Fathers of the Milk Chocolate Bar

How the milk chocolate bar came to be during the industrial revolution.

US consumers prefer milk chocolate above all other types of chocolate. (Progressive Grocer)

Ask a random stranger on the streets in the US what is his or her favorite type of chocolate and the answer will most likely be milk chocolate. In fact, 51% of US consumers in 2012 prefer milk chocolate over dark and white chocolate (Progressive Grocer). This can be attributed to milk chocolate’s milder and sweeter taste compared to most other types of chocolate (“Cocoa”). Moreover, milk chocolate is an integral part of Hershey’s, Cadbury, Mars, Ferrerro, and Kraft’s flagship products, which account for the majority of the global confectionery market. However, milk chocolate bars are a far cry from the traditional chocolate in Olmec and ancient Mayan culture (where the origins of chocolate is believed to be): a frothy chocolate concoction containing cacao, spices, flowers, maize, and other grains. The industrial revolution in the 19th century played a critical role in the invention of the milk chocolate bar and its rise to popularity among the masses.

milk chocolate bars are a far cry from the traditional consumption of chocolate

Between the introduction of cacao beans to Europe in the 16th century and the industrial revolution in the early 19th century, chocolate was consumed in the form of a beverage brewed from roasted cacao beans with additives, such as cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, and subsequently milk. Creating a hot chocolate beverage was a complicated and time-consuming process and usually occurred at chocolate houses. This changed in 1828. In the Netherlands, Coenraad van Houten leveraged his knowledge of hydraulic engineering and chemistry to pioneer the pressing and “Dutching” process to produce cocoa powder and cocoa butter (Miller). The pressing process reduces the cocoa butter content of chocolate liquor from 53% to 27% and the “Dutching” process treats the resulting cocoa powder with alkali for a darker and milder-tasting product (Coe 234-235). The resulting improvement in miscibility and mass-production of cocoa powder meant a hot chocolate beverage could be easily prepared and enjoyed by the masses in their households. Cocoa powder and butter would later become two key ingredients in many confectioneries, including milk chocolate.

Schematic of Van Houten’s hydraulic press. The apparatus applied force to extract cocoa butter from chocolate liquor and produce a cake that could be ground down to cocoa powder. (Van Houten)

The separation of chocolate liquor to cocoa powder and cocoa butter meant chocolatiers could better control and introduce new tastes and textures of chocolate. An example is Joseph Storrs Fry’s “Chocolat Delicieux a Manger” in 1847. Fry’s product was the first edible chocolate bar made from cocoa powder, sugar, and cocoa butter. The melted cocoa butter provided a thinner chocolate paste that could be casted into a mold and yield a chocolate bar. The popularity of the chocolate bar led to a high demand and price for cocoa butter, which made the chocolate bar a confection mainly for the elite. Fortunately, further refinement and industrial developments reduced manufacturing costs and allowed the general public to enjoy a blissful bite of chocolate (Coe 241). From drinking a chocolate beverage to eating a chocolate bar, the types of chocolate consumption increased to different forms with the advancements brought on by the industrial revolution.

The Fry’s chocolate bar was one of the first edible forms of chocolate in a molded shape. (Traynor)

“to make it more dainty, though less wholesome”

– DUfour, 1685

Soon thereafter, the chocolate paste recipe spread throughout Europe and captured the attention of Daniel Peter in Switzerland, where the first milk chocolate bar was born in 1879 (Coe 247). The earliest record of consumption of milk and chocolate together dates back to the 17th century, when milk was added to a chocolate beverage “to make it more dainty, though less wholesome” (Coe 169). In order to capture the “daintier” taste in chocolate bars, milk needed to be included in the chocolate paste before being molded into a bar. Yet, directly adding milk into the paste would introduce moisture and disrupt the solidification process of the chocolate bar. Peter tackled this problem with the help of Henri Nestle (the founder of Nestle) and his powdered milk. In essence, milk was evaporated down to a powder with large condensers, which was combined with the chocolate paste to form the milk chocolate bar (Coe 247). The machines used to produce both the evaporated milk and resulting milk chocolate bars borrowed many technological advancements from the industrial revolution. The milk chocolate bar had a milder taste compared to Fry’s original chocolate bar and became a popular chocolate bar across Europe, with multiple chocolatiers manufacturing milk chocolate bars.

Peter’s original recipe, which introduced powdered milk to a mixture of cocoa powder, sugar, and cocoa butter, led to the first milk chocolate bar in 1879. (Peter’s Chocolate)

Peter’s original milk chocolate bar recipe evolved over time, along with technological developments, to its modern day form. Nowadays, milk chocolate is still produced from cocoa beans, sugar, milk powder, and cocoa butter, but the manufacturing process is drastically different. Fermented cocoa beans are cleaned, roasted, and winnowed through machines. The resulting cocoa nibs are milled down to chocolate liquor, at which point the sugar and milk powder are added for flavoring. The milk chocolate mix is then passed through a refiner and into a conch, essentially a mixing device, along with cocoa butter to alter the taste and viscosity of the mixture. Finally, tempering the chocolate generates Form V crystals from cocoa butter, giving the solid milk chocolate the perfect melting temperature (slightly below body temperature) and a longer shelf life (Leissle 48-53). The entire process can be completed automatically through a series of special machines, which significantly reduces the price of a milk chocolate bar.

An overview of modern milk chocolate production. The machine-automated process is an evolution from the original milk chocolate bar production technique employed by Peter.

Within the span of 50 years, chocolate consumption transformed from a beverage reserved for affluent customers to a solid milky bar available for the masses. Van Houten made chocolate accessible, Fry made chocolate edible, and Peter made chocolate milky. Undoubtedly, there are many others (Lindt, Cadbury, Hershey included) who improved on the milk chocolate bar to its modern-day form, but it would not have existed without these three fathers of the milk chocolate bar. The $22 billion chocolate industry and many US consumers owe thanks to both the industrial revolution and these innovators for one of the best confections in existence.

Works Cited

"Cocoa." Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 1 Nov. 2018. Link, Accessed 15 Mar. 2019.

Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Miller, Ashley. “Coenraad Van Houten.” Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell University Library, 2007. Link, Accessed 15 Mar. 2019.

“Our Story.” Peter's Chocolate, Cargill, 25 June 2018, Link.

Progressive Grocer. "Chocolate Consumption Share in The United States in 2012, by Type." Statista - The Statistics Portal, Statista, 2012. Link, Accessed 15 Mar. 2019.

Science Channel. Milk Chocolate, From Scratch | How It's Made. YouTube, 30 Oct. 2016, Link.

Traynor, Kim. Fry's Chocolate Advertisement. Kirkcaldy, 7 Aug. 2013.

Van Houten, C. J. Method of and Apparatus for Discharging Press Boxes in Hydraulic Presses. 9 Nov. 1916.

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