracted more consumers. Since South America and the Caribbean could no longer support rising production demands, chocolate manufacturers turned their eyes to Africa, where cocoa trees had been found to flourish (Leissle 2018, p. 1–47).

West Africa saw a phenomenal rise in cocoa production first in Sao Tome and Principe. The cruel labor practices being encouraged on the islands were exposed in the early 1900’s, and British chocolate manufacturing giant Cadbury was forced to boycott cocoa from these islands as protests against these labor abuses rose. Major cocoa production moved to colonized regions of mainland West Africa as production subsequently declined in Sao Tome and Principe, particularly in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and Cameroon (Leissle 2018, p. 40–42). Nigeria’s rise as a prominent cocoa producer was not solely the result of imperial pressure but also of farmer’s own enthusiasm to begin growing cocoa. Around the turn of the twentieth century, coffee and rubber prices were low while cocoa prices were steadily rising with Europe’s voracious demand for chocolate. Gold Coast farmers jumped on the opportunity, and cocoa became the most important export of any category by 1910 (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 3).

Agricultural goods in Ghana have historically been gendered such that either men or women are solely responsible for their respective crops and their proceeds. How these crops were gendered resulted from household roles. Women were responsible for childcare, food processing, cleaning, and other household chores. This gave men much more time for cultivating crops other than subsistence goods, and men indeed devoted this extra time women spent on household labor devoted to commodity production and trading. Women became increasingly involved in trading subsistence goods in local markets while men pursued more lucrative occupations in cocoa farming or waged work (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 13–14). This genderization of crops and general markets became culturally cemented over time, and cocoa farming became a male–dominated sector while subsistence farming and local market trading became a feminized domain. As cocoa farming became more valuable and generated a more substantive part of a household’s income, women and children became increasingly involved as informal laborers on the household cocoa farm, with the husband/father acting as the central, mediating figure through whom the value of wives’ and children’s labor was realized (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 106).

Women cocoa farmers lack equal land right access.
Photo by K. Keukelaar in the village Mantukwa, Ghana.

The increasingly valuable role of women and children in cultivating the household cocoa farm upset traditional land inheritance practices. Prior to colonization, Ghanaian land inheritance was typically matrilineal in which a husband’s family land would be bequeathed to his sister’s sons and rarely to his own wife and children. A husband’s self–acquired land, however, could be bequeathed to his children and wife if “he had been well–served by the child” (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 107). Self–acquired land became much more popular with the cocoa boom, as women cultivated family land for subsistence farming and men cultivated new additional land for the cocoa farms. By 1920–1930, the value of a deceased man’s self–acquired property rivalled and even surpassed family land, causing tension between potential matrilineal inheritors and the husband’s wife and children. This tension remained throughout the twentieth century, although a few laws were instituted to make bequeathing nonfamily land to a man’s wife and children easier. In the mid–1980’s, revisions to land inheritance laws were implemented to facilitate family land inheritance to female spouses, but few Ghanaians have actually appealed to this law (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 107–109). Due to this system of land inheritance, and because women rarely acquired land for themselves due to their responsibility to other household duties and expectations, land ownership laws and land acquisition processes in Ghana have inhibited women from pursuing farm ownership. More than 90 percent of cocoa comes from smallholder farmers who cultivate a few hectares of land or less, and women have faced more limited access to the already restricted allocation of land than men (Leissle 2018, p. 3).

The cultural gendering of important work in the cocoa sector has also limited women’s growth in the cocoa sector. Cocoa farming involves many steps, and as new agricultural innovations have been introduced into the sector, women’s work has been devalued. As more technological advancements such as the use of fertilizers and pesticides have been produced, women were delegated to planting and harvesting. The male–dominated mechanical application of pesticides and herbicides became more highly valued because these activities more noticeably increase yields in the short run (Barrientos 2014, p. 797). The most gender–restricted activity is the point of sale. Since men have come to control the market for cash crops as women have come to predominate the markets for subsistence goods, social norms usually demand that only men are involved at the point of cash exchange. As female cocoa farmers must enlist men to sell their cocoa, they may not realize their full earnings potential, especially when wives combine their cocoa output with their husbands, as these women cannot tell who earned how much (Leissle 2018, p. 121–122). Women’s cultural exclusion from the most lucrative activities and important positions of agency have continued to perpetuate gender inequality in cocoa farming.

Kuapa Kokoo seeks to empower female cocoa farmers.

Several historical socioeconomic forces led to the development of gender inequality in the cocoa sector, including exogenous changes to the agricultural market, land access, and the perpetuation of cultural and social conditions disadvantageous to female cocoa farmers. Today, however, many initiatives are taking place to close this gap. Chocolate manufacturing and processing giants Cadbury and Cargill, working with NGO Care, have supported female farmers’ cooperative groups since 2006 (Barrientos 2014, p. 6). Land in Ghana’s western region is being transferred significantly more often from husbands to wives and daughters instead of sons and matrilineal inheritors. Two LBCs in Ghana, Kuapa Kokoo and Akuafo Adamfo, encourage women’s participation at the point of sale (Leissle 2018, p. 122). While women’s advancement in the cocoa sector has been limited by socioeconomic factors, women’s increasing involvement and success in cocoa farming despite these challenges has instead begun to contest this inequality and inspire change in the sector.


Allman, Jean Marie., and Victoria B. Tashjian. I Will Not Eat Stone : A Women’s History of Colonial Asante. Social History of Africa. Portsmouth, NH : Oxford [England] : Cape Town: Heinemann ; J. Currey ; D. Philip, 2000.

Barrientos, Stephanie. “Gendered Global Production Networks: Analysis of Cocoa–Chocolate Sourcing.” Regional Studies 48, no. 5 (May 4, 2014): 791–803.

Keuklaar, K. Many more women may work in cocoa than official statistics suggest. In “‘A long way to go’ to equality for women cocoa farmers.” Mantukwa: Confectionary News, 2017,

Keuklaar, K. Women cocoa farmers lack equal land right access, but could significantly boost yields, improve child nutrition and help reserve global warming.In “‘A long way to go’ to equality for women cocoa farmers.” Mantukwa: Confectionary News, 2017,

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Newark, UNITED KINGDOM: Polity Press, 2018.

Quisumbing, Agnes R, Ellen M Payongayong, and Keijiro Otsuka. “Are Wealth Transfers Biased Against Girls? Gender Differences in Land Inheritance and Schooling Investment in Ghana’s Western Region,” n.d., 43.

Vigneri, Marcella, and Rebecca Holmes. 2009. “When being more productive still doesn’t pay: gender inequality and socio-economic constraints in Ghana’s cocoa sector.” Paper presented at the FAO-IFAD-ILO Workshop on Gaps, trends and current research in gender dimensions of agricultural and rural employment : differentiated pathways out of poverty, Rome, (31 March – 2 April 2009). Rome: FAO-IFAD-ILO.

MILO, the Chocolate-Malt Drink: Tonic Food or ‘Poison’?

Comparatively little has been written about the role of chocolate in foodways throughout Asia, much less within the region of Southeast Asia. Except for Philippines, a former Spanish colony, where a drink of hot, dark chocolate is still consumed as part of breakfast on Christmas morning, chocolate never ‘took off’ in India, Southeast Asia, or the Far East (Coe & Coe, 1996: 173-174), the same way it did across Europe in the 17th to 19th centuries.

The Chocolate-Malt ‘Tonic Food Drink’

However, chocolate did eventually make its way into Southeast Asian cuisine, albeit through a very different product and under tremendously different circumstances at a much later time. Chocolate became a popular ingredient in Singapore (and neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia) by way of Nestle’s MILO drink. Claiming its namesake after the great Greek athlete Milo of Croton, who won 6 Olympic events in the 6th century BC, Nestle’s MILO is marketed as a health-sustaining “Tonic Food Drink” since its creation in 1934, which has been attributed to Australian food scientist, Thomas Mayne. Mayne had apparently concocted the drink to feed the malnourished children of Depression-era Australia, where the economic crisis had undoubtedly spread. Nestle claims that Mayne had “developed a powdered chocolate malt drink that people could mix with water or milk, and drink hot or cold”. Indeed, advertisements from that time show MILO marketed as a “fortified” health drink, with an obvious ‘chocolate-y’ brown appearance:

milo 1

MILO was apparently introduced to Singapore in 1936 and has had a production facility on the small island nation since 1984. Print advertisements throughout the years have attested to the staying power of MILO in the Singaporean market:

milo 2.jpgA MILO advertisement painted on the side of a building in Singapore, 1949, above a similar advertisement for Milkmaid Milk. (Source: The Long and Winding Road)

milo 3A Nestle stall selling MILO drinks at the Great World Amusement Park, 1951. The park was considered a trendy entertainment spot for young Singaporeans at that time. (Source: The Long and Winding Road)

Interestingly, several of the print ads I’ve found of MILO in Singapore at that time depict the chocolate malt drink as an energy-giving sports beverage:

milo 4A MILO ad in Singapore from 1966 advertising it as an energy beverage for sportsmen and sportswomen. (Source: The Long and Winding Road)

milo 5Undated Singapore print advertisement of MILO in Chinese. (Source: Taking Up the Challenge blog)

Espousing the nutritional and energy-giving properties of MILO, the messages in these ads echo those of chocolate as a health food in Europe in the 19th century, when it was first introduced as a mass commodity and marketed to the working and middle-classes as affordable luxuries by chocolate manufacturers:

A Cadbury poster (left) and Hershey’s poster (right) from the 19th century, also found in Coe & Coe (1996: 239)

The Sugar Controversy of MILO

Chocolate “occupies an uneasy place in European diets today” (Martin & Sampeck, 2016), and the rise of sugar production and consumption throughout the centuries have caused health issues, such as obesity, over the increase in their consumption (Mintz, 1985). As a food product containing both sugar and cocoa, MILO consumption in Singapore and Malaysia have not been spared from similar discourse. In fact, precisely because MILO has been marketed as a health beverage, its ingredient list and the way that it is advertised, has been in recent years, scrutinized in Malaysia:

Sugar has been highlighted as one of the main ingredients of MILO, ‘proving’ the hypocrisy of food titans of the industry and sparking conspiracy theories of great ‘cover-ups’ by Nestle in the marketing of their food products:

“Big food companies are not incentivised to make you feel healthier. They’re incentivised to make you feel sick and keep you pumping your body with sugar because sugar makes you hungrier, so you buy more of their poisonous sh*t.”

Because of these allegations, Nestle launched ‘sugarless’ and low-sugar MILO products in Singapore, such as the MILO Gao Kosong* (sugarless) and the MILO Gao Siew Dai**(less sugar) and marketed them as healthier alternatives to regular versions of the drink:

Less-sugar MILO (left) and No sugar-added MILO (right)

Incidentally, both these ‘healthier’ versions of the drink emphasised a thicker (“gao”) flavour in their tastes, mirroring moves in chocolate consumers’ tastes towards “better”, “quality” chocolate containing higher proportions of cocoa solids (Coe & Coe, 1996: 257-261), perhaps drawing a closer but unconscious relation in consumers’ minds to “fine chocolate in the market sold as high in anti-oxidants and otherwise of potential benefit to consumer health” (Martin & Sampeck, 2016: 52). MILO Gao Kosong is even endorsed by government-sanctioned health authorities in Singapore as a “Healthier Choice”, with the President of Singapore appearing at the official launch for the beverage.

(*“Gao” means “thick” in the Chinese dialect of Hokkien and Teochew, where most Chinese diaspora in Singapore and Malaysia hailed from generations ago. “Kosong” means “empty” or “zero” in the Malay language. “Siew Dai” is a term for “little brother” in the Hainan dialect spoken by Chinese diaspora in Malaysia and Singapore, many of whom owned coffee stalls or coffee shops. It has become a term used to denote “less sugar” when ordering coffee or tea at local coffeeshops. )

milo 10The ‘no added sugar’ version of the popular chocolate malt drink MILO was launched in Singapore by President Halimah Yacob on 19 June 2018, attesting to the drink’s ability to evolve with consumption preferences across time.

From Healthy to Decadent – Staying Power

Like its ‘purer’ counterpart cocoa powder, MILO is has also proven to be a versatile ingredient for other food creations and its popularity in place of cocoa powder may be attributed to the relative affordability. A 400g tin of MILO costs just SGD4.14 (USD3.06) whereas a 225g tub of Hershey’s Cocoa costs SGD6.60 (USD4.88), with the latter being a foreign import and subject to import taxes.

milo 11The MILO Dinosaur, a MILO shake drink served in coffeeshops all over Singapore and Malaysia.

The affordability has meant that, like cocoa, MILO has been used as an ingredient in many confections in Singapore and Malaysia, such as shakes, ice creams, cakes, candy bars and even fried chicken, all of which diverge far from its intended ‘healthy’ image so carefully assembled by its marketeers.

MILO’s affordability and versatility has meant that it has established itself as a popular, though sometimes controversial ingredient in Singaporean and Malaysian diets. The chocolate-malt drink, like many of its cocoa counterparts, has had an unstable relationship with its consumers over the years. It is at once healthy yet decadent, nourishing yet ‘poisonous’ (as some have claimed), and energy-giving yet full of ‘empty’ calories (sugar) –  larger testament of the shifting, dichotomous and sometimes contradicting meanings societies imbibe in food.



Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.


Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” pp. 37-60


Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.



“We have more Chocolate”: Chocolate Innovation in the Industrial Revolution.

Walter Baker & Co Ltd. Brand Logo
(Walter Baker Co.,1917)

Chocolate Industry Before the Industrial Revolution

The industrial revolution took place about 1760 to 1850, all across Europe (especially Great Britain), and the United States (especially New England) (Allen, 2011).  When most think of revolution they envision an oppressed people abruptly overthrowing the existing government and starting a new system of government.  Like the American Revolution or the French Revolution, or the revolution that’s currently taking place in Venezuela.  The industrial revolution was certainly a transition to a new system or way of producing things, but I like to think of it as more of an era of direct or indirect collaboration and healthy competition 😊 .  I guess the industrial collaboration and competition just doesn’t have the same “oomph” to it.

The industrial revolution represented a transition to new manufacturing processes in many different sectors, that had previously been done manually or by hand (Allen, 2011). 

Increase and efficient use of steam and water power, chemical and iron manufacturing and the development of machine tools and culminating in the mechanized factory system (Wikipedia, 2019).  It also led to a sustained increase in population and economic growth.  The textile industry primarily benefited from the Industrial Revolution, but the Chocolate industry certainly benefited from this era of innovation (Wikipedia, 2019).

Chocolate in different simple forms had been produced for consumption for Europe and the United States since its Spanish “discovery”, from the Mesoamerican peoples, in the 16th century (Coe & Coe, 2013).  Spain had long had a monopoly on chocolate production and kept the price point high so when it was first introduced to other countries, only the wealthy could afford to buy it (Walter Baker & Co., 1884).  This likely delayed an increase in chocolate production and also chocolate manufacturing and product innovations.

The processing of the raw material of cacao beans to edible chocolate had not changed significantly; roasting, winnowing, grinding, and milling (Leissle, 2018).  Most of the process was done manually using simple devices and on a small scale.  There was large scale chocolate production going on but that was producing chocolate in just wafer form for beverages and still done by hand.  Like any developing industry, chocolate product costs were high, and there was not much availability or product variation (Coe & Coe, 2013).   

17th Century Cacao Grinding
(Walter Baker Co.,1917)

Revolution is in the Air and in the Chocolate

One of earliest documented uses of power machinery being utilized for chocolate production was by Dr. James Baker of Dorchester Massachusetts and John Hannon of Ireland (Walter Baker & Co., 1884).  Hannon was a chocolate maker.  Dr. Baker had some knowledge of the cacao bean and chocolate and provided the funding for the startup business. Together, in 1765, they rented space in a grist mill in Milton Lower Falls, Massachusetts and ground cacao beans using hydro power (Coe & Coe, 2013).  Previously, the grist mill had been used for flour for many years.

1822 Milton, MA Lower Mills from a to scale model.  Baker mill on the right.
(Walter Baker Co.,1917)

In 1772, Dr. Baker and Hannon marketed and sold their product as Hannon’s Best Chocolate, in the cake form.  In 1799, Hannon disappeared en route to the West Indies and Dr. Baker continued the chocolate business under his name (Coe & Coe, 2013).  Imagine starting and growing ANY type of business during the American Revolutionary War, near Boston, Massachusetts.  Incredible.

Bing Map of Boston Area, with Dorchester outlined

A Revolution Takes Time

What many do not remember or never fully learned, was that Independence Day (4th of July), was the date (July 4, 1776) that the 13 colonies of America, declared their independence from Great Britain (Wikipedia, 2019).  The Revolutionary War continued for another 7 years until 1783 when the Paris treaty was signed (Wikipedia, 2019).  A revolution takes time.

In 1820, Dr. Baker’s grandson Walter, took over the business and the chocolate company was reorganized with other contributors and investors under the name of the Walter Baker & Company (Coe & Coe, 2013).

Walter Baker & Co. Founders
(Walter Baker Co.,1917)

Birds-Eye view of Walter Baker & Co’s Mills at Dorchester and Milton
(Walter Baker Co.,1917)

Chocolate Machine at Walter Baker & Co. could produce 10,000 lbs. daily (Walter Baker Co.,1917)

It produced many chocolate products like unsweetened cocoa powder and sweetened chocolate (named for John German (Walter Baker & Co., 1884)) for baking, dipping and candy making.  Or any of their recipes.

Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate Bar Product : Image from Joy of Baking website

Another major milestone for chocolate production was accomplished by Coenraad Johannes Van Houten in Amsterdam in 1828 (Coe & Coe, 2013).   Instead of boiling and skimming to remove the cacao butter from the chocolate liquor, he developed a mechanized hydraulic press for that process function (Coe & Coe, 2013).

Early cocoa press in Van Houten’s Factory, using manual labor (Coe & Coe, 2013)
Houten’s Mechanized Hydraulic Press

Van Houten used the mechanized hydraulic press to press the fat from roasted cacao beans (Coe & Coe, 2013).  This hydraulic process created a cacao cake which then could be pulverized into cacao powder, which could be used in all manufacturers.

Van Houten also innovated the use of alkaline salts to remove the bitter taste and made it more water soluble.  This is known as Dutching (Coe & Coe, 2013).  Baker did not approve of Dutching or adding anything, including chemicals, to cacao.  He believed the chemical process diminished the natural aroma and flavor of the cacao seeds (Walter Baker & Co., 1884).

Joseph Fry and his legacies had been making chocolate in Great Britain since 1728.  In 1789, Fry purchased Watt’s steam engine (The steam engine was perfected by James Watt in the late 1700’s, for many different industrial applications) to be the motive force to grind his cacao beans, instead of hydro power (Coe & Coe, 2013).

In 1847, The Fry Company went on to create a blend of cocoa powder and sugar with melted cacao butter, instead of warm water, so a thinner viscous chocolate could be cast into a mold. This was the world’s first true eating chocolate, not brittle and dry as before (Coe & Coe, 2013).

Van Houten and Fry Take Production Skyward

With the Van Houten processing break through, and Fry perfecting a way to mechanize the grinding process, and other companies following suit,  overall chocolate production on both sides of the Atlantic was able to increase substantially and meet consumer demands (Coe & Coe, 2013).

There were other chocolate innovations during the Industrial Revolution.

Such as, in 1826, Swiss Phillipe Suchard, began making chocolate with his invented machinery which included the world’s first melangeur or mixing machine (Coe & Coe, 2013).

Innovation Continues

And just because the Industrial Revolution ended, chocolate manufacturing processes continued to improve and innovate, and the chocolate product continued to be refined to satisfy all consumers tastes and thereby increase chocolate production.

In Great Britain, the Cadbury Brothers, who had a long history of making innovative chocolate and cocoa products, would always be competing with Fry to outdo each other with new product and gain more market share (Coe & Coe, 2013).

In 1867, Henri Nestle’ and Daniel Peter worked together to create the first milk chocolate bar. Peters, a swiss chocolate manufacturer came up with the idea of using Nestle’s invented powdered milk in his process (Coe & Coe, 2013).

In 1879, Swiss Rudolph Lindt invented the conche machine and the conching process.  Conching is the process of rolling chocolate liquor and using that frictional heat to achieve a desired taste and smoothness. Chocolate was no longer coarse or gritty.  Chocolate consumers loved it.  Lindt called this chocolate fondant and the conching process became the standard for making chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013).   

And in 1903, like Thomas Edison or Henry Ford, Milton S. Hershey, would bring all the product and process development and innovation, together, that occurred before his time, and launch his chocolate company (Coe & Coe, 2013).  

Over the many years, chocolate of all types, used in all applications were produced at lower and lower prices, and chocolate “went viral”.   Adults and children everywhere can’t get enough of chocolate (and sugar, which has been a prevalent ingredient in chocolate and also has driven chocolate consumption (Mintz, 1986)).

Trending Chocolate Consumption

In 1830, both in the U.S. and U.K., we were eating about 3/5  oz. per capita (Walter Baker & Co. Ltd., 1917).  In 1860, the U.S. and U.K were eating about 2 oz.  per capita (Walter Baker & Co. Ltd., 1917).  By 1915 we were eating over 30 oz. of chocolate per capita (Walter Baker & Co. Ltd., 1917).  Clearly, we have loved chocolate and the companies and innovators of the industrial revolution learned to make a lot of inexpensive and a variety of quality chocolate for us. 


And that love relationship continues with the world today. In 2015, just in the U.S. alone, we ate 9.5 lbs. per person per year.

World’s Biggest Chocolate Consumers in 2015

So the next time you tear open a Ghirardelli dark chocolate square, or unwrap a Hershey chocolate kiss, or a nice someone uses Baker’s Chocolate to actually bake you chocolate frosted chocolate cupcakes for your birthday…..before you devour that sweet mind altering chocolate treat, maybe tip your hat or give props to the chocolate industry innovators of the industrial revolution.  They certainly enabled modern day chocolate manufacturing processes like the ones featured in this YouTube video by Tesco (Tesco, 2015).


Allen, R. C. (2011). Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Baker’s Sweet German’s Chocolate Product Image. (2019, March 13). Retrieved from

Coe, M. D., & Coe, S. D. (2013). The True History of Chocolate, 3rd Edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Leissle, K. (2018). Cocoa. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

Niall McCarthy. (2015, July 22). The World’s Biggest Chocolate Consumers. Retrieved from

Tesco. (2015, Dec 9). Scrumptious Chocolate: How is chocolate made? Tesco.

Walter Baker & Co. (1884). Cocoa and Chocolate: A Short History of Their Production and Use. Dorchester: Walter Baker & Co.

Walter Baker & Co. Ltd. (1917). Cocoa and Chocolate: A Short History of Their Production and Use. Dorchester: Walter Baker & Co. Ltd.

Wikipedia. (2019, March 10). American Revolutinary War. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2019, March 10). Industrial Revolution. Retrieved from

CHC: The Medicinal and Social Perception of Cannabis and Cacao Consumption

Cacao and Cannabis

Today, we tend to think of cannabis and cacao consumption as a treat or indulgence.  Yet, the use and cultivation of these two plants date back through antiquity. Back then, the beliefs about the purpose of cannabis and cacao consumption was much different and far less restrained by negative social or biological implications.  

While much of the eurocentric understanding of cacao is extrapolated from studying the Aztecs, the Mesoamerican origins of cacao can be traced back even further to the Olmec civilization.  The Olmecs, possible ancestors of the Mayans, created a flourishing society in the humid lowlands of the Mexican Gulf Coast around 1500 BC. The humid, tropical rainforest climate created ideal conditions for growing the Theobroma Cacao Tree, but terrible conditions for archeological preservation.  That being said, linguistics experts have deduced the origins of the word “cacao” to the Mixe-Zoquean language used by the Olmecs in 1000 BC. Further, excavators discovered a stone bowl with chemical remnants of cacao (theobromine) at the Olmec capital city (San Lorenzo) and reasonably conclude they were among the first to discover the chocolate process (Coe & Coe, 84).    

Postdating the Olmecs, The Maya existed from 250 AD until its collapse in the ninth century.  The Maya thoroughly advanced wisdom and is remembered particularly for its contributions to agriculture, food, and spirituality.  Cacao, then pronounced “kakaw,” played an important social role for Mayans, even earning its own hieroglyph. Archaeologists find cacao heavily present in the primary source database, especially in connection with the gods.  In visual and written documents, cacao is presented in a sacred light—something consumed by the gods to support supernatural vitality. Specifically, this is evidenced in the Dresden Codex and Popul Vuh, which both feature cacao in direct connection with the gods.  For this reason, many historians refer to cacao as “the food of the gods.” Drinking chocolate was the premier means of cacao consumption in Mayan society, serving a certain symbolic importance in marriage and fertility rituals. Beyond its connection with the gods, cacao was also considered to be of medicinal value in Mayan society; the Maya used cacao for its digestive, anaesthetic, anti-inflammatory, and energy related benefits (Martin).   

The Aztecs, from 1300-1521 AD, also believed cocoa had a religious significance.  The Theobroma cacao tree was considered divine—a bridge between earth and heaven.  Beyond the ritualistic significance of cacao consumption to connect the Aztecs with the supernatural world, they also used chocolate for medical purposes.  Archaeologists have uncovered Aztec documentation of healing rites including cacao in ancient codices. Two manuscripts specifically, Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams, describe the proper medicinal applications of cacao for physical ailments and spiritual afflictions (Martin).  Cacao was administered in a variety of different ways to treat a range of illnesses, including skin eruptions, fevers and seizures.  Above all, chocolate was believed to foster vitality and improve love.

Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams

The use and cultivation of cannabis dates back through antiquity as well.  In ancient China, 2700 BC, Emperor Shen Neng prescribed tea with cannabis dissolved in it to treat a number of illnesses.  Marijuana was popular as a medicine, not a delicacy. Its effectiveness led to the proliferation of cannabis as medicine throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Africa (Stack).  Primarily, cannabis was used as a stress and pain relief medication—especially effective during childbirth (Prioreschi). Ancient documents reveal a caveat to the overconsumption of marijuana, marking its negative side effects as impotence, blindness and seeing demons.  By the late 18th century, cannabis as medicine made its way to the occidental world as a remedy for inflamed skin, incontinence and venereal disease. Specifically, one Irish doctor named William O’Shaughnessy praised the medicinal benefits of marijuana and preached about its ability to effectively alleviate pain and nausea (Stack).

While cacao played a sacred role in their society, there is ample evidence the Maya used cannabis to understand the universe as well.  Mayan hieroglyphs and art also depict the act of smoking, whether it be tobacco or marijuana. Archaeologists contend the Maya cultivated marijuana in farms and ground cannabis to create psychoactive beverages.  As alluded to earlier, drinking was also the preferred method for cacao consumption in their ancient society. The psychoactive effects of cannabis allowed the Mayans to communicate with the gods and pray off demons.  Similar to the medicinal uses of cacao, cannabis was used to treat bug bites, snake bites, and alleviate other physical ailments (Civilized).

Today, just as our perception of these ancient civilizations, our realms of knowledge surrounding cacao and cannabis are quite different.  As we move forward from ancient times through history, we begin to see the understanding of cannabis and cacao develop alongside disciplines of knowledge.  For example, the further development of scientific methods and documentation of natural phenomena continues to help society understand these plants with a more robust fact base.  While it has been treated as an illicit drug in America for hundreds of years, cannabis has recently been proven to remedy severe medical impairments, such as epilepsy, and alleviate chronic pain, especially for chemotherapy patients (Zurer).

Scientists have found many similarities between chocolate and marijuana.  In 1996, researchers found cacao consumption to activate cannabinoid receptors in the human brain providing users a subtle “high” similar to the effects of marijuana.  While three substances in cacao were proven to activate cannabinoid receptors, the most prevalent finding was an increase in anandamide levels. The paper explains, “anandamide is a lipid that binds to cannabinoid receptors and mimics the psychoactive effects of the drug” (James).  Because chocolate is believed to enhance the effects of cannabis consumption, these findings imply that medical marijuana can be cushioned and moderated by combining the dose with cacao (Zurer).

These findings have affected not only the medical realm, but the legal realm as well; one lawyer sought to recuse his client by arguing the client tested positive for cannabis due to high levels of chocolate consumption (Tytgat, J., Van Boven, M. & Daenens, P.).  While this bogus argument was refuted, it still goes to show the sociopolitical landscape is changing as science elucidates more and more botanical similarities between these two plants.  Perhaps it is time we retreated from our perception of chocolate and marijuana consumption as gluttonous indulgences back to the ancient purpose of fostering wellness.


“Cacao vs Cannabis.” Digital image. Pics for You Evety Day.

Civilized. “5 Facts About How Cannabis Was Used by the Mayan People.” YouTube. October 16, 2017. Accessed March 2019.

Coe, Sophie D. “The True History of Chocolate.” iBooks.

Harvard University. “Marijuana: The Latest Scientific Findings and Legalization.” YouTube. April 04, 2017. Accessed March 2019.

James, J S. “Marijuana and Chocolate.” AIDS Treatment News, 1996.

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, And The Politics Of Food”. Lecture slides. February 6, 2019.

Peake, Allen. “CNN Documentary on Charlotte’s Web, Medical Marijuana Treating Seizure Disorders.” YouTube. February 09, 2014. Accessed March 2019.

Plinio Prioreschi, and Donald Babin. “Ancient Use of Cannabis.” Nature 364, no. 6439 (1993): 680.

Stack, Patrick, and Claire Suddath. “Medical Marijuana.” Time. October 21, 2009. Accessed March 2019.,8599,1931247,00.html.

Tytgat, J., Van Boven, M. & Daenens, P. Int J Leg Med (2000) 113: 137.

Zurer, Pamela. “Chocolate May Mimic Marijuana in Brain.” Chemical & Engineering News 74, no. 36 (1996): 31-32.

From Cultural to Commercial: Cocoa’s Geopolitical Transformation

Molded by years of exposure to masterfully crafted marketing campaigns, average consumer knowledge of cacao [or cocoa] is limited to its function as an ingredient and source from which their beloved chocolate is derived. There is much more to the birth, rise, and spread of Theobroma cacao.

The following seeks to explain how a culturally significant crop among early civilizations dating back to 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe, 2013) transformed from a highly treasured ingredient and social currency cultivated within a fairly limited zone to a globally produced and traded commodity: a highly reformulated, mass-produced, and readily available confectionery product.

This journey traces cacao back to its genetic and cultural beginnings where it was religious and cultural fixture among early civilizations; how exploration and migration played into the geographical expansion of its cultivation and rise in popularity as a food; role in accelerating industrialization; and transformation from a social currency and treasured ingredient to a heavily traded commodity and mass manufactured consumer product.

Genetic and Cultural Beginnings

From births and burials, recipes and rituals, cacao’s cultural origins are linked to Mesoamerica (present day Mexico through Central America), where its social and religious significance among the Olmec dates back to 1500 to 400 BCE (Coe and Coe, 2013). The rise of Maya and Aztec civilizations gave way for cacao’s evolution utility and proliferation as a consumable.

Cacao’s Role in Society and Religion

Evidenced by archeologic discoveries, translated texts, and scientific testing, several vessels and writings have been unearthed, clarifying and validating cacao’s significance, religious ties, and early application as a currency.

Mayan and Aztec civilization associated cacao with the gods. As such, they were believed to enrich and afford protections during and after life, playing a central role in offerings and rituals (Coe and Coe, 2013).

Ceramic vessels similar to those pictured here which date back to 455 to 465 CE were found in burial tombs at Río Azul (Martin, 2019). Further testing confirmed positive traces of caffeine and theobromine—two of cacao’s alkaloid signatures (Martin, 2019).

Dating back to 455 to 465 CE, “funerary vessels” similar to those pictured here were discovered in tombs at Río Azul. As testing revealed traces of caffeine and theobromine, two of cacao’s signature alkaloids, this further supported evidence of cacao’s religious significance (Martin, 2019).

As a food or drink, cacao took many forms. Popular among the Maya and Aztec, “cacahuatl” was a frothy preparation often transferred from one vessel to another and served cold (Coe and Coe, 2013).

Described by Coe and Coe in The True History of Chocolate and drawn by Diane Griffiths Peck, this illustration provides a glimpse into one of many Maya and Aztec cacao preparation and serving methods.
Of the 15 discovered, translated, and still intact, the Dresden Codex contains the aforementioned Mayan hieroglyphic depiction of cacao being consumed by gods and used in rituals (Martin, 2019). Other major works include the Popol Vuh or “Book of Counsel” is a colonial document later translated by Friar Francisco Ximénez that reveals the importance of cacao among early civilizations.

Exploration and Migration: Changes in Cultivation and Consumption

By definition, explorers were bound to make new discoveries and learn from their experience. Capturing the innocent confusion and eye-opening experience (only to be realized years later), the following briefly details just how one explorer mistakenly thought that cacao beans were almonds.”

Mistaken for Almonds: When recounting observations from his 1502 landing at Guanaja, one of many landmasses that make up the Bay Islands archipelago, Ferdinand Columbus, one of Christopher Columbus’ sons wrote about cherished “almonds” that traded hands similarly to how currency would pass between customers and merchants (Coe and Coe, 2013). It was not until years later after multiple interpretations and sources concluded that what he presumed to be almonds were in fact cacao beans.

As it came to be more widely known, not far from where Ferdidnad landed, throughout the Rio Ceniza Valley (present day coast of El Salvador), cacao was an increasingly popular form of currency being produced and traded in record volume—something . In time, this led to further learnings about the “Nahua counting system” and subsequent adoption of cacao as payment for “protection” by Spanish conquistadors.

Generally relegated to tropical climates falling 10-15 degrees north and south of equator, is was inevitable that cacao would make its way around the world. So as people moved, and culture spread, so too did the cacao, as a crop, currency, and curiosity, ultimately leading to its introduction to new geographies, and paving the way for new industries and traditions around the world (Martin, 2019).

New Formulations and Complementary Ingredients

As ingredients such as vanilla, chili, and many others traveled around the world, pairings and formulations rapidly evolved. Marking a major development and informing direction for the confectionery side as we know it today, sugar was introduced to Europe around 1100 CE and chocolate followed shortly thereafter in 1500 CE (Martin, 2019).

Cacao’s Role in Accelerating Industrialization and Expanding its Place in Society

While cacao consumption continued to be reserved for certain classes during its journey around the world, increasingly sophisticated processing methods streamlined productions, regulation eventually brought its price down, and despite medical and religious challenges to its place in society, cacao products were increasingly available to a grander population.

By the 1600 and 1700s, advances in processing continued to align with rising and more diverse consumption habits. Of course, by this time, the separation between “producing” and “processing” countries (read: colonies vs. industrialized nations) was increasingly clear.

So while cultivation and production spread across Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa to meet demand, industry began to take shape on the consumer side as well with the emergence of social gathering halls or “Chocolate Houses” in Britain, France, Spain, the United States, and other “industrialized” nations who had transitioned to managing the cacao’s trade as a commodity and processing for various food and beverage applications. It was not until Rudolphe Lindt’s invention of the conche in 1879, an advancement that bolstered flavor and feel (among other things), and set the stage for quality, processing, and mass production to take off (Coe and Coe, 2013).

Illustrated above, the matete, grinder, and conche are examples of what cacao processing tools were used by early civilizations (and are still used in the same or similar forms today) and evolved or industrialized processing equipment employed today (Martin, 2019).

From early civilizations to present day, cacao’s role in society, cultural significance, availability and consumption have evolved tremendously. However, its mystique and association as something special are still true to this day—just as they were in different and more elaborate forms among early civilizations. Perhaps this condensed history will give pause and reason for the average consumer to think beyond commercialization of cacao, cocoa, or chocolate, and value and validate its history and claims made by brands to improve global understanding, perception, and consumer habits.

Works Cited

  • Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2013.
  • Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.Hu, Vol. 3, 2015, pp. 37–60.
  • Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.
  • Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018

Media Cited

  • Hansen, Magnus Pharao. “Cacao: How a Single Word Holds the Key to Understanding the Mesoamerican Past”. Nawatl Scholar. January 1, 1970. Accessed March 15, 2019.
  • Olver, Lynne. “Food Timeline FAQs: Aztec, Maya, & Inca foods and recipes”. Lynne Olver 2000. March 1, 2015. Accessed February 17, 2019.
  • Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies. “Map of Mesoamerica.” Accessed February 17, 2019.
  • Río Azul [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
  • Wikimedia Commons. File:Popol vuh.jpg. (January 16, 2015). Retrieved February 17, 2019.
  • Matete [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
  • Grinder [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
  • Conche [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.

Lectures Cited

  • Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. February 13, 2019. Lecture.
  • Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. February 20, 2019. Lecture.
  • Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.