All posts by aaas119x324

Sharing the Visual Appetite: Marzipan Hedgehogs, Cupcake Wars, and Chocolate Food Porn

There is a common chef’s maxim that states: people first eat with their eyes. The visual aspects of experiencing, tasting, and consuming food have been an important consideration of food culture for centuries. Within this landscape, chocolate and desserts have played a significant role in the evolution of the visualization of indulgence. From the laborious construction of marzipan hedgehogs and elaborate sugar structures of the 16th century to the highly technical making of contemporary chocolate commercials, the emphasis on the importance of visual perfection has remained constant, though motivations and meanings have evolved and expanded alongside technology.

Today, the term “food porn” has emerged as a way to describe the pervasiveness of images of food in media and the fascination with capturing images of what we eat. The Urban Dictionary entry for “food porn,” created in April 2005 defines the term as: “Close-up images of delicious, juicy food in advertisements” (Urban Dictionary). The term, first coined in feminist writer Rosalind Cowards’s 1984 book Female Desire, was vastly ignored until the early 2000s when it exploded in the media with Flickr’s “Food Porn” category in September of 2004 (Atlantic). Since then, food blogs, Pinterest boards, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages have more frequently been including pictures of food. Within these pages, chocolate and chocolate desserts capture special attention as objects of indulgence that play on historical associations with lust, sex, and romance (Robertson, 30). Even the very name, “food porn,” has obvious connotations and references to the satisfaction of one’s desires through a visual outlet. But why do people enjoy viewing and sharing mere images of food? Do these mouthwatering images induce cravings or, rather, act as a substitute for the actual experience of eating?

Unfortunately, when one looks to science for an explanation of this visual phenomenon, the research can be contradicting. Some studies, such as this one published in 2012, found that just looking at images of food could be enough to trigger an increase in the hunger-hormone ghrelin (Schussler et al., 2012). Other studies, including this 2013 study out of Nature Neuroscience, suggest the brain’s reward centers may not respond as much to visual “food cues” when the brain signals the stomach is full (Labouebe et al., 2013). Clearly, more research needs to be done in this complex arena to fully understand the visual, psychological, and neurological underpinnings of taste and food. Thus, in my opinion, a more interesting and ripe avenue for analysis lies in the social and historical influences that have shaped the pursuit of food’s visual perfection. By first tracing the history of displaying lavish desserts as a marker of social status and power through the contemporary phenomenon of televised, dessert-centered competitions, food blogs dedicated to chocolate, and finally the influence of social media, I hope to illustrate a common thread of food as an important part of the culture of social currency, as well as an evolving motivation for the visual perception of food as whole through the lens of chocolate and other examples of indulgence.

Today, we can share food with the snap of an iPhone and a few clicks. However, food sharing and the pursuit of visual perfection was historically a much more physical undertaking motivated by the desire to exhibit class, wealth, and power. In the introductory chapters of Sweetness and Power, Sidney Mintz describes the connection between food and sociality as, “food and eating have not lost their affective significance, though as a means for validating existing social relations their importance and their form are almost unrecognizably different” (Mintz, 5). However, a historical analysis confirms a great amount of care has always been paid to the visual perception of food.

For example, Mintz identifies several examples of significant effort put into perfecting the visual appeal of desserts. During the height of the 17th century, marzipan confections were meant to be admired before eaten and often molded into animal-like forms to adorn the tables of the wealthy (Mintz, 93). Cookbooks from the eighteenth century included instructions for elaborate displays, “graced with as many as ten different dessert items,” to transform sweet delicacies into a form of bourgeois entertainment (Mintz, 94). The video below illustrates how elaborate structures of sugar, spices, and even gold were transformed into symbols of power and privilege. In the nineteenth century, however, these grand confections lost their association with the high-class, because sugar as a commodity had permeated to the lower classes. While these examples may seem extreme, the historical motivations of food sharing and the importance of visual perfection serve to illustrate the origin of more contemporary meanings, and can help explain why the way food looks remains a primary concern in contemporary culture.

Fast-forward to recent years and the obsession over making indulgences appeal to a visual appetite has evolved. However, the cultural capital and social currency that is gained through the exhibition of visually astounding sweets remains. For example, the spirit of competition is embodied in the various cooking competitions aired on television that are for dessert commodities. Ace of Cakes, Baker’s Dozen, Chocolate with Jacques Torres, Cupcake Wars, DC Cupcakes, Dessert First, The Dessert Show, Kid in a Candy Store, Last Cake Standing, Passion for Dessert, Sugar Rush, and Sweet Genius, are a handful of The Food Network’s television offerings, and all of them are exclusively focused on desserts or sweets. Even Top Chef has created its own sweet division, Top Chef: Just Desserts. Clearly, America enjoys visually indulging. Sugar, chocolate, and even buttercream frosting are ingredients available to the vast majority of Americans; thus the thrill of watching these competitions focuses more so on the talent and attention to detail exhibited through the construction of such elaborate desserts. Though the on screen judges obviously taste the desserts prior to voting on the winner, I would argue that the visual perception and attractiveness of the desserts is much more important, as the show is designed primarily for the distant audience at home. They must be able to “taste” with their eyes.

Another example of conveying taste through visualization is illustrated in the design and production of commercials for chocolate and other desserts. Gü Puds is a British brand of desserts introduced in the early 2000s, and they sell a wide variety of chocolate and fruit desserts in small, single-serving “puds.” The video above details the highly technical labor that goes into the making of their commercials and illustrates the importance of creating exactly the right visual effect. The directors and producers used a Photron BC2 High Speed camera recording at nearly 2000 frames per second in high definition to capture the slow motion image. The time, resources, manpower, and technology involved in the creation of this commercial (lasting less than a minute!) clearly exemplify the importance of the visual identity of foods, and more specifically, desserts. When customers feed their cravings to indulge, they value the visual appeal as an insight to how the product may taste, and therefore marketing campaigns use this association to their advantage.

In addition to commercialized exploitations of the visual appetite with profit and sales in mind, food blogs have also become an interesting component of food culture from a different sector of the popular. Rather than relying on the published food critics in the New York Times, people looking for an excellent dining experience can check one of a plethora of blogs online. This article illustrates how the restaurant experience is being shaped by these food bloggers, armed with iPhones and not afraid to kneel on the ground to find the best angle from which to snap a shot of an orange infused chocolate soufflé. Mark Jahnke, who, along with his wife, started the food and wine blog, F. Scott and Zelda says, “A lot of our friends are foodies, and we just wanted to let people know what we had tried over the weekend and whether it was good” (La Gorce, 2010). While food is typically the highlight, the restaurant atmosphere is often communicated through the images, and illustrates the importance of context within food blogs. In addition to restaurant recommendations, most food and dessert blogs also highlight recipes and at-home suggests via posted images. For example, the Tumblr “Mostly About Chocolate” features recipes, restaurant recommendations, and newsworthy links to articles about chocolate related topics. While scrolling through the blog one can find two adjacent entries, one of an image of a freshly baked dessert and the other of a freshly purchased chocolate croissant (images below). This comparison illustrates the value of both types of visual representations and social currency that can be gained by sharing images of our food. On one hand, the blogger has asserted his or her culinary expertise, and on the other, a well-rounded knowledge of the best bakeries.

This clearly “homemade” dessert (Curly Wurly brownies) reflects the talent and ability of the baker. The blogger also noted she needed to “let them cool down before cutting then I’ll take proper pictures that look decent.” 

In this post, the blogger gave a shout out to a local bakery. Compared to the homemade dessert, this image represents a refined taste and a well-traveled consumer offering expert selections from only the best.

Beyond televised cooking shows, visual marketing campaigns, and structured food blogs however, the culture of the visual appetite has permeated even deeper into the facets of society through a contemporary culture centered on technology used for every day tasks, especially through social media. Because social media is a ubiquitous platform for sharing content, the meaning of sharing food has drastically expanded to encompass the casual sharing and the capacity to do so extends to anyone with an iPhone. Most individuals have the technological capacity to snap a photo of a mouthwatering chocolate torte and share it via Instagram, Pinterest, or simple as a picture message to a friend. Rather than physically sharing a meal over a table, people can share their thoughts and experiences regarding food to anyone in the world, in seconds. This brings a new dimension of the capacity of food to unite people.

Today, the meaning of sharing visual representations of food has clearly expanded. Rather than an indication of class and power exclusively, as was common in earlier centuries, visual representations of food now represent a social currency of taste in many forms. From Food Network episodes, to million-dollar Super Bowl commercials that make our mouths water, to the picture posted on Facebook of the chocolate birthday cake baked for a friend, capturing and consuming images of food marks us as highly visual consumers and illustrates the importance food has beyond simply feeding our bodies, that of cultural connections and multi-faceted social currency.

Multimedia Sources

1) King’s Confectionary Video


2) Top Chef: Just Desserts Video Clip


3) Gu Puds Website

4) The Making of a Gü Chocolate Ad


5) Comparative Blog Posts

Scholarly and Other Sources

La Gorce, Tammy. 2010. “A Vibrant Culture of Food Blogging.” The New York Times. url:

Labouebe, et al. 2013. “Insulin induces long-term depression of ventral tegmental area dophamine neurons via endocannabinoids.” Nature Neuroscience. 16 200-208.

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power. Penguin Group: New York. 1985.

Romm, Cari. 2015. “What ‘Food Porn’ Does to the Brain.” The Atlantic. url:

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire. Manchester: New York. 2009.

Schussler, P et al. 2012. “Ghrelin levels increase after picture showing food.” Obesity. Jun: 20(6) 1212-7.

Stagnation and Expectation: Gender Roles in Advertisements

Chocolate advertisements have failed to capture modern gender roles and family structures, especially in the continued representation of stereotypical portrayals of females as mothers and housewives. Research has shown social roles inhabited by both men and women have changed significantly over the past decades, but the portrayal of these roles has not kept pace with the change (Infanger, et al., 219). By offering a close reading and critique of a modern-day Nutella commercial in comparison with a historical Rowntree Chocolates and Cocoa advertisement, I hope to illustrate the similarities between both representations of women. As will be evident, little has changed. Additionally, I will offer an alternative advertisement to challenge these stereotypes. In both the distant and recent past, food advertisements have relied on traditional representations of the female role as mother and housewife. However, I suggest advertisements reflecting more modern trends can fight these gender stereotypes and work to increase the acceptance of these new female roles in society.

This Rowntree ad conveys a clear message about the expectations of women.  In addition to taking care of the children, mothers were typically expected to make the purchasing decisions for the food products in the home.
This Rowntree ad conveys a clear message about the expectations of women. In addition to taking care of the children, mothers were typically expected to make the purchasing decisions for the food products in the home.

This Rowntree ad from the late 20th to early 21st century was part of a larger marketing movement geared towards the female housewife who was expected to provide quality products, such as chocolate, for her family (Robertson, 21). Specifically, Rowntree employed the “Special Mothers Campaign” of the 1930s to target this consumer group (Robertson, 21). Fast forward nearly one hundred years, and females are still being portrayed in communal roles and embody stereotypically feminine traits (Infanger et al., 219). Commercials such as the recent Nutella commercial (see below) attempt to persuade mothers to select certain products for the well-being and happiness of her children. By depicting a bustling morning routine with children running, calling “Mom!” and rushing to get dressed, most housewives could arguably relate to this scenario. The marketing strategy is clearly targeting mothers who feel time-pressed, but also want to provide a nutritional and tasty breakfast for their children.

Interestingly enough, marketing studies have shown that women are highly underrepresented in agentic role portrayals as well, such as that of the career woman (Infanger et al., 219). As expected, the mother in the Nutella ad appears in casual clothing, clearly not on her way to the office and likely staying at home to care for the children. The ad also presents persuasive indicators of health and nutrition to assure any critics that Nutella is a wholesome food. Thus, the “quality” ingredients of cocoa, skim milk, and hazelnuts are artfully portrayed along with the banner “no artificial ingredients or preservatives.”  Mentions of “multi-grain toast and whole wheat waffles” suggest this mother is health-conscious and would only serve her children the best and most nutritious foods. Additionally, fruit on the table and the lack of reference to the high concentration of sugar and unhealthy oil in Nutella suggest its suitability for children. This characterization of Nutella as a healthy breakfast option also parallels the goals of the 1930s Rowntree campaign, which emphasized the “wholesome” quality of chocolate (Robertson, 30). In both ads, the mother is expected to provide and serve breakfast, with no mention or representation of the fatherly figure at all. The child is being served and takes no part in the preparation process. Side by side, the depiction of the female role as the provider of food within the home is conceptually similar in both the Nutella and Rowntree ads. After presenting an understanding of the cultural similarities in representation between two chronologically different ads, I argue this is a clear example of how these stereotypical roles have become entrenched in history and pervasive in society.

Why are companies and brands so wary of changing the way women are represented?  Interesting examples of market research have demonstrated that although societal roles for women are changing, the reception of these new roles has yet to produce more positive results when perpetuated in advertisements (Infanger et al., 225). Products that depict women in communal roles as compared to agentic ones are still proving to be more favorable, at least according to one study conducted in 2012 in Europe (Infanger et al., 225). However, a few forward thinking and innovative campaigns have attempted to align themselves with more contemporary views of family structure and gender roles, perhaps to break the molds that have captured marketing strategies for years. For example, Always’ “Like a Girl” campaign brings female stereotypes into the open in an effort to shed light on how these representations fail to develop confidence in young girls. The Verizon campaign entitled, “Inspire Her Mind” also presents females in a new light, tinkering with power tools and interested in careers in science and engineering. Both of these contemporary campaigns suggest females can be capable of more than a typical “housewife and mother” role. I suggest these types of cultural initiatives could help drive social change rather than continue to force consumers to be passive consumers of cultural stereotypes.

My peers and I also developed a hypothetical advertisement that pushes back against the focus of the female as the sole provider of food within the home. We created an advertisement that highlighted the often-neglected father figure. Rather than being an absent breadwinner, the father dons an apron and engages the children in a hands-on domestic experience. Rather than using Mom’s convenience ingredient, Dad actually cooks. I suggest this ad, like the Dove and Verizon campaigns are models of what future successful marketing campaigns will look like. In an era in which every ounce of technology and print media is embedded with advertising initiatives, brands must be original in order to stand out. By pushing back against cultural norms and stereotypes, companies can create a more realistic portrait reflective of a contemporary evolving society.

This ad (created by my peers and I) is intended to challenge stereotypical representations of females as the sole meal providers.  The often neglected father is shown here taking an active role and engaging his children in the experience as well.
This ad (created by my peers and I) is intended to challenge stereotypical representations of females as the sole meal providers. The often neglected father is shown here taking an active role and engaging his children in the experience as well. Dad can indeed wear the pants, but the apron also fits!

Through my comparative analysis and critiques of these chocolate commercials, I have presented a specific example of a larger trend observed in advertising. Though marketing platforms have changed (e.g. social media, internet, search engine optimization), companies rarely present ideas that do not rely on already existing stereotypes. In the case of gender roles and food production, the woman is always responsible for putting meals on the table. However, by actually changing the content of the ads rather than just the delivery, companies can tap into a new movement that will make their product stand out against the landscape of stagnation as evidenced by the comparison of the Rowntree ad and the recent Nutella commercial. Ads such as the one created by my peers and I represent a new sector with which I suggest many consumers would relate and find refreshing and inspiring.


 Multimedia Sources

(1) Rowntree Cocoa Advertisement


(2) Nutella Commercial


(3) Always’ “Like a Girl” Campaign Video


(4) Verizon “Inspire Her Mind” Video


(5) Stock photo for peer-generated advertisement:


Scholarly Sources

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

Infanger, Martina; Janine Bosak; and Sabine Sczesny. 2012. “Communality sells: The impact of perceivers’ sexism on the evaluation of women’s portral in advertisements.” European Jouranl of Social Psychology. 42, 219-226. url:

Infanger, Martina; Janine Bosak; and Sabine Sczesny. 2012. “Communality sells: The impact of perceivers’ sexism on the evaluation of women’s portral in advertisements.” European Jouranl of Social Psychology. 42, 219-226. url:

Redefining “Purity”: The Evolution of Chocolate Adulteration

The legal definition of adulterated food is: “food that is generally impure, unsafe, or unwholesome ( Since before the Victorian era, horrific accounts of food adulteration have tainted the food industry, and chocolate was not spared. Throughout the 19th century, chocolate’s rising demand made it a ripe target for adulteration (Coe and Coe, Ch. 9). By analyzing the concept of purity and adulteration in the context of chocolate, a critical trend in food adulteration as a whole is evident. Due to advances in science over time, the rise of large food industry conglomerates, and an expanding market for cheap food, adulteration has flourished in complexity, and the concept of purity has become hard to define.

The first half of the 19th century brought rapid growth of industrial towns in England and the development of the manufacturing industry stirred social change by removing people from the means of primary production (Goody, 85). Fast forward to the early twentieth century and the problem has only compounded. To raise awareness, media portrayals of food attempted to reveal these atrocities and warn consumers. Upton Sinclair’s groundbreaking expose, The Jungle published in 1906, ruthlessly and graphically exposed adulteration practices across the food industry, largely focusing on the meatpacking industry.

This image taken from Sinclair’s The Jungle, highlights the wide range of adulteration practices within a variety range of food industries. By removing the human hand from food production, products carry more risk and uncertainty.

The image above from Part 3, entitled “Food Was Not as it Seemed,” illustrates everything from a leather boot to arsenic being dumped into an urn of industrially produced butter. Though the USDA was established in 1862, Sinclair’s accounts were a demand for stronger infrastructure. The Jungle shocked the nation and directly resulted in the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, which prevented the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated or misbranded foods (“FSIS History”).

Chocolate was not spared, and during the 19th chocolate was adulterated with everything from powered dried peas, potato starch, veal, and even egg yolks (Coe and Coe, Ch.9). If chocolate could be produced more cheaply, then lower classes could become consumers. Chocolate adulteration was no secret, however, and people began to develop “tests” to determine genuine content before regulation practices were implemented. Companies such as Cadbury also began to enter the media war on food adulteration by including promises of purity in their advertisements.

This Cadbury’s print ad from 1897 illustrates the worry of contamination and the motivation for companies to assert their quality by advertising their high standards.

“Contains no alkalies” and “Absolutely Pure, therefore, Best,” were slogans used to ensure customers of the quality of Cadbury’s product. Consumers did, however have reason to worry. In the mid-19th century, an investigation commissioned by a British medical journal found 39 of 70 chocolate samples had been colored with red brick (Harwitch, 147). While adulteration was a growing issue during the 19th and early 20th centuries, contemporary advances in food science and chemistry during late 29th and early 21st century would give adulteration an a new meaning.

Though consumers of contemporary mass-produced chocolates are unlikely to find bricks or potato starch in their chocolate bars, adulteration is far from over. To comply with FDA legislations, however, it has taken on a complex role. Hard-to-detect forms of adulterated chocolate made possible by modern technologies are a concern for even the observant consumer. Because cocoa butter is a high-profit commodity in the pharmaceutical industry, and has experienced a dramatic increase in price, manufacturers often separate the cocoa butter and substitute cheaper vegetable fats, such as lecithin and palm oil (Coe and Coe, Ch.9). Candy bar lovers should check out this 2008 article from ABC news scrutinizing ingredient lists of bars such Take 5, Mr. Goodbar, and Baby Ruth. Unfortunately, cocoa butter is not a frequent constituent.

Though Sharon Leitner, a Take 5 lover interviewed for the article, claimed the substitution of cheaper fats tasted “waxy and artificial,” petitions from consumers and small chocolatiers have had little success (Gomstyn). This suggests the average consumer either doesn’t care, or, arguably worse, doesn’t notice.  Issues of equality are also raised here, as Hershey’s bars and kisses are still made with cocoa butter. Just as name-brand foods often produce a cheaper, generic equivalent to gain another share of the market through capturing the lower income consumer, individual chocolate companies seem to be creating a spectrum of products by sacrificing quality for the sake of a dollar. Clearly, the players in the game of adulterating chocolate have gotten sneaky.

The most dominant issue regarding food adulteration involves questions of equality in food choices and what we consider “pure” in the food industry. Because chocolate adulteration has taken on a more complex meaning, marketing schemes have evolved with the definition of pure itself. Rather than claiming “no vegetable fats,” as would be the twentieth century parallel of the 1897 Cadbury ad, campaigns today tend to shift the focus of “purity” from a literal to a figurative sense. Rather than communicating exactly what is in their products, companies tend to complicate the meaning of pure by elevating it to a more conceptual level, such as this recent Hershey’s campaign.

Rather than highlighting the quality of its ingredients, the Hershey’s brand wants viewers to associate its chocolate with purity and happiness. Even if you can’t afford “real” chocolate, you can enjoy Hershey’s and still have “pure” chocolate. Thus, this complicates who considers which foods “pure,” leading to large-scale ambiguities.

Food has been adulterated, domesticated, manipulated, and genetically modified for centuries. Rather than solving problems these processes present, regulations imposed on food encourage companies to find loopholes to increase profits. I believe the hardest part to eliminating adulteration practices lies in eliminating the market for them. With a widening socioeconomic gap in developed countries such as the U.S., lower classes are a key market for companies looking to produce cheap products. Therefore, as long as there someone will buy these modern day adulterated goods, companies will be hard-pressed to stop producing them.


“Adulterated Food Law and Legal Definition,” 2015. USLegal.

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

“FSIS History” USDA. Updated Sept 2014. url:

Gomstyn, Alice. “Chocolate Lovers Pained by Candy Changes,” ABC News. 2008.

Goody, Jack. 2013. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” In Food and Culture. ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. pp. 72-88

Harwitch, Nikita, 1992. Historie du chocolat. Paris: Editions Desjonqueres.

Multimedia Sources

(1) Image from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle: Part 3: Food Was Not as it Seemed, 1906.

(2) Cadbury Advertisement, 1897

(3) Gomstyn, Alice. “Chocolate Lovers Pained by Candy Changes,” ABC News. 2008

(4) Hershey’s Commercial, 2008.

Chocolate: ‘Humouring’ the World of Medicine for Centuries

In Baroque Europe, food and medicine were two largely inseparable entities (Moss 27). Most physicians relied on Galen’s system (see Image 1) as a way to divide human physiology into four categories, or “humoural qualities:” sanguine, bilious, phlegmatic, or melancholic (Moss 27). However, many foods encountered in the New World, such as chocolate, could not be logically assigned to this existing structure of medicinal organization, presenting a challenge for physicians and commoners alike (Moss 27). This was arguably the beginning of a larger shift in which medicine and food would eventually occupy two largely separate frameworks. Interestingly enough, in recent years this divide between food and medicine has started to dissolve as nutritional therapies and so-called antioxidant-rich “superfoods” have become popular, and chocolate has certainly not been left out of the equation (Moss 27). By tracing the origins of the conceptual union of food and medicine, specifically focusing on the difficulty of incorporating chocolate into the Humoural System, one can follow the trajectory of this dynamic relationship to contemporary examples of chocolate that can arguably be characterized as a rebirth of “food as medicine.”

Image 1: This chart integrates several elements of the Humoural System, guidelines popularized by the second century Greek philosopher and physician Galen. Many 16th and 17th century beliefs were based on this framework based on achieving balance within the body (Moss, 26).

The use of medicinal chocolate, and more generally, food as medicine is also found in the Mesoamerican tradition, and the indigenous medicinal framework supporting its use had similarities to that of Galen’s system.  Though both Aztec and European perspectives were based on a “hot-cold” system, the Mexica view also blended religion, and the earth was viewed as a plan with four cardinal directions with the Aztec empire in the center.  The five localities were all assigned colors and attributes during healing processes (Dillinger, 2059S). Illnesses were also though to be caused by imbalances in the body, and dietary treatments were prescribed accordingly in both indigenous, and eventually European, cultures (Moss, 27).

Though Aztecs seemed to integrate chocolate seamlessly into their framework of medicine, Europeans were somewhat puzzled by its diverse qualities. According to Aztec traditions, chocolate supposedly enhanced the blood through its vital and sacred qualities and was used for a variety of ailments including: reducing fever, increasing breast milk production, cleansing teeth, diminishing timidity, or even preventing syphilis. (Wilson, 158). However, because categorization within the Galen System, was highly logical, this presented a problem.  Hot and spicy foods such as pepper and new chiles were considered “hot and dry” and were associated with bilious tendencies, while bland tasting dishes including dairy or grains were thought to promote cool, phlegmatic habits (Moss 27). Chocolate, as it was prepared by the indigenous cultures, was served as a hot drink, therefore hot and moist, yet contained spices which would have classified it as dry and therefore sanguine. (Moss 27).  To add to the confusion, when considered as an astringent bean, it would have been “cold and wet,” but as a bitter power, “cold and dry” would have been a more fitting classification (Moss 28). Literature states that even opposing ailments were both thought to be ameliorated by drinking chocolate. For example, it was thought to both encourage sleep and promote energy (Wilson, 158). Due to the inability to fit chocolate, among other New World foodstuffs, into the European “Four Humours” system, I argue that food and medicine began occupying separate spheres within everyday life, a trend that would continue as industry specialization and culinary advances came into play in later years.

To contemporary physicians and consumers alike, the “Four Humours” system is a thing of the past, a historical artifact of a time period lacking scientific knowledge and modern-day conceptions of medicine. However, recent trends in so-called “paleo diets” superfoods, and nutritional remedies for everyday ailments in some ways seem to reference this “ancient” framework of understanding the how the body functions best. The chocolate industry has wasted no time in jumping on this culinary-medicinal bandwagon, and today companies such as Mars, Inc. are working with organizations such as the American Cocoa Association and other well-renowned labs to study a variety of aspects of chocolate consumption related to health benefits (Presilla, 57). These types of collaborations have undoubtedly had an impact on the branding and marketing spheres of the chocolate industries (Image 2).

Image 2: Along with other large chocolate manufacturers, Hershey’s has attempted to capitalize on the growing interest in antioxidant “superfoods.” However, according to an 2013 article from Confectionary, the contents of some of Hershey’s labels such as this one have come under legal fire (Nieburg, 2013). 

As scientists learn more about specific compounds and how to integrate these into our diet in a healthful way, one cannot help but be reminded of the ancient origins of “chocolate as medicine.” The “Four Humours” system is an interesting example that reflects the attitudes and scientific knowledge of people at the time. Though food and medicine would eventually occupy largely separate entities over time, and chocolate gained an identity a dessert commodity, recent inquiries into chocolate’s flavenol content (Presilla 57-59) and how to integrate it healthfully into our diet are reminiscent of the ancient focus on achieving balance as a primary health goal. Though only a thin line separates dietary enhancements from actual pharmaceuticals (Presilla, 59), Hippocrates, a predecessor of Galen, seemed to have come to a similar conclusion, ““Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”







Dillinger, Teresa L., Patricia Barriga, Sylvia Escárcega, Martha Jimenez, Diana Salazar Lowe, and Louis E. Grivetti. “Food of the gods: cure for humanity? A cultural history of the medicinal and ritual use of chocolate.” The Journal of nutrition 130, no. 8 (2000): 2057S-2072S.

Moss, Sarah, and Alexander Badenoch. Chocolate: a global history. Reaktion Books, 2009.

National Library of Medicine. “The world of Shakespeare’s humors” url: 19 Sept 2013.

Nieburg, Oliver. “District court will not dismiss Hershey antioxidant labeling suit.” Confectionary (2013).

Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate revised: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Ten Speed Press. 2009.

Wilson, Philip K. “Centuries of seeking chocolate’s medicinal benefits.” The Lancet 376, no. 9736 (2010): 158-159.