The above image, originally uploaded by Nestlé, is a 1950s print advertisement for Kit Kat chocolate bars. The advertisement features a marketing slogan used by Kit Kat to this day: “Have a break… have a Kit Kat!” The “break” refers to the signature snap of the Kit Kat bar’s internal wafer as well as the worker’s much-coveted reprieve from labor. The implication of this play on words is that the small indulgence of consuming Kit Kat bars can serve as a (minimally disruptive) break from work; eating a Kit Kat bar on the clock feels like an almost rebellious act of self-care but in fact, as this blog post will show, merely maintains the existing (exploitative) system of labor and consumption.
This blog post will describe the history of chocolate advertisements’ insidious appeals to alienated workers. While chocolate has been advertised as a reprieve from the dehumanizing and alienating nature of wage work, this blog post will demonstrate that these advertisements encourage workers to consume chocolate merely so they can continue working. These advertisements redirect the worker’s feeling of alienation, exhaustion, and exploitation toward resignation and complacency rather than the capacity for rebellion. This advertising practice can be seen as a recuperation (by capital) of the seeds of discontent that could otherwise flourish into anticapitalist revolution. [By “recuperation,” I refer to the practice of normalizing radical ideas in order to render them impotent—in other words, recuperation is when “the ruling class… twist[s] every form of protest around to salvage its own ends” (Downing 59).]
Marx writes in Kapital of alienation as the dehumanizing phenomenon in which workers are reduced, essentially, to machines that produce value for capitalists. The worker is treated as nothing more than an “instrument of labor” (qtd in Hochschild 3). A very disturbing 2010 Kit Kat commercial depicts a scenario that seems to literalize the Marxist comparison of alienated workers to machines:
In this commercial, a man working at a supermarket checkout counter acts as though his body is literally a checkout scanner—literally a machine. Having recognized the dehumanizing nature of wage work, however, the commercial promises that the purchase and consumption of a Kit Kat bar will allow the man to “have a break.” There is no need for him to organize for better working conditions, the commercial implies, no need even to question the system that so dehumanizes him; being a consumer is all he needs.
A similar sentiment is expressed in the above Instagram post, published on the official Kit Kat page in 2019. The Kit Kat bar is made to resemble a watch, again invoking and recreating the association between chocolate and a reprieve from labor. But the Kit Kat’s visual resemblance to a watch also betrays a bleaker reality: that the cycle of consumption itself is a constituent part of the system of capitalist exploitation that has transformed the human experience of time into labor-time.
Kit Kat’s slogan “Have a break; have a Kit Kat” and its associated advertisements very obviously reflect the chocolate industry’s positioning of chocolate as a reprieve from work that in fact merely reproduces labor (by making the worker able to work again) and reinforces the existing economic system (by making the worker double as a consumer). But other chocolate companies use similar messaging in their advertisements. Take, for instance, the following Snickers commercial:
This commercial depicts a crew of workers performing the very physically demanding and dangerous labor of handling timber. One worker expresses a reluctance to continue and questions the purpose of this work. He is then handed a Snickers bar and transforms back into the diligent and docile worker he is expected to be. “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” the voiceover intones. Questioning the reasons for one’s hunger, one’s underpayment, one’s exploitation is depicted as the irrational whining of someone who needs more sugar. Snickers are depicted as a balm for one’s immediate discontentment—a balm that can take the place, it seems, of actual systemic change.
Chocolate companies have been insidiously recuperating anticapitalist discontent (or progressive ideals) for as long as they have existed, often depending on the comforting and indulgent associations of chocolate itself to maintain positive brand images. During the Progressive Era, “the greater American public… embraced [Milton S. Hershey] as a kindly type of industrialist and an oddly selfless capitalist,” a reputation that “dependent, in part, on the playful sweetness of the product he made” (D’Antonio 114). How could a man who “distribut[ed] happiness in a wrapper” (114), who sold what had once been a luxury product to the sugar-hungry masses, be anything like the greedy and heartless robber barons denounced by the socialist organizers of the time (113)? Cheap and sweet, mass-produced milk chocolate seems like a populist treat, and this association allows chocolate companies to continue making money off the blood and backs of workers (both producers and consumers) while appearing sympathetic to their plight.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Downing, John. Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements. Sage Publications, 2001.
Hochschild, Arlie Russell 1940-. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. University of California Press, 2012.
The Cadbury name has been synonymous in the global marketplace with quality chocolate. It’s often smuggled back to the States by well intentioned travelers and sold at international grocers in order to give immigrants a taste of home and Americans a taste of “real chocolate”, in addition to now entering the American marketplace. However, it’s sweet beginnings are not as pure or idyllic as its advertisements, or popular history, would like to make it seem.
The Cadburys’ focus on the ethical treatment of their factory workers, support for the free press, and general support for progressive values are a prime example of the moral righteousness that allow people to begin, and end, charity at home. Although George Cadbury eventually enabled the end to the exploitative servicai system in Sao Tome and Principe, he significantly delayed the process out of fear of hurting the company’s business interests, thus exposing the true nature of the Cadburys’ progressive facade.
The Golden Boys
When John Cadbury first began his chocolatiering business in the 1830s, he had already established himself as a fierce advocate for bettering society, fighting against child labor, animal cruelty, and other social ills (Carniege Medal of Philanthropy). He even advertised chocolate as a substitute for alcohol, as a strong proponent of the temperance movement. His sons, Richard and George, did not stray from their father’s progressive path, as they were all strong Quakers (Satre, 14). The Cadbury brothers, Richard and George, prided themselves on running an efficient and morally upstanding workplace. This meant that the workweek was strictly regulated to forty hours, married women were barred from working in the factory, and there was a strict separation of the sexes at work.
Moreover, they strictly adhered to the Quaker principle of “providing aid to the less fortunate” (Satre, 15). George Cadbury financed low-cost and low-interest housing for his employees and made significant donations to religious education for adults. They worked to establish the model village of Bourneville, a village in which workers could both live and thrive, where they would have access to kitchens, dressing rooms, athletic fields, and gardens. Outside of his chocolatiering, George Cadbury was also a newspaper proprietor that championed the Liberal Party and progressive values, like the anti-war effort, pensions for the elderly, fair labor standards (Satre, 16). In short, the Cadbury brothers prided themselves as champions of the people and fierce anti-slavery advocates, in order to remain true to their Quaker ideals. Even today, the Cadbury name remains as synonymous to philanthropy as it does to chocolate.
A Slow Reckoning
Seemingly unbeknownst to the Cadburys and the international world, the areas from which they were sourcing their cocoa were utilizing a Portuguese system of labor called servicai, in which workers entered labor contracts that bound them to their employers for five years at a time. This contractural labor system was essentially debt slavery, where employees were never paid their repatriation wages, never allowed to return back to their homes, and were forced to work under heinous and oppressive conditions.
The Cadbury Company officially recorded in its records that some form of slavery, either total or partial, exsisted in its cocoa estates in Sao Tome in April 1901 (Satre, 18). However, Satre appropriately questions the delay of such record, considering the widespread evidence of the servicai system’s use in Sao Tome and Principe in Protestant circles by the late 19th century.
In A Civilized Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, Kevin Grant highlights that one can say “with actual certainty that in the 1890s the Foreign Office, the Anti-Slavery Society”, of which the Cadbury brothers were strong supporters, “the Friends’ Anti-Slavery Committee, the BMS, and the Plymouth Brethern” all believed that slavery was utilized at the cocoa plantations in Sao Tome and Principe. Yet, the Cadburys, who began to purchase cocoa from the island in 1886 , claimed they had “no definite knowledge” of slavery until 1901 (Grant, 120).
Moreover, William Cadbury gave “inconsistent accounts” of how he and the company become aware of the slavery situation. In one instance, he explains that the issue was brought to his attention in 1902, when a missionary from Angola visited Bournville to discuss the issue. In another account, he claimed that he learned of the “unsatisfactory labor conditions” from a 1901 report from the Foreign Office (Grant, 122). Some would could ask–why the inconsistencies? Why didn’t the Cadbury’s pull out of Sao Tome as soon as they learned what was happening, especially considering their Quaker roots?
The Inconvenient Truths
Despite officially learning about the situation in Sao Tome in 1901, and more realistically, even earlier, the Cadburys were extremely slow to act. William Cadbury grappled with the issue, debating whether or not the servicai system was truly akin to slavery–despite the fact that the bill of sale of one of the properties on the island specifically identified its human employees as property (Satre, 19). Moreover, he claimed he wasn’t sure how similar the servicai system was to “gold or diamond mining”, which was more ostensibly gruesome and more popularly linked to slavery, and thus, did not want to act brashly and injure a system with “one of the very best kinds of labor” the Cadburys had seen (Satre, 19).
In order to further investigate the situation, William Cadbury embarked on his own expedition to analyze the nature of labor on the Island. Despite hearing numerous testimonials of the brutality of the system, he remained optimistic that the Portuguese government would simply instate new labor regulations and all would be well. The Cadbury company later financed Joseph Burtt’s expedition and report of the reality of labor conditions in Sao Tome, but allowed for the report to be put on bureaucratic back-hold for eight years. The question arises–why do all this? Why go on an expedition, only to then ask for a change in labor conditions? Why finance the creation of a report, but allow for it to go unseen for years? The answer is simple: a maintenance of power.
As of the early 20th century, Cadbury was sourcing 45% of its cocoa from the island of Sao Tome. They didn’t want to pull out of Sao Tome, despite knowing about the labor conditions, because their supply chain relied on it. Initially, they hoped people wouldn’t recognize their involvement or hoped that the international world would turn a blind eye. But, as more and more people caught wind of what was happening in Sao Tome, they knew they couldn’t continue to feign ignorance, so they bought themselves time. They involved themselves in lengthy interviews and personnel finding expeditions in order to act as if they were addressing the problem, all while they continued to export thousands of pounds of cocoa from the island. When it came down to making the noble choice and making the financially smart choice–they chose the smart choice. The charity they practiced at home was not the same charity they practiced abroad, because they didn’t need it to be. They cared far less about the working conditions of foreign Africans than they did of their native English folk, and it wasn’t even an issue of proximity, considering the trips they took to the islands, it was an issue of humanity. Contractural laborers weren’t as deserving of their Quaker charity, it seems.
Coe, Sophie and Michael Coe. 2013. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson. London, UK.
Grant, Kevin. A Civilised Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, 1884-1926. Routledge, 2004.
Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.
Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2013.
Today if you ask someone to describe chocolate, they would describe a bar of a sweet and silky creation that is hard when you bite it but melts as it hits your mouth. This idea of the solid chocolate bar however is distinct from the original forms of cacao in historical mesoamerican recipes. Cacao has existed for millenia in Central and South America. In their book The True History of Chocolate, Sophie and Michael Coe give an excellent description of the history of cacao before colonial powers ever laid eyes on the crop. The Olmec people, who lived in the Mexican gulf coast from 1500 to 400 BCE, are wrongly believed to be the first to understand and produce chocolate products; however, researches at the Hershey Lab have shown that while the Olmecs certainly used cacao, they were by no means the first to engage with this product (2019, 34). Coe and Coe explain that evidence of cacao has been found on the pottery of a pre-Olmec civilization that existed sometime between 1800 and 1400 BCE, called “Barra” by researchers. The design and delicate nature of the vessels suggest that they would have been used to display the valuable chocolate drink rather than cooking it (2019, 36). In chapter 2, Coe and Coe present the earliest known depiction of a chocolate drink being made on a vessel from 750CE. The image depicts an important part of Aztec and Mayan chocolate recipes: the process of pouring the liquid from one vessel to another to create foam, “considered the most desirable part of the drink” (2019, 50). These ancient civilizations reveal how long cacao has existed and been an important part of life in Mesoamerica.
Image from the Codex Tudela depicting an (Europeanized) Aztec women pouring chocolate from one vessel to another
Anonymous, “Mujer vertiendo chocolate,” circa 1553, Madrid-Museo de América.
The Mayan people experienced chocolate centuries before the Aztecs, using cacao both as a currency and a drink (2015). The Classic Maya likely enjoyed their chocolate drinks at a variety of temperatures; however, so far the cacao hieroglyph has only appeared on excavated vessels used to keep drinks cool (2019, 45). As Coe and Coe describe cacao in Classic Maya was not prepared just to be “…drunk; it was a vast and complex array of drinks, gruels, porridges, powders, and probably solid substances, to all of which could be added a wide variety of flavorings…” (2019, 44). Classic Maya chocolate was made by grinding processed cacao beans (beans that had been hulled, roasted, and fermented) into a powder then mixing it with water and other flavorings in a basin, before transferring the liquid between two vessels to produce the coveted froth (2019, 95). The Maya are known to have often mixed their chocolate with ground maize and chilli (2015).
An image from Sahagún depicting Aztec pochtecas traveling.
Sahagún. Historia de Las Cosas de Nueva España, . Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, Florence.
Despite being far from the first to work with cacao, the Aztec people are often associated with ideas of early chocolate. Cacao was an extremely important aspect of Aztec life. The Aztec drank chocolate beverages for both religious and medicinal reasons, never cooking with chocolate along the same lines as a Christian would not cook with communion wine (2015). As explained in The True History of Chocolate chocolate was seen as a favorable replacement to alcoholic beverages, “One of the reasons that the Aztecs were so interested in chocolate was that their native drink octli… was mildly alcoholic, and drunkenness was not looked upon favorably by Aztec society” (2019, 99). The pochteca (merchants) would bring four types of cacao, all thought to be among the criollo variety, to the center of the empire either for trade or tribute (2019, 104). Aztec recipes for chocolate drinks involved the same preparation as their Mayan counterparts, although the Aztec drinks are thought to have almost always been served cold (2019, 100). Inferior varieties of cacao were beefed up by adding nixtamalli and water, creating a gruel flavored with chocolate (2019, 102). The Aztec would often add extra flavorings to their chocolate drinks, a universally popular addition was powdered chilli, which could range from mild to extremely hot (2015). However many other flavorings were used. The Food Timeline quotes Townsend’s The Aztecs where some of the most popular additions including spices, like chenopodium, coriander and sage, vanilla orchid pods, or sweeteners, like honey (2015).
In “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism,” Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck track how historical mesoamerican chocolate recipes influenced colonial European consumption of chocolate. They begin by giving a brief summary of the history of chocolate explaining how the first recipe for chocolate is believed to come from the Izalcos in Guatemala. They present images that explain the transfer of chocolate recipes between Mesoamerica, Colonial America, and Europe. The charts depict the strongest connection being the flow of recipes and other resources out of Guatemala and Peru to England (2017, 87). These recipes contained a variety of ingredients beyond the standard caco and water, the most common being xochinacaztli, chile, anise, mecaxuchil, vanilla, Alexandran roses, cinnamon, almond, hazelnut, sugar, achiote, jamaica pepper, nutmeg, clove musk, ambergris, citron, lemon peel, odoriferous aromatic oil, china, sarsa, and saunders. The authors go on to explain the importance of this connection because of the global power the British Empire held at the time: “The most influential recipes for chocolate are British. This means that the set of ingredients occuring in British sources acts most like a base recipe from which other European ones derived” (2017, 89). This connection means that the recipes developed in what is now Guatemala and Peru would go on to be the beginning of what would eventually become the chocolate we know and love today.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 2019.
Schwartzkopf, Stacey, and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” In Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2017.
It is ironic indeed that West Africa, the land from which innumerable people were stolen from, enslaved, and eventually forced to work on foreign cacao plantations, would one day become the world’s leading producer of cacao (1). The reasons for this shift are myriad and complex, but one piece of the puzzle, at least, is clear. The various subtle differences in chocolate breeds around the world played a significant role in the shift from Mexico to Africa when it came to cacao production. The fact that West Africa is geographically closer to Europe than South America no doubt also had an impact because of the steep cost of transporting goods across the Atlantic Ocean, as likely did the massacre of and widespread death in indigenous South American populations—which of course affected the amount of local free labor and the ease of acquiring it. However, it seems that it is the diversity of cacao breeds themselves that is often underestimated (1, 2).
It is crucial to first firmly establish that this change was brought about by European colonization. In the first half of the 18th century, Portuguese colonizers transplanted forastero (“foreign”) cuttings from Brazil to São Tomé in the Gulf of Guinea in Central Africa. That cacao soon became one of the island’s principal exports, up until the end of the following century (1). Then, in the 1850s, cacao cuttings were taken from São Tomé to Bioko, an island off the west coast of Equatorial Guinea. Bioko soon began exporting forastero, which was by that point quite pervasive (1). From these Portuguese colonies in Africa, Theobroma cacao spread to Ghana (the Gold Coast); then to Nigeria; and then, in 1905, to the Ivory Coast (1). And Portugal was not alone; near the end of the century, German colonizers began planting cacao in the Cameroons (1).
Still, it was not mere colonial pressure in West Africa that brought about the massive rise in cocoa production outside Mexico. Driven by the preferences of the elite, European colonizers brought specific chocolate breeds to their African colonies. When forastero seedlings were brought to Trinidad, they hybridized with what remained of the local criollo trees, producing the new variety trinitario. The quality of criollo is arguably superior to all other varieties; the flavor and aroma of forastero, which is hardier and more fruitful, cannot compare. Indeed, criollo was the “prerogative of the rulers and warriors of ancient Mesoamerica” and “seduced” the European aristocracies of the 17th and 18th centuries (1). Trinitario combined the unique taste qualities of criollo with the “vigor, hardiness, and high yields” of forastero (1). Thus, when trinitario—with its wonderful blend of attributes—was born, the strain soon came to dominate the cacao trade, fueling cultivation around the globe. Today, there are at least eleven commercial varieties of trinitario grown in Trinidad alone(7).
The role of the elite in these happenings cannot be underestimated. It was the aristocracy of old that defined refinement, and in the extremely stratified socioeconomic pyramids of many pre-19th century European nations, there was a marked desire by the common people to imitate the nobility. As chocolate addition swept their ranks, European elites ushered in the spread of cocoa “downward…to the urban working classes, then outward to the countryside” (1).
As cacao spread from Mesoamerica to the Caribbean to sub-Saharan Africa to Asia (2), unavoidable differences in breeds led to differences in preference. At least ten genetically distinct cacao varieties have been recognized (4), some of which were rediscovered as recently as 2011. Though the cacao breeds grown in colonies might have originally been genetically identical, growing method and environment play a significant role in taste and texture. Terroir is defined as “the unique flavours and quality associated with the manner of production and almost ineffable qualities of genetics, climate, soil, and place” (3). In other words, terroir is “the sense of a place” (3).
Above: components of terroir (8)
Ancient Mayan royal scribes recorded recipes that included particular types of cacao from particular regions (3), making it clear that that even genetically identical cacao grown in adjoining territories can be differentiated by taste and other attributes. It follows that such a trend would be mirrored in the aristocracy of Europe, with nobles determining and declaring their favorite cacao (ostensibly from the appropriate colony) in order to boast not only their wealth but their sophistication. Indeed, as Martin and Sampeck assert, “Europeans truly embraced cacao as a way to define distinct tastes” (3).
Above: terroir map showing the overall taste descriptions of cacao around the world (8)
This phenomenon is further supported by the contemporary chocolate market, the direct descendant of late 18th, 19th, and early 20th century trends. A simple internet search reveals a vast array of sampler chocolate collections available for purchase—the majority of which contain confections produced with cacao grown in different countries. Bar & Cocoa, for example, sells a “Chocolate Bars of the World” gift box. The accompanying description differentiates cocoa from Madagascar, Vietnam, and Venezuela by aroma, richness, flavor notes, and even “spice” (5). Another company, Tabal Chocolate, offers an assortment of Costa Rican, Bolivian, and Peruvian chocolate (6).
Above: Bar & Cacao’s“Chocolate Bars of the World” gift box (5)
It is perhaps wrong, then, to state that cacao circumnavigated the globe. Cacao conquered it.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames and Hudson, 2013.
Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37–60., doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.
Motamayor, Juan C., et al. “Geographic and Genetic Population Differentiation of the Amazonian Chocolate Tree (Theobroma Cacao L).” PLoS ONE, vol. 3, no. 10, 1 Oct. 2008, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003311.
“Chocolate Bars of the World Gift Box.” Bar & Cocoa, Bar & Cocoa, barandcocoa.com/products/chocolate-bars-of-the-world-gift-box?variant=19094053879862&utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=google&utm_campaign=Google Shopping&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIrtmF4p-26AIVwx-tBh1Ydg4iEAQYASABEgJcvvD_BwE.
“Three Bar World Sampler.” Tabal Chocolate, Tabal Chocolate, tabalchocolate.com/world-samplers/three-bar-world-sampler.
As we all know, chocolate is the most renowned and versatile sweet to date. Through high level marketing and compulsive consumption at a national level, chocolate has grown from a tiny cacao seed and bloomed into a multi-billion dollar industry. According to CNBC Americans consume around $18.27B worth of chocolate per year, which equates to around 4.3 kilograms (10.8 pounds) per person. It’s crazy to think about what a big role chocolate plays in our everyday lives, but it can also be scary considering the health risks that are associated with over consumption of sweets and desserts. Eating too much chocolate can lead to increased weight gain, elevated sugar glucose levels as well as increased risk of getting Type 2 diabetes. Now, with that being said, let’s get down to what we’re really here to talk about today: The health benefits of chocolate! Although there are major health issues that could arise from eating an excess of chocolate, when consumed in moderation chocolate can actually prove to be beneficial.
Let’s first look at one of the premier drinks among children: chocolate milk. Although children often find themselves attracted to the savory, smooth taste of the drink, what they should actually be content about is hitting the proposed daily dairy intake every day…and enjoying it! Furthermore, chocolate milk is said to provide more than 1.5 times the amount of protein that is found in regular 1% white milk. This means if you’re trying to gain weight in a healthy way, chocolate milk should be your drink of choice sometime throughout the day. Also, chocolate milk is proven to be a great recovery drink for athletes after a long workout. We already addressed the superior protein chocolate milk, but it is also a great provider of fluids, electrolytes and carbohydrates–vital contributors to muscle and joint recovery. This drink is so good, in fact, that our very own Harvard University makes it a point to keep a whole refrigerator stocked in in-season athlete’s locker rooms at all times. Chocolate milk is a much more natural and nutrient-rich replacement to the sports drinks athletes consume today.
However, chocolate doesn’t have to be in liquid form to be great for your body. Probably the most nutritious sweet to date is dark chocolate. According to healthline.com, a 100mg bar of dark chocolate contains: 11 grams of fiber, 67% of the RDI for iron, 58% of the RDI for magnesium, 89% of the RDI for copper and 98% of the RDI for manganese (RDI meaning “recommended daily intake”). Dark chocolate is also super rich in antioxidants, which are natural combatants of “free radicals”. Free radicals contribute to your body’s aging process. To put it in perspective, dark chocolate contains more antioxidants than blueberries and acai berries. Dark chocolate even fights against one of the most common diseases that are associated with the overconsumption of most other chocolates: heart disease. The compounds in dark chocolate are actually protective against the oxidation of LDL, a factor known to lead to the deadly disease. So if you’re ever thinking about going on a chocolate binge trip, make sure you add some dark chocolates in the mix (just kidding, no matter what you do, a chocolate binge trip will never be healthy).
Up to this point, you’ve read about the great ways chocolate improves your body physically, but now it’s time to address an equally important aspect: mental health. This is the portion of your health that chocolate will likely have the greatest impact. In a cross-sectional survey conducted by the anxiety and depression association of America, over 13,000 U.S. adults were asked to self-report their weekly chocolate consumption as well as how often they exhibit depression-like symptoms. The results showed that those who ate chocolate in the past 24 hours were 70% less likely to report depression. An explanation for this could be that chocolate is thought to reduce anxiety and irritability. Moreover, Harvard University reported that consuming small amounts of chocolate prior to performing brain activities actually improves performance. This is because the flavonoids found in chocolate greatly help in the improvement and growth of brain activity. So next time we have a big chocolate quiz, it might not be a bad idea to make a quick CVS run beforehand.
We’ve now addressed the multitude in ways that chocolate can improve your way of living as long as you keep the consumption in moderation. However, that’s the part that most Americans struggle with. Being one of the most sweets consuming countries on the map definitely comes with more cons than pros, but it’s always important to try and find the silver linings in every situation. It’s no question that our country has long strides to make before chocolate can be looked at in a purely positive light, but you should always remember that there are definitely healthy ways to indulge in the popular sweet.
Chocolate, the bittersweet delicious treat that most everyone in the western world grew up eating, has taken on various different roles in society throughout its surprisingly significant lifespan. From 1900 BC to our modern day existence, chocolate has been everything from a form of sustenance, to a currency, to a ritualistic decoration, and now a sugary treat that we give to children and loved ones. Of particular interest and significance, though, is the period from 1600-1800, when European consumption preferences caused chocolate to go from an exotic snack to a full fledged industrialized foodstuff that powered economies and increased the slave trade. That period marks a permanent change in the history of chocolate, one best described as a case study in rising capitalism meeting changing consumer preferences to create an entirely new industry.
The earliest evidence of the existence of chocolate is found in research of the Olmec Civilization (Dakin and Wichmann, 2000:66). The Olmec Civilization flourished in Mesoamerica prior to the Maya or Aztec civilizations arising, and like their predecessors the Olmec used chocolate for both consumption and in ritual (Dakin and Wichmann, 2000:66). For centuries, chocolate, and the cacao from which it is made, was consumed in relatively small portions. No plantations existed for the sole purpose of farming cacao, nor did it ever occur to create one. Sophie and Michael Coe, authors of The True History of Chocolate, detailed how the Aztecs “considered chocolate a far more desirable beverage [than octli their native drink], especially for warriors and nobility” (Coe and Coe, 2013:154). Today we romanticize the Aztec chocolate habits with false pictures and recipes like the one displayed here. The Aztecs, who ruled proudly until 1521 when they were all but wiped out, were one of the civilizations to introduce chocolate to Europeans.
Europeans, specifically the Spanish, encountered chocolate for the first time in 1502 when Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ what would become a continental obsession (Coe and Coe, 2013:217). It wasn’t until 1544, though, when “Dominican friars took a delegation of Maya nobles to visit Prince Phillip in Spain” that chocolate truly entered the European consciousness (Coe and Coe, 2013:262). By the early 1600s Spaniards had begun manufacturing chocolate for public consumption. By the mid 1600s, recipes including cinnamon and sugar had popped up (Coe and Coe, 2013:269). By the 1800s chocolate was a full-blown obsession. Chocolate was becoming more and more popular in Europe, and in order to keep up with demand Europeans began doing to chocolate what they did to so many other things during the same time period: industrialized.
In 1828 Coenraad Johannes Van Houten developed a hydraulic press capable of industrializing the labor intensive and inefficient process of separating chocolate liquor into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. He also added salts to the cocoa around the same time period, darkening the colour and changing the flavor of the end product (Coe and Coe, 2013:483-484). This invention marked a change in the production of chocolate that would never go back to the largely small scale, artisanal industry it was before. The inventions, combined with a Pennsylvanian named Joseph Fry’s use of a steam engine to grind cacao beans, allowed chocolate production to become much easier, faster, and more efficient (Coe and Coe, 2013:485-486). Here is a picture of Van Houten’s original hydraulic press used for chocolate.
Another factor that contributed to the boom in chocolate production was the increased demand from working class Europeans. During the 19th century the industrial revolution was in full swing all across Europe. While that meant great progress, both socially and economically, it also brought about many issues including large-scale poverty. With the new ability to mass-manufacture chocolate prices came down dramatically. Chocolate was no longer a food for only the select elite to enjoy. On the meager wages of a factory worker one could enjoy a uniformly produced, sweet chocolate bar. Industrial workers caused a massive boost in popularity of chocolate in the mid-to-late 19th century (Poelmans and Swinnen, 2019:13). Chocolate was fueling the industrial revolution, and the industrial revolution was in turn fueling chocolate in a period of absolutely enormous growth. Between 1870 and 1940 production of chocolate and imports for cacao beans in Europe and North America grew by over 90x (Poelmans and Swinnen, 2019:13). It is truly one of the most stunning and lucrative periods of growth in economic history.
The explosion of chocolate production caused a dip in ‘quality.’ No longer was chocolate a frothy beverage used for energy. Instead, chocolate was barely even cacao anymore, diluted as it was with alkalized salts, sugars, spices, and other ingredients to create a sweet treat suitable for all members of society. Millions of people consumed chocolate annually, but now primarily from larger companies that had cropped up like Hershey’s, Cadbury, and Nestlé and not smaller chocolate makers. By the middle of the 20th century the chocolate revolution was complete. The product was now unrecognizable from where it started in Mesoamerica, and so too was the world.
Today we rarely remember or know much about the original recipes and consumption habits surrounding chocolate. All we know is the sugary, delicious but bastardized version of the snack that surrounds us in every grocery store and local corner deli. This change was caused for both social consumption preferences, as well as underlying economic tailwinds. Today, the chocolate industry is strong as ever and shows no signs of slowing down, continuing to perpetuate the European recipes which have taken over the world.
Dakin, Karen and Soren Wichmann. 2000. Cacao and Chocolate: An Uto-Aztecan Perspective. Ancient Mesoamerica vol. 11. Cambridge University Press.
Coe, Sophie and Michael Coe. 2013. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson. London, UK.
Poelmans, Eline and Johan F. M. Swinnen. 2019. A Brief Economic History of Chocolate. LICOS Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance. Mannheim, Ger.
“200 years ago, the average American ate only 2 pounds of sugar a year . . . Today, the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year” (Martin 2020). But what contributed to this major uptick in consumption?
As portrayed in my sketch of a graph above, sugar consumption (and consequently chocolate consumption) has always been on the rise. However, the inflection point in the exponential curve was in the late 1700s to early 1800s, precisely the time of the Industrial Revolution. (Martin 2020)
During the Industrial Revolution, various technological developments not only further augmented the supply and demand for chocolate, but also altered the way in which it was consumed, especially among the working class.
More chocolate for everyone!
Several technological advancements drove the industrialization of chocolate (among other foods) via developments in the preservation, mechanization, retailing, and transport of food (Goody 2013). While the production process once required much more manual labor with tools like the molinillo and metate, industrialization led to the automated mechanization of roasting, winnowing, grinding and milling, among many other steps diagrammed below (Coe and Coe 2013).
In 1828, Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten developed an incredibly efficient hydraulic press along with the Dutch process; these particular inventions would forever change the chocolate industry in enabling the large-scale manufacture of both powdered and solid chocolate (Coe and Coe 2013).
As delineated in the production process like the one filmed below, these developments were taken up by Big Chocolate companies like Lindt, Nestlé, Cadbury, Hershey’s, and Mars, further helping to scale up the chocolate industry through the utilization of this machinery (Martin and Sampeck 2016, 49).
Beyond this, the industry giants would continue to cast their net to an even wider consumer base, by introducing even more changes to chocolate production: Fry’s tempering process would lead to the manufacture of the first chocolate bars (pictured below), Lindt’s conching process would enable chocolate to be filled with other ingredients, and Hershey would develop the means of improving shelf life and producing even larger quantities of chocolate (Martin 2012).
With all these developments, the ever-growing demand for chocolate was better supported, and the mass production led to an overall deflation of chocolate prices that allowed it to become more accessible to the masses (Martin and Sampeck 2016, 55). “It was no longer an elite, expensive product primarily consumed as a beverage, but instead an inexpensive cocoa powder to be drunk or low-cacao-content chocolate bar to be consumed as a food by elite and non-elite alike” (Coe and Coe 2013).
The busy consumer
Industrialization not only revolutionized chocolate production, but also created more employment opportunities and expanded the workforce. As a result, many people’s schedules underwent a dramatic shifted in order to accommodate their new work hours. Naturally, this directly affected people’s eating patterns as well; with more limited time came a need for quicker meal preparation.
As nations became “more urban and industrialized” over the next century, they “[changed] eating schedules to meet work schedules, teaching laborers to eat away from home, to eat prepared food more frequently, and to consume more sugar along the way. Managers of such societies recognized the potentiality of workers to increase their own productivity if sufficiently stimulated, and to open themselves to new, learnable needs” (Mintz 1986, 181). In addition, division of labor, in conjunction with familial gender roles, affected eating patterns as well. With more women in the workforce, women were spending less time at home, shifting the traditional reliance on women’s cooking and labor for food production. Therefore, family diets were unequivocally affected (Martin 2020).
The sudden spike in chocolate production, in conjunction with the rise of the working class, changed not only the quantity but the very way in which chocolate was consumed, with the birth of various new recipes. Chocolate provided people with the ability to take “shortcuts while maintaining effective results” and the food industry successfully took advantage of this; for example, through their novel marketing and advertising, “cake and brownie mix producers were able to convince home cooks around the country to purchase their products, while forever altering the American relationship to home cooking and taste” (Martin 2012). Later in the twentieth century, with advancements like microwaveable technologies, products like microwaveable brownies were made possible as well, simultaneously addressing both the need for speed and the growing demand for chocolate.
The developments made during Industrialization indefinitely transformed not only the way chocolate was produced, but the quantity and quality in which it was consumed. In fact, we continue to employ many of the same advancements in the production process and enjoy much of the new eating patterns that came about during that time. The Industrial Revolution is to thank for transforming chocolate to become what we know it as today, and for making it possible for us to even enjoy it.
To many of our delights, most of us have the privilege of consuming chocolate, and on any occasion in present day. Although we have the industrial period to be grateful for, it is worth noting that chocolate has an incredibly rich history extending beyond industrialization as well, and that chocolate consumption still fails to be fully equitable. As contemporary consumers of chocolate, it is important to be mindful of both the sweet and bitter history of chocolate.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
“Flowers mean I’m sorry and chocolate means I love you.” These are the wise words of Lauren Conrad, the star of The Hills, a Los Angeles-based television show that aired in 2006. This proverb is not unique to reality TV. People have shared Lauren’s opinion for centuries; from ancient Mesoamerican civilizations to 16th century Europe to modern westernized societies, chocolate has remained a symbol of and an ingredient for romantic love. The endurance of the relationship between chocolate and love is striking, making it quite possibly the only thing that Mesoamerica and MTV have in common. Throughout history, raw and processed cacao has been imbued with cultural, medicinal, and spiritual significance regarding sexual and romantic success. As a result, chocolate is believed to not only “mean” love, but to make love.
The ancient Mayans are thought to be the first civilization to cultivate cacao, and thus the first people to endow it with sexual and romantic significance (Martin). However, later civilizations, such as the Mixtecs and the Aztecs, retained cacao as a prominent religious and cultural symbol. Mesoamerican societies always incorporated chocolate into their marriage ceremonies (Coe 97). A bride often served her groom a chocolate drink during the wedding ceremony to consecrate their marriage (Martin). The Codex Zouche-Nutall, a pre-Columbian manuscript from the Mixtec civilization, illustrates this custom in its depiction of the royal marriage of Lord Eight Deer and Lady Thirteen Serpent.
Raw cacao seeds were also part of the ceremony. Women’s dowries often consisted of cacao beans, which doubled as a form of currency in Mesoamerican economies (Martin). In some societies, the bride and groom exchanged cacao beans with the words “These I give thee as a sign that I accept thee as my husband [or wife]” (Coe 61). In this custom, cacao plays the same role as rings in modern marriages in that it symbolized and sanctified a romantic commitment.
16th Century Europe
Chocolate arrived in Europe in the 16th century via the Spanish courts, and its romantic and sexual connotations also survived the journey across the Atlantic. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a Spanish conquistador who produced a detailed written account of the Mexican conquest, claimed Aztec Emperor Motecuhzoma drank cacao to have “success with women” (Coe 96). The Spanish perpetuated this faith in cacao’s sexual and romantic benefits, believing that its consumption would increase the probability of both conception and love (Martin). Chocolate was also considered a powerful aphrodisiac, and recommended by physicians as a remedy for a weak “venereal appetite” (Coe 122).
Modern Westernized Societies
While modern medicine has progressed far beyond that of 16th century Europe, chocolate has retained its prescribed aphrodisiacal properties. In Dr. Nicholas Perricone’s list of the “Top 10 Sex-Boosting Foods”, published by CBS News, chocolate lands at number six. In the justification for this ranking, CBS cites a study by “The Journal of Sexual Medicine” that found a positive correlation between daily chocolate consumption and sexual activity.
In case the double medical endorsement wasn’t enough to solidify the connection between chocolate and sex, CBS also includes a photo of a naked woman coating herself in liquid chocolate. This picture is just one example of the sexual presentation of chocolate in modern media. A provocative advertisement for 1848 Chocolate incorporates very similar imagery. The video involves a woman bathing in liquid chocolate, cacao pods, and cocoa powder, with sound effects that enhance the seductive tone and sexual connotations of the scene.
The chocolate industry wholeheartedly embraces the idea that “sex sells.” Sex plays a role not only in cinematic advertising, but in chocolate’s linguistic presentation as well.
The company Chuao Chocolatier describes its Spicy Maya bar as a blend of “seductive cinnamon, pasilla chile and warming cayenne bedded in dark chocolate.” Chuao’s advertising copywriters don’t stop there: the Spicy Maya bar is “[a] warm cinnamon embrace, velvety dark chocolate, and an infusion of cayenne and pasilla chile. With just enough heat to melt your heart, it’s a truly delicious way to brighten up your day. Spicy maya is the perfect mix of sweet and seductive.” The numerous references to heat are subtle sensual suggestions, whereas “bedded,” “embrace,” and the repetition of “seductive” are blatantly sexual.
Sex sells, but so does romance. In Cocoa, Kristy Leissle acknowledges that chocolate companies “steer consumer desire for chocolate in certain directions,” and in many cases that direction is love (Leissle 9). Cadbury’s 2020 Valentine’s Day advertisement literally embodies the idea of chocolate leading to love. The video depicts a man guiding his impatient female partner through the woods. Her irritation evaporates when they end up in a clearing of fireflies and he gives her his heart — or at least the heart-shaped centerpiece of the Cadbury Dairy Milk Silk Heart Pop chocolate bar (a Valentine’s Day Special Edition!). This interaction reflects Leissle’s idea that manufacturers promote chocolate not only as the path to romantic love, but as a “surrogate for romantic love” itself (Leissle 9). At the end of the video, Cadbury asks its audience, “How far will you go for love?” The answer is the nearest chocolate aisle.
Just as sex and romance promote chocolate in advertisements, chocolate promotes sex and romance in cinema. According to TV Tropes, a website devoted to explaining common cinematic themes and motifs, chocolate appears in three primary sexual and romantic contexts: in the progressing of a relationship, often in the form of a gift during courtship, anniversaries, or holidays; in the mending of a relationship, offered in exchange for forgiveness; in the initiation of intimacy, consumed before characters are sexually intimate. This latter trend has a subtle presence in the Cadbury ad: when the man presents the woman with chocolate, the music changes from instrumental to lyrical, starting with the words “Kiss me.” Chocolate plays a critical role in the promotion, progression, and preservation of sexual and romantic relationships in the media.
While TV Tropes and the Cadbury ad focus on chocolate facilitating romance between two people, it’s possible that chocolate can create love regardless of whether its consumer has a significant other. Along with its abundance of sexual suggestions, Chuao Chocolatier promises that the Spicy Maya bar will “melt your heart” and “brighten up your day.” There is some data to back up these claims: “[d]ark chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a chemical believed to produce the feeling of being in love” (CBS News). While the connection between chocolate and love has typically been symbolic, it may also be scientific.
There is a reason chocolate is so strongly associated with Valentine’s Day, a holiday celebrating romantic love. Throughout history, chocolate has been credited with sexual and romantic benefits. Chocolate has been used to consecrate Mesoamerican marriages, attract romantic partners, improve sexual performance, and even increase the chance of pregnancy. Today, it is a means to flirt, to court, to celebrate, to seduce, to apologize, to appease. Chocolate is more than just an aphrodisiac: it is a modern-day love potion. Chocolate might be a “surrogate for romantic love,” but in many ways it is also an ingredient. We give chocolate the power not only to “mean” love, but to make love.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. John Wiley & Sons, 2018.
Martin, Carla. “Introduction.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 29 Jan. 2020, Harvard University, Cambridge. Class Lecture.
—. “Mesoamerica and the “Food of the Gods’.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 5 Feb. 2020, Harvard University, Cambridge. Class Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin, 1986.
When you think of Easter, whether you are Christian or not, the content in the image seen above is familiar.
Easter is a Christian religious holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but today it has also become a period of time where individuals eat specialized chocolate treats sold only during this time of year. One cannot think about Easter without thinking of chocolate eggs or chocolate bunnies stacking the shelves of supermarkets and drug stores similar to the image below.
With chocolate being such a strong component of the Christian holiday of Easter, it is difficult to believe that when chocolate was first discovered by Spain in the 16th century, the Catholic Church attempted to marginalize the new foodstuff because of their initial inability to classify it and determine its relationship with the ecclesiastical fast. Social, economic, and cultural factors help explain why the cacao crop was not completely destroyed and dictate why the relationship between chocolate and the Catholic Church is what it is today.
During the time of this debate, a fast was defined as withholding from ingesting any nourishment between midnight and Holy Communion, with the exception of drinking to allay thirst as long as the liquid did not provide any nourishment (5). Because cacao can be prepared in many different ways and take on both a solid and liquid form, the main question was whether or not chocolate was a liquid or a solid. If it were deemed a food or a solid, if one consumed chocolate during a period of fasting then one would be committing a mortal sin. The controversy was even more complex because of the numerous nutritional ingredients that can be added to chocolate, including maize. Mexican physician Juan de Cárdenas began the debate in Mexico in 1591 by interpreting the word “drink” in two different ways. He states that one way to think about the word is anything drinkable and therefore permitted to be consumed during the fast. But another way is to consider it a liquid that is intended to refresh and quench thirst.Cádenas concluded that chocolate in any form breaks the fast because the intention behind fasting is to deny the human body of food and nutrition (1). There were many other arguments put forward over time in order to settle this debate. Dominican friar Agust´ın Davila Padilla wrote in favor of consuming chocolate during the ecclesiastical fast. This ruling was favored among some members of the Church because it lessened the moral dilemma of taking chocolate (5). Later, around 1636, Spaniard Antonio de León Pinelo produced a book stating that the solution depended on the added ingredients. If chocolate were concocted with plain water, it was merely a drink and did not break the fast (5). Individuals continued to put forth arguments, which left some discontented and others pleased.
Factors contributing to the debate extend beyond religious ones due to chocolate’s strong social influence. The complexity of this argument and chocolate’s power is illustrated in the story of Bishop Don Bernardino de Salazar who, in 1625, with the backing of the Spanish government and the Catholic Church, prevented the consumption of chocolate during the celebration of mass. He argued that the consumption during mass was not only distracting but also drew attention away from worshipping and praising God properly (5). The peninsulares, Spanish Catholic women in Latin America, had their maids deliver them chocolate during mass. When the bishop threatened excommunication, they simply chose to attend their neighborhood cathedrals instead of giving up taking chocolate during mass. Soon after, the bishop passed away after consuming chocolate himself. Because it is so well known that chocolate is a great vessel to deliver poison, it is rumored that he was poisoned to death.
The economic value of cacao beans to Spain and the Catholic Church ensured that chocolate did not disappear as a result of this debate and was a strong attributing factor in the stance certain groups took on the matter. The Jesuits, a denomination of Christianity, supported that chocolate was a liquid and could not break any fast because of their own stakes in the cacao trade (3). In addition, the Spanish Crown used cacao beans as a commodity for taxation, and the Catholic Church profited from the forced labor and tribute of the native inhabitants that cultivated the cacao beans (5).
Furthermore, chocolate took on cultural significance in Spain. Chocolate was a luxury product that “became a ritual around which an entire consumer culture developed” (5).Special instruments and material objects like the ones seen in the image above and to the right lent a certain protocol to the act of “taking chocolate” (5), as the Spanish referred to it. The molinillo was vital in the preparation of the chocolate beverage, creating a strongly desired froth on the top. The mancerina, used to hold the chocolate beverage, exhibits chocolate’s status as an extravagant commodity .
After centuries of debating, the Catholic Church was forced to take a stance. In 1662 the Vatican ended the stalemate when Cardinal Francisco Maria Brancaccio declared that: “Beverages do not break the fast, since wine, being as it is so nutritious, does not break it. The same applies to cacao beverage” (2). In 1664 Italian Francesco Maria Brancaccio examined this decision stating that because fasting is not divine law, it is subject to change and should be changed to accommodate the fine chocolate beverage (2). Fortunately, consuming chocolate was deemed to not be a mortal sin nor break the ecclesiastical fast. Today when one thinks of fasting, one does not consider that chocolate was ever part of the discussion. Although chocolate and the Catholic Church used to be in conflict, they are now in a harmonious relationship. The Easter holiday is a time when chocolate sales peak. In 2015 $823 million in chocolate was bought the week before Easter (4). Without this holiday, special chocolate treats would not be sold in mass quantities, and without chocolate, many would not recognize Easter. It is because of chocolate’s initial social, economic, and cultural influence that it is still around today and exists in harmony with Christian holidays.
Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
De Orellana, Margarita, Clara Marín, Salvador Reyes Equiguas, Quentin Pope, Anahí Luna, Martha Few, Johanna Kufer, Nikolai Grube, Michael Heinrich, Michelle Suderman, Jorge Betanzos, Timothy Adès, José Luis Trueba Lara, Rafael Vargas, and Guadalupe Loaeza. “Chocolate III: RITUAL, ART AND MEMORY.” Artes De México, no. 110 (2013): 91. Accessed March 8, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/24318995.
De Orellana, Margarita, Quentin Pope, Sonia Corcuera Mancera, José Luis Trueba Lara, Jana Schroeder, Laura Esquivel, Jill Derais, Mario Humberto Ruz, Clara Marín, Miguel León-Portilla, Michelle Suderman, Marta Turok, Mario M. Aliphat Fernández, Laura Caso Barrera, Sophie D. Coe, Michael D. Coe, and Pedro Pitarch. “CHOCOLATE II: Mysticism and Cultural Blends.” Artes De México, no. 105 (2012): 73-96. Accessed March 6, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/24319003.
When chocolate won the hearts of Baroque Europe in the 17th century, Cosimo de Medici III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, was not one to be left out. Medici was one who “spared no expense to summon the rarest and most precious condiments from all sections of the globe to his table” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.142); chocolate was surely one of these condiments. The best-known recipe that came out of the Medici court was the coveted and covert jasmine chocolate, concocted by Medici’s physician, Francesco Redi. The jasmine chocolate recipe came to fame, not only because of chocolate’s supposed health benefits, but also because of its status as a culinary innovation and social power in Baroque Europe. To date, the jasmine chocolate recipe—and flavored chocolates at large—plays a role in our consumer culture and relationship with chocolate.
Chocolate itself made its entry to Europe under the guise of a panacea. The Spaniards stripped the original spiritual and ritual implications chocolate held for the Mesoamericans, labelling chocolate as a medicine fitting in the Galen humoral theory, which was popular in the Baroque Age (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.126-128). Paolo Zacchia, a Roman physician, suggested that drinking chocolate in the morning helps comfort the stomach and aid digestion (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.138). It was under such health claims that chocolate made its entrance. While chocolate was introduced as a medicine, its usage expanded as it gained popularity around royal courts.
Yet while chocolate has its health benefits, this alone did not explain why Redi’s jasmine chocolate recipe was so sought after. Flavoring chocolate was not a novelty. In fact, flavoring often had to be used to conceal the taste of the high fat content of cacao beans, the precursor of drinking chocolate (Schulte Beerbühl, 2014, p.14). The flavor that chocolate takes on was often a homage to regional and national taste preferences: Spaniards and French preferred vanilla, Englishmen treasured mint (Schulte Beerbühl, 2014, p.15), and the originators of chocolate—Mesoamericans—included spices like chili (Martin, 2020).
Redi himself was a curator and innovator of flavors. Redi produced his own twist on chocolate by introducing novel European ingredients—“the fresh peel of citrons, and lemons, and the very genteel odour of jasmine” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.145). Redi believed that together with more traditional Mesoamerican flavorings like cinnamon and vanilla, these exquisite scents have a “prodigious effect” towards consuming chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.145). In other words, these scents elevated the already wonderful chocolate tasting experience. As a spice, chili was not popular in Italy. However, other flavor elements viewed as more baroque (and perhaps Eurocentric) were highly coveted and popular in the European courts.
While Redi was willing to divulge his recipes for chocolate laden with citron, lemon, and ambergris scents, he guarded his jasmine chocolate recipe jealously, politely refusing requests from nobles for sharing the recipe (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.145). When the recipe was finally made public after Redi’s death, it was still incredibly challenging to recreate. The recipe required picking a significant number of fresh jasmine buds in the morning, layering it with cacao nibs, and allowing the buds to bloom while mingling with the scent of cacao. Modern recipes estimate that around 250 jasmine flowers were required per kilogram of cacao nibs per day (Amore, 2014). To add on to the laborious process, this layering technique needs to be repeated for 10-12 days (Segnit, 2018; Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 146).
As later culinary documentations agreed, Redi’s creation was truly an innovation, as it is incredibly challengiing to create and retain a floral note in chocolates—and food in general. Notably, this unique and delicate jasmine flavor was completely natural, as it was flavored with Jasminum sambac, a species of jasmine native to southern Asia, India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka (Lippi, 2009, p. 1102). Imaginably, it was likely challenging and expensive to acquire such flower. As a shortcut to achieving flavor, people use absolutes, also known as essential oils, nowadays. It was perhaps the challenge of creating this jasmine chocolate that earned its fame, garnering the title of the most “baroque” of all chocolate.
Beyond a gastronomic feat, or perhaps because of this culinary innovation, exquisitely flavored chocolates became a symbol of status and prestige. Cosimo III’s jasmine chocolate was often sent to other European courts as a gift (Lippi, 2009). It was also used to rival the products of other courts, such as the Spanish chocolate paste (Lippi, 2009). In a lavish court like the Grand Duke’s, one can imagine how this tightly guarded recipe was a showcase of the ability to produce rare commodities, in turn displaying the opulence of the court. Chocolate was not merely a medicine or a delicacy to enjoy: it was a statement of power. It was under the name of fame that chocolate elevated beyond medicinal.
This trend was not unique to Italy. When it entered Baroque Europe, chocolate was first associated with royalty and nobility— as a delicacy that was inaccessible to the public. With the innovations of floral chocolates, it was not soon before the “Gift of Gods” (Martin, 2020) was given as a gift of power around Baroque Europe.
As it transcends to modern times, what is the significance of jasmine chocolate to us? Importantly, the social significance of the jasmine chocolate and flavored chocolate at large still remain today. It is no surprise that we have taken some hints from Baroque Europe, as chocolate continues to serve as gifts during special and daily occasions.
As a testament to jasmine chocolate’s popularity, people still attempt recreate this painstaking recipe. A quick Google search for “jasmine chocolate” returns both recipes and products. The website “It’s Tuscany” boasts a small piece of the famed jasmine chocolate from “Granduca de Toscana” for 5 euros. Beyond jasmine, the recipe also contains cinnamon and candied orange and appears to use some flavor extracts of vanilla and jasmine (we do not know if this is artificial or natural). If Redi were alive, he would not have approved this usage.
Towards a more laborious attempt, Italy magazine reveals the below recipe recreating the famed jasmine chocolate during “La festa dei Gelsomini” (The Jasmine Festival) (Amore, 2014). The process documented the amount of labour and care devoted to such a work of art. As evidenced in this recipe, the historical influences of chocolate have a strong hold on our present view, relationship with, and preferences of chocolates. And yes, jasmine chocolate still has the popularity it had back in Baroque Europe.
For its significance in gastronomical innovation, health, and politics, the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s jasmine chocolate recipe is one to be remembered. While chocolate was introduced as a medicine to the European courts, it was quickly popularized, and the innovation of floral scents elevated the Tuscan court’s social status. Redi perhaps did not forsee the long-lasting popularity of his chocolate through present day, yet he inspired a lasting elevation in technique, in flavor, and in power. As Redi aptly stated: e secondo l’arte si fa il cioccolato—chocolate is made, according to art (Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, 2014)
The Renowned Jasmine Chocolate of The Grand Duke of Tuscany
(Recipe from Coe & Coe, 2013, p146)
10lb [4.5kg] toasted cacao beans, cleaned and coarsely crushed
Fresh jasmine flowers
8lb [3.6kg] white sugar, well-dried
3oz [85g] “perfect” vanilla beans
4 to 6 oz [115 to 170g] “perfect” cinnamon
2 scruples [1/12 oz, 2.5g] ambergris
In a box or similar utesil, alternate layers of jasmine with layers of the crushed cacao, and let it sit for 24 hours. Then mix these up, and add more alternating layers of flowers and cacao, followed by the same treatment. This must be done ten or twelve times, so as to permeate the cacao with the odor of the jasmine. Next, take the remaining ingredients and add them to the mixed cacao and jasmine, and grind them together on a slightly warm metate; if the metate be too hot, the odor might be lost.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. Feb. 12, 2020. Class Lecture 3.
Schulte Beerbühl, M. (2014). Diffusion, Innovation and Transnational Cooperation: Chocolate in Europe (c. Eighteenth–Twentieth Centuries). Food and History, 12(1), 9–32. https://doi.org/10.1484/J.FOOD.5.105141