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Gilded In Gold: L.A. Burdick, Class, and the Construction of Luxury

L.A. Burdick constructs a luxurious chocolate eating experience through its store design, choice of ingredients and product titles, and emphasis on packaged gifts. Burdick’s attracts and caters to consumers looking for this high-end experience, while it excludes consumers of lower socioeconomic status and culinary literacy that may feel uncomfortable with the store’s atmosphere and be unable to afford its high price tag. Why certain individuals feel at home in a Burdick’s shop while others would rather not spend time there largely can be explained by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and capital. He argues that cultural preferences stem from one’s habitus, which is formed beginning in early childhood from “class-specific experiences of socialization in family and peer groups” (Swartz, 102), proposing that “class positions are defined by holdings of social and cultural capital as well as economic assets” (Murdock, 64). I will focus on cultural and economic capital and how they relate to Burdick’s consumers. Cultural capital can be defined as “institutionalized, i.e., widely shared, high status cultural signals (attitudes, preferences, formal knowledge, behaviors, goods and credentials) used for social and cultural exclusion” (Lamont and Lareau, 1988) and economic capital refers to how much money one has. Burdick’s targets customers whose habitus reflect high economic and cultural capital, since this kind of early life environment is likely to produce individuals that have the means to purchase expensive chocolate and have an interest in buying products that are high-quality, European in name and style, and ethically sourced.

To better understand how L.A. Burdick markets to consumers and constructs an experience for them, I visited the store at 2 pm on Sunday, April 26, 2015, and made observations as I sipped my dark drinking chocolate for an hour.



Burdick’s (pictured above) is tucked away from the main Harvard Square area, and its subtle brown awning with gold lettering is easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. This unassuming entrance aligns with the image that Burdick’s tries to project; it exudes class rather than flash and looks like a hidden gem that only people who are in the know are aware of. There is a queue barrier outside, further suggesting to passersby that this shop is potentially exclusive and important enough to draw crowds. These visual cues help to attract Burdick’s target demographic (individuals high in both cultural and economic capital) and to deter others (individuals who don’t have extra money to spend on expensive chocolate and/or have no interest in buying it) before they even enter the shop.

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Once inside (pictured above), the chandeliers emit a subtle, yellowish light that creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. The decor consists largely of red oak wood, and the color scheme is a mix of browns, greens, and golds. This evokes an old world charm and creates seamlessness between the colors of the room and the colors of the treats being consumed. The china used is white, which showcases the colors of their deep, dark chocolate. Overall, Burdick’s aesthetic is strikingly similar to that of a London coffee house (which also served chocolate drinks) circa 1700 (pictured below).

They share the same color scheme of earthy neutrals and heavy use of wood. While Burdick’s opts for tables that accommodate small parties, the coffee house of late 17th century London was a crucial part of political and social life, so large tables that enabled conversation were preferred (Coe and Coe, 166-167). Coffee houses may have been open to all who could afford to drink in England, but in 17th century France, chocolate was only for the aristocracy (Coe and Coe, 166). Burdick’s chandeliers are reminiscent of France’s exclusive mentality. Similar to chocolate, which became available to the masses in the 19th century (Coe and Coe, 232), when chandeliers came into existence in the 14th century, they were so expensive that only the wealthy could afford them; it wasn’t until electricity was commonly used in the 1890s that chandeliers were accessible to more households (Home and Living). While the intentionality behind Burdick’s signals of wealth is uncertain, its European influence is definite. Larry Burdick says that he was inspired to start the company after a visit to a confiserie in Bern, Switzerland in the 1980s, and his wife, Paula, who designed the company’s look, says that she used “details gleaned from her time in Paris” to create “an ambiance of relaxed elegance” (L.A. Burdick). Larry and Paula Burdick – perhaps unaware of the exact elements of history they were referencing – combine the historic public drinking of chocolate in England and its exclusivity in France through the interior design of their shop. This aesthetic creates a space that appeals to high cultural and economic capital consumers, who want to escape to old world Europe for a little and who feel at home surrounded by symbols of opulence.

Burdick’s caters to mature consumers, and during the time I was there, I only saw two children. The treats that Burdick’s sells, which feature European names (e.g. Gugelhupf), liquors (e.g. limoncello, rum, and kirsch), and somewhat divisive flavors and spices (e.g. ginger, anise, and lavender), are meant for an audience that prides itself in enjoying these exotic flavors rather than recoiling at their mention. Food neophobia is defined as a “reluctance to eat and/or avoidance of novel foods” (Pliner and Hobden, 1992). A study of Australian adolescents showed that rural adolescents (classified as low socioeconomic status and exposed to less cultural diversity) reported greater food neophobia than the urban adolescents, who were more willing to try new foods (Flight et al., 2003). Bourdieu would say that food neophobia is a product of one’s habitus; a working class upbringing trains one to be wary of the unfamiliar, while an upper class lifestyle trains one to be accepting of novel experiences. Burdick’s does not make an effort to Americanize its desserts so that it can appeal to the widest possible audience. Instead, it does the opposite, curating a menu full to the brim with foreign items likely to draw in a consumer base with the familial background, education, and financial means necessary to acquire an appreciation for such delicacies.


A case full of desserts with European names

Based on my in-store observation, Burdick’s customers spend the most money when they’re purchasing chocolate gift boxes for other people. These gift boxes are displayed prominently and are adorned with colorful ribbons. They offer consumers an opportunity to share the Burdick’s experience with others, while simultaneously reflecting positively on their own good taste. Sociologist Diane Barthel says that chocolate is “a part of life that is excessive: extra, surplus, having more to do with losing control than with gaining it, with spending rather than saving, with sex rather than salvation” and that chocolate boxes offer “promise of privilege and transcendence above everyday needs and political agendas” (Barthel, 1989). Burdick’s gift boxes exemplify Barthel’s notions of excess and spending. Their “Bee and Caramel Set,” only offered around Mother’s Day, starts at $54.00, and includes Honey-Bee Bonbons, Bee “Hive” Truffles, and eight types of caramels (e.g. mocha and salted cardamom) (L.A. Burdick). Selling bonbons shaped like honeybees is reminiscent of the molding of sugar paste into animals, buildings, and objects in 15th and 16th century England (Mintz, 89). Because such large quantities of expensive ingredients were required, this practice was originally confined to the king and other elites and spread to non-nobility during the 16th century (Mintz, 89-91). The decorative sugar “embodied in display the host’s wealth, power, and status” (Mintz, 90). Burdick’s uses a similar technique today to connote status and good taste with its bee-shaped chocolates, though this is likely unconscious of sculpted sugar’s historical roots. Their gift sets simultaneously make the recipient feel respected and affirm the status of the gift giver. By giving someone a Burdick’s gift set, consumers send the signal that they are high in economic and cultural capital (whether or not that is actually the case). Receiving a Burdick’s gift set may reinforce one’s class status (upper middle/upper class) and align with the habitus, or it may provide an opportunity to escape from one’s habitus and to get a taste of a different class’ lifestyle.

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 Shelves full of exquisitely wrapped chocolate gift boxes

While the focus of my Burdick’s analysis is on class, its relationship with consumers is much more complex. This idea is at the core of intersectionality, which is defined as “the relationships among multiple dimensions and modalities of social relations and subject formations” (McCall, 2005). One area where this intersectionality is clear is Burdick’s gifts. I’ve already established their connection to class, but they also have a major gendered component. While the Mother’s Day Bee and Caramel Set is tied with a bright green ribbon and filled with bite-sized chocolates shaped like cute honeybees with almonds for wings, the suggested Father’s Day gift set is a wood box of chocolate cigars (L.A. Burdick). The Mother’s Day assortment is ultra sweet with its combination of caramel and honey, while the Father’s Day cigars are flavored with rum and downplay any element of sweetness. This difference in emphasis on sweetness reinforces the association between women and sugar, which goes back to England circa 1850-1950, when working class women and children ate relatively more sugar than adult men, who were the laborers and therefore ate more protein (Mintz, 144, 148-149). Smoking cigars is a traditionally masculine activity, done in spaces that either excluded women, like social clubs, (Swiencicki, 1998) or where men were in positions of power over women, like strip clubs (Frank, 2003). Women are often referred to as queen bees when they are smart, ambitious (Horn, 5), or willing to “sting” other women if their power is threatened (Mavin, 2008). When women are referred to as worker bees it implies that they “are supposed to labor behind the scenes, underpaid and content to sacrifice for the good of the whole” (Horn, 5). Taken together, Burdick’s sells chocolate gifts to women that connote powerlessness and docility, while it sells gifts to men that connote power over and exclusion of women and members of lower social classes. The continued acceptance of such antiquated gender stereotypes by both sexes is a curious phenomenon. Perhaps we take comfort in reinforcing these gender roles, even when they contribute to the perpetuation of patriarchy, because they are deeply ingrained in our male and female habitus and uphold the roles of the idealized nuclear family structure.


 Single origin bars on display

Burdick’s not only caters to the crowd that enjoys fancy desserts for the flavor or prestige, but it also targets socially conscious consumers with its line of single origin chocolate bars (pictured above). These include bars from Chuao, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Grenada, Madagascar, Venezuela, and Ecuador, and they range in price from $9 to $13 each and in cocoa content from 64% to 75% (L.A. Burdick). While the packaging of each bar does not specify the nature of Burdick’s relationship with the cacao farmers at each of these locations, further investigation of their website makes it clear that Burdick’s has partnered with independent cocoa farmers and built a cocoa processing facility on Grenada Island (L.A. Burdick). No such arrangement exists between Burdick’s and the other seven single origin sites and no additional information is available online about their dealings with these locations. Through the Burdick’s website, consumers can “Buy a Cocoa Tree, Support a Farmer” in Grenada by donating to the Cocoa Farming Future Initiative, which is “a non-profit fund which helps preserve fragile ecosystems through clean, sustainable farming techniques, and to raise the farmer’s income” (Cocoa Farming Future Initiative), or they can contribute by purchasing Grenada chocolate products, since 10% of the price is donated to CFFI automatically (L.A. Burdick). Interestingly, a customer inside a Burdick’s store would have no way of knowing that the Grenada bar was special in this way and would be unable to differentiate it from the other single origin bars by anything other than the flavor hints listed and package coloring.


Clickable ad from Burdick’s website to donate to CFFI

Studies have shown that above average socioeconomic status correlates with high social consciousness, while average and lower socioeconomic status correlates with low social consciousness (Anderson and Cunningham, 1972, Webster, 1975). Therefore, Burdick’s engagement with socially conscious chocolate consumption through its line of single origin bars and cocoa processing facility on Grenada Island aligns with the mentality of its upper middle to upper class target consumer, who has both high economic and cultural capital. Burdick’s provides these individuals with an appealing outlet for their social awareness and economic means that allows them to do more than just purchase chocolate – it allows them to contribute to improving the lives of others.

I scoured 123 Yelp reviews from 2014 and 2015 for the Brattle Street L.A. Burdick in an effort to understand how Burdick’s meets consumers’ expectations and to pinpoint what drives good vs. bad experiences. Out of the 123 reviews, 100 were 4-5 stars and 23 were 3 or fewer stars (Yelp), which speaks to the possibility that people who use Yelp regularly are likely to be part of the consumer audience that Burdick’s targets (educated, enough money to dine out). The bar graphs below display the factors that Yelpers listed for forming their positive or negative impressions.


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Based on these numbers, every single customer who enjoyed their Burdick’s experience commented on how much they liked the flavor and high quality of the chocolate (calling it liquid gold, the best ever, chocolate crack, luxurious, rich, and dreamy), and many of them also felt attracted to the shop because they liked the ambiance (calling it cozy, lovely, fancy, adorable, quaint, and romantic). The 23 reviewers that did not have a good experience seem to have different taste and ambiance preferences and are unwilling to pay Burdick’s high prices for chocolate concoctions that are too “rich,” “heavy,” and “overwhelming” for their tastes. One consumer who rated Burdick’s with only 1 star communicates the deeper issues that may underlie why some consumers love the ambiance and product, while others dislike it:

“There I am; jeans and a hoodie, looking like a hot mess, mixed in with overly dressed middle aged women pushing 2K strollers around.  Eh, I was a bit out of placed… I may visit if I am ever in that area again, I hope not though.  That would involve me getting way too overdressed for 1pm on a Saturday afternoon.”

 -Cristina C.

Class-consciousness is clearly a major factor that contributed to Cristina C.’s negative experience at Burdick’s. While Cristina C. may not have been able to articulate why she felt so out of place beyond the surface reason that she was underdressed, Bourdieu would attribute her discomfort to a disjuncture between her habitus and environment (Reay, 2004). The women that she observed wore clothes and pushed strollers that she recognized as out of her price range, signaling their high economic and cultural capital. This points to class and habitus differences between these women and Cristina C., likely stemming from better educational opportunities and greater exposure to diverse culture by their families. Cristina C. focused her ill feelings toward Burdick’s on the women she saw there, but the atmosphere of the shop, which mimics and invites the women’s combination of status and high culture, also contributes to habitus disjuncture. Cristina C.’s emotional response highlights the mechanism by which Burdick’s constructs its space of luxury; its atmosphere and products align with a specific upper middle class/upper class habitus, cultivating these target clients through feelings of belonging and opportunity for ethical consumption, while they create disjuncture with the working class habitus, eliciting feelings ranging from unease to hostility and alienating these consumers.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Thomas W., Cunningham, William H., 1972. The Socially Conscious Consumer. Journal of Marketing. 36, 23-31.

Barthel, Diane, 1989. Modernism and Marketing: The Chocolate Box Revisited. Theory, Culture & Society. 6, 429-438.

Cocoa Farming Future Initiative. Web. 1 May 2015.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Flight, Ingrid, Leppard, Phillip, Cox, David N., 2003. Food neophobia and associations with cultural diversity and socio-economic status amongst rural and urban Australian adolescents. Appetite. 41(1), 51-59.

Frank, Katherine, 2003. “Just trying to relax”: Masculinity, masculinizing practices, and strip club regulars. The Journal of Sex Research. 40(1), 61-75.

The History Behind the Chandelier – The Story Behind the Sparkle. Home and Living Magazine. Web. 1 May 2015.

Horn, Tammy. Beeconomy: What Women and Bees Can Teach Us about Local Trade and the Global Market. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 2012. Print.

L.A. Burdick: Homemade Chocolates. Web. 1 May 2015.

Lamont, Michele, Lareau, Annette, 1988. Cultural Capital: Allusions, Gaps and Glissandos in Recent Theoretical Developments. Sociological Theory. 6(2), 153-168.

London Coffeehouse circa 1700 image. Web. 1 May 2015.

Mavin, Sharon, 2008. Queen Bees, Wannabees and Afraid to Bees: No More ‘Best Enemies’ for Women in Management?. British Journal of Management. 19(s1), S75-S84.

McCall, Leslie, 2005. The Complexity of Intersectionality. Signs. 30(3), 1771-1800.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Group, 1985. Print.

Murdock, Graham, 2010. Review Essay, Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. International Journal of Cultural Policy. 16(1), 63-65.

Pliner, Patricia, Hobden, Karen, 1992. Development of a scale to measure the trait of food neophobia in humans. Appetite. 19, 105-120.

Reay, Diane, 2004. ‘It’s all becoming a habitus’: beyond the habitual use of habitus in educational research. British Journal of Sociology of Education. 25(4), 431-444.

Swartz, David. Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997. Print.

Swiencicki, Mark A., 1998. Consuming Brotherhood: Men’s Culture, Style and Recreation as Consumer Culture, 1880-1930. Journal of Social History. 31(4), 773-808.

Webster, Frederick E. Jr., 1975. Determining the Characteristics of the Socially Conscious Consumer. Journal of Consumer Research. 2(3), 188-196.

Yelp: L.A. Burdick Chocolate. Web. 1 May 2015.

Photos of L.A. Burdick store taken by the author; graphs generated by the author

Sex Sells: Sex and the Objectification of Women in Chocolate Advertisements

Chocolate advertisements are prime examples of intersectionality, which refers to “the relationships among multiple dimensions and modalities of social relations and subject formations” (McCall, 2005). They publically display various stereotypes of race, gender, and class and shed light on which groups chocolate companies target as consumers. Using a 2015 commercial for Dove cranberries dipped in dark chocolate, I focus on the portrayal of gender and sexuality, though race and class are thematized in the ad as well. We created an original ad for Dove chocolate that depicts a father-son relationship in an effort to subvert the existing ad’s focus on a woman’s sensual enjoyment of chocolate and its depiction of chocolate as a substitution for sex.

The 2015 Dove ad (above) takes place in a library, and it portrays a man participating in a scavenger hunt set up by a woman, who appears to be the librarian. The woman holds a bag of the Dove chocolate cranberries and gazes seductively as she watches the man solve her puzzle. He finds that his ultimate destination is a well-hidden table, where the woman sits alone, eating the chocolate and ready to share it with him. The language used in the clues (“mystery,” “take the leap,” “free your mind,” “live your fantasies,” “heating up”) and tagline (“choose a pleasure less ordinary”) is loaded with sexual innuendo. The clues prime the viewers to expect that the woman is going to reward the man with sex once he finds her, but it turns out that she wants him to eat Dove chocolate with her. This set-up combined with the tagline make it clear that Dove is promoting its product as an equally pleasurable alternative to sex. The imagery used reinforces this idea. There are consecutive close-up shots of the woman’s mouth and the man’s face, suggesting a carnal desire between the two. The shadowy and dim lighting used throughout further contributes to this romantic ambiance.

This message is common in Dove advertisements. One still image ad (above) from 2008 for Dove pure silk bars features a woman’s face in the throes of ecstasy (eyes closed, faint smile) with her neck and shoulders covered in chocolate-colored silk. The tagline is, “Now it can last longer than you can resist. Unwrap. Indulge. Repeat,” suggesting that eating this three-portion chocolate bar is a preferable alternative to sex, since it can be savored for longer. Using this as a marketing tool dates back to the 1930s, when women were told in Aero advertisements, “When you resist the urge to eat chocolate you are ignoring one of Nature’s most serious warnings” (Robertson, 35). Eating chocolate was seen as a socially acceptable and safe way to satiate women’s heterosexual desires. Many years later, the core of chocolate companies’ approach to gaining female consumers has remained virtually unchanged.
Even though both a man and a woman are featured in the 2015 ad, the manner in which they are depicted differs. The woman is the chief seductress, who has orchestrated the whole thing, while the man is innocently reading a newspaper when he gets caught up in her scheme. The man gives wide-eyed looks, while the woman has a knowing and mischievous look in her eyes. There are multiple close-ups of the woman’s face as she seductively pops a chocolate covered cranberry into her mouth and chews it, closing her eyes in ecstasy. In the last second of the ad, a long shot of the man and woman at the table shows him bringing a chocolate to his mouth and smiling sweetly, but the ad cuts out before we see him eat it and a close-up of his consumption is never shown. The woman holds the bag of chocolates throughout the ad, and they appear to be her possession, while she is the man’s possession. Even though she created the puzzle, the ad shows her as if she were an object to be caught by the man.
Throughout the history of cinema, women have been depicted as passive objects to be looked at, while males have been depicted as active bearers of look, a concept that Laura Mulvey termed “the male gaze” (Mulvey, 203). The 2015 Dove ad is no exception; the woman is the man’s prize for successfully following the clues and locating her. It is as if the woman is not only being pursued by the man, but that she consciously set herself up as a prize for the man to attain. She takes pleasure in performing the gender role that the “male gaze” has created for females. In this way, the ad utilizes women’s internalization of their roles as sexualized objects to appeal to female consumers.

Dove Scavenger Hunt Ad

In the ad that we created in response (above), we removed all sexual undertones. We did not market chocolate as a component of heterosexual romance, but instead as a way to “Make every day extraordinary” regardless of the context of consumption. We chose to depict a father and son in our ad to depart from the pervasive portrayal of females as chocolate obsessed and deriving an orgasmic pleasure from eating it. To parallel the real Dove ad, we placed the father and son in a scavenger hunt scenario, but instead of using language full of sexual references to sell the product, our clues (“Down to earth delicious,” “Stop and smell the roses,” and “Fun under the sun”) appeal to happiness, naturally tasty food, and enjoying life. In an effort to stay away from the objectification of our ad subjects, we chose not to show the father or son eating the chocolate. In all likelihood, our ad is not edgy or sexy enough to capture the attention of real world consumers and entice them to buy our product. It appears that profitable ads and ads abstaining from the exploitation of gender, race, and class stereotypes are often mutually exclusive.
Works Cited:

DOVE Chocolate. “DOVE® Fruit Scavenger Hunt (30 sec spot).” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 6 April 2015.

Dove pure silk bar 2008 advertising image. Web. 6 April 2015.

McCall, Leslie. “The Complexity of Intersectionality.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 30.3 (2005): 1771-1800. Print.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology. Ed. Philip Rosen. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. 198-209. Print.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2009. Print

Chocolate’s Secret Ingredients: The Shift From Adulterated Chocolate to Pure

Merriam-Webster defines to adulterate as, “to make something, such as a food or drink, impure or weaker by adding something of poor quality.” The huge demand for chocolate during the 19th century made it a desirable good for producers and sellers to adulterate in order to increase their profits. Once these dishonest and often harmful practices were widely publicized, marketing oneself as a purveyor of pure chocolate became key to success. The adulterated chocolate epidemic and subsequent pure chocolate mania therefore stemmed from economic practicality; using cheap ingredients remained in favor until it was no longer profitable, at which point producers were left with no choice but to favor quality over quantity in order to sustain sales and remain competitive.

Confirming the old “necessity is the mother of invention” adage, chocolate producers and sellers used an astonishing variety of methods to adulterate their chocolate. Between 1815 and 1875 in France, powdered dried peas, rice and lentil flours, potato starch, wheat or barley flour, cacao shells, gum, dextrin, and ground brick were commonly used as additives, and olive oil, sweet almond oil, egg yolks, or suet of veal or mutton were used as substitutions for cacao butter, which was extracted and sold separately (Coe and Coe, 243-244). Replacing expensive ingredients with cheaper ones sacrificed product safety as well as taste, since some of these ingredients went rancid quickly and were toxic. These problems were also prevalent in the US, and The Dessert Book (1872) discussed adulteration with red or yellow ocher, red lead, and vermilion and ways to detect their presence (Coe and Coe, 244). The entire book can be found through the link below:

The Dessert Book (1872)

This willingness to sacrifice taste, to sell rapidly spoiling chocolate, and to use poisonous ingredients demonstrates that producers and merchants would stop at nothing to maximize their profits.

The food business is still a business, and economically motivated alterations in quality continue to occur. As highlighted in the 2014 Business Insider article below, cocoa butter is still replaced by cheaper fats, especially when its prices are high.

Business Insider Article

Palm oil is one of the most common substitutions, and producers use the highest quantity that they can get away with. Products in Asia and Europe can have up to 5% of the cocoa butter replaced by an equivalent, but products in the US cannot be labeled chocolate if they use cocoa butter alternatives (Pardomuan and Nicholson, 2014). This does not seem to be a major deterrent for US companies, which choose to adjust their labels. Hershey’s decided to cut costs instead of raising prices in 2008 by adding more palm oil to their “Kissables.” So, in accordance with FDA regulations, they changed the label from “Candy Coated Milk Chocolate” to “Chocolate Candy” (Marco, 2008).

Chocolate companies certainly did not abandon their use of cheap and dangerous substitutes of their own free will; they did it out of necessity as consumer awareness grew. It was not until 1850 that a health commission for the analysis of foods was created and announced in the British medical journal The Lancet (Coe and Coe, 244). The subsequent analyses in both England and France found that 39 out of 70 samples derived their color from red ocher from ground bricks and that most contained starch grains from potatoes or from Canna giganta and arrowroot (Coe and Coe, 244). These startling results led to the British Food and Drug Act of 1860 and to the Adulteration of Food Act of 1872 (Coe and Coe, 244).

The 1860 Act allowed the appointment of public analysts to deal with suspected food presented by private citizens, and the 1872 Act made it an offense to sell food, drink, or drugs that were not of the ‘nature, substance or quality’ demanded by the purchaser and permitted inspectors and private individuals to acquire samples of food for analysis (Bassett, 34). This led to increased sampling and detection of food adulteration. Once these harmful practices were made transparent to the public, chocolate companies had to find a way to recover or risk losing their businesses. Cadbury’s solution to the imminent decline in sales after admitting to the use of starch and flour to adulterate their chocolate was to launch updated advertising campaigns. These were meant to convince consumers that Cadbury’s was the only pure chocolate on the market, and featured the “Absolutely Pure, Therefore Best” slogan (Coe and Coe, 245). The image below shows an 1885 Cadbury’s Cocoa add that emphasizes this quality, guaranteeing its purity in the body of the advertisement and repeating this sentiment several more times in the descriptive text below it.

This tactic proved successful and forced other companies to defend themselves against accusations of impurity. By 1897, Fry & Sons had a dearth of sales compared to Cadbury’s that they were never able to bounce back from (Coe and Coe, 245).

Recent Cadbury advertisements do not address purity, and instead focus on the product’s ability to bring joy to the consumer. A 2007 Cadbury commercial featuring a gorilla drumming to Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” ends with a picture of a Cadbury dairy milk bar and the tag “a glass and a half full of joy.”

Another, from 2014, shows a logistics manager joyfully lip syncing and dancing to Baccara’s ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ after eating a piece of Cadbury dairy milk chocolate. This time, the end tag is “#FreeTheJoy.”

It seems that since food safety regulations have become so much stricter over the past century that companies no longer need to draw attention to their purity and safety. This basic level of safety is assumed, so companies, like Cadbury’s, turn to the desirable mental/emotional effects of eating their chocolate in order to compete with other brands and to sustain sales. Whether it means focusing on quality over quantity or vice versa, decisions made by chocolate producers and sellers throughout time have been driven by money and competition. Whatever sells the most chocolate wins.

Works Cited:

A Boston Lady. The Dessert Book: A Complete Manual From the Best American and Foreign Authorities With Original Economical Recipes. Boston: J.E. Tilton and Company, 1872. Online. 8 March 2015.

Bassett, W.H., ed. Clay’s Handbook of Environmental Health. 8th ed. London: E & FN Spon, 1999. Print.

Cadbury. “Yes Sir, I WILL boogie in the Office — New Cadbury Dairy Milk TV ad.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 16 Jan. 2014. Web. 8 March 2015.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print. Web. 8 March 2015.’s_Cocoa_advert_with_rower_1885.jpg. Web. 8 March 2015.

Macegrove. “Cadbury’s Gorilla Advert Aug31st 2007.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 31 Aug. 2007. Web. 8 March 2015.

Marco, Meg. “Hershey’s “Kissables” No Longer Legally Considered “Milk Chocolate”?” Consumerist, 8 August 2008. Web. 8 March 2015.

Pardomuan, Lewa and Marcy Nicholson. “Cocoa Butter Prices are Surging.” Business Insider, 5 Sept. 2014. Web. 8 March 2015.

Goes Together Like Chocolate and Corn?

Chocolate and peanut butter, chocolate and caramel, chocolate and mint – these are pairings that immediately come to mind when the modern day consumer thinks of chocolate. For the Maya and Aztec, cacao and corn was a common combination. This presents more than just a contrast in flavor; it is a marriage of a basic staple ingredient in ancient cuisine, corn, and an ingredient considered luxurious, chocolate (Presilla, 14).

Despite their eventual different statuses, both chocolate and corn were associated with cosmic life cycles (Presilla, 14). The Popul Vuh (“Book of Counsel”) was the sacred book of the Quiche Maya written by a Franciscan friar after the Spanish Conquest (c. 1550s). In one story, male twins born from parents who created the universe get beheaded in the Maya underworld. One of their heads is hung up in a calabash tree, and it impregnates the daughter of a ruler, who then gives birth to Hero Twins. These twins must complete a series of tasks and resurrect their father, who is known as the Maize God.

maize god

Mayan Maize God

Doing so allows them to become the sun and the moon (Coe and Coe, 39). On a Classic Mayan vase (Classic period: 250-950 CE), the head of the Maize God is shown in a cacao tree instead of a calabash tree as in the original story (Coe and Coe, 38-39).

cacao tree maize god

Classic Maya Vase: The head of the Maize God appears on a cacao tree

Another part of the Popol Vuh includes chocolate and corn together again. Both are listed as foods in the Mountain of Sustenance that the gods need to find in order to form human bodies in their final form (Coe and Coe, 39). Based on cacao’s portrayal in the Popol Vuh, it was still considered to be of the same status as common foods, like corn, around the time of the Spanish Conquest.  It seems that by the time the calabash tree appeared as a cacao tree on the Mayan vase, cacao’s place in society had significantly changed.

Cacao’s practical relation to corn, outside of ancient texts, was largely tied to its use in beverages. The Maya made sak-ha from ground mature maize that was not nixtamalized (i.e. not cooked in an alkaline solution), and cacao was one of the substances used to flavor this drink in addition to chili peppers and herbs. The invading Europeans also adopted this drink. It was used for people who were ill as well as a quick way to get the necessary calories for the day without a lot of extra labor (Coe and Coe, 50). A corn gruel known as tanch’ukwa in Maya (now called atole) was also flavored with chocolate (Presilla, 14). More luxurious drinks were also made with both corn and cacao. One savory drink, called pinole, consisted of ground maize and cacao. It was served foaming and was used to celebrate feasts (Coe and Coe, 59). The Aztecs drank gruel similar to that of the Maya, using their poorer quality chocolate to mix with maize (Coe and Coe, 85).


Cacao atole

Chocolate and corn are even depicted together on Mayan vases from the Late Classic period (600-800 CE). On one Mayan vase (c. 683), two nobles bring ear flowers, which were commonly used to flavor cacao, to a ruler. A bowl on the corner of the ruler’s platform is thought to contain atole (Presilla, 13-14). On another vase depicted in the image below, a royal figure sits beside a pot of a frothy cacao beverage. On the floor below him, there sits a container of tamales that are thought to be covered in a chocolate-chili sauce (Presilla, 13).

mayan vase choc corn

Late Classic Mayan vase: A royal figure and his cacao beverage, tamales beneath him

So what happened to the ubiquitous use of cacao paired with corn? A Google search using the terms “corn chocolate” and “maize chocolate” yields no direct matches. The most popular products and recipes that use both corn and chocolate include chocolate covered popcorn, a chocolate bar with popcorn pieces in it, chocolate cornbread, and chocolate corn flake clusters.


None of these products feature ground maize in its purest form, as the common Mayan and Aztec beverages did. Instead, they use more processed versions of corn and include extensive sweeteners, while the ancient drinks were considered savory. Part of this transition can be attributed to chocolate’s role in modern society. It is now a food regularly enjoyed by all classes of people, but it is predominately viewed as a dessert or a special treat, so consumers are less inclined to pair it with mild, unassuming ingredients like corn.  Instead, decadent fillings and potent flavors are what people crave to accompany their chocolate.  Additionally, consumers today rarely see or work with chocolate in an unfinished state. They buy it as bars wrapped up in colorful paper and as cocoa powder in boxes.

dark-chocolate-sea-salt--22200-598z hershey

As a result of this, there is no “inferior” chocolate product being sold that consumers would want to use to flavor bland, gruel-like cuisine. Instead, the chocolate or cocoa itself is the main attraction to which other flavors are often added, not the other way around.  Keeping these changes in mind, it seems unlikely that ground maize chocolate bars will become the next big trend in candy any time soon.

Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.