Chocolate is a food that is now enjoyed by millions and millions of people every-day. It is consumed in many forms whether that by in a solid bar, cold and hot beverages, or baked into many different meals and desserts. To reach the point we are at today, there have been many evolutions in how chocolate is produced in order to make it into the hands of people of all different social classes and geographical areas. Moreover, these technological innovations were the catalyst to bring chocolate into the hands of people of all social classes. Therefore, here is a journey through time to see how the production of chocolate as evolved and aided in the spread of chocolate around the world.
The origins of chocolate are dated back to as early as 1400 BC in Mesoamerica. In Mesoamerica, several different groups of people have been discovered to use cacao in their daily lives such as the Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec. Specifically, the Mayan’s left behind depictions of cacao being produced and consumed in writings such as the Dresden Codex. The people in Mesoamerica produced their chocolate in most cases in the form of a drink. Bernardina de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar, described the process as he watched an Aztec chocolate seller prepare it, “she grinds cacao [beans]…she drenches, soaks, steeps them. She adds water sparingly, conservatively; aerates it, filters it, strains it, pours it back and forth, aerates it; she makes it form a head, makes it foam” (Townsend, 2009). Additional to the process, various spices and other foods could be added to change the flavor profile of the drink slightly. However, this chocolate drink was only consumed by the elite in the Mayan and Aztec society. This was due to several reasons mainly being that chocolate was seen as a sacred food that was to be a sign of prestige and special occasion. However, we can also evaluate the production process of the chocolate and see that it required a decent amount of work for a drink meaning the supply was not large. Furthermore, the vessels that were used to serve the chocolate tended to only be accessible to the rich (Coe and Coe, 2007).
The arrival of the Spanish including Christopher Columbus, Hernán Cortés, and Bernal Díaz in the early and mid 16th century brought cacao to Europe’s doorsteps. However, when it arrived the taste was still quite bitter due to the lack of sugar in chocolate’s production. Here while the Europeans did not make any significant changes on how chocolate was produced, we saw the modification from the Mesoamerican process, the addition of sugar and other sweeteners. However, the availability of chocolate remained the same as it did with the Mayans and Aztecs. Since chocolate was being imported into Europe, it was reserved for only the wealthy and powerful in the European countries as an aristocratic privilege and exploded in popularity (Pucciarelli, 2017). To keep up with this large demand, the slave market thrived as more and more plantations were being created to manual process the cacao beans (Kerr, 2007).
The expansion of chocolate had led to people to try and created a more efficient process of production. First, mills being powered by wind or horses and heated tables to expedite extraction were created to help aid human labor (Wilson and Hurst, 2015). While these inventions helped increase production, it was still not enough to produce chocolate on a massive scale. This caused chocolate to still be out of reach for the large majority of the population. This exclusivity was then shifted by the Industrial revolution that saw large changes in the way and forms that chocolate was produced.
The first process introduced by the Industrial Revolution came in 1828 by a Dutch Chemist, Coenraad van Houten. He created a new machine that was a press that was able to remove around half the cacao butter from chocolate liquor (Spadaccini, 2014). This press combined with a technique also designed by Houten to add alkaline salts to chocolate to reduce bitterness (Kerr, 2007) was the beginning of making chocolate production cheap and more available. Houlten’s new chocolate would be called “Dutch cocoa” aptly named after the chemist’s nationality.
This new chocolate had then led to others to experiment with it and giving birth to various other new creations, the most notable and known being the chocolate bar. Around 1847, Joseph Fry tried to mix the cocoa powder and sugar with the cacao butter that was previously extracted (Coe and Coe, 2007). Other creations that came about during this time were powdered milk crated by Henri Nestle in 1867 (Coe and Coe, 2007) and the process of “Conching” chocolate to make it smoother in 1879 by Rudolph Lindt (Klien, 2014). These processes both made chocolate available in more forms and even more enjoyable to consume which both increased demand for chocolate. To capitalize on the demand, factories started to pop up around the world to start producing chocolate. For example, in 1879 a West African blacksmith took some cacao plants back to the Gold Coast and when the British governor recognized the potential of the region it was encouraged to grown and produce cacao in Africa (Beckett, 2008). Many of the large chocolate companies around in the present day had started around this time in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Nestlé, Cadbury and Hersey’s (Kerr, 2007). The production of chocolate started to be located to where it could be produced cheaper and cheaper, therefore reducing the price of chocolate and allowing it to be consumed by the middle class. An example of chocolate become a normal good for many citizens can be seen during World War I.
In the picture above, we can see the process within a factory showing how chocolate was produced during the War from 1914-1918. Since chocolate was being produced at such a large scale that it was being sent with soldiers going off to war, it is clear to see that is was not a treat only for elite, but for the masses.
Overall, looking at the history of how chocolate is produced we can see how productions methods directly influenced the ability for people to obtain chocolate. As chocolate became easier to produce and new method of consuming it became available, its elite label was diminished, and it became a treat for the masses.
- Townsend, R.F. The Aztecs. Thames & Hudson, London, 2009
- Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky; Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson. 2007
- Pucciarelli, Deanna. The history of chocolate, TED-Ed. 2017
- Kerr, Justin. “History of Chocolate”. Field Museum. 2007
- Wilson & Hurst, “Chocolate and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition and Therapy”, p. 219, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2015
- Spadaccini, Jim. “The Sweet Lure of Chocolate”. Exploratorium. 2014
- Klein, Christopher. “The Sweet History of Chocolate”. History. 2014
- Beckett, S. T. The Science of Chocolate (2nd ed). Cambridge, UK: RSC Publishing. 2008
- Allen, Meredith. From Bean to Bar: A History of Chocolate Production. web.colby.edu. 2018
- NATIONAL ENGINEERING. CO, CACAO PRESS, COCOA PRESS, COCOA BUTTER, CACAO OIL, 2012