All posts by kakawa

Love chocolate? Then love paying more for it.


What’s the problem?

Currently, chocolate farmers are not being paid fair wages. Oxfam’s pie chart below illustrates that farmers only receive 3% of the profit from each chocolate bar.oxfam-chocolate-bar-share_large

This means that chocolate farmers can earn less than $2 per day (Oxfam 5). In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, for example, some cacao farming households only make $0.50 – $0.80 per day and 60-90% of their income is dependent on cacao (Martin lecture 1 slide 6; Cacao Barometer 1). This results in many illiterate and malnourished chocolate farmers who live in poverty and are without health care, to the extent where it will take farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire 341% and 1608% of their current income, respectively, to reach the poverty line, as illustrated below in Figure 1.


However, this huge percentage increase in income will still only allow such farmers to reach the poverty line. Providing farmers with fair living incomes and wages requires more than simply bringing them out of poverty. Farmers ought to be able to afford clean drinking water, sanitation, decent housing, adequate clothing and footwear, nutritious diets, social security, and basic social services (Cacao Barometer 44-45). Therefore, a lot of change and action is required since chocolate farmers are far away from escaping poverty, let alone earning a sufficient income to be able to live healthy lives.



Fairtrade is one attempt that has been made to tackle this injustice. Fairtrade aims to help farmers build sustainable businesses and improve their quality of life by selling products that are fairly priced (Fair Trade USA). After the Second World War and during the 20th century missionaries and humanitarians began North America’s oldest Fair Trade Organisations (Fair Trade Resource Network 1). Ndongo Sylla claims that since then Fair Trade has significantly impacted some regions of the world; however, the injustice towards farmers is complex and Fair Trade faces difficulties of its own (16, 63). Firstly, while Fair Trade chocolate is more expensive than regular chocolate, not much of the Fair Trade price goes back to the farmers (Martin lecture 10 slide 10). Since farmers sell their cacao beans to middle men who then sell it on, the middle men absorb the price increase. Secondly, the cost for certifications, like Fair Trade certification, is expensive and is an ongoing cost as products have to be continually re-certified (Martin lecture 10 slide 10). And farmers bear the cost of certification. Therefore the cost of certification may be greater than the profit gained from having products certified. Thus, chocolate farmers may lose money by having their products certified, which defeats the purpose of certification and Fair Trade. Furthemore, because certification is costly, Fair Trade is advantageous for wealthier farmers who can afford certification but disadvantageous for poorer farmers who cannot. Therefore Fair Trade promotes even greater inequality between chocolate farmers, which moves us away from our goal of eliminating farmer inequality. Thirdly, both consumers and farmers may lose incentive to participate in Fair Trade’s system because of quality concerns. Certified high quality cacao beans are priced the same as certified low quality cacao beans. Therefore, as explained in the video below, farmers are not rewarded for producing higher quality beans and therefore may be incentivised to sell their beans directly to a more profitable specialty market than have their beans certified with Fair Trade.

Additionally, consumers and farmers may also lose incentive to continue with Fair Trade due to ethical concerns in the media. Fair Trade are often secretive about the true value and gains that Fair Trade offers in comparison to regular chocolate. For example, from 2:23 onwards in Fair Trade Foundation’s marketing video below, Fair Trade is advertised as “a system that pays extra money and that extra profit comes back to us workers”; however, they do not explicitly state quantitative values for how much “extra money” and “extra profit” is earnt (Fair Trade Foundation).

Even on Fair Trade’s website page titled “Impact Research and Evaluation Studies” under the section “The Impact of Our Work” explicit figures are not specified. They make generic statements like: “findings illustrate the real difference that certification and sales have made to farmer organisations and living conditions” where “the real difference” is not clearly explained or supported with figures (Fair Trade Foundation). And in the video below, from 0:55 onwards, even the President and CEO of Fair Trade explicitly states that regular “farmers get 8% of export price” but generically compares that to Fair Trade farmers who “get a higher price”.

Lastly, consumers may be discouraged to buy Fair Trade products because Fair Trade is just one certification body out of many, such as UTZ certified and Rainforest Alliance, which all have different standards. And even within the Fair Trade organsation policies and methods are inconsistent. Fair Trade USA has different policies, standards, and management from Fair Trade UK. Therefore, though certifications such as Fair Trade aim to provide chocolate farmers with fairer wages, there are many flaws in the system and it is mostly definitely not a perfect solution to providing farmers the income they need and deserve.


Direct Trade

Direct Trade certification also aims to help chocolate farmers receive fair wages, and it addresses Fair Trade’s flaws and improves upon them (Martin lecture 10 slide 17). Unlike Fair Trade, Direct Trade rewards quality products and pays higher premiums for higher quality cacao beans. Direct Trade also limits the cost of certification, which helps prevent farmers from losing money from paying the cost of certification and it does not disadvantage the poorer farmers, in fact, Direct Trade allows for smaller farms. But Direct Trade’s most distinctive feature is that they promote direct communication and price negotiation between consumers and farmers. This is their most valuable practice because the direct communication increases the opportunity for farmers to receive fair wages and is a more effective method as it eliminates the middle men that absorb the price increase. Taza Chocolate based in Boston and Dandelion Chocolate based in San Francisco are two examples of companies that partake in Direct Trade. They are also the most transparent chocolate companies. Each year they release a transparency report explicitly detailing where their money goes, how many cacao beans they buy, and the origin of their cacao beans.  Figure 2 below is an example taken from Taza Chocolate’s 2015 transparency report to show how remarkably transparent the information they provide the public with is. Such transparency is extremely rare in chocolate companies.IMG_3523Figure 2.

However, even the most transparent companies cannot guarantee that the farmers receive the money that chocolate companies pay for their beans. For example, Taza explicitly states that in 2015 they paid $869,000 for 223 metric tons of beans purchased; however, there is no guarantee that there are not middle men absorbing the payment as the chocolate supply chain is complex and ensuring the money goes directly to the farmer is often out of chocolate companies’ power (Taza 2). Therefore the Fair Trade and Direct Trade certification system and increased transparency is not enough to ensure that farmers are receiving fair wages.


Craft Chocolate

Craft chocolate makers present a hopeful future for farmers and fair living wages. Craft chocolate makers are able to source the origin of the cacao beans they use, take raw ingredients, and complete the whole chocolate manufacturing process: roasting, winnowing, tempering etc. by themselves, and thus make chocolate from “bean-to-bar”. Since craft chocolate makers produce on small scale, are independent, and make their chocolate and their company from scratch, the origin of the beans they used are known and they can purchase those beans via direct trade relationships with the farmers. This enables the farmers to be paid much more for their cacao beans. The cacao is also grown under good labour conditions, which is a bonus as this is another one of Fair Trade’s aims and initiatives (Martin lecture 13 slide 31). Farmers are able to be paid much more for their cacao not only because of the direct relationship and direct purchase used, but also because craft chocolate is not certified. So, farmers do not bear the cost of certification. Therefore farmers that work with craft chocolate makers are hugely better off.

The high cost of a craft chocolate bar is the trade-off now that farmers are being paid higher and fairer prices for their cacao, despite their products being non-certified. Farmers are no longer the persons paying for their fairer wages through certification. Now consumers cover farmers’ labour costs by purchasing more expensive chocolate bars. Though some farmers greatly benefit from this shift, the majority of farmers continue to suffer because few consumers are willing to pay for higher priced chocolate bars. For example, craft chocolate such as Potomac Chocolate and Dick Taylor cost $8 and $9 per bar, respectively, whilst an average Hershey’s bar costs only $2. Thus, the majority of chocolate consumers would rather purchase a cheap $2 chocolate bar than an $8 or $9 craft chocolate bar. Furthermore, research has shown that regardless of a consumer’s personal financial fluctuations, they remain willing to only spend $3 or $4 per chocolate bar (Ahren). Therefore currently few farmers benefit from such ethical schemes, like craft chocolate, because there is not a large consumer audience who are willing to pay $8 and $9 for a chocolate bar.



There is a clear relationship between the fairness of a farmer’s wage and the price of a chocolate bar. An average unethical chocolate bar, such as Hershey’s chocolate, costs a mere $2 (Hershey’s). Though Fair Trade has some flaws and may not always ensure that farmers’ receive a higher wage, it is more ethical and farmer-friendly than an average chocolate bar. A Fair Trade chocolate bar such as Cadbury’s costs $4.29 for 6.5oz, which is more expensive than an average chocolate bar (Target). Then a Direct Trade chocolate bar such as Taza chcoolate, which offers farmers a better price for their cacao since they have direct communication with their farmers, costs $5 for 2.7oz, which is much greater than a Fair Trade bar (Taza). Finally, the most expensive is a craft chocolate bar such as Dick Taylor’s, which offer farmers much more for their cacao, costs $6.80 for 2oz (Dick Taylor). Therefore, because the more a chocolate bar provides farmers with fairer wages the more expensive it is, in order to help farmers receive fairer living wages, consumers must be prepared to pay more for chocolate bars.


Paying more

Though Ahren’s research has shown that chocolate consumers are only willing to pay $3 or $4 for a chocolate bar, there is hope that people will be willing to spend more and that chocolate farmers can have fair wages. Craft chocolate is a relatively new concept and trend. During the 1980s and 1990s there was an increase trend in single origin chocolate and the purity of tracing the origin of cacao beans (Martin lecture 13 slide 20). During the 2000s there was a birth of new craft chocolate producers, and over the past six year, during the 2010s, there have been over 150 bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers (Martin lecture 13 slide 20). Therefore, there is a growing movement and increase in consumer demand for craft chocolate, since this increase in supply could not occur without it. However, fair farmer wages is not the only reason why craft chocolate makers pay farmers much higher cacao prices. Craft chocolate makers pay more because they are purchasing higher quality beans. The concern is that the current consumer demand growth for single origin chocolate may be due to consumers’ desire for higher quality chocolate and not consumer consciousness. If consumers’ willingness to pay extra for chocolate is solely due to their desire for high quality chocolate, it is unlikely that many more farmers will be able to benefit from fair chocolate products such as craft chocolate bars. The number of chocolate consumers who desire high quality chocolate will plateau as the majority of chocolate consumers simply view chocolate as an easy delicious snack and do not care for its quality. Hence big leading chocolate companies today like Hershey’s are able to sell poor quality chocolate for just $2. Therefore it is promising that there is a trend and increase in chocolate consumers who are willing to pay for more expensive chocolate bars; however, in order for more farmers to benefit from fairer wages, consumers must be willing to purchase expensive chocolate due to consumer consciousness and not simply for higher quality chocolate.

Furthermore, craft chocolate is not the perfect solution to chocolate farmers being underpaid. Craft chocolate makers often neglect West African cacao, where farmers’ wages are the lowest. Therefore it should not be advocated for all chocolate consumers to switch to craft chocolate bars. Rather, chocolate consumers should use craft chocolate as a scenario where the products are expensive but the makers pay their farmers much more for their cacao. Thus, craft chocolate is an example that should encourage chocolate consumers to be willing to pay more for chocolate so that chocolate farmers can receive fairer wages and a better quality of life.



Non-hyperlinked Figure Sources

Figure 1. “Equality for Women Starts with Chocolate.” Oxfam. Retrieved from:  May 4, 2016

Figure 2. “Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report.” Taza. Sept 2015.  Retrieved from:  May 4, 2016


Works Cited

Ahren, Dan. “Investing in Vice.” 2004. St. Martin’s Press, New York. Print

“Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report”. Taza Chocolate. September 2015. Retrieved from: May 4, 2016

“Brief History of Fair Trade.” Fair Trade Resource Network. Retrieved from: May 4, 2016

“Cocoa Barometer 2015.” 2015. Retrieved from: May 4, 2016

“Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate.” Dick Taylor. Retrieved from: May 4, 2016


“Impact Research and Evaluation Studies.” Fair Trade Foundation. Retrieved from: May 4, 2016

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food Lecture Slides 2016.” 2016. Retrieved from: May 4, 2016

— “Lecture 1: Introduction to Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” 2016.

— “Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” 2016.

Oxfam Media Briefing. “Equality for women starts with chocolate”. Oxfam. 2013. Retrieved from: May 4, 2016

“Products.” Hershey’s. Retrieved from: May 4, 2016

“Shop.” Target. Retrieved from: May 4, 2016

Sylla, Samba Ndongo. “The Fair Trade Scandal.” Ohio University Press. 2014.

“Taza Chocolate.” Taza. Retrieved from: May 4, 2016

“What is Fair Trade?” 2016. Fair Trade USA. Retrieved from: May 4, 2016

Marketers, sell your product, not social norms

The aim of an advert is to promote a product and entice people to buy it. Marketing companies use people’s desires and emotions to promote products. However, in attempt to attract the largest audience, they often appeal to the general population and use social norms and stereotypes to advertise. For example, the vast majority of chocolate advertisements are targeted at women because women are stereotyped to consume vastly more chocolate than men, even though research has proven otherwise. Mintel found that females only consume 4% more chocolate than males (CNN; Mintel 2010; Mintel 2014). This is a surprising statistic. Many people expect a larger difference since advertisements have fostered the stereotype that women eat more chocolate than men. With advertisements present on televisions, billboards, the internet, magazines, newspapers, taxis, supermarkets, public transport, and many more places, it is estimated that each person is exposed to 3,000 advertisements per day (Johnson; Story). Therefore, problematic social beliefs are affirmed daily, as we are exposed to thousands of advertisements that perpetuate stereotypical representations of social norms. Therefore, even if an advert is based on a small idea, with daily exposure it becomes a stereotype, and the young next generation are fed these stereotypes and social norms such that they no longer see them as ideas but as truth. Thus, marketers have a huge influence and power on creating or affirming society’s beliefs. Therefore, marketers must be conscious of the message they send out as they advertise their products.


The Original Dove Advertisement

In 2007 the marketers of Dove were not careful with their advertising power and released the advert below. This advertisement is built on many troublingly social beliefs and is discriminative.


Firstly, Dove has completely sexualised men here. They centred and enlarged the abs to fill the entire advertisement, blurred out the sides and background, increased the shadow under each ab, and increased the light reflected off of each ab. This highlights and make us focus only on the muscle and its definition, as if that is the only thing that is important. The human body has many components: emotional, spiritual, mental, physical, and intellectual components. Even physically the human body has many parts and yet Dove chose to show only the male’s abdominal muscles. This promotes a superficial attitude towards men and degrades them to being an aesthetic pleasure, something of only physical worth.

Furthermore, Dove does not only degrade men to a physical body but even more so, their choice to use of a man of colour degrades black men to an object. Dove has used the racist social construct that as Caucasians are to vanilla, Hispanics are to caramel, and Asians are to butterscotch, blacks are to chocolate. Their use of a black model and dim enticing sexual lighting shows that Dove is fostering the idea that while whiteness symbolises ideas of cleanliness, purity, dullness, and blandness, blackness denotes themes of dirt, sin, extreme sexuality, and interest. Therefore, the lack of use of the model’s face and the use of the model’s skin colour to compare him as chocolate represents the disrespectful degradation of black men from a person to an object – a chocolate bar that is worth roughly one dollar.

From the small text at the bottom of the advertisement we see that the intended audience of this advert is a girl. The first issue is that Dove promotes heterosexual relationships and excludes homosexuals. Therefore Dove has tagged along and helped grow one of the biggest problems in chocolate advertising today – extremely frequently, only heterosexual relationships are used to sell chocolate. This Nestlé compilation video shows three examples of such exclusion towards those who are in the minority and are not heterosexually oriented.


Dove’s advert is not only sexist and discriminates against men, but their specific wording fosters common stereotypes that surround women too. The word “melts” plays on and encourages the idea that women are overly emotional and irrational over chocolate and muscles, so much so that their most vital organ will melt after one look at a six-pack and a taste of Dove’s chocolate. Additionally, the use of the word “girl’s” instead of “woman’s” is demeaning because it suggests that in this heterosexual relationship the male is superior and the female is inferior. All in all, Dove’s wording suggests that men are more dominant and in control, which promotes a patriarchal social construct and prevents us from moving towards a gender equal society.


The Recreated Advertisement

To show that it is possible to advertise chocolate without fostering disrespectful social norms, being racist, sexist, or excluding people, I have recreated Dove’s chocolate advert below.

final version

The primary goal of an advertisement is to promote the product that you are trying to sell. Unlike in Dove’s advertisement, chocolate is clearly the product here. It is at the centre. It is large. It is clear. In Dove’s advert “Dove chocolate” was finely printed at the bottom and the tiny chocolate bar and pieces were in the lower bottom right corner. Previously, only if you looked closely could you have been able to tell that it was an advertisement for chocolate.

Furthermore, the recreated advert has moved away from promoting social norms. Since a six-piece chocolate bar has replaced the previously racialised and sexualised six-pack, the advert no longer degrades a person to their physique, nor to an object. The recreated advert also includes numerous races and people of different ethnicities so that the advertisement is neither exclusive nor racist. The ideas of a patriarchal society, overly emotional and irrational woman, and the exclusion of non-heterosexuals have been removed. Instead, the audience has opened up to be all-inclusive as the recreated advertisement plays on the idea that chocolate is fundamentally social: The Maya word “chokola’j”, a potential source for our Spanish and English word for chocolate today, means “to drink chocolate together” (S. D. Coe and M. D. Coe 61).


Concluding thoughts

Marketing companies need to be more conscious about the methods they use to promote their products. There is no problem in promoting products to inform potential consumers what they might want to purchase; however, this should be done in a way that does not exclude, racialise, sexualise, discriminate, or degrade people or communities, or affirm or encourage the growth of disrespectful social norms. A safer way to ensure moral marketing is to keep the adverts focused on the product itself – what it can do, its purpose, and why it is worth purchasing. This will help prevent the fostering of disrespectful stereotypes and social norms and enable us to be a progressive society.


Works Cited

“Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad.” 2007. Louise Story, The New York Times. 15 Jan 2007. Retrieved from: 08 April 2016.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. “The True History of Chocolate.” Thames & Hudson 2007 (1996). 61. Print

“Consumer Demand for Chocolate Stays Sweet.” Mintel. 08 October 2010. Retrieved from: 08 April 2016.

“Nation of Chocoholics: Eight Million Brits Eat Chocolate Every Day.” Mintel. 17 April 2014. Retrieved from: 08 April 2016.

“New Research Sheds Light on Daily Ad Exposures.” Sheree Johnson, SJ Insights. 29 September 2014. Retrieved from: 08 April 2016.

“Six Pack that Melts a Girl’s Heart.” 2007. Dove Chocolate, Mars Company. Digital File. 08 April 2016.

“Who consumes the most chocolate?” CNN. 17 Jan 2012. Retrieved from: 08 April 2016.


Why did chocolate become unhealthy?

During the pre-Columbian era, Ancient Aztecs enjoyed a darker and thicker chocolate drink that had a much higher cacao content than the hot chocolate and chocolate bars we enjoy today. Ancient codices such as the Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams, as IMG_3048 (1)seen to the right, display the medicinal powers of cacao and their belief that chocolate could heal skin eruptions, fevers, and seizures (Martin 68). In contrast, the over-consumption of our milkier and fattier chocolate today is associated with thoughts of nutritional diseases such as diabetes and obesity. An increase in medical knowledge, genetic and environmental changes in cacao, increased technology, and changes in chocolate recipes are all potential causes to explain this nutritional change of chocolate.


Ignorance to Knowledge

The increased knowledge in nutrition that classifies chocolate as both healthy and unhealthy helps transition us from the Ancient Aztecs’ idea of healthy medicinal cacao to today’s unhealthier view of chocolate. The French physician Daniel Duncan published a treatise in 1703 suggesting that chocolate can be healthful if it is taken in moderation (S. D. Coe and M. D. Coe 204). So he agrees with the Ancient Aztecs’ views but moves towards contemporary views as he claims that too much chocolate will make the “blood too sharp, too “hot”, and too thin” (S. Coe and M. Coe 204). As we continue increasing our nutrition knowledge and move from this basic understanding of health as a balance of opposites we may be able to identify unhealthy eating habits that is beyond simply the quantity of chocolate you consume. For example, we may find that consumption of chocolate with different foods is unhealthier than others. Therefore, one consideration as to why chocolate is seen as unhealthy today is that chocolate has always been unhealthy in excessive quantities but it is simply our increased medical knowledge that helps us realise its unhealthiness.


Environment: decreasing use of Fine Cacao

An increase in knowledge may be a reasonable potential cause to some extent, but the ingredients that the Ancient Aztecs and the Baroque Europeans used were fundamentally different and healthier than what we use today. Fine cacao (Criollo and Trinitario cacao-tree varieties) has more flavour, more aroma, and a lower yield than bulk cacao (Forastero cacao-tree variety) (Amores, Butler, Ramos,  Sukha, Espin, Gomez, Zambrano, Hollywood,  Van Loo, and Seguine 5). Bulk cacao is used in 93-95% of today’s global production, which is much more common than fine cacao’s global production of 5-7% (Martin 40). Fine cacao and bulk cacao is not well classified nor fully understood today, but if the common logic that high quality foods are generally healthier than low quality foods, such as a lean steak from a free-range cow is healthier than meat from a factory-farmed cow, we can suggest that today’s chocolate is unhealthier because we use lower quality cacao beans. This lower-quality-cacao reason for unhealthier chocolate is driven by environmental reasons as bulk cacao beans are being used because fine cacao is endangered, not because its flavour is more popular.


Sweet Tooth: decreased cacao content and increased fat content

In addition to cacao beans, which is the primary ingredient in chocolate, historic chocolate differs to today’s chocolate because today’s chocolate recipes use additional ingredients that make it tastier but unhealthier.  In 1879 Daniel Peter created the first milk chocolate bar and in 1930 Nestlé launched the white chocolate “Milkybar” (The Nibble). Though these are definitive events that mark momentous inventions, they demonstrate the gradual decrease in the percentage of cacao used in chocolate products. Sugar, cream, and other fatty dairy unhealthy ingredients are used in today’s chocolate products in substitution for the previously high volume of cacao used. It is likely that our natural desire to fulfill our sweet teeth drives the market to continue producing chocolate products with lower cacao content, since these higher fat content products are more popular and have a higher demand, as shown below.



This figure illustrates the preference of white and milk chocolate over the healthier dark chocolate. The smallest section represents that 10% prefer white chocolate, the largest section presents a 70% preference for milk chocolate, and the darkest section represents a 20% preference for dark chocolate.


Technology & Competitive Market: adulteration and preservatives

As technology and mass production develops, the quality of chocolate products has decreased and unhealthier and more unnatural ingredients are being used. As technology advances, such as Van Houten’s 1828 introduction of the hydraulic press and Rudolphe Lindt’s 1879 invention of the conching process, less and less chocolate is made by hand. Today, few chocolate products are made by grinding cacao nibs on a metate. As technology develops and more machinery is used in the creation of chocolate products, the quality of chocolate decreases. The healthiness of consuming mass-produced chocolate is challenged as some products are adulterated with gum, potato starch, and veal suet instead of cocoa butter. Using machinery also increases the likelihood of impurities being found in products. For example, in the mid-1800s, 39 out of 70 samples of chocolate were found to contain traces of ground bricks in Britain (Martin 19). In addition to machinery, the competitive chocolate companies fight to produce cheap chocolate with longer shelf-life by altering the products’ ingredients. They produce chocolate with preservatives and replace natural ingredients, such as sugar, with artificial ingredients, such as artificial sweeteners, as illustrated below. Therefore, the recent increase in technology and today’s competitive market result in unhealthier and lower quality chocolate products that have been adulterated and contain impurities and unhealthy and unnatural ingredients.


This Hershey’s product is an example of the various unnatural, unhealthy, and artificial ingredients present in one single chocolate product.



In conclusion, many factors can explain why chocolate has become unhealthier over time. As we increase our understanding of nutrition we understand that chocolate is unhealthy in excessive consumption, the changes in the environment prevent us from using high quality fine cacao, our innate “sweet tooth” drives the market to produce fattier products, and the competitive market and technological advances produce low quality unhealthy products. Though these are all reasonable potential explanations, some are practically less useful in improving our health. For example, increasing our nutritional understanding allows us to realise how much chocolate consumption is of concern, but unless we resist that urge to indulge we will continue to become an unhealthy population of chocolate consumers. Therefore, we should continue to increase our understanding of nutrition, care for the environment more, support smaller local businesses and not fuel large competitive chocolate companies, but more importantly, we should fight our sweet tooth’s desires if we want to be healthier.


Works Cited

Amores, David Butler, Gladys Ramos,  Darin Sukha, Susana Espin, Alvaro Gomez, Alexis Zambrano, Neil Hollywood,  Robert Van Loo, and Edward Seguine. “Project to determine the physical, chemical and organoleptic parameters to differentiate between fine and bulk cocoa.” INIAP 15 Aug. 2007:  5. Print.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. “The True History of Chocolate.” Thames & Hudson 2007 (1996). 204. Print

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food Lecture Slides 2016. Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”” 2016. Slide 68. Retrieved from:

— “Lecture 5: Popular sweet tooths and scandal” 2016. Slide 19. Retrieved from:

— “Lecture 7: Sugar and Cacao” 2016. Slide 40. Retrieved from:

“The History Of White Chocolate”. The Nibble. The World’s Best White Chocolate. 1 April 2008. Retrieved from: Retrieved 11 March. 2016.


Chocolate: an old mark of a hierarchical society

Though it is common to think that women consume more chocolate than men today, it does not seem to have held true for the Ancient Mayans and Aztecs. This is not because chocolate was less desirable during the third to twelfth centuries CE, in fact, the Ancient Mayans and Aztecs valued chocolate so highly that they considered it a sacred drink1(S. D. Coe and M. D. Coe 18). Chocolate had numerous uses – it was economically useful2, medically beneficial3, religiously and ritually important4, and nutritious5. In addition, it was socially cherished, as cacao was enjoyed in companionship. The exotic chocolate drink was expensive and difficult to make,6 so its enjoyment was confined to the elites (S. D. and M. D. Coe; M. E. Presilla). In artistic works of the Ancient Mayans and Aztecs during the Classic Period, females would often be without cacao. Therefore, the Ancient female Aztecs and Mayans’ lack of chocolate consumption suggests that regular females were generally of a lower social status than regular men and the elite.



The consumption and possession of cacao does not only highlight a binary gender imbalance in the Aztec and Mayan societies, but a more complex hierarchical society amongst different classes and occupations. Gods appear to be at the top of the hierarchical society as they are often seen in possession of cacao.


The Rain God is on The Opossum God’s back and cacao is said to be both of their food.


Meanwhile the Mayan moon goddess IxChel and the Rain God Chac exchange cacao.



As well as the gods, we can infer that royals were of high status because they too were in possession of cacao.

King Palace

The Maya King is in his palace.  Directly underneath the throne his is sitting on is a cylindrical vase for the chocolate drink. 


On the left is Lady Zac-Kuk: the mother of the seventh century Mayan king of Palenque, Pakal the Great. She is portrayed to emerge as a cacao tree.

Though Mayan and Aztec females are generally of lower status, Lady Zac-kuk’s honourable characterisation as a cacao tree, which are considered to be invaluable and sacred, marks her royalty and raises her social status. Therefore, the consumption of chocolate is not the only indication of an elite, but one’s general association with cacao signposts their place in society.



Pochteca Merchants and the Elites

Similarly, though Pochteca merchants7 are not seen consuming cacao, they are still considered among the elite (S. D.and M. D. Coe; M. E. Presilla).


The numerous footprints illustrate the lengthy distance that they travel. And the Pochteca merchants’ bent-over backs portray the difficulty and pain that they endured.

Though their work is labour-intensive, difficult, and painful, they were not considered as slaves. Since their jobs involved transporting scared and luxurious cacao beans, their travels from the Mayans to the Aztecs was highly valued. Therefore, Pochteca merchants were considered as elites because their possession and important affiliation with cacao beans marked them as noble.



While the gods, royalty, and other elites were high up in the hierarchical society because of their respective association with cacao, the Ancient Aztec and Mayan females could have been low down in the hierarchy as they are not seen consuming cacao in artistic works.

Final Mayan Chocolate vessel Illustration

Chocolate is consumed and present at a rite of marriage, as was typical.

In the image above, females are illustrated on the right and are separate from the males. The men are on the left making the decisions and drinking chocolate while the women are without chocolate. The contrast between the two gender’s interaction with chocolate indicate that women are below men in the Mayan and Aztec societies, as men were able to enjoy  the sacred and delightful chocolate drink while women were not.


The gender inequality builds, as not only are the women never seen drinking chocolate, but they are always seen as the makers of the drink. Therefore, they endure the difficult repetitive menial labour without being able to enjoy their labour and reap its rewards. This suggests the presence of a matriarchal society.The gender difference places females at the bottom of the social ladder.


A 750AD scene of a woman pouring chocolate from one vessel to another. This raised the foam which made the chocolate more delicious.



Ancient Aztecs and Mayans from different backgrounds had different interactions with cacao. These interactions could involve consuming, possessing, transporting, and producing cacao, or being characterised by a cacao tree. Each of the Aztecs’ and Mayans’ interactions with cacao give us a signal of the social class they may have fitted into, classes such as gods, royals, nobles, elites, or commoners and ordinary civilians. This suggests that chocolate can be used to highlight the social inequality, imbalance, and hierarchical society that existed in the Aztec and Mayan empire.



The Greek meaning of cacao is “food of the gods”, which is applicable because cacao was thought to be so sacred is was fed to the gods (S. D. Coe and M. D. Coe 18).

Cacao beans could have been considered as a currency, since cacao beans were traded for commodities. For example, according to the Nahualt document in 1545, 200 cacao beans was worth a turkey cock (S. D. and M. D. Coe 99).

3 The Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams describe cacao’s healthy powers, some of which include healing skin eruptions, fevers and seizures (Martin Lecture slide 68).

Chocolate was drunk at banquets, baptisms, weddings, and burials.

Along with cacao’s medicinal healing powers, drinking chocolate regularly had long term health benefits. Cacao was also considered nutritious because it energised its consumers. Warriors often consumed and wore cacao pods on their amour as they went into battle because cacao was so energising (Martin Lecture slide 51).

Not only are there many steps in the chocolate making process (fermentation, drying, roasting, deshelling/winnowing, and grinding), but the cacao tree itself has many maintenance requirements. The tree can only grow within 20 degrees north and south of the equator, in temperatures above 60°F, and if the whole year is moist  (S. D. and M. D. Coe 19).

Long distance travelling merchants


Picture Sources

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. p44


Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. “The True History of Chocolate.” Thames & Hudson 2007 (1996). 18, 19, 99. Print

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food Lecture Slides 2016.” 2016. Slide 68. Retrieved from:

Presilla, Maricel E. “The New Taste of Chocolate.” Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. 1-59. Print.