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“Chocolate is a Fighting Food!”

Well over half a century ago the Aztec empire flourished in Mesoamerica, their soldiers marching on rations that included cacao (Coe 104). Some five hundred years later in North America, the United States military began developing chocolate rations which would stay in use from the beginning of World War II all the way into the 1990s. How is it that these two seemingly disparate cultures, separated by time, technology, and continents, chose to adopt cacao into their military rations?     

There were fundamental parallels that cacao and chocolate had in the cultures and militaries of these two nations. Both nations were not growers of cacao themselves. The Aztecs relied on trade, or tribute, to acquire their cacao. US candy companies purchased foreign cacao from consolidators and became the conduit for chocolate in the States. This meant that cacao was distributed to the populace by a certain group. Whether it is an Aztec noble or a branded candy company distributing the cacao, they distribute meaning along with the chocolate. And those cultural messages are crucial to the morale of an army in wartime, it is meant to show the soldiers that they are honored, respected, and valued. This was transmitted, in part, through the nourishment their military command provides them with.

Cacao was a highly valued commodity in Aztec lands. The Aztec could not grow it themselves in their local frost-prone region of the Mexican highlands (Coe 79). But they eagerly  sought it out through trade and tribute (Coe 79). Trade was done by a merchant class, the pochteca, who ventured out with their porters to trade for cacao beans as well as other products to bring back to the Aztec (Coe 79-80). Cacao was also acquired via tribute through the efforts of, or threat of efforts of, the Aztec military (Coe 79), and much was stockpiled in the hands of the ruling nobility (Coe 81-82).

Chocolate was also used to supply the Aztec military. Soldiers on the move were given ground cacao as a supplement to their rations (Presilla 19). Presilla mentions that this was “presumably easier to carry and prepare than whole beans requiring processing” (Presilla 19). Another important factor could be cacao’s resistance to spoilage over long periods of time. Armies of other empires have starved because they have extended too far and for too long outside the ability supply them with rations. For a more recent example, during the Spanish-American War, for every one soldier that fell in battle there were fourteen that died from insufficient provisioning or food spoilage (Hamilton 328),  in part due to their dependence on herds of animals for food (Hamilton 327), and the vulnerability of meat to spoilage. While not a complete food source, the Aztecs’ ground cacao was light, non-spoiling, calorific, mildly stimulating, and could at least slow down if not prevent starvation on extended campaigns. As a supplement to the Aztecs staple ration of toasted tortillas (Coe 73) it fed the successful, mobile army of the warrior class.

Chocolate had a special place within Aztec culture, being both a sign of status and a reward. Its availability was funneled through the merchant and noble classes, and served as a payment and an honorific to other classes. Two thousand containers a day of chocolate drinks were given to Motecuhzoma’s guards (Coe 82).  And they were not the only soldiers receiving cacao (Coe 82). Victorious soldiers were invited into the palace to be honored by the nobility, which included the drinking of cacao (Presilla 18-19). Chocolate’s place in the Aztec culture and consequently in the Aztec military was greater than its literal value through scarcity. In The True History of Chocolate, the Coes postulate that chocolate’s entrance into the military sphere may stem from the Aztecs associating it with the heart and blood, and their calling it a “right and true potion for Aztec warriors” (Coe 104).

Six hundred years later in North America, cacao had also found a valued place in US food culture. Cacao was not native to North America any more than it was to the Aztec’s Mesoamerican highlands. However, chocolate had become a widespread food treat in North America, associated with comfort, love, a special occasion, and any other identity the candy companies’ advertisers could attach to it. Chocolate was widely available, though wartime reduced its availability on the civilian market.

By World War II, the US’s army was capable of traveling vast distances very rapidly, and portable food was also essential to their success. In July 1936 the US Military’s Subsistence Research Laboratory (SRL) was formed to develop new rations for the US army (Hamilton 328). Initially they had a tiny staff and a $300 budget for researching rations (Hamilton 328). A, B, C, and K rations were developed over time, all designed to nourish troops, some with the facilities of cooking and refrigeration, some already fully prepared and ready to eat. These rations often included candy bars, such as chocolate bars, as treats.

While the Hershey Company was interested in the lucrative military rations business before SRL’s founding (Hamilton 329), but Hershey’s began working with the SRL in 1937 Field_Ration_D_chocolatewhen the company was approached by Captain Paul P. Logan of the US Quartermaster Corps who asked them to help make “a kind of survival ration” (Burger). It was not until 1939 that Field Ration D was fully approved (Ration D Bars).


(Right: Jacobson, image of a twelve-pack of  D Rations)


The D Ration or “Logan Bar” named after the aforementioned Logan (DeArmond 2), was a chocolate bar, but not a candy bar. Logan told Samuel Hinkle, an industrial chemist working for the Hershey Company, that the bar should taste “about like a boiled potato” (Bowers 10). The ingredients were “chocolate liquor, sugar, skim milk powder, cocoa butter, oat flour, vanillin” (Ration D Bars). These bars were designed to be light, easy to carry emergency food, allowing soldiers to remain mobile  for extended periods of time without the need of resupply. What sets the D ration apart from the A, B, C, and K rations are that D Rations were intended to not taste good. It had to be edible but not desirable. It was important that soldiers weren’t tempted to eat their emergency rations until necessary. Despite this, D Rations were sometimes included as a supplement to or included in other rations such as the K Ration. Later in 1943 Hershey’s developed the tropical chocolate bar which was designed to resist extreme heats of  up to 120FHersheys_Tropical_chocolate (Hershey’s Tropical Bars). Incidentally a version of this tropical bar would be brought aboard the Apollo 15 mission, probably the farthest a chocolate bar has traveled (Hershey’s Tropical Bars).

(Left: Jacobson, Image of a Tropical Ration)


Hershey’s was not the only chocolate company involved in developing and providing military rations. Nor was it the only candy company. For instance Mars, Inc. sold a variety of products, some of which, including M&Ms, were sold exclusively to the military, at least until the end of the war (Nieburg).2012-10-26-1942MMswarposterarmy1

(Left: Mirrer, M&M propoganda poster)

The SRL consulted with these companies extensively (Backer 52). These companies got some input in the specification of the food that the army received. But candy manufacturers managed to exempt themselves entirely from specifications for sales via commissary (Backer 65-66). Both through the rations and through the discretionary candy available for purchase by soldiers in the commissary, the power of branding in this captive market was something the candy companies competed hard for. And even the candies in rations were allowed a bit of variety as long as they met certain specifications (Backer 66).

The SRL not only was making military rations, but also was shaping ”the consumption of food” in the culture at large (Backer 52). The SRL researcher’s perception of what constituted an “American” food was determining what the soldiers were provided (Backer 52). When the SRL gave soldiers a HERSHEY candy bar in their K rations, or a D Ration, or sold branded items in their commissaries, they were defining and promoting what was an American food. This also shaped others’ perception of an American food. Around the world people were exposed to US soldiers eating branded foods and discarding wrappers, etc. Finally it also shaped what the American industry could produce for civilians. For a company to get a contract it had to be able to produce food to specification in large quantity, which meant, for practicality, when a factory produced food for civilians it would be of a similar kind.  Chocolate became strongly identified with US soldiers through WWII, and US brands traveled with them.

In turn, the SRL, was also influenced by the tastes of soldiers. In the words of one of the SRL’s consultants Dr. Ancel Keys: “A ration that will not be eaten is worse than useless” (Hamilton 333). After long periods of consuming K Rations, soldiers were eating only the items the liked, the chocolate bar for instance, and discarding the rest (Risch 186). This created a three way cultural interaction where the SRL had to meet the requirements of the Army, the limitations of the companies, and the tastes of the soldiers. But as the focal point, the SRL also had direct influence on all three. Companies would have to adjust their manufacturing infrastructure; the Army had to adjust its specifications; and soldiers in the end would have to eat at least in some part what was given to them.

Despite all the complication involved with ration-making, Hershey’s was fairly successful with the D Ration. Over the course of WWII more than three billion D Rations were produced and the Hershey Company received five ‘E’ awards (Ration D Bars) which are awarded to plants that have met and surpassed expectations and obstacles (Army-Navy E Award). However, while the D Ration and Tropical Rations variations would continue to be produced into the early 1990s, the entering of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) into service in 1981 (Doona 15.2) began a slow replacement process.

During World War Two, so much chocolate was being used by the military that chocolate was harder to acquire for civilians (Jacobson). This is illustrated by a 1944 Wall Street Journal Commodity Letter which, when commenting on a large shipment of cacao arriving in the US, states: “Civilians won’t find chocolate more plentiful, but the rise in shipments is expected to stave off a further cut in home front quotas” (Commodity Letter). The result is a kind of artificial hierarchy where the military and those most able to afford it have easier access to chocolate than civilians.

The type of battles fought by the US in WWII and by the Aztec empire could not have been more different, in everything from equipment, to objectives, and scale. But cacao, in the form of chocolate or ground cacao, was considered a necessary source of sustenance for these soldiers separated by 600 years and a continent. This is despite chocolate’s seemingly contradictory place within the two societies. The Aztec held cacao as a drink for the rich and powerful, and the beans were used as a currency (Presilla 18). In the States, industrialization made sweet chocolate  relatively easy to acquire and eat, while chocolate nevertheless accumulated special meaning via corporate advertising and its association with the military during WWII.

In both cultures, chocolate had a dual purpose of both being ration and reward. Especially when you consider cacao’s monetary value in the Aztec society, their soldiers were, in a sense, consuming money. For American soldiers the D Ration may not have been much of a reward, but the chocolate bars included in other rations were intended as treats and were valued as familiar comfort from home, perhaps the most familiar food in their ration. One of the issues with the K and C Ration was that it required a instructional video for the soldiers to understand how to use some of the unfamiliar ingredients (Hamilton 335). Chocolate bars add a certain level of familiarity to these sometimes unfamiliar food substances. Additionally, these candy bars would be available to be purchased from commissaries and were sought after.

As quoted previously, in The True History of Chocolate, Coe suggests that chocolate carried ritual significance for the Aztecs (Coe 104).  It is more than a ration; it has a place in the creation of morale. Advertising did not present US military rations as having any overtly mystical associations, but they were branded as special power foods. For example in the short propaganda film Food for Fighters,

emphasis is made on the scientific efforts that went into developing the meals as well as the nutritional value of it, all while demeaning the value of the Axis forces’ foods (Food for Fighters). Nestle ran an ad campaign on behalf of their rations for the US Military fn87dt1vtq8eyiwhich produced this poster touting the value of chocolate as a ration (Chocolate is a Fighting Food!). And, while postulation is not fact, as Coe acknowledges, given the amount of ritual surrounding chocolate it is not an absurd conclusion  that the Aztecs intended a morale lifting result from the honors bestowed by cacao.


(Left: Chocolate is a Fighting Food!, Vintage Ad Browser.)


All armies require good morale to be effective. In The Quartermaster Corps: Organization, Supply and Services, Erna Risch describes how important food is to morale: “The regular serving of palatable food is the greatest single factor in building and maintaining high spirit and morale” (Risch 174). While military use of cacao/chocolate offered a great deal of logistical utility and efficiency,  the Aztec and US militaries used cacao/chocolate as rations, rewards, and also a sort of power food, distributing special status upon their soldiers.

These messages of status were channeled through the distributors of the resources, Aztec nobility and US chocolate industry brands in conjunction with the SRL. And thus, chocolate, a non-native food product became an essential wartime ration, delivering not only nutrition but also positive messages of strength, support and honor to soldiers 600 years apart.


Works Cited

“Army-Navy E Award.” Naval History and Heritage Command, 22 Aug. 2017, 12:08:14 EDT,

Backer, Kellen. “World War II and the Triumph of Industrialized Food.” ProQuest, University of Wisconsin-Madison, ProQuest, 2012,

Bowers, Ken, and Samuel Hinkle. “Oral History Interview with Samuel Hinkle.” Hershey Community Archives, Accessed 3 May 2018.

Burger, Terry W. “Chocolate! The Wars Secret Weapon.” America In WWII, 7 Feb. 2007,

“Chocolate Is a Fighting Food!” Vintage Ad Browser,

Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky, and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.

“Commodity Letter.” Wall Street Journal, 5 Dec. 1944,

DeArmond, Fred. “Square Meals in Shirt Pockets.” Nation’s Business, Sept. 1942,

Doona, Christopher J., et al. Case Studies in Novel Food Processing Technologies: Innovations in Processing, Packaging and Predictive Modelling. Woodhead Publishing, 2010,

“Food for Fighters.” Internet Archive, Office of War Info., 1943,

Hamilton, Alissa. “World War Ii’s Mobilization Of The Science Of Food Acceptability: How Ration Palatability Became A Military Research Priority.” Ecology of Food and Nutrition, vol. 42, no. 4-5, 2003, pp. 325–356., doi:10.1080/0367024030247805.

“Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate Bar.” Hershey Community Archives,

Jacobson, Sean. “‘Chocolate Is a Fighting Food!” – Chocolate Bars in the Second World War.” National Museum of American History, Smithsonian, 24 Oct. 2016,

Mirrer, Louise. “How World War II Changed Everything — Even Our Taste for Candy.” Huffington Post, Huffington Post, 15 Nov. 2012,

Nieburg, Oliver. “Untold War Stories: Mars and M&M’s Military History.” Confectionery, William Reed Business Media Ltd, 10 Nov. 2016,

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: a Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

“Ration D Bars.” Hershey Community Archives,

Risch, Erna. The Quartermaster Corps: Organization, Supply, and Services. vol. 1 4, Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1953,

Witches’ Broom and Biodiversity

Throughout history Humans have been quite fond of the cacao tree and in the past couple hundred years we have facilitated its spread in lands far from its home in South America. There is a stark contrast between the fate of the genetically stale cacao tree and the rest of South America’s cornucopia of biodiversity. In modern times we go to great lengths to preserve and even increase the genetic diversity of the cacao trees while steadily chipped away at the diversity of South America through deforestation and climate change factors. The lack of genetic diversity of the cacao tree makes it very vulnerable to fungi like Witches’ Broom which hits cacao production hard and consistently devastates the production of regions it spreads to by 50%-90% (Meinhardt 577). For some fungi, Frosty Pod for instance, there has been some breakthroughs in building the cacao trees’ resistance, but Witches’ Broom has had very little in the way of breakthroughs. A short 2014 article in The Plant Cell stated that “there is no known treatment for witches’ broom disease” (Farquharson). This statement is perhaps a little too sweeping since there have been ways of removing the disease from a tree for over 100 years. Nonetheless, those methods are work intensive and do not guarantee the disease will not return. The cacao tree represents the risks which a lack of genetic diversity brings. As species and subspecies are eliminated one by one from South America it becomes easier to see how the challenges we face with the cacao tree will be similar to future challenges in maintaining a non-biodiverse environment as a whole.

The first documentation of Witches’ Broom, Moniliophthora perniciosa, was by a man named Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira in 1785 (Purdy 579). Ferreira was born in Brazil in 1756 and went to the University of Coimbra (Martins 242). In 1783 he was tasked by the portuguese to lead an expedition into Brazil for the purpose of documenting both the nature and the people they come across (Martins 242), and it was during that expedition that he describes what is thought to be Witches’ Broom (Meinhardt 577).

Witches’ Broom has previously existed in Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela for a long time, but in the past couple of hundred years it has spread (Purdy 579). In 1895 arrived in Surinam and proceeded to devastate plantations reducing the production by 80% (Money 73). After that it has over the past century infected “Guyana (1906); Colombia (1917); Ecuador (1921); Trinidad (1928); Tobago (1939); Grenada (1948); St. Vincent (1988); Panama (1989); and Brazil, the state of Bahia (1989)” (Purdy 579). In short it has touched large portions of South America and the Caribbean inevitably results in a region’s chocolate producing power relative to the rest of the world dropping precipitously. Luckily for countries outside South America harboring cacao trees the range of the fungus is around 100-150km, but this does not mean someone couldn’t accidentally or intentionally bring it in, and a great deal of money could be earned if an investor happened to know which countries will have their cacao trees devastated by Witches’ Broom  (Money 75-76).

The fungus’ spread through a plant begins by consuming the living material of its victim, but after a couple of weeks it begins to rapidly kill and then consume dead tissue in the 0415-pink-mushrooms296x460plant (Money 70). Finally it will sprout small mushroom-ish growths, seen on the left (Bowers: image), from the infected area and release spores (Money 70). With intervention affected trees are recoverable, but once the fungus arrives the owners of the trees must keep on lookout as the fungus is relentless in its attempts to reinfect.



In Dr. Constant Johan Jacob van Hall’s book Cocoa written in 1914 he mentions that the number of fungi and insects that afflict the Cacao tree are large and the number of fungia and insects that actually cause harm to the cocoa tree as relatively small, but that the harmful ones can devastate entire plantations (Hall 233). He states that Witches’ Broom causes losses that “probably surpass those of any other disease of the cocoa plant” (Hall 254). An example solution that van Hall proposes is to remove and burn all the leaf bearing branches of the infected tree as seen below, then place black tar on the wounds, after that to treat the trees with a chemical solution to remove any remaining spores (Hall 257). Finally another chemical solution must be reapplied yearly to stop reinfection of the crops (Hall 257). This system of controlling the fungus stops the trees from producing entirely for a whole year and takes several more years for the trees to regain their full production value (Hall 257). However, van Hall does mention in passing that there are experiments where the tree is not completely removing every leaf bearing branch which is a precursor to more modern treatments (Hall 257).

bandicam 2018-03-09 23-41-30-259

Above: example of the methods described by van Hall. You can see the tree has had all its leaf bearing branches removed and is being sprayed down by the man on the right. (Hall 258)

Skip forward around 80 years later and the methods of dealing with the disease have branched out a tiny bit. In Purdy and Schmidt’s Status of Cacao Witches’ Broom they define four means of combating the disease. The first is a system of pruning that is similar to those being experimented with in 1914. The tree may not have every leaf bearing branch removed as in the above picture, but infected parts are trimmed and under dire circumstances it can be necessary to trim everything (Purdy 587-588). The second is the use of fungicides and chemicals to kill or prevent the infections from taking hold on the trees (Purdy 588-589). The third is timing the cacao pods to grow during the dry seasons (Purdy 589). Dryness makes a hostile environment for the spread of Witches’ Broom and the fungus has difficulty taking hold of plants (Purdy 589). And the fourth entails further developing the cacao tree genetic resistance to the fungus that is found in some of the trees (Purdy 589-590). This is what Purdy asd Schmidt propose as the future of combating Witches’ Broom (Purdy 589-590).

None of these solutions guarantee the disease won’t spread either. Purdy and Schmidt dismiss the idea of immunity entirely in favor of resistance as a more achievable goal (Purdy 589). A 2015 article in Scientific American titled The Race to Save Chocolate brings up the possibility of both bioterrorism as well as the risks of accidental spread inherent to global travel (Schmitz). And this is a worrying problem. As biodiversity falls it increases any and every nation’s vulnerability to accidental and intentional spreading of harmful fungi and pests.    



“Chapter 4.” Cocoa, by Constant Johan Jacob Van. Hall, Macmillan and Co, 1914.


Bowers, J. H., et al. “The Impact of Plant Diseases on World Chocolate Production.” Plant Health Progress, 2001, doi:10.1094/php-2001-0709-01-rv


Farquharson, Kathleen L. “The Fungus, the Witches’ Broom, and the Chocolate Tree: Deciphering the Molecular Interplay Between Moniliophthora Perniciosa and Theobroma Cacao:” The Plant Cell Online, vol. 26, no. 11, 2014, pp. 4231–4231., doi:10.1105/tpc.114.133462.


Martins, Maria Do Rosário, et al. “Body Modification and Paleopathological Evidence in the Iconography from the ‘Philosophical Travel’ to Brazilian Amazonia by Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira (1783 – 1792).” Antropologia Portuguesa, vol. 27, 2010, pp. 239–257., doi:10.14195/2182-7982_27_13.


Meinhardt, Lyndel W., et al. “Moniliophthora Perniciosa, the Causal Agent of Witches’ Broom Disease of Cacao: What’s New from This Old Foe?” Molecular Plant Pathology, vol. 9, no. 5, 2008, pp. 577–588. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1364-3703.2008.00496.x.


Money, Nicholas P. The Triumph of the Fungi: a Rotten History. Oxford University Press, 2007,


Purdy, Lh, and Ra Schmidt. “STATUS OF CACAO WITCHES’ BROOM: Biology, Epidemiology, and Management.” Annual Review of Phytopathology, vol. 34, no. 1, 1996, pp. 573–594., doi:10.1146/annurev.phyto.34.1.573.


Schmitz, Harold, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. “Scientific American.” Scientific American, 1 June 2015.