All posts by aaas119x479

Chocolate and Females: A Relationship Study

Chocolate is one of the most gendered and sexualized products being sold today.  Its many forms serve many purposes and there are marketing techniques to sell every single one of them.  But in nearly all cases, in each ad there is some reference to a woman in a hetero-normative manner.  All the depictions of women in these commercials imply that the featured woman is in some kind of relationship, usually one with a man.  In order to explore chocolate’s role in relationships, I first examine the overabundance of ads targeted towards heterosexual couples and the idea that men give chocolate to women.  Second, I detail the lack of non-heterosexual ads and show how some ads could be converted in order to begin to break the gendered stereotype.   Third, the relationship specifically between a woman and her chocolate is described and dissected.  Overall, in conducting interviews with couples and delving deeply into advertisements I learned that chocolate is intrinsically linked both to femininity and to relationships, though chocolate’s exact place in a relationship is variable.

Chocolate and the Heterosexual Relationship

The traditional heterosexual relationship is defined as a female engaging romantically with a male.  Romantic interactions may include, but are not limited to, spending time together, exchanging gifts, and engaging in sexual intercourse or other more PG-13 physical encounters, like kissing.  Those three components of relationships feature heavily in the majority of chocolate ads, though often they are not all present in the same ad as that overcomplicates the ad.  Romantic interactions can be generalized to any type of relationship (heterosexual or other), but in chocolate ads we only see them in the heterosexual context.  There is no database of chocolate ads that confirms this. I make this claim using my own knowledge, gathered from years viewing chocolate ads in the media and more significantly, from four months intensely studying chocolate advertising in Dr. Martin’s course.

Let’s begin by examining a 1967 Brach’s ad for Valentine’s Day chocolate (Figure 1 below). I first saw in a Slate Magazine article titled “Cuckoo for Cocoa”.  The article expounds upon women’s supposed craving of chocolate and how the media portrays and takes advantage of it (Anderson).  In this ad, Brach’s claims that the giver of the chocolate will receive “free kisses with every box of Brach’s Valentine Chocolates you give to her”.  Note the use of the word “her” in this advertisement.  Brach’s is specifically marketing this box of chocolates as a gift for a woman.  The gender of the giver is not specified in the ad, but using a number of context clues, we can determine that the giver is almost certainly male.  First, the ad is for Valentine’s Day, a conventionally romantic holiday.  The box of chocolate is given in the attempt to get “free kisses”, which again falls under the umbrella of traditional romantic relationship activities.  Together, these two facts lead us to believe that the chocolates are given from one partner in the relationship to another. The third context clue is that defines this as a heterosexual relationship is the knowledge that this ad was created and distributed in 1967, a time where non-heterosexual relationships were still very much hidden, or at least not publicly marketed towards.  We’ve determined that this Brach’s ad targets males, inciting them to give chocolate to their girlfriend/wife in order to get “free kisses”.  Of course, the kisses aren’t actually free.  They cost either $2.95 or $5.50, depending on which box of chocolates is purchased. The ad is overly feminized, featuring a lacy chocolate box covered in ribbons, many heart shapes, and the imprint of very female lips.  This ad not only reinforces the heterosexual relationship, it furthers chocolate’s classification as “feminine”.



The gendered nature of chocolate probably began when chocolate was carried to Europe.  Robertson argues that the “consumption of chocolate in the west became feminized early in history” and that “chocolate became associated with luxury and leisure in the domestic sphere from the eighteenth century” (Robertson 20). From Robertson, we know two things: that chocolate became associated with luxury and also became feminized. Because of the strict gender roles of the era and the difficulty of transportation, both associations make a great deal of sense.  Cacao was only grown in the New World, so getting it to Europe was an expensive and lengthy process.  Thus it could only be purchased by those with enough coin and so it became associated with luxury.  In the 1700s, women did not have the power to make all their own purchases.  While they did have some autonomy, European women were largely reliant on men for their clothing, shelter, and spending money.  Only in rare cases would women have enough money to purchase their own chocolate.  Instead, men could present their female sweethearts with gifts of chocolate, thereby feminizing chocolate.  For example, in the 19th century, it became popular for men to give their partners “an elegant box of imported bon-bons” (Kawash 1).

The idea that men give chocolate to women has been perpetuated in the modern era.  Advertisements specifically targeted towards men as chocolate-givers continue to reinforce the idea that the gifts are unidirectional and appropriate to give in a romantic context.  A recent New York Times article titled “Sex and Candy” and published right before Valentine’s Day said that “nothing is more symbolic of the romance of Valentine’s Day than a box of chocolates, traditionally a gift from Him to Her” (Kawash 1).  The article goes on to pick apart the reasons why chocolate marketing is aimed at women and why the gift from “Him to Her” is no longer accurate or even appropriate in today’s much broader relationship spectrum. But despite forward-thinking articles like Kawash’s, the “conventional wisdom is that women naturally crave the stuff [chocolate]” (Kawash 1). To determine whether this was true or whether people believed it was true, I interviewed a number of couples –same sex and opposite sex.

Diana and Felipe, 22 and 23 respectively, have been dating for five years.  Three of those years have been long-distance and have involved quite a large number of in-the-mail presents.  Interestingly, most of those presents are sent by Felipe to Diana and many of them feature chocolate or flowers, two stand-by romantic gifts.  When asked why he sent chocolate to Diana, Felipe replied that he believes people, women in particular, feel happy when they receive and consume chocolate.  He wants Diana to associate that feeling of happiness with him, so he sends her chocolate in the hope that, by the transitive property, she will feel happy when she thinks of him.  Where did Felipe get this idea that chocolate makes women happy? “First-hand experience”, he stated, “along with media, family, and friends telling me so”.  Diana and Felipe fall firmly in the heterosexual relationship standard shown by the media, but that does not mean all heterosexual couples do.

The Lack of Non-Heterosexual Chocolate Advertising

After scouring the internet, I was unable to find an overtly homosexual advertisement for chocolate.  There are ambiguous ads that market chocolate to women without directly saying that the chocolate will be given to them by men, but they are much fewer in number than those that firmly depict men giving chocolate to women, or at least feature men and women in some kind of relationship exchanging chocolate.

Follow this link to see an ad by Bonjour Chocolate.  It features very attractive, shirtless men preparing a chocolate creation sensuously.  In this video, there is no implicit male-female relationship.  In fact, it could even be argued that there is some kind of male-male relationship going on.  A group of attractive, naked men making chocolate together? For each other?  The sexual tension in the ad is palpable and if this were the entire ad, one could make a very convincing case that it breaks the heterosexual norm.

Unfortunately, the ad viewed isn’t the entire ad.  In this depiction, I omitted the first twenty seconds.  The full ad can be seen below.

With the additional twenty seconds, the entire gender status of the ad changes. Women are seen coyly flirting with men and almost throwing themselves at the men.  Because they are attractive?  Certainly.  Or at least, before we see the chocolate, that is the primary reason.  After the conclusion of the ad, we might guess that the women are throwing themselves at the men because they know that they make these delectable chocolate creations.  And really, according to today’s society, women are after the chocolate, not the men.  Though if men have chocolate, that certainly increases their chances.  This ad, which is effective even without the first twenty seconds, places itself firmly in the hetero-normative category, when it could just as easily be gender-neutral.

But even in the last forty second of the ad, the men and chocolate are portrayed as feminine.  Note, they are not portrayed as being for women, more that they themselves are feminine.  The portrayal of femininity comes across because the men are being viewed by an outside party and being objectified.  They are being sexualized in a way that usually only women are.  The ad focuses on the lines of their bodies, the play of shadows on muscle and the silkiness of their smooth, hairless skin (almost like that of a woman’s).  The men in the ad are objects to be admired because of their physical beauty and their sensuality, not at all because of their personality or skills. They are preparing food, a traditionally feminine task, and the food they are preparing is delicate and sweet, again expressly feminine.  This ad, while it could break the heterosexual trend in traditional chocolate ads, nevertheless reinforces chocolate’s femininity.

We’ve seen that there are virtually no advertisements targeted specifically towards homosexual couples, so the question becomes, do these couples still exchange chocolate?  The answer is clearly yes.  Just because there ads are not specifically targeted at a given group of people does not mean that they are not affected by the ads.  In fact, because women are so “chocolate-crazy”, wouldn’t it be a logical conclusion that women in same-sex relationships purchase and enjoy chocolate more than their heterosexual counterparts?

This assumption breaks down for a number of reasons.  First, studies have shown that women do not actually desire chocolate significantly more than men do.  A UK study by the Mintel research group showed that 91% of women admit to eating chocolate while 87% of men admit to consuming it – a mere 4% difference (CNN).  Second, unlike the common assumption, PMS has nothing biological to do with the desire for chocolate (Nutter). The association of chocolate with PMS is largely a social construct and continues to exist simply because it is well established. Third and most importantly, women have more wants and needs than chocolate.  In fact, chocolate ranks pretty low on the list for many women, such as for Ana and Wynn, one of the couples I interviewed.  They prefer to give and receive meaningful gifts as opposed to chocolate, which another interviewee, Charlotte, calls chocolate “the gift you get when you don’t know what to get”.   So chocolate isn’t destined to be the ultimate gift for same-sex female couples, but many still appreciate and enjoy it.

I Take Thee, Chocolate

We’ve talked about male-female relationships and female-female relationships, but we haven’t yet talked about the female-chocolate relationship, which is probably the most interesting and newest to advertising of the three.  In this relationship, chocolate becomes the female’s partner.  Take the ad below (Figure 2) for example.  Though it appears to be an older ad, it is a modern take on a 1950’s era chocolate cake ad.  The tagline, “because chocolate can’t get you pregnant,” directly urges the viewer to buy chocolate because it does not have the sex’s potential side-effect of pregnancy.  As only men can cause women to become pregnant (assuming standard biological procedures) it is clear that chocolate here is a substitute for sex, for men.

Figure 2.4

But why is chocolate an acceptable substitute in the present day?  What about contemporary chocolate makes it so similar to men/sex that it is commonly thought to be an appropriate replacement for either?  There are certainly numerous parallels.  First, for “chaste” women, and women are still supposed to be chaste in today’s world though there is much more sexual freedom, both sex and chocolate are forbidden fruits (Parkin). Sex is forbidden because engaging in it reduces a woman’s virtue and chocolate is forbidden because its consumption will eventually lead to weight gain, which is perceived as a negative consequence by much of society.  Second, both chocolate and sex are luxuries, chocolate because it can be expensive, sex because finding a good partner can be quite difficult.  Third, both chocolate and sex can only be had in limited quantities because a healthy body can only handle so much of either.  Basically, chocolate, like sex, is an indulgence, a temptation.  Women want it because they know they shouldn’t have it, and that only makes them want it more.

Chocolate is much more manageable than a man, than sex.  It doesn’t argue, it can’t cause pregnancy, and it is always, always there when a woman wants it. She can pick the brand, the cacao content, even the packaging, to suit her mood, whereas a man cannot be similarly engineered.  True, chocolate cannot give a physical hug in times of trouble, but the media’s portrayal of chocolate as a comfort food means that many people convince themselves that they are comforted simply by the act of eating chocolate.  The media, by continually advertising chocolate as a carnal pleasure (and therefore similar to sex) and by portraying it is as a comfort food (replacing a man’s emotional value), has effectively made chocolate a substitute for men.  But it is even better than men because it is always available and requires much less effort to keep around.  The Axe commercial below shows how crazy women become over the “chocolate man”.  In this ad, chocolate literally takes the place of a man (and by implication, sex).  Women want the chocolate more than they do the man.

Modern women can purchase chocolate by themselves, thereby asserting their independence and placing them in somewhat of a masculine role.  However, the femininity of chocolate reduces the effect of that masculinity.  In fact, consuming chocolate, especially luxury chocolate, which is a firmly feminine food, enhances a woman’s femininity every time she eats it simply because chocolate is so essentially female.  Combined, chocolate’s femininity, the ease with which it can be acquired, its numerous parallels to men, and the media’s continual, in-your-face depiction of chocolate as a substitute for men have made American society believe that chocolate really is an appropriate, even desirable, candidate for a woman to have a relationship with.

Chocolate fits into relationships in a variety of ways, but always it carries a feminine connotation.  Its status as a heterosexual gift could be changed with a large media effort, but its feminine status will not be so easily altered.


Works Cited

Aaron, Shara, and Monica Bearden. Chocolate: A Healthy Passion. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2008. Print.

Anderson, L. V. “Cuckoo for Cocoa.” Slate 13 Feb. 2012: n. pag. Web. 4 May 2015.

Kawash, Samira. “Sex and Candy.” The New York Times 14 Feb. 2014, Opinion Pages sec.: A31. The New York Times. 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 4 May 2015.

Nutter, Kathleen B. “From Romance to PMS: Images of Women and Chocolate in Twentieth-Century America.” Edible Ideologies: Representing Food and Meaning. By Kathleen LeBesco and Peter Naccarato. Albany: State U of New York, 2008. N. pag. Print.

Parkin, Katherine J. Food Is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2006. Print.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

“Who Consumes the Most Chocolate?” CNN. N.p., 17 Jan. 2012. Web. 4 May 2015.

Multimedia Sources

TV Ad – Axe Dark Chocolate Temptation: Chocolate Man. Adapt. adsoftheworld. YouTube. N.p., 3 Dec. 2007. Web. 3 May 2015.

DK, Anna. Retro poster, “Because chocolate can’t get you pregnant” Digital image. Bird Reynolds. N.p., 24 May 2012. Web. 5 May 2015.

1967 Brach’s Valentine Chocolates. Digital image. AdClassix. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 May 2015.

The Sexiest Ad for the Sweetest Thing. Adapt. ZazulaTheGreat. YouTube. N.p., 14 Mar. 2007. Web. 1 May 2015.


Naomi Campbell and Chocolate

In the ad below, Cadbury compares its new chocolate bar to model Naomi Campbell, saying “Move over Naomi, there’s a new diva in town”.  Though the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that “the commercial was likely to be understood to refer to Naomi Campbell’s reputation for ‘diva-style’ behavior rather than her race” (Daily Mail), both comparisons nevertheless present problems.  To combat this ad in two ways, its branding of women as divas and of African Americans as chocolate, we created a new advertisement with key phrasing differences that remove any potential race or gender discrimination.


                This purple Cadbury ad, widely distributed in 2011, refers to Naomi Campbell, the famed supermodel .  The ad directly compares Campbell to a diva, telling her to “move over” for a new diva, the Cadbury chocolate bar.  The implication here is quite clear.  Simply, Naomi Campbell is a diva.  In this sense, the word diva is used to mean an extremely talented but very temperamental female.  A diva is someone who likes to be pampered and indulged, beautified and treated like a princess.  By comparing their new chocolate bar to a diva, Cadbury hopes to give the impression that their chocolate bar is the most luxurious, most delicious chocolate bar out there.  However, by doing so, they further the idea that women are divas.  Though being a diva is good in that it is defined to mean exceptionally talented, it carries the unfortunate connotation of also being extremely spoiled and almost mercurial.  Thus this ad falls into the classic chocolate ad tendency of defining women as emotional and subject to giving into their every last desire.  Like most chocolate ads, “it associate[s] chocolate with luxury, women, and moral taboos” (Fahim 15). By changing the word “diva” to “star” in our ad, we eliminate the emotional portrayal of women and retain the idea of excellence.  If we were to keep Campbell in our ad (which we eventually do not), we could make a convincing case for her status as a star instead of as a diva.  Campbell is one of the most successful models of her time and is constantly in the public eye – both qualities that would identify her as a star. Another change we made to this effect is to substitute the word “revolutionary” for “pampered” (in the lower right corner of the ad).  The word pampered furthers the emotional and temperamental association started by diva and classifies women as people who need to be given gifts and have their desires met.  “Revolutionary” instead enhances Cadbury’s message that they are introducing a new product that is going to change the market because of its excellence.


                The implication that Campbell is a diva is clear from the ad, but the more controversial portion of the ad is the possible comparison of Campbell to chocolate because of her skin color.  Cambpell is of African descent and has a skin tone that would be classified by most as black, though of course there are a range of skin tones that are considered to be black. By specifically choosing Campbell as the diva to refer to in the ad, Cadbury adds the “exotic” and “magical” air to their chocolate described by Roberston in “Chocolate, Women, and Empire” (Roberston 1). The United Kingdom, Cadbury’s primary market, is largely composed of white consumers.  The population is not homogenous, but the majority of consumers are white.  Thus a non-white model is perceived as “exotic” because of the difference in skin color.

Instead of simply using Campbell to sell the chocolate, because they directly tell her to “move over,” many consumers assumed that Campbell was being directly compared to the chocolate – that she was the chocolate.  This was offensive because the basis of the comparison was that her skin color allowed her to be classified as a good for sale.  Interpreting this historically, it is possible to make ties to slavery and argue that this is a commoditization of humans, especially those of African descent. This, I believe is the basis of the large amount of criticism Cadbury received for its ad.  To eliminate this racist and historically disturbing association, we remove Campbell from the ad entirely, instead replacing her with the term “supermodels” in general.  By using the word “supermodels”, race becomes ambiguous and unimportant.  Supermodels are still stars, so the intended selling point of the ad remains the same, just the racial connotation is removed.  Our final ad can be seen below.  It is very similar to the original ad, but by chaning “diva” to “star”, “Naomi” to “supermodels”, and “pampered” to “revolutionary”, we eliminate both the race and gender discrimination that are so commonly found in chocolate advertisements.


Interestingly, this is one of the only examples of an African-descended woman to promote chocolate.  As Fahim states in his article, traditionally white women are used to portray the image of luxury and chocolate whereas black women are used to portray earthiness and a lower-class product (Fahim 16).  In some sense, this ad is a step in the right direction by not using a white model.  However, its downfall is that the non-white women is not being used to make the chocolate more attractive.  Instead she is being directly compared to the chocolate.

Interested in reading the Daily Mail’s article about the controversy over the ad?  The full article can be found here.

Works Cited

Fahim, Jamal. Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing. 2010.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010.

Multimedia Sources

ad created by the author and partners

A Spicy History

Chocolate and spice were married long before Lindt began producing its iconic chili-flavored chocolate bars.  In fact, spices were found in chocolate when the Spaniards invaded the Aztec Empire, meaning that they have been integrated in chocolate for over 500 years.  Over the course of chocolate’s lifetime, the amounts and kinds of spices used have varied widely and consumer’s attitudes towards them have changed drastically.

Figure 2.3

Though there is no concrete evidence of the first use of spice in chocolate, it is relatively safe to assume that chocolate was first consumed without spices.  I assume this because most mixed products are originally consumed as separate ingredients simply because they must be tasted first in order to discern where they fall on the flavor spectrum.  Only then can tasters determine which ingredients should be combined to maximize flavor sensation.  When the Spaniards arrived, spices and flowers like chili peppers and “ear flowers” were used universally in chocolate (Coe and Coe 2013). As chocolate is thought to have first been consumed by the Olmecs (1500-400 BCE), spices must have been added sometime between 1500 BCE and 500 CE, approximately when Cortés invaded. As spice was so firmly intertwined with chocolate when Cortés arrived, it was probably introduced and perfected earlier on in that time period.  In addition to ear flower and chili peppers, Mesoamericans also used vanilla, achiote, and mecaxóchitl (Mexican pepperleaf) to flavor their chocolate (Norton 2004).  The spices and flowers used had a wide variety of heat and appearance (see pictures below), but they were used either to complement each other or as individual flavorings.  The main use of these original spices was for flavor and not appearance as the chocolate was so dark that it would take a large amount of spice to alter the entire appearance of the chocolate.  Chocolate’s consumption as a liquid also enhanced the use of spice for taste rather than flavor because liquid chocolate is well mixed, so spices cannot easily be placed at the top for a dramatic visual effect.


Some of the invading Spaniards took kindly to the spices in chocolate, but others did not.  The flavors were so foreign to the Spaniards that they were not immediately appreciated.  When chocolate made its way over to Europe, not all the spices came along for the journey.  There are two leading theories for this lack of migration.  First, Spaniards returning from Mesoamerica believed that their mainland counterparts would not enjoy the additional spice in the chocolate.  Second, importing spices along with cacao beans would have increased the number of imports (Norton 2006).  As silver and gold were so valuable and chocolate was so desired, spices for chocolate flavoring kind of fell by the wayside.  Personally, I believe that both of these theories have some merit.  Lack of space and lack of desire for spices by Spaniards made not including them in the Spanish diet very easy.

Though spices were consumed in moderation by some Spaniards, as Norton explains in her article Conquests of Chocolate, by “the end of the eighteenth century [in Spain], all that remained of the spice complex was cinnamon and sugar” (Norton 2004). Essentially, Spaniards substituted more familiar spices (like cinnamon) for use in chocolate and largely ignored the traditional Mesoamerican spices.  Sugar use in chocolate continued to increase as sugar consumption in Europe increased, leading to sugar’s emergence as the primary supplement to cacao beans. Cinnamon was also frequently used, though mainly in chocolate drinks instead of in chocolate bars (sugar was used both in bars and drinks).

Though 18th century chocolate was largely spice-less, modern chocolate often includes chili peppers, sea salt, vanilla, or cinnamon.  So how did spices become popular again? Today, spiced chocolate is viewed almost as a delicacy and as a food for those with refined tastes.  This is a complete turnaround from a few hundred years earlier, when those spices were a mark of the Mesoamerican roots of chocolate.  I believe this turnaround occurred for two primary reasons.  Following the industrial revolution and in tandem with increased ease of travel, people began to venture further from their homes.  The ability to travel was a marker of class (because travel could be expensive), and thus a taste for “exotic” ingredients became an indicator or how well-traveled, and therefore financially well-off, a person was.  Spicy ingredients like chili peppers fell into this “exotic” category and thus experienced an upswing in popularity.  Second, the ease of travel also meant a greater ease of transportation of goods.  Transportation is now much quicker and more efficient than in 18th century Spain, meaning that more goods can be imported and exported.  Thus the cost of importing spices is reduced, and more spices can be imported to chocolate-consuming countries.

In the modern era, neither of the original factors that prevented spices from becoming popular in Spain apply — there is a desire for the spices and there is a means to acquire those spices.  Spices have become incredibly popular in western chocolate, with bakeries developing that specialize in chocolate and spice (like this one in Las Vegas).  Because of the additional cost, spices are seen as somewhat of fancier ingredient for use in chocolate, but it is nevertheless available to most of the masses because of its use by companies like Lindt. Spice use in chocolate seems to have come full circle. Originally, Mesoamerican spices were mixed in, then abandoned for more European-friendly spices like cinnamon, and now both Mesoamerican and non-Mesoamerican spices are included in chocolate bars and drinks. I predict that the level of spice use in chocolate will only increase. Western consumers (largely the drivers of the chocolate market) now have a taste for both Mesoamerican and other spices, and that taste and the ability to satisfy it fairly economically indicate that spices will continue to enhance chocolate for the foreseeable future.



Works Cited

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

Norton, Marcy. “Conquests of Chocolate.” OAH Magazine of History 18.3 (2004): 14-17. Web.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Web.


Multimedia Sources

Figure 1 – Sandberg, Anders. Lindt Chocolate. Digital image. Flickr, n.d. Web.

Figure 2A) – Dry Chili Pepper. Digital image. Wikimedia, n.d. Web.

Figure 2B) – Fou, Augustine. Vanilla-beans-bundles-2x. Digital image. Flickr, n.d. Web.

Figure 2C) – Open fruit of the achiote tree (Bixa orellana), showing the seeds from which annatto is extracted; photographed in Campinas, Brazil (January 2009). Digital image. Annato. Wikipedia, n.d. Web.

Figure 2D) – Piper Friedrichsthalii. Digital image. Piper (genus). Wikipedia, n.d. Web.

Hyperlink – “Chocolate and Spice Bakery.” Las Vegas Cake Bakery. Cubic IT Consulting, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Multimedia Essay 1: Chocolate Aeration

After eventually being convinced of the many wonderful properties of chocolate, the Spanish quickly set to work adapting chocolate consumption and manufacture to better fit their own cultural traditions.  One novel introduction they made in chocolate aeration was the molinillo, pictured below.


The molinillo is particularly significant for three reasons: its early design and etymology, its continued use, and its intricate appearance.  But before delving into those reasons, it is first necessary to know a bit about chocolate’s history.

As all chocolate comes from the cacao pods on a cacao tree, it is best to start there. The cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao, is believed to have originated in the Amazon River Basin (Martin 3).  It gradually made its way to Mesoamerica, eventually becoming revered by cultures such as the Olmec, Maya, and Aztecs.  These three cultures developed their own techniques for making “chocolate”, which in those days typically meant a frothy liquid drink made from cacao beans.  To aerate the drink and produce the frothy texture that was so desirable, some cultures like the Maya poured the drink from one vessel to another.  Evidence for this technique is present in pictorial form, such as in the Princeton Vase pictured below.  The Princeton Vase is a Maya artifact and according to Michael Coe, “may well be the finest example of Maya pictorial ceramics yet known” (Coe 91).


This process of aeration viewed on the Princeton Vase allowed air bubbles to be trapped between the liquid components of the drink and thus produce a lighter and airier drink.  Though the Princeton Vase depicts the Maya performing this technique, additional evidence suggests that the Azetcs did something similar, if not identical.  While very effective, this technique did not seem appeal to the Spaniards when they arrived.  To remedy this, they developed the “molinillo”, essentially a chocolate beater.

The molinillo quickly became wildly popular among Spaniards both in Mesoamerica and in Spain.  According to Marcy Norton, a professor of history at George Washington university, the “molinillo (chocolate-frother) used to produce the foam became standard in representations of chocolate in seventeenth-century Spain” (Norton 683). As Hernán Cortés firmly established a Spanish presence in the early 1500s, it is clear that the molinillo was rapidly adopted by the Spanish as it was in widespread use about 100 years later.

However, while it is evident that the molinillo itself spread so quickly, the reasoning behind the use of the word “molinillo”, which in Spanish means “little molino” or “little mill”, to describe this artifact is not so clear. From the verb “moler”, meaning “to grind” in Spanish, it is possible that the “molinillo” was chosen as a reference to the fact that cacao beans were ground in an early step of the chocolate-making process.  In use, the molinillo does not actually grind anything.  Instead, it beats and aerates the chocolate mixture.  Another possibility is that “molinillo” was a Spanish word adapted to the creation of this artifact.  There is some evidence that “molinillo” was used in Spain as early as 1219, well before Spanish invasion of present-day Mexico.  Additionally, there are other related Spanish words such as “molinia”, which means to “wiggle or boil something” (Alatorre 24).  These similar words indicate that “molinillo” has Spanish origins.  Regardless, the word “molinillo” itself ties the two cultures together as firmly as the artifact does because it is a Spanish word used to describe the thoroughly Mesoamerican idea of frothing chocolate.

Second, molinillos are still in use today.  Growing up in San Diego, I often ventured into Mexico, where molinillos were commonly for sale.  Additionally, I had many friends whose parents were born in Mexico and who still ate traditional Mexican cuisine.  It was always a treat for me to visit one of their houses and watch as the molinillo was rolled back and forth to create champurrado or some other adaptation of Mexican chocolate.  The continued use of molinillos further proves their significance as they are still valued by many families.

A quick aside on how to use a molinillo today: The round end of the molinillo is placed in the chocolate concoction while the long slender cylindrical end of the molinillo is held between ones hands.  The slender end is twisted between ones fingers so that the entire molinillo spins.  The motion made by the hands is similar to that made when trying to warm one’s hands up.  The video below shows a molinillo used to make modern day “Mexican chocolate”.

Finally, the molinillo is more than just a tool to aerate chocolate.  It is an artistically expressive artifact that is valued by its owners.  The process of making a single molinillo is quite lengthy and requires a great deal of skill.  Below is a very long video of the process by which a molinillo is made today.  Just watch a few minutes!

From the video, we see that there are many decorative elements on a finished molinillo.  Though not strictly necessary for aeration, they add beauty and weight to the tool.  The finished product is almost revered by the owners because it transcends a simple tool.  The molinillo’s decoration and the fine craftsmanship needed to produce it elevate it beyond that.  All the families that I’ve encountered only own one molinillo each and in every case it holds a special place in the kitchen.  Perhaps this is because the molinillo is a reminder of Mexico, the birth country of many of these families.  If that is the case, then it could be argued that the molinillo has come to be a symbol of Mexican culture, which itself is a blend of Spanish and Mesoamerican traditions.

It is clear that the molinillo has great historical significance.  Its early use as a Spanish adaptation of the Mesoamerican aeration technique, its continued importance to Mexican families, and its artistic value all indicate that the molinillo is more than just an artifact – it is a culturally important, functional piece of art.

Multimedia Sources

Figure 1 –

Figure 2. – Kerr, Justin. Rollout View of Princeton Vase. Digital image. Princeton Art Museum, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Video 1 – Readandeat’s Channel. “Mexican Chocolate.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Dec. 2007. Web.

20 Feb. 2015.

Video 2 – Rodriguez, Fernando. “EL ARTE DE HACER MOLINILLOS.” YouTube. YouTube,

10 Apr. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Works Cited

Alatorre, Antonio. “Sobre Americanismos En General Y Mexicanismos En Especial.” Nueva Revista De Filología Hispánica T. 49.1 (2001): 1-51. JSTOR. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Coe, Michael D. The Maya Scribe and His World. New York: Grolier Club, 1973. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 3 – Mesoamerica and the “food of the Gods”” AAAS119x Class. Emerson Hall, Cambridge. 4 Feb. 2015. Lecture.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Web.