Category Archives: Extension

The Myth of Separation

The Aztec culture is notorious for their often bloody rituals, which are now widely thought to be egregiously barbaric. We look upon Aztec sacrificial practices as evidence of a sadistic and morally bankrupt culture, of a people who are terrible in ways we could never be; but assuming this inherent separation keeps us from exploring the breadth of human connection and commonality.

In The true history of chocolate Coe & Coe explain that the view of Aztec society as barbaric is handed down to us by the Spanish conquistadores as an excuse for their terrible treatment of the Aztecs (Coe, 65). While the Spanish had their own motivations to portray the Aztecs as barbarians, it’s easy to imagine that they might have also felt genuine shock at Aztec practices which included ritual human sacrifice.

An example of one such ritual, which was carried out yearly, proceeded as follows: A slave was chosen to be dressed and treated as the god Quetzalcoatl for 40 days, after which he was told that he would be killed the following day. He was then required to dance with perfect happiness, as a sorrowful response was thought to be a bad omen. If he was not able to remain cheerful he would be given a drink of chocolate which was mixed with bloody water from the washing of sacrificial knives. This drink, known as itzpacalatl, was said to bewitch him and bring about renewed happiness and dancing (Coe, 103). One fascinating element of this ritual is the importance placed on the sacrifice’s happiness (or at least the display of it). Another fascinating element; the function of nourishment and fortification from the chocolate having a transformative role in the experience of being sacrificed.

It is important to note that bloody Aztec rituals were not done merely for sadistic entertainment. In “The Aztec Ritual Sacrifices,” Izeki explains that sacrifice was integral to Aztec religion and considered necessary for maintaining order in the universe. It was believed that humans were created to give their lives to the gods in order to maintain creation. Izeki notes, too, that death was not thought to be permanent but rather cyclical— the Aztecs believed “that sacrificial victims became divine beings after being slain, that the dead lived an afterlife, and that each part of a soul went back to its provenance”(Izeki).

Solely looking voyeuristically at Aztec rituals as evidence of barbarism allows us to foster a comforting sense of moral superiority. However, this sense of superiority and separations may be a misconception. When we study the history of chocolate we uncover a deep historical connection with the Aztecs. This connection can be seen first through the consumption and ritualization of cacao.

800px-valentines_chocolates1Like the Aztecs, we love chocolate, and like the Aztecs, we imbue it with symbolism. The Aztecs sometimes used cacao pods to ritualistically symbolize the human heart— we sometimes gift heart-shaped boxes of chocolate to symbolize love (Coe 103).

Might there be a connection even in the dark specifics of the discussed ritual to aspects of our culture today? In her thesis Revulsion and Palatability, Angie Wheaton explores the topic of rituals surrounding the death penalty, with a special focus on the ritual of giving the condemned a choice of last meals. This ritual has been the subject of several art projects, like the one shown in the below image.

5430175617_6328bbd2d7_z-1Wheaton explains that this ritual of providing nourishment and comfort to those we put to death in the form of favorite foods has a longstanding tradition, and is still common practice in most places (one notable exception being Texas) (Wheaton, 6). This tradition has much in common with the Aztec ritual of providing sacrifices with the culturally favored form of nourishment, cacao. Wheaton argues that in the context of the death penalty, “rituality has helped cushion the revulsion that is inherently present when taking the life of a human being” (Wheaton, v). Might this effect also be one explanation for the specifics of Aztec rituals?

The use of chocolate as an intoxicant in the discussed Aztec ritual is somewhat perplexing. Though cacao beans do contain caffeine and theobromine which cause a stimulant effect, this effect is moderate and insufficient to cause extreme euphoria. Despite this, there are also people today who consume chocolate in ritualistic settings for the purpose of intoxication.


In the Business Insider article “San Franciscans are obsessed with ‘cacao ceremonies,’ where they claim to get high on chocolate,” author Melia Robinson details currently trendy rituals where people gather to drink concentrated cacao drinks. Participants report “a wide range of reactions, from feelings of connectedness and ecstasy to hallucinations” (Robinson).

The common concept of superiority and separation between people today and the Aztecs is a myth. Through the lens of chocolate, food, and ritual, we can uncover striking similarities between these cultures. These common threads of practice and perception between the people of today and the Aztecs may serve to remind us that however different we might like to think ourselves from those that commit atrocities, we are more alike than we are different. We are all human and capable of both great things and terrible ones.


Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Wheaton, Angie. Revulsion and Palatability: The Staying Power of Death Penalty Rituals – Last Meals and Beyond, Eastern Kentucky University, Ann Arbor, 2013, ProQuest,

Robinson, Melia. “San Franciscans are obsessed with ‘cacao ceremonies,’ where they claim to get high on chocolate.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 19 May 2017,

Izeki, Mutsumi (2014) The Aztec Ritual Sacrifices, Performance Research, 3:3, 25-32, DOI: 10.1080/13528165.1998.10871623

Last Meal Photo credit John Dalton on Flikr, Creative Commons license

Cacao Drink Photo credit Julie Gibbons on Flikr, Creative Commons license

Other images in public domain


“Chokola’j”, History of Chocolate Popularity on the Rise

The Mayan Society of Mesoamerica drank chocolate together and called this popular social act “Chokola’j” (C. Martin, Mesoamerica and “the food of the gods”). History is often written through landmark events that shaped it, but often without the mentioning of the common human who made it, this is especially true about the history of chocolate. The significance of chocolate came from the captivating ability of chocolate to touch hearts and transcend social, cultural, lingual, and physical barrios and dovetail the Americas and Europe with a power even mightier than that of the military and economic powers, the social power of chocolate. In Sweetness and Power, Sidney W. Mintz argues that the simple decision of the common human in post-colonial European societies to consume Mesoamerican commodities made history through changing the meaning of labor, self-identity, and commodity: “In understanding the relationship between commodity and person, we unearth anew the history of our selves” (qtd by C. Martin, Slavery Abolition and Forced Labor, Mintz, 1985, page214). Mintz is right, for unraveling the history of Chocolate’s popularity unravels the western hemisphere’s origins of wealth distribution, social habits, economic relationships, and self-identities. More importantly it can define our future path towards what is responsible, just, and right for a prosperous chocolate future that involves all stakeholders and shareholders. The beautiful moments of happiness, comfort, and love passing through the lives of millions of people eating and drinking chocolate every day lure intellectual curiosity to trace what key factors, trends, ideas, and technologies contributed to the rise of chocolate’s popularity over time.

Chocolate(Chocolate, a stack of the different kinds of chocolate, dark, milk and white) (André Karwath aka, Feb, 2005.)

In The True History of Chocolate Sophie and Michael Coe explain that “It was the Maya who first taught the Old World how to drink Chocolate, and it was the Maya who gave us the word “cacao.” They deserve recognition in the culinary history of Theobroma Cacao.”(Coe and Coe, P.66). Archeological records of historical Mayan documents and artifacts like the Maya Princeton Vase of the 8th century stands testimony to the ancient Mayan chocolate-socializing habits, it depicts a Mayan royal palace with people seated in a scene with a woman preparing chocolate (Coe and Coe, P.50). Over time chocolate spread from the Mesoamerican elites to European elites and amplified in popularity among the masses. Chocolate and coffee houses were a part of the English life in 17th century England where the Italian Lorenzo Magalotti who lived in England between 1668 and 1688 AD described these houses: “…Where coffee is sold publicly, and not just coffee, but other drinks, like chocolate.”(Coe and Coe, P.171).

800px-Maya_vase(Mayan Vase, the Princeton Vase depicting chocolate) (Unknown, Between circa 600 and circa 900 AD)

Chocolate-house-london-c1708(Socializing inside the English: White’s Chocolate House, London) (Unknown Artist, 1708)

It is academically imperative to narrate the historical change that transpired through time over what contributed to the increase in chocolate’s popularity and spread from the Mesoamerican and European elites to the different classes of society in Europe, the Americas, and transversely the world. In order to interpret colonial military, economic, and social factors that contributed to the spread of chocolate it is necessary to mention the documents, encounters, and records found in Rio Ceniza Valley, located in today’s El Salvador ( C. Martin, lecture 3 “Chocolate Expansion”, 2018). The 17th century’s “Recordation Florida of Antonio Fuentes y Guzman” was imperative as it revealed the cocoa beans-based Nahua counting system that was used by the Mayans as their local currency, which was a mammoth economic factor behind the Spanish military colonization campaigns triggered by the Spanish desire to adopt that currency system and demand part of the Mesoamerican crops (C. Martin, Lecture 3, “Chocolate Expansion”, 2018).The other significant document to illuminate on the social power factor that contributed the most to increased popularity of chocolate was the original chocolate recipe found in Rio Ceniza ( C. Martin, Chocolate Expansion). A European style drawing in the 16th century Codex Tudela shows us an Aztec woman foaming Chocolate evoking similarities to the Mayan Princeton Vase, which depicted a woman foaming chocolate eight centuries earlier (Coe and Coe, P.88).The factor of the transfer of Mesoamerican recipes will be the most powerful of all because the chocolate recipe that we know traveled through European colonists to Europe and created anew the trend of the chocolate commodity consumption in Europe. Chocolate recipes were first moved by elite catholic clergy into Spain, Italy, France, and Britain. In 1636 Antonio de Leon Pinelo, a Spanish catholic wrote a book debating the morality of chocolate and its inclusion into European diets and religious traditions (Coe and Coe, P. 152). Coe and Coe explain that “Lion Pinelo gives details on production as well as recipes for the drink, he is also extremely knowledgeable about cacao, chocolate, and various writers on chocolate.” (Coe and Coe, P.152)


(European styled drawing of Aztec Lady Preparing Chocolate, Mujer Vertiendo Chocolate – Codex Tudela) (Anonymous, circa 1553)

Knowledge of chocolate and its recipes got adopted by the masses and spread along European colonial societies including North America. In The History of Classic American Dessert, Carla Martin explains that “Newspaper advertisements for chocolate sales in the colonies have been traced back to the early eighteenth century, as have customs logs and diary entries mentioning chocolate” (C. Martin, 2012). In The New Taste of Chocolate, M.E. Presilla reveals the Xocolat familiar: “Contains recipes written in an elegant 19th century hand, giving precise measurements for chocolate blends prepared especially for local families.”(M.E. Presilla, 30, 2009). Based on the above literary and material sources it is evident that the Mesoamerican chocolate traditions were adopted by Europeans and North Americans, which induced significant change defining labor, social, and economic change. It cannot go unstated that this steered an ever increased demand, which brought about the tragedies of slavery, colonization, massive inequality in distribution of prosperity and wealth, and went all the way to restructuring the sense of western world Norms, struggles, and identities .

In The New Taste of Chocolate, M.E. Presilla reveals the 1874 invention of the Melangeur:” The Melangeur is one of the most versatile and long lasting inventions of the industrial revolution of chocolate manufacturing.” (M.E.Presilla, page 28, 2009). Historic literary and material sources evidence shows an entire technology developing from traditional Mayan recipes of preparing and processing chocolate. Images of the Mesoamericans preparing the drinks can be seen today in their thriving societies as in the historical depictions of 15 surviving documents of Dresden Codex pre-colonial documents and the ambiguous Popol Vuh, colonial documents (C. Martin, “ Mesoamerica and the “ food of the gods”). The preponderance of social power that steered the increased popularity of chocolate were driven by chocolate’s ability to touch hearts, penetrate feelings, and create taste.

Chokoversum_MelangeurChokoversum Melangeur (An-d. Nov, 2013).

Chocolademachine_Mol_D'ArtModern Chocolate Machine (Right: Oriel. Chocolate Machine, n.d.)

Knowing the key factors, trends, ideas, and technologies contributed to the rise of chocolate’s popularity over time enable us to draw the future. The social power of chocolate is galvanized to serve the powerful managerial chocolate corporations today. What is needed is a balancing approach that enables the corporations to get galvanized behind the social power of chocolate. This is especially important to achieve in Ghana and the Ivory Coast where 72% of the worlds Cocoa production is produced, often under dire circumstances (C, Martin Lecture One). Going back into these historic changes can guide us to successfully adopt changes in the future inclusive of all its stakeholders and shareholders.

This Video is mixing some historic facts, some of which were mentioned in the blog, and interestingly reasoning them with fun facts in trying to explain the ever rising popularity of chocolate.

(Talltanic Surprising facts about Chocolate video from January 16th, 2018). (Talltanic, 2018)


References-Works Cited
An-d. Chokoversum Melangeur. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 22 November 2013, 18:22:53

André Karwath aka. Chocolate. This image shows a stack of chocolate, including milk chocolate, nut chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate. Wikimedia Commons. Web.13 February 2005.
Anonymous. Mujer vertiendo chocolate – Codex Tudela. Español: Mujer azteca espumando cacao, reproducción perteneciente al folio 3-r del Códice Tudela. Source/Photographer: Wikimedia Commons. Web. circa 1553.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third Edition. Thames & Hudson Ltd: London, 2013. Print.
Martin, Carla D. 2012. “Brownies: The History of a Classic American Dessert.” Retrieved from
Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan.2018. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 31 Jan.2018. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.’”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 07 Feb.2018. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, Abolition and Forced Labor.’”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 28 Feb.2018. Class Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power, The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Viking Penguin Inc. Penguin Books: New York, 1985. Print.
Oriel. Chocolademachine Mol D’Art. Chocolate machine. Wikimedia Commons. Web. N.D.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, 2009. Print.
Talltanic. (Jan 16, 2018). Surprising facts about chocolate. 2018. Taltanic. (Video file). Retrieved from
Unknown Artist. English: White’s Chocolate House, London. Wikimedia Commons. coloured lithograph published by Cadbury. Note: Not a contemporary 1708 illustration (late 19th-century at earliest) Web. circa 1708.
Unknown. Photograph of a Maya vase. Wikimedia Commons. Art from late Classic c. 600 – 900 AD, per book “The Blood of Kings, Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art” by Linda Schele, Mary Ellen Miller, Justin Kerr, Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1986, plate 115 Mechanical reproduction of art more than 1,000 years old. Web. Between circa 600 and circa 900 AD



The Dynamic Between Xoxocoatl (Chocolate) and Octli (Alcohol) in Aztec Society

 The Dynamic Between Xoxocoatl (Chocolate) and Octli (Alcohol) in Aztec Society

Spearheaded by their conquest of large parts of Mexico, the Aztecs found in these regions the prominence of cacao, and were eager to adopt their own methods of cultivation and preparation. Cacao’s appeal quickly spread to the upper echelons of Aztec society, where nobles and ruling elite demanded cacao tributes from their southern provinces. Demand for cacao continued to rise, and when southern tribes refused to trade for, what they viewed as lesser Aztec goods, they were only invoking the wrath of the Aztec army.i Cacao would later become so ingrained in Aztec society that they adopted a similar system to the Mayans in using cacao as currency. In the image below from the Codex Mendoza, one can see the interaction of cacao within the Aztec trade network, and how valuable it was compared to other luxurious goods like feathers and jaguar pelts.

CasdasdasdptureCuriously though, never on these illustrations of trade do we see any type of alcoholic beverage, contrary to what you might see if there was a similar representation of trade among European countries, where you might see pitchers of wine or mead. Through investigating images found in the Florentine Codex and the Codex Mendoza, statements made by Aztec nobles admonishing the usage of alcohol, and by comparing these sentiments towards those of cacao and the reception it received, show how cacao’s rise to prominence was rooted in a very practical, survival-type approach towards existing as a dominant force in Mexico.


Why was it that cacao gained popularity, and why weren’t they drinking any octli? According to Wasserman, “one of the reasons that the Aztecs were so interested in chocolate was that their native drink octli (known to the Spanish as pulque, a word apparently of South American origin) was mildly alcoholic, and drunkenness was not looked upon favorably by Aztec society.”ii  Investigating further into why octli was looked upon so disfavorably, also provides insight into why chocolate, by comparison, may have achieved a far more favorable reputation and appeal. In The True History of Chocolate, by Coe and Coe, they go into briefly about the dynamic of attraction and repulsion between chocolate and alcohol in Aztec society, but little do they go into why this was the case. Stories, or “morality tales” are told of Aztec commanders being publicly shamed in their drunkenness, and others of cultivators of agave, the plant used in the process of alcohol fermentation, being slain in their fields, and the Codex Mendoza even features illustrations of youths who were executed for drunkedness, but what led to alcohol being admonished by Aztec society? According to Wasserman, the Aztecs believed that drunkenness was the “root of all evil” and that, as a result, strict prohibition towards alcohol was developed over time.iii In the images below, you can see how the Aztecs both reacted to and presented the usage of alcohol within their society.

Quetzalcoatl after being tricked into getting drunk. Florentine Codex, Book 3, Chapter 14.

A speech given by a powerful Aztec noble goes into further detail saying that,

“For octli and drunkenness are the cause of all the discords and of all the dissension, of all revolt and of all troubles in cities and in realms. It is like the whirlwind that destroys and tears down everything. It is like a malignant storm that brings all evil with it. Before adultery, rape, debauching of girls, incest, theft, crime, cursing and bearing false witness, murmuring, calumny, riots, and brawling, there is always drunkenness. All those things are caused by octli and by drunkenness.”iv
Codex Mendoza depicting images of youth executed for public drunkenness.

Thus, as a result of this type of public admonishment of alcohol, chocolate became a sort of counterpart to alcohol—for it very practically did not lead to the type of destructive behavior that alcohol did.

While chocolate was surely a favorable alternative to octli, and in many ways helped the Aztecs develop their system of trade and currency, this does not mean that its adaptation was without dissent. Interestingly enough, the Aztec emperor himself would find that neighboring tribes viewed cacao as having a similar effect on Aztec society, as the Aztecs themselves thought alcohol would bring in terms of degrading the fabric of society. Evidence to support this comes from a story told by Father Duran, where an elder from the Aztlan tribe speaks out saying “You have become old, you have become tired because of the chocolate you drink and because of the foods you eat. They have harmed and weakened you. You have been spoiled by those mantles, feathers, and riches that you wear and that you have brought here. All of that has ruined you.”v While it is impossible to determine the elder’s motives for saying this, there was nonetheless a perception that chocolate was being singled out as something that was deteriorating Aztec society. Perhaps the elder was onto something with his stoic comments, or perhaps these types of things come with the territory of becoming a more advanced society. In The New Taste of Chocolate, Presilla describes instances where sellers in the market would add too much water or cornstarch in an attempt to “cheapen” the product, and benefit through deceptive selling practices. Instances like these give reason to the elder’s comments, as you see how the value of cacao became so important in Aztec society, that sellers became willing to deceptively rip buyers off. While chocolate wasn’t looked favorably upon by all, it nonetheless provided a means of currency which would provide a foundation essential to their development.

Exchange of chocolate drinks among Aztecs

Evidence from past history shows us that were very practical reasons for the Aztecs to adopt chocolate as their beverage of choice in favor of their native, alcoholic beverage of octli. In a region where the Aztec’s dominated militarily until the Spanish arrived, cacao’s stimulatory nature helped fuel their war engine, while also providing both a luxurious and ritualistic appeal to the elite and other wealthy merchant class citizens. Thus comparing it to octli in this regard along with all the aforementioned evidence, it is not difficult to see why the Aztecs adopted cacao so favorably. As Wasserman states, drinking would have made the Aztecs vulnerable to their enemies, and thus a long period of abstinence developed. By contrast, cacao provided energy for weary warriors, and helped keep the Aztec’s ready for While ultimately cacao wasn’t enough for the Aztecs to stop Cortez and the Spanish, it did serve an integral purpose in enabling their society to achieve great prosperity for a long period of time. Perhaps the Aztecs were on to something, too, for modern research has shown that chocolate can help curb alcohol cravings, and can even be healthy for the liver. Their natural instincts of survival to adopt cacao were rooted in good intuition, as science would later prove that there are indeed health benefits to chocolate. Surely, the Aztecs were wise to adopt cacao and chocolate based drinks in favor of alcoholic beverages, and their practical reasons for doing so enabled them to thrive as a civilization.

Works Cited

           Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe, and Michael J. North. 2007. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson.

Presilla, Maricel E.. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkley, CA. 2001, 2009.

Soustelle, Jacques. 1968. The Daily Life of the Aztecs, on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest. New York: Macmillan.

Teresa L. Dillinger, Patricia Barriga, Sylvia Escárcega, Martha Jimenez, Diana Salazar Lowe, Louis E. Grivetti; Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate,The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 130, Issue 8, 1 August 2000, Pages 2057S–2072S,

Wasserman, Martin. “Alcohol, No! Gambling, Yes: A Matter of Survival in Aztec Society”. British Journal of Addiction, 77: 283–286. 1982.

Presilla, Maricel E., 17.

ii Coe & Coe, 75.

iii Wasserman, 283.

iv Soustelle, Jacques, 156.

Coe & Coe, 78.

vi Wasserman, 283.


What is the real value of cacao today? The Many Uses of Chocolate in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

Chocolate is, undeniably, a universal delicacy, yet its trek across the Atlantic Ocean diluted its value to a certain degree. If we go back in time, directly transporting ourselves to the early colonial period of tropical lands in the Americas, our palates would be challenged by the distinct differences of added flavors, either mysterious or highly noticeable ingredients, which were meant to enhance the robustness and bitterness of cacao. Our minds would also be blown by the sense of power attached to its non-edible uses.

In “The True History of Chocolate”,  the author(s) expressed:
“Here we should warn against the simplistic notion that there was one sole of chocolate drink made by the Maya or Aztecs. They were every bit as capable of applying individual taste and invention to the raw materials at hand as the most “creative” of modern chefs. Pre-Conquest chocolate was not a single concoction 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….” (48)

The first recollection of chocolate consumption was introduced in Mesoamerica where the “food of the goods” was preferably enjoyed as a hot or cold beverage containing various spices and natural sweeteners such as chiles (Capsicum annums ululte & cobareno chiles), annatto (natural red food coloring agent), maize, maguey sap, maguey sapote pits, herbs, vanilla, honey and flowers (Coe & Coe 49; Presilla 9). The early adopters, the Mayan and Aztec population, would intentionally consume chocolate in ceremonial settings or exchange as a currency for goods (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods”).

The Mayans, whether rich or poor, supposedly indulged in hot chocolate on an everyday basis as well as aggrandized it on esteemed occasions (Presilla 18). During a royal wedding, the bride and groom had to drink a chocolate beverage in order to concretize the marriage (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods”). Mayan warriors would drink it to boost energy and strength prior to combat, in conjunction with speculation that cacao pods were either worn as spiritual armor or perhaps a costume for traditional games (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods”). Moreover, the rites of death entailed the concoction of cacao and annatto (symbolizing human sacrifice) which was placed into the burial of the deceased to ensure his/her soul had a smooth and refreshed transition into the afterlife (Presilla 13; Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods”). Maya codices such as Dresden Codex and Codex Nuttal, have illustrations of both instances displaying the chocolate beverage in a rather majestic drinking vessel designed exteriorly with Mayan hieroglyphics, and showcasing gods, royal members, animals, botanical imagery and even cacao pods (Coe & Coe 42-43; Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods”).


Dated back to 1041 BCE, the Codex Nuttall image showcases Lady Thirteen Serpent handing the cacao beverage to Lord Eight Deer assuming that he will drink it in order for them to confirm their royal marriage.  (Martin, Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods) (Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons)

dresden_codex2c_page_2 Based on the Princeton Vase (AD 750), the chocolate beverage was also described to have a frothed topping indicating that it was indeed a sacred offering in Mesoamerican history (Presilla 9; Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods). For instance, Lacandon Maya produced two forms of the same chocolate drink, the secular Lacandon drink for regular consumption and sacred Lancandon drink which was offered to their gods (Coe and Coe 62-63).

Furthermore, inscriptions from Classic Maya artifacts reveal a well-defined classification of edible cacao offerings including, tree-fresh cacao, bitter cacao, honey-eyed cacao, green cacao (mucilage inside the cacao pod) and previously mentioned, foamy cacao (Coe and Coe 87).  The True History of Chocolate noted that maize was another staple item used with cacao to make savory and sweet dishes such as tzune, saca, atole (also called Champurrado) and still an ambiguous claim, cooking sauces.

 According to National Geography,  Dresden Codex, is “one of four documents remaining out of thousands in the Pre-Columbian era”, which shows evidence of cacao being used as a religious offering  during that period. (Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons)

Further north of Mesoamerica, chocolate consumption was aristocratic; social hierarchy, military ethos and polytheism played major roles on Aztec lands (Coe and Coe 95-96). Dominating central Mexico, the Aztec empire consisted of three cities including Tenochitian (the governing city), Texcoco and Tlacopan called the Triple Alliance (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods”). Raw cacao production was unsuccessful in central Mexico due to its unfavorable climate, thus, the Maya supplied Aztecs with the sought-out commodity in exchange for other goods via pochtecas, meaning “People from the Land of the Ceiba tree” who were Aztec merchants traveling to and from on foot (Coe and Coe 73).


According to the authors of The True History of Chocolate, the merchants of Aztecs would travel hundreds of miles on foot to exchange bird feathers, garments and slaves for cacao in addition to acting like spies during their quest. (Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike the Mayans, Aztecs rulers added another layer of value to cacao by making it taxable among its residents, enhancing its currency platform & bean depositories, and only offering it as a consumable product to the elite class such as the rulers & their families, warriors and long-distanced merchants (Coe & Coe 88 – 95). The preparation of cacao was quite similar to Mayan traditions in which it was commonly made in a drink form consisting of maize or other spices and natural sweeteners. According to the True History of Chocolate, other notable flavors in Aztec chocolate recipes were the following native flowers: hueinacaztli, tlilxochitl, mecaxochitl, Magnolia mexicana (yolloxochitl & eloxochitl) and izquixochitl. However, Aztecs preferred to consume the elite beverage in a cold state rather than hot (Presilla 9).

Based on their healing rites, the Aztecs also endorsed its indefinite healing attributes with other ingredients such as ceibas, mecaxochitl and Magnolia mexicana, for curing mental illness, allergic reactions, lung disorders, stomach related ailments, skin legions, fever and seizures (Coe & Coe 104).

During sugar-free Mesoamerican era, cacao was like a present-day cryptocurrency (but edible and non-electronic). It was also considered as a fancy treat, ceremonial gift, everyday cooking agent (even for savory dishes), natural remedy for humans & the environment and so forth. Today, the industrialized cocoa product is highly standardized, mainly consumed as a dessert, highly marketed on consumeristic Valentine’s Day and no longer acts as an over-the-counter medicine unfortunately. Influenced by Philippe Conticini’s flavor experiment, I challenge you to think “outside the box” and explore the flavor complexities of chocolate by experimenting with 5 of the 10 native  ingredients (listed below) in your next chocolate recipes  (Presilla 139). Nonetheless, this is only a small step in exploring the vast portfolio of origin cacao but give it a try anyways (chocolate is definitely worth it!).


Cacao Beverage Ingredients:
Chili powder
Maguey Sap (Maple Syrup)
Herbs (Lavender, Rosemary, mint)

Works Cited

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

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

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods””. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 24 Jan 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D (2018, Jan). “Introduction.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 24 Jan 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.



Ethnography on Chocolate: Socioeconomic Visual Culture, Mesoamerican Origins, & Contemporary Perspectives

The purpose of this small-scale ethnography is to examine the social significance of chocolate from a cross-cultural perspective. Through interviewing various members of my local community that were born in different regions of Mexico and Central America, I document here their experiences and observances of chocolate.

Experienced through consumption or non-consumption, and observed through their emic perspective, there are underscoring themes exposed amongst the roles in which chocolate has played throughout each of their own lives. Within the context of those personal relationships with chocolate, an interaction between social and economic functions of their state and country may be contemporaneous to their outlook. Although this simultaneity is not always the circumstance, motifs emerge as their uniqueness transpires. Effectually, their contributed insight has actualized a microcosm of chocolates’ socio-cultural diversity and likenesses.

While conducting the interviews with members of my community, the aim was to first listen to their observances, and to then ask questions of clarification to assist in their thought process. The framework of my Q&A was designed this way to acquire a qualitative study, so that this retelling would reflect the individual perspectives of each subject, synchronously providing a glimpse into the societal experience. To depict those experiences through a cultural historical lens, that of which illustrated itself during most of the interviews already, I asked questions about their culture as a whole and how they thought chocolate was generally regarded in their own communities.

This study is not meant to define those relationships, but to highlight multiplicities within these individual cross- cultural accounts. Over reflections of my own and of the human subjects in this ethnographic study, I hope to provide sufficient ­imagery of historic milieu within the functional roles chocolate has played in personal experience and in society.


Theobroma Cacao, or the Food-of-the-God’s Cacao, is widely accepted by botanists and scholars as indigenous to Mesoamerica. Evidence of its cultivation is indicative of the role it played in ancient civilizations like the Mixe-Zoquean-speaking Olmecs (1500 BCE – 400 BCE). At the famed Olmec archaeological site in San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, evidence has been found of the term “Kakawa” used by the Olmec as early as 1000 BCE (Coe & Coe, 1996). See on the map below, San Lorenzo is west of present day Guatemala, and north of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.


San Lorenzo on the map 2
San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán is a famed archaeological site, well known for the massive Olmec stone heads excavated there


We find in the archaeological record, the ways in which early civilizations illustrated cacao, or “Kakawa” on their pottery. This being a significant attribute to understand the role chocolate played in their livelihoods and rituals. According to Maricel Presilla in her book, The New Taste of Chocolate, “it was the Maya who brought chocolate making to a high art… building on the foundation left behind by other Mesoamerican cultures”, like that of the Olmecs and other sibling tribes (2009).


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Buenavista vase, Buenavista del Cayo, Belize


See this Classic Maya vase from the seventh century portraying the Maize God in an “unending dance, symbolizing both the creation of the universe and also his cycle of death and rebirth” (Takushi, Pioneer Press).

Maya Classic period (250 – 900 CE) vessels show quite literally the function of cacao as it was for drinking, as well as the relative role it played in Mayan life though various representations of the divine.

This is one of the many Classic period vessels that was found to contain cacao residues inside. We know it was used to hold chocolate because cacao is the only plant in the region with both the compounds Theobromine and Caffeine, “a unique marker for the presence of cacao in pre-Columbian artifacts” (Cheong, 2011). To verify the vessels were used to hold chocolate was an important piece to the archaeological record. It provided contextual knowledge when deciphering the imagery or glyphs depicted on the vessels.

Affirmed in the glyphs of drinking vessels from this period, there is evidence of “well established cacao-chocolate terminology”. On the Buenavista vase shown above, we see “tree-fresh cacao” inscribed.  From the Primary Standard Sequence (PSS) of the glyphs you see banded around the top of the vessel, the characters that make the Maya name for cacao, “Ka-Ka-Wa” were deciphered. What strikes me the most about this piece is the seemingly relative “tree-fresh cacao” to the Maize God’s cyclical existence. (Presilla, 2009)

Buenavista vase closeup: Maya glyphs depicted translate to “tree-fresh cacao”, “Ta-Tsih-Te’el Kakawa” (Prescilla)

I particularly find this vessel so interesting when we look at the role of chocolate in culture because it reflects a cyclical ideology of their ecological relationship to their land; in the sustenance it provides, the concept of time through death and rebirth, and their Gods all-encompassing role within those cycles.

Field Study

A few years ago in 2013 I came to know a few young men and women from the northern Mexican state of Sonora – (follow the link to read a brief history of Seri Indians of Sonora). They were working and studying here on visa’s while we were employed at a busy restaurant in the heart of downtown Boston. What better place than behind the bar to nose around and pick into people’s lives for cultural insights! Just kidding on the nose-picking… but seriously, even minute conversations with guests created thought-provoking observations. During their multiple terms of residency in Boston over the years, these talented intellectual Sonoran natives and I connected on Mexican – American culture alike, and apart. Upon reaching out to ask if anyone would be interested in participating in this modest ethnographic study, my request was received most graciously. They have all elected to omit fully identifying information, so for the purposes of this study, I will refer to them by their first name only. Below I have included their perspectives on the role chocolate has played throughout their lives.

Andrés began by explaining Mexico as a large country where the culture is full of diversity. “Every state has their own culture about everything – food, traditional parties, our dialect and slang”. With that being said, in the state of Sonora where he lives he doesn’t use chocolate and cacao the way he knows it is used in the southern states of the country like Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas, and Tabasco. Andrés has observed the influence of cacao beans in southern Mexico because the cacao growing region produces a lot of recipes that involve cacao and chocolate.

When I asked what he knows about Mesoamerican uses for cacao, he remembers learning from childhood that they used it as currency, and he understood they sometimes would use it in beauty treatments. On that note, I recollect a fortuitous conversation about skin care had between myself and a female of Mexican ancestry I met while servicing wedding hair and makeup to her cousin’s bridal party, circa summer 2015 in East Boston – Indeed, I am not only an aspiring Anthropologist, also a Cosmetologist. My thoughts are usually occupied by anthropological inquiry on a daily basis, which inevitably grants unique opportunity for cultural discussions with the people I meet. Although not a part of this ethnography, she let me know back then about her family recipe for a skin care regimen that contains cacao. Her grandmother and her aunts would grind down cacao beans into a powder, “cocoa powder” minus the hydraulic press. They would mix the antioxidant rich powder with other grinded down local herbs, add water to create a paste-like texture and apply generously to the skin.

“Lather. Dry. Rinse. Repeat.” – she persisted. Yum.

The Spa At Hotel Hershey seems to know just how to indulge all the senses with chocolate


For the purposes of this study, I was curious about chocolate in spa treatments, as I have heard echoes of the luxury before. Take a look at The Spa At The Hotel Hershey or examples of just a few contemporary accommodations created for chocolate in the beauty industry.

Andrés expressed to me that Sonora being just below Arizona, his culture is more- so “American” than the way Mexicans live in the south. It is in his experience and observation the misconception of Mexican culture as being one. I think any educated person understands culture, language, economy, etc. vary across spaces of human population. Yet, for those who generalize a nation’s people by its borders, Andrés and his community experience the bias. He grew up with a collection of influences “by the things Americans do”. For example, one of his earliest memories of eating chocolate was during Halloween. They’re also heavily influenced by “spring break madness”, as he defined the season. He grew up consuming chocolate predominantly made by the big corporations, like Mars. His notable favorites being the Snicker and M&Ms. “In the south they don’t have that influence, they don’t experience American Halloween as we do”.

Carlos V chocolate bars are the Nestlé- proclaimed “# 1 chocolate brand in Mexico with over 70 years in the market!… Because of its unique and mild flavor, it is considered the reference of chocolate for Mexicans.” The Aztec stylized imagery first designed to brand the chocolate before it was bought by Nestlé sometime in the 1980’s was created by Fabrica de Chocolates La Azteca, S.A. de C.V. Jason Liebig on his blog, Collecting Candy chronicles his findings in the L.M. Kallok Confectioners Collection of antique packaging. Most notable about the evolution of the branding is first the Aztec styling alongside the “Imperial Coat of Arms” for “by the grace of God, Carolus V Imperator (emporer)”. Then with the English labeling introduced we see a change in the ingredients as well (which was apparent of each label seen in Leibig’s compilation from the beginning to the end. “A tie-in with the film Toy Story, which tells us La Azteca was still the brand’s sole owner as late as 1995″ is interesting where we see Quaker Oats leaving its insignia on the label by the late 1990’s.

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Not one of the Sonoran’s I interviewed has tried a Carlos V chocolate bar but they have all heard of it at some point in their life through advertisements. Eduardo attests to Andrés’ personal account of diversity from the southern regions in Mexico. Dia de los Muertos is “not celebrated as much as the south, but we do things like going to the cemetery”, Andrés says. Eduardo told me that they celebrate Dia de los Muertos on November 2. “We celebrate in memory of the people who are no longer with us and usually at the tombstones we put special things they liked when they were alive. Chocolates is usually one of them”. Both Andrés and Eduardo did not have a definitive sense of the historical reason for chocolate being placed on gravesites, but they both know it as a long- standing tradition and ritual in celebrating their deceased ancestors. Fernanda, another Sonoran native, added some insight to this practice of memorial. She told me that usually the graveyards are managed by local churches or publicly owned so in contrast to the majority of graveyards that are privately owned in the US, the families play a greater role in gravesite maintenance of their deceased. In this way, chocolate serves a social function in their celebrations.


Shown below, Dr. Martin presented in class this semester some of the ways Maya and Mixtec society visually depicted the functions that cacao played within their cultural practices and belief systems. Royal marriages necessitated the use of currency in the negotiation, so we see in the Codex Nuttall how cacao was a part of the price for the bride. Eduardo remembers learning in school that Mayans used to used the cacao “as a coin to buy everything, from goods to wives”. A relative topic for further study would be in the ways chocolate was introduced to the elite. Diffused out of Mesoamerica first by the Spanish, the Europeans assimilated to its royal regard and used chocolate in the women’s dowry through royal inter-marriages – that of which played a great role in spreading chocolate throughout Europe.

Another example (seen below) comes from the Madrid Codex where we see cacao being exchanged, portraying a give-and-take linkage between their concepts of cyclical time (lunar goddess) and their environment (rain god). I find this imagery especially expressive to their belief of the divine relationship to their human existence and sustenance on earth. Lastly, from the Codex Nuttall we see a royal funerary procession in “Twelve Movements”. Within the tomb depicted at the bottom right of the artwork lies a “vessel of foaming cacao beverage… to ease the soul’s journey to the underworld”. (Martin)

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Eduardo recounts drinking cups of hot chocolate since he can remember. While traveling south to Puebla state he tried their “typical meal, mole, and it’s made of cacao”. What he knows about the Maya and cacao is how they used to prepare beverages and meals like the Puebla “mole”. “We have different tribes and culture but we learned about it in school and I experiences it myself while traveling south. Cacao is still a huge deal in south Mexico.”


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“Mole” Ingredients. Presilla, 2009


See the dozen or more ingredients to make the traditional “thick, baroque sauce, mole” from Xalapa, Veracruz (Presilla), north of Puebla state in Mexico. Presilla notes that each ingredient is “processed in sequence, each at its own time” (2009).

As the mole is diverse in ingredients, and rich in unique Mesoamerican culture, so too – as these contemporary perspectives have illustrated, are the people of the region diversely interwoven with it’s history and unique place on Earth’s sphere.




Campbell, Lyle & Kaufman, Terrence. 1976. A Linguistic Look at the Olmecs: American Antiquity, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 80-89 Published by: Society for American Archaeology

Cheong, Kong (Powis, T.; Cyphers, A.; Gaikwad, T.W.; Grivetti, L.) 2011. Cacao use and the San Lorenzo Olmec: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 108(21):8595-600 · May 2011

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

Johnston, Bernice. 1997. The Seri Indians of Sonora Mexico. The University of Arizona Press

Liebig, Jason. 2012. Carlos V – Building a history for the King of Chocolate Bars

Martin, Carla. 2017 AAAS E-119 Lecture Slides. February 1st, pp.23, 47, 53, 57

Mintz, Sidney. 1986 [1985] Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books

Morton, Marcia and Frederic. 1986 Chocolate, An Illustrated History Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, NY

Nestlé. 2017.

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology: Harvard University. 2017.

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

Smithsonian Institute. 2017. Olmec Stone Heads photo:

Takushi, Scott (Pioneer Press). 2013, December 17. Museum of Belize and House of Culture: NEWSEUM Blog Spot: Belize’s Maya Collection on Display

Unknown photographer; featured image. 2016, October – November. Nexos.

Unknown photographer; chocolate as beauty regimen image. 2017. The Spa At The Hotel Hershey.


Tackling Terroir in Chocolate

For this blogpost, I was curious to explore the idea of terroir as it pertains to chocolate. “Terroir” is, literally, the French word for soil or land and can be defined as “the conditions in which a food is grown or produced and that give the food its unique characteristics.” [i]  According to Kristy Leissle, “cocoa beans, like wine grapes, produce distinct flavors depending on strain and terroir, and showcasing that flavor is the goal of single origin chocolate.” [ii]

Of course, as discussed throughout our chocolate class (Karla Martin, personal communication) the final taste of chocolate is determined by many factors. The taste can be influenced by the type of cacao and where it is grown but can also be influenced by the type of cacao tree, how the cacao beans are fermented and dried and how it is processed. How is it roasted? Is it conched and for how long? Are other ingredients added?  A description of the kinds of factors that influence chocolate flavor can be found here: [iii]  But despite those questions, I was curious to explore what differences we would taste in chocolate bars whose beans were sourced from different countries.

So I took myself off to Whole Foods in Dedham – one of the largest Whole Foods I have ever visited. There I faced an enormous and bewildering display of chocolate: 3 full banks of shelves – ½ of an entire aisle – entirely devoted to chocolate, none of it mass market. I employed the following criteria to restrict my choices:

  • Must be at least 70% chocolate
  • No added ingredients other than sweetener, vanilla, emulsifier
  • Package must state the cacao is sourced from a certain geographic area.

I ended up with 7 bars of chocolate to taste, from 6 different areas: Ghana, Dominican Republic Madegascar, Tanzania, Haiti, and Ecuador. Only one was made in the country of origin. The others were produced in Germany, Massachusetts, Belgium, and Switzerland.

What I found at Whole Foods bears out Leissle’s statement that even though the majority of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, most single single origin chocolate bars are sourced from other regions. She suggests that this is likely because the quality of West African chocolate is often not high. The one bar I found from West Africa was from Ghana. Ghanaian chocolate, which is regulated by a national Cocoa Board is considered the best of the West African chocolate. (Leissle). Tight regulation may be the reason that it is higher quality, but it can also make it difficult for manufacturers to source enough chocolate from Ghana to create single-origin bars. Another issue with West African chocolate is that it is often tainted in the public mind by allegations of child and slave labor, which could affect sales.

Interestingly, all of these chocolates bore a special certification of one kind or another, indicating that the buyer was not just buying chocolate to eat, but also contributing to social good with the purchase. Certifications included Fair trade, Fair for life, direct trade, whole trade.  As Ndongo S. Sylla suggests in his critique of Fair Trade, it is as if “poverty itself has become a commodity. Through this label, it is the idea and the approach that are being sold…The irony is that the new advocates of the poor unknowingly work for the rich, being themselves part of this category.” [iv] The packaging suggests that with your purchase you have become a “compassionate consumer” as Martin and Sampeck [v] label it, and so you can feel good about yourself because you are meeting the needs of others when you spend your money, often justifying a higher price. Of course, one doesn’t know how much of that premium actually reaches the farmer. It’s almost a side benefit to one’s good work in buying the chocolate, that it may also be delicious.

All but two of the bars were organic, and this also seems to play into the idea of doing good with your dollars. The packaging materials themselves are organic-looking/earthy-crunchy with non-shiny paper and arty graphics. Julie Guthman, in her history of the development of organic salad mix (“yuppie chow”), says “eating organic salad mix connoted a political action in its own right, legitimizing a practice that few could afford.”[vi] This notion of eating as a political action could also be applied to organic chocolate. However, as Williams and Eber point out in Raising the Bar [vii], organic chocolate isn’t necessarily the best chocolate. Furthermore, organic certification is an expensive proposition for a small cocoa farmer because the land must come out of production for 3 years and getting a certificate costs money. The premium that organic chocolate can demand tends not to come to the farmer. Furthermore, much cocoa actually is in essence organic, though not certified as such, because many farmers cannot afford pesticides. So how much good are you really doing by buying organic chocolate?

For this project, I convened an after-dinner tasting panel of 3 foodies: myself (a prolific cook-gardener), my friend Emily (an artist/social worker who generally prefers milk chocolate to dark chocolate), and my husband John (a field engineer by day and musician/poet in the off hours). We discussed a common convention of tasting, guided by Barb Stuckey’s article on How the Pros Taste. [viii] She suggests the importance of using other senses in tasting, such as sight, smell, taste, and texture or mouth feel. We placed each sample on a white plate to judge the the color, slowly sniffed it to sense the aroma, snapped it with our teeth to judge crispness, and then placed it on our tongue to savor slowly and see what flavors emerged. We sampled in order of lightest (70%) to darkest (85%). After sampling each, we took a look at the package to see what information we could glean. Our method of palate cleansing after each taste was perhaps unorthodox, but delicious: water, plain crackers, and red wine that had been aged in bourbon barrels.

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Divine 70% “Intensely Rich” chocolate. Ghana     IMG_7855

Color: very dark brown. Aroma: rich and lovely. Snap: Nice, crisp.

Savoring notes: we found it sweet but not overly so. Delicious. You could taste the vanilla. It melted slowly with a lingering flavor and was very smooth. John, our poet, said he could taste the savannah. The finish was very earthy. However, at the end it felt a bit chalky and dry, as if it sucked the moisture out of one’s mouth. We decided to call this kind of finish “sere.”  “Sere” is defined as dry or arid. [ix]

Judgment: We all liked this chocolate very much at first taste, though we weren’t fond of the sere finish.

Ingredient %: 70% cacao. 19g fat, 11 g sugar.   Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, vanilla.

Certifications: Non gmo project, halal, fairtrade.

Price: $3.00 for 3.5 oz. (It was on sale; normally $3.99).

Website here

Other Notes:  Divine is made with cocoa beans from a co-op of small-holder farmers in Ghana and is produced in Germany. The package is decorated with Adinkra symbols which are traditional West African motifs. The inside of the package congratulates the buyer for supporting cocoa farmers and displays the photograph of an individual cocoa farmer and tells her story.  It also displays the AYA symbol, representing Endurance and Peaceful Coexistence. It feels like you are invited into the community of cocoa farmers by purchasing this chocolate.

Taza Chocolates 70% stone ground chocolate. “perfectly unrefined” Dominican Republic


Color: less dark and rich looking than the Divine. Aroma: less intense than Divine, but nice. Less crisp than Divine.

Savoring notes: Tasted sweeter than Divine and the initial taste was less intense at the start. Not buttery and smooth but textural, (unsurprising since it is stone ground and unconched.) Very pleasant to savor, though the texture was distracting. Overall a simpler taste than the Divine. The finish was also less dry (sere) at the end.

Judgment: We all thought this chocolate was o.k., but not a favorite, mostly because of the grittiness and lack of complexity.

Ingredient %: 70% cacao. 14 g. fat, 11 g. sugar.  Ingredients: organic cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, organic vanilla beans.

Certifications: USDA Organic, non GMO project, Gluten Free, Vegan, Direct Trade

Price: $4.75, 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: Packaging is simple non glossy paper, quite attractive. It makes a big point of being unrefined and minimally processed with bold flavor and texture. It is made in Somerville, MA

Madecasse, Madagascar.  70% heirloom Madagascar cocoa, “bright with a fruity finish.”


Color: not as dark as the first two. Aroma: strong, rich and deep. You could almost taste the chocolate as you smelled it. A reasonable snap.

Savoring notes: A bit granular. Not as smooth as the divine. Lingering, complex flavor. Our poet musician called it “beautiful birds” and then described the taste as “symphonic” and “well-orchestrated.” The finish had a little vanilla, it was luscious all the way through, and there was no chalky dryness or “sere” quality at the end.

Judgment: Our favorite so far.

Ingredient %: Fat 16 g, Sugar 10 g.   Ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, natural vanilla.

Certifications: Fair Trade, Fair for life.

Price: $4.50 for 2.64 oz.

Website here

Other notes:  The packaging is lovely. Simple yet colorful with a drawing of an opened cocoa pod (revealing the white flesh and the cocoa beans), nestled with leaves, cocoa beans and pieces of chocolate bar. On the back, a map of Africa/Madagascar and the story of the chocolate. Madecasse was started by peace corps volunteers in Madagascar who decided to make chocolate “as a vehicle for social impact.” This bar is not only sourced from Madegascar, it is made there. More than some of the other packaging, this bar seemed to stress the deliciousness of the chocolate, as much as their mission.

Whole Foods 72% “Tanzania Schoolhouse Project Cacao.”


Color: quite dark, as dark as the divine chocolate. Aroma: rich. Bite: soft.

Savoring notes:  Smooth and delicious. No “sere” finish at the end. We couldn’t say exactly what we were tasting…just that it was delicious.

Judgment: The favorite of Emily, the person who typically doesn’t like dark chocolate. John and I still preferred Madecasse, though we did enjoy this bar.

Ingredient %: 17 g fat and 10 g of sugar.  Ingredients: Organic chocolate liquor, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter. No lecithin and no vanilla.

Certifications: vegetarian, USDA organic, Kosher, Whole trade

Price: $6.00 for 3.5 oz.

No website.

Other notes:  Somehow we didn’t expect this to taste good – perhaps because it seemed to be more about supporting Tanzanian schoolhouses and doing “good works” and less about the chocolate. And perhaps because it was made by the big business of Whole Foods. The packaging wasn’t as appealingly earthy/arty as the others. It was glossier, with photographs of Tanzanian people and cocoa trees rather than compelling graphics. This bar is made in Belgium. We were also surprised to find that we didn’t miss the vanilla in this bar. Interestingly, the Tanzania schoolhouse Project website link which describes their charitable projects makes no mention of this chocolate. The packaging also doesn’t indicate what amount of proceeds are donated to the project. My cynical side thinks Whole Foods may be using the Tanzanian project as a marketing tool, since there is so little transparency about what they are really doing in Tanzania.

Apotheker’s “classic dark”, bee-sweetened 76% chocolate, Dominican Republic.


Color: This chocolate was the darkest so far. Aroma: wonderful – very rich. Bite: very soft.

Savoring notes: The honey taste was predominant at first and the chocolate tasted very different from the other ones. Although the texture was not smooth, it was enjoyable, more so than the grittiness of the Taza. The taste felt slow to open up, perhaps because it was less sweet, but when it did open was nice. The honey taste lingered throughout and the finish had no “sere” at all. This was definitely a different kind of chocolate and we found it enjoyable.

Ingredient %: 18 g fat, 6g of sugar.  Ingredients: Organic Cacao liquor, organic cacao butter, organic raw honey, sunflower lecithin, organic vanilla beans.

Certifications and claims: direct trade, family owned, gluten, dairy and soy free, single origin, biodynamic, hand-crafted.

Price: $6.50 for 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: The package graphics and the name hint at being like something from an apothecary or a general store, like it might be good for you. It has an old-fashioned, early 20 century look that might draw you in on the basis of sentimentality. It also proclaims in large letters that it is organic raw honey sweetened – so it can draw in people who are drawn to health foods. This bar is made in Dorchester, MA by a husband/wife team who also make soaps, hot cocoa, and bee-sweetened mallows. This was our second bar made with Dominican cocoa and quite different from the first.

Taza “perfectly unrefined” 84% Dark chocolate, sourced from Haiti.

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Color: quite dark. Aroma: very earthy and perhaps a little sharp. Bite: hard but not crisp

Savoring notes: Like the other Taza bar, this was granular, but the texture was almost sandy. It had a very earthy taste, very simple, almost primitive. Emily commented that it was more like a food than a dessert. It finished with a fruity taste.

Judgment: We loved the flavor that opened when we savored a piece of this bar, but we were put off by the grittiness.

Ingredient %: 13 g fat, 6 g sugar.  Ingredients: cacao beans and cane sugar

Certifications and claims: organic direct trade, non gmo, gluten free, dairy soy and vegan free

Price: $7.50 for 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: the packaging of this bar is similar to that of the Taza Dominican bar. It is also made in Somerville. The package makes note that Taza is the first U.S. chocolate maker to source certified USDA organic cacao from Haiti.

Alter Eco, “dark blackout” 85% dark chocolate, from Peru.


Color: quite dark. Aroma: strong and vegetal, reminiscent of tobacco. Snap: crisp.

Savoring notes: The flavor was very slow to open – perhaps because it had less sugar. The taste was a little acidic. The texture was smooth, waxy at the start. It had a chalky, “sere” finish.

Judgment: Meh. We didn’t care for this chocolate very much.

Ingredient %: 22 g fat, 6 g sugar.  Ingredients: cacao beans, cocoa butter, raw sugar, vanilla beans

Certifications: USDA Organic, Fair trade, gluten free, non gmo.

Price: $3.99 for 2.82 oz.

Website here

Other notes: packaging is the least glossy of all – very recycled looking. There is a lot of comment on the inside of the packaging about their mission: sustainability, replacing coca crops with cacao crops and the importance of cocoa cooperatives and a Carbon Zero reforestation project, along with photographs of people who are presumably cacao farmers. Clearly the intent is to let you know that by buying this chocolate you are doing good. Too bad we didn’t like the taste of it.

Last thoughts on this experience

We were all surprised by how interesting – and enjoyable – it was to use so many senses in experiencing each chocolate bar. Taking the time to savor revealed so many nuances. Emily, who prefers milk chocolate, actually enjoyed most of the bars when she took the time to smell and consider each sample and slowly let it melt in her mouth. We found ourselves with questions about the reasons for the differences in taste: what was due to how the chocolate was processed, how much was terroir, how much was the power of suggestion in packaging, how much was due to the percentage – or type – of ingredients.

There are many avenues for further investigation. For instance, we could compare a number of different chocolates sourced from one region (if we could find them). We could compare chocolates produced with different methods – for instance a variety of unconched chocolates. We could investigate the claims different companies make about bettering the lives of farmers or the environment or contributing to other good causes. How much do they actually do and contribute and how much of the lingo is an attempt to reel in the compassionate consumer by convincing them they are doing good with their consumer dollars? I look forward to  exploring these ideas in future tastings with friends.

Sources Consulted:


[ii] Leissle, Kristy, “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 2013. 13:3, pp, 22-31.

[iii] Chocolate Review,, accessed May 9, 2017.

[iv] Sylla, Ndongo S., The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. 2014. Athens, Ohio University Press.

[v] Martin, Carla D. and Kathryn E. Sampek, The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. Doi: 10.18030/SOCIO.HU.2015EN.37.

[vi] Guthman, Julie, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow” in Counihan, Carole and Penny van Esterik, ed., Food and Culture. 2013. New York: Routledge.

[vii] Williams, Pan and Jim Eber, Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. 2012. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation.

[viii] Stuckey, Barb, “How the Pros Taste,” in Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. 2012. New York: Free Press.

[ix] Mirriam Webster,, Accessed May 9, 2017.


From Gene to Bean to Bar: A Tour from USDA Research to Castronovo Chocolate


Photo of Display at Castronovo Chocolate literally from beans to bars.

I spent a day and a half visiting both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Miami and Castronovo Chocolate, a 700 square foot chocolate factory, 2 hours north of Miami located in Stuart Florida. This posting tells the story of the morning with Mike Winterstein, an agricultural research technician at the USDA and of the afternoon and following morning, spent with Denise Castronovo, an artisan chocolate maker and the owner of Castronovo Chocolate.

It is my opinion that both the USDA and Castronovo are part of solution to problems we have studied in the cacao-chocolate supply chain.

First Stop: USDA Agricultural Research Subtropical Station


Photo: Mike Winterstein is the Agricultural Research Technician at the USDA Agricultural Sub Tropical Research Service,  He is from Long Island New York, moved to Florida in 1974, as a farmer, and joined the USDA in 1994.

As a grower, Mike maintains plants, going out into the fields and taking care of them from planting to germinating etc.  Indoors, he also formats and stores data, maintaining data on the USDA websites.  Mike works with other researchers verifying collections.  The USDA genome research is publically available.  You can order a species, 13,000 are available, from the USDA for the cost of shipping and the phytosanitary certificate verifying the plant is free of all pathogens ($50 ) The big five crops for the USDA are wheat, rice, soybean, corn and cotton.  However at the station in Miami the primary crops being studied are avocado, mango and cacao, and interestingly also sugar cane.  To paraphrase, Mike, “Even though cacao is not really grown in the US, yes, some is in Puerto Rico (Mayaguez has the main cacao collection) and Hawaii, the research and the storing of the genome and plants are important because lots and lots of jobs in the US are tied into chocolate from the manufacture, to the infrastructure, to the advertising/marketing to the consumption.”

The research at the USDA is funded primarily by the US Government.  CRIS the Current Resource Information System Is the “documentation and reporting system for ongoing agricultural, food and nutrition, and forestry research.”

The research is funded through farm bills, approved by Congress and thus is really funded by the US taxpayer.  The USDA is a government agency, funding for research changes (due to changing taste and politics), research is at the mercy of the government.  In the new farm bill you can look up the research being done on specialty crops. Here is the link for 2017 and a link for programs possible being dropped in 2018  and another link  from the Council of State Governments for 2018 as proposed by President Trump:

The History

The USDA in Miami started with “The Boys”. (See photo) Walter Tennyson Swingle, (1871-1952)  who graduated from Kansas State at age 16 and had an obsession with chasing citrus (there was no citrus industry yet in Florida, but there was a potential for the crop. Swingle taught himself Mandarin Chinese and German and went looking for crops that could be successful in the US.  He persuaded Henry Flagler, the man who brought his railroad to South Florida, thus opening Florida for development, to give the USDA an acre of land along Biscayne Bay for a lab to study plant disease.  Swingle also persuaded Mary Brickell to give 6 acres to use as a plant introduction site.  The donation was not accepted, but a lease was negotiated.  Plant Explorer, David Fairchild, the same David Fairchild who brought the cherry trees to Washington, D.C.’s tidal basin, is another major player in the history. He sought a piece of land for its climate, not just for the land.

Where the USDA sits today is not shielded by barrier islands.  It receives the warm gulf stream, and because there are no barrier islands, the Atlantic Ocean retains the warmth of the gulf stream, creating a climate fit for cacao.  The land, it is believed,  has always been frost free (important for all subtropical fruits and vegetation).

Viktor Emmanuel Chapman was the first aviator to be killed in France in WWI on November 15, 1918. He trained on this same sight, what is now known as Chapman field with America’s first “Fly Boys” who flew, before the US entered WWI, for the French Foreign Legion in the American Escadrille.  The history of the USDA station at Chapman field in Miami and the breadth of agricultural research currently being done at the USDA subtropical agricultural research center is fascinating and complex.

For more detail of the history see:

1 The Boys

The USDA Mission in Miami is to:

1. Introduce a broad genetic base for tropical and subtropical horticultural crops believed to have economic potential in warm humid regions of the United States or its territories.

2. Evaluate the introduced populations for their genetic structure, horticultural variation, and botanical characteristics.
3. Preserve a diverse sub-set representing a broad genetic base for each crop.
4. Distribute the material to research scientist, botanical gardens, nurserymen and parks as is appropriate.

The National Germplasm Repository (NGR) is one of eighteen such repositories in the NPGS. The NGR-Miami shares responsibility with Mayaguez – Puerto Rico, for maintaining the U.S. clonal collections of mango, avocado, banana and plantain, tropical citrus, annonas, sugarcane and related grasses, palms, Tripsacum, and a few other relatively minor tropical crops.

Germplasm Holdings: 

The NGR-Miami maintains approximately 6000 accessions. Most the holdings (3500) are in the major fruit and grass collections. The remaining 2500 accessions are ornamental, chemurgic, and spice introductions from tropical and subtropical areas of the world. These plants are a unique collection and requests for material come from many scientific disciplines. Small quantities of germplasm are distributed to bona fide scientists for research purposes.” Not true anymore:  the germ plasm is available to landscapers, botanists, landscape architects, nurseries, as well as bona fide researchers.

Cacao is held at the NGR Miami and has been important both to deal with diseases:  witches broom, frost pod, bitofera, pests, parasites, fungus, etc.  benefitting cacao producers worldwide, but also because “significant quantities of milk, sugar, peanuts, almonds, and other materials produced in the U.S. go into the making of chocolate products. The station is one of two quarantine facilities for cacao in the western hemisphere that serve to keep diseases from moving into the area”.  The station also does research for Mars with Mars scientists.  They have sensors monitoring trees for nitrogen, sunlight, humidity etc. monitoring conditions to be able to help cacao farmers in Indonesia.  The cacao is grown in an area that was built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp -think the Depression and the New Deal) cement walls that look like Mayan ruins absorb the heat keeping the area warmer.


Mike will hand pollinate a cacao tree, by collecting pollen at the beginning of the day., The next morning he takes the anther’s off, so the tree can not self pollinate, and he brings the pollen, using a Q-tip or tiny paint brush from another tree.  He said  that when he brings the pollen he sees a little spurt.  Wire mesh to keep rats and mice away are around the trees.

Kathleen Martinez, a researcher at the USDA doing Mars research, took me inside the lab.  I was not allowed to photograph inside.  I was shown how leaf material is organized for genome sequencing.  Kathleen explained pipeters, fill tips, DNA samples, working in small quantities, then working on a plate, sequencing 96 samples on 32 plates , PCR amplifying samples, like 96 little needles into a capillary system, with florescent probes, Single nucleotyde polymorphism genotyping, looking for one single change in the genotyping, 96 samples and 96 markers ,fluidigm EPT.  She talked about raw data, XX meaning homozygous, XY meaning heterozygous, allele.  Basically, taking a physical trait linking that trait to a genotype associating it to a phenotype to predict the physotype.  I was shown how the researchers use the centrifuge to remove the cell wall to get clear DNA, some scientists use the plate method and do 40 samples in a day.  Extractions are done all day long.  I was shown the lypholizer, how the water is removed from the fresh leaf keeping the leaf material for long term storage minus 80 degrees C.  Leaves being worked with regularly are stored at minus 20 degrees C.  The autoclave sterilizes all equipment with heat.  Everything is reused.  Tips are cleaned in bleach.  UV cross linker sterilization washed with ethanol then the UV cross linker sterilizer microwave.

Cacao bred to be resistant to disease that tastes well, horrid, CCN51, is now being bred again,  for flavor. I do not know how much research is being done on flavor at this site.

 “The next time you drive by Chapman Field or enjoy a fine bar of chocolate, ponder the centuries of work that have gone into the making. Agriculture is always a struggle and it never ends.  The climate will change, diseases ravage, breeding lines narrow and humans crave something new.  Behind that fence along Old Cutler [road] is a battleground on which the survival of one of mankind’s most iconic crops depends”

Richard Campbell in Edible South Florida Magasine, Winter 2017, Number 1, Volume

Plant_Science_HD2Photo from USDA website

From Gene to Bean to Bar: Visiting Castronova Chocolate



The timing of my 2nd visit to Castronovo Chocolate was serendipitous:  I got to see the cacao beans arrive. The driver who delivers them brings them inside and is thanked by Denise with one of her chocolate frozen drinks.

Denise Castronovo is a fine chocolate maker.  Originally from Massachusetts, she went to Lehigh University for her Bachelors and Masters in Environmental Science and Economics, then for 2 years she did her PH.d coursework in Ecology in the Botany Department at the University of Georgia. During her undergraduate years she had visited Costa Rica to study the rainforest. In Florida, she started her own mapping technology consulting business.   She has always been interested in sustainable development and conservation.  At the time she was in Costa Rica, eco-tourism was beginning to grow.  Her studies in Economics linked conservation and the environment.  She was interested in monitoring reforestation using aerial satellite imagery.

In her home life, Denise wanted healthy eating for herself and  for her family, (husband and two young children).  She became interested in superfoods, foods high in anti- oxidants, acai, goji berries.  When she went to Whole Foods and bought cocoa nibs she  became amazed by the flavor notes and chocolate and decided to learn all about chocolate.   All her life was excellent preparation for the opening 5 years ago of her chocolate factory and store.

What Denise is successfully creating and growing parallels the societal changes reflected in the American Artisan and Craft Chocolate time line by Carla Martin, Ph.d Chocolate, The Politics of Culture and Food, Harvard Extension. And just as in France, in American society  today it appears that the food movement is valuing artisan craft makers, (perhaps the consumers are of a certain economic level)  turning to slow, small batch chocolate, that we too are part of a changing culture of chocolate consumption. (See Carla D. Martin-Kathryn E. Sampeck)

Denise’s mission is to raise awareness of chocolate by offering unique varietals of chocolate and flavors, heirloom varieties that are endangered,  to create a market that will preserve the diversity of cacao.  see    On her website she has written: “Reclaiming the craft of bean to bar chocolate making. At a glance, all chocolate-making looks the same: beans are cultivated and fermented, roasted and ground, sweetened and sold. Large-scale chocolate manufacturers have optimized this process for mass production. The unfortunate result: flat, uninspired, expressionless chocolate – the taste has been engineered out of the bar!
We salute the few, craft chocolate makers that are taking time and care with each part of the chocolate making process, releasing the full potential of the bean; those who are supporting careful farming and fermentation, the ones who ensure farmers are paid a fair wage through an ethical and sustainable supply chain, and those who skillfully grind, roast, and sweeten without diluting the bean’s essence.

We at Castronovo Chocolate are in relentless pursuit of discovering the absolute depths of the chocolate experience knowing full well we may never get there. But along the way, we can all enjoy a bar of the most flavorful chocolate you can find.

Denise receives positive feedback from her customers.  She loves to watch them try a truffle at the store, because most have never had anything quite like the ones she makes. One customer has told her that her truffles are better than any he ever had in Brussels.


She is succeeding as shown by the numerous  international awards she has already won. As she said modestly “I am winning awards with Bonnat, how incredible!”

International Award-winning Chocolate

Sierra Nevada Dark Milk 63%


Dominican Republic Dark Milk 50%


Academy of Chocolate Silver Winner Castronovo Sierra Nevada 72%


Academy of Chocolate Gold Winner Castronovo Chocolate Maya Mountain Belize 72%


Academy of Chocolate Silver Winner Castronovo Chocolate Lemon White with Lemon Salt


Academy of Chcocolate Bronze Winner Castronovo Chocolate Amazonas 72%


 The Process



photo of Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier Chocolate Map with Descriptions copyright 2012-2015

For a complete description of the chocolate making process see  Both are much like Denise’s process.

Denise with her two employees, wearing gloves, sorts the beans, the beans go on trays.   She roasts them in a convection oven (not in a coffee roaster). A roast of 15 trays is approx. 5 1/2 pounds.  She has a loss (shrinkage) of about 30%. Next she winnows the beans which crack and separate the nibs and shell.  The vacuum suction takes the lighter weight nibs to the bottom.  Again she handsets, making sure there is no shell.  Shell is dirty, having bacteria.  The beans roast at 250 to 270 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.  killing the bacteria.  She does her grinding and mixing in a melanger.  For milk chocolate sugar is added and milk powder.  Her melanger has 2 big granite wheels and a granite bottom.  She does about 90 pounds of chocolate in 3 -4 days.  10,00 in a year.  Refining, Conching and TemperingIMG_0200

Tempering – creating stable crystals.  Denise uses the seeding method.


an example of a badly tempered bar.

Denise mentioned how clean the beans are from Honduras.  Obviously leaves, twigs, rocks especially are not good for the juicer.  One can hear the rock in the juicer and must pull it out!

Everything in the shop smells so good, the aroma hits you as soon as you enter the door. All the volatile compounds come out mellowing the chocolate.   Denise has a chocolate library, pours the chocolate into hotel pans, pours it into blocks and then uses air conditioned cooling.


Sample Packaging.

Castronovo chocolates may do more flavored bars in the future, she does 2 right now with coffee.  But the focus will remain on single origin bars.


Some of her beans are sourced from the wild.  Her beans from the Sierra Nevada and Honduras are wild.  Beans in her Patenemo, Venezuelan bar are not quite as wild, as they are grown by subsistence farmers.  She sees herself as a small fish in a big pond, but by joining with other craft makers there will be an impact. source:

If you take the time to look at each Castronovo chocolate bar, read the label: you will see the % of cacao, the type, where it is sourced, a story about the cacao and its origin and flavor notes, and a batch number.

The flavors of chocolate begin with the farming, with the soil, the climate, the elevation, the tree, perhaps the spacing, and then with the process: the harvesting, the fermenting the addition of sugar (or not) or milk (or not) and all the steps leading to the bar . Certain beans, the varietal of chocolate will grow better in one place than another. The difference between a single origin chocolate maker and large companies, is the same as the difference between agriculture and viticulture for wine.  Agriculture seeks standardization, uniformity, high yield and consistency on as large a scale as possible.  With single bar origin done well, the taste brings a sense of connection to the place from which the bean came.  It is “perhaps the most elusive of these concepts and the most difficult to ascertain.  It is the sense you get from …aroma and flavor that could not have come from just anywhere but rather the embodiment of a single piece of earth.  Connectedness makes a thing different and therefore worthy of appreciation. ”


Both Mike and Denise are incredibly knowledgeable, enthusiastic, passionate and generous.  Thank you both for the time you spent with me, guiding me through your factory and your fields and for the information and  the chocolate Denise fed me!  I am enormously grateful.  Thank you Kathleen Martinez for showing me the lab and for making the chocolate genetics research more understandable.

Disclosure:  Next blog post, I would like to make a comparison between wine and chocolate as my husband is a 30 year wine industry consultant, specializing in artesan vintners.  participating in this course through learning about chocolate, and now enthralled with the history, politics, culture, and taste of chocolate (and other foods) has heightened for me the parallels between wine and chocolate.


Campbell, R.  Edible South Florida Magasine, Winter 2017, Number 1, Volume 8.

Castronovo, D. , Castronovo Chocolate Factory, Stuart, Florida, conversations and texts May 2017. and website:

Kiel, K. & Ornelas, K.,200, “North America from 1492 to the Present- Recent Developments in Foodways” The Cambridge World History of Food, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, p. 1320.

Leissle, K, Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Fall 2013), pp. 22-31 Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: .

Martin, Carla D. and  Sampek, Kathryn E , The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. DOI: 10.18030/SOCIO.HU.2015EN.37.

MacNeil, K. , The Wine Bible,  2001, Workman Publishing, New York.

Martinez, K., Subtropical Research Geneticist, USDA ARS, Miami,  Florida, lab research tour, May 2017

Sethi, S. 2017, “Origin Made Chocolate: The Bars to Beat”, Wall Street Journal, web Feb 9, 2017.

Williams, P. & Eber, J., 2012,”To Market to Market: Craftsmanship,Customer Education, and Flavor Raising the Bar The Future of Fine Chocolate, pp 143- 209, Vancouver, BC Wilmor Publishing.

Winterstein, M. USDA ARS, Miami,  Florida, conversations and emails, May 2017


Council of State Governments,

Expert Enough Blog

Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund

Jean Marie Auboine Handcrafted Chocolate Map

UM Walter Swingle information

USDA Agricultural Research website


USDA Station History:



Interview with EH Chocolatier

It was early February and Catharine Sweeney and Elaine Hsieh, co-owners of EH Chocolatier, were busy working on their Valentine’s Day orders. Sheet trays and whisks clanked against the steel countertops at a steady rhythm. February is one of the busiest time of the year for a chocolatier. Catharine and Elaine anticipated forty to fifty orders for Valentine’s Day; a modest amount for their three-year-old business, but enough to keep EH Chocolatier very busy. Catharine and Elaine make all of their chocolates by hand, as well as overseeing the packaging and shipping. As Valentine’s Day approached, they were hit with a New England curveball: winter storm Nemo, which would become the fifth largest snowfall in Boston history, was forecast to hit the weekend before Valentine’s Day. All around Boston the news warned of shutting down roads, airports, and subways. Authorities urged residents to prepare for a heavy downfall and warned of potential power outages. Nemo could wreck their biggest sale day and reputation.

However, EH Chocolatier had no idea of the real storm coming. On Tuesday, February 12th, Elaine was surprised to see EH Chocolatier featured in The New York Times  day’s “Best in the Box” article. Their salted caramels had been recognized as a top ten best chocolate caramel just in time for Valentine’s Day. Catharine and Elaine said that they did not get their hopes up initially, since  EH Chocolatier had previous exposure in major publications like Food and Wine. But at 9:05 AM Elaine’s email sounded off like an alarm, “bing, bing, bing, bing, bing”–the sound of hundreds of online chocolate orders pouring into her inbox. “It was kind of like an Oprah moment,” Elaine says recalling the experience. “We literally got five hundred orders in thirty-six hours.”

Most entrepreneurs could only dream of the success EH Chocolatier experienced with their first New York Times feature. However, waking up in the morning with five hundred orders of handmade chocolates is a daunting task. The article said chocolates could be ordered by Valentine’s Day–giving the team at EH Chocolatier merely four days to accomplish ten times their expected workload.  And then there was Nemo. “Oh my God, I don’t think we can handle this,” recalls Elaine of the experience. “But we did it.” With the help of friends and family, EH Chocolatier was able to successfully mail their chocolate orders in time for Valentine’s Day. Since The New York Times feature, Elaine and Catharine say that business has picked up at a steady pace.

Despite the publicity, the economic odds were against two mothers starting a business at the tail-end of a recession. “Micro-Chocolatiers” face tough competition from large manufacturers like Godiva or Lindt, who have extensive shipping networks and long shelf-life products. While EH Chocolatier still has room to grow as a business, there are benefits to staying small. “I think where we stand out is that its fresh,” Catharine says in our interview. “We make very small batches. . . . [T]he flavors [in chocolate] dissipate over time and will dry out a little bit. When you eat them and they’ve been made that week, theres no comparison to eating something that you’ve purchased from a large chocolate manufacturer who has [a shelf life of] maybe six months.”

Not only are EH Chocolatier’s confections fresh, but they offer creative flavor combinations. Inspiration for new chocolate flavors is not limited by the world of dessert. “A lot of it comes from our joy of savory eating,” Catharine says. “I have a friend that’s Thai and she cooks for me all the time. . . . [Y]ou start thinking; I wonder if I can pair these flavors with chocolate? [T]hats where our lemongrass Thai chili bonbon came from.” Beyond chocolate, EH Chocolatier also offers a passion fruit caramel  made with passion fruit puree combined with white chocolate.

The heart of EH Chocolatier that keeps the core of the business strong is the bond between Catharine and Elaine. “We knew of and heard of all those horror stories of friends starting businesses together,” says Elaine in the interview. “Catharine and I realized that it wouldn’t really be worth doing business together if we wouldn’t be friends afterwards.” “Because our strengths are very different it really is a match made in heaven,” Catharine says looking to Elaine as they share the kind of unrestrained belly-laugh that can only be had between close friends.

“We’re very ying yang,” says Elaine, who is dressed in a white linen shirt and brushed silver jewelry, with her straight black hair neatly parted down the side. Catharine sits by her side wearing a cherry red sweater with matching red rectangular glasses and red dangle bead earrings. “We are both equal in terms of developing new recipes and creating new ideas and we each sort of come at it from different bends and different palates. We’re equal in terms of strengths,” says Elaine.

Perhaps this strength is ultimately what enables a entrepreneurs to persevere through the difficult initial phases of a new business. After all, a business is fundamentally about relationships between people, whether it’s buyer or seller.  The challenges of winter storm Nemo and an unexpected bump in orders due to the Times article showed the EH Chocolatier has the right business model–and people for success.

Catharine and Elaine are helping to define what it means to be a female entrepreneur. In businesses highly dominated by men, women often forced to repress their femininity in order to be taken seriously. Desirable leadership traits are usually associated with male stereotypes of being aggressive, dominant, and individualistic. Women often feel pressure to be a “woman in a man’s world” and are not given the freedom to be a “woman in a woman’s” world because society has often categorized female-dominated industries as being less important, less deserving of respect, less difficult, and less desireable. As two mothers and entrepreneurs in the chocolate industry, an industry that has long been the domain of women, Catharine and Elaine reflect what it means to be a strong, female leader who fully leans into being a “woman in a woman’s” world.

It is important to see female leadership in the chocolate industry for a few reasons. The story of how chocolate rose to global prominence has largely taken place in the unwritten history of women. For example, many believe European colonists were responsible for innovating on cacao recipes taken from the Mesoamericans and transformed to fit European tastes. For example, Spanish Doctor and Military surgeon Antonio Lavedan wrote in 1796 in Tratado de los usos, abusos, propiedades y virtudes del tabaco, cafe, te y chocolate:

“When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in the Americas, the inhabitants there made a cacao liquor which was diluted in hot water seasoned with pepper and other spices . . . all these ingredients gave this mixture a brutish quality and a very savage taste . . . The Spanish, more industrious than the Savages, procured to correct the bad flavor of this liquor, adding to this cacao paste different fragrances of the East and many spices of this country [Spain]. Of all these ingredients we have maintained only the sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon” (Lavedan, Antonio).


This Eurocentric view is fundamentally flawed but has persisted because historians have routinely overlooked the history of people of color and women. When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in Mesoamerica, they employed the encomienda system and forced women to perform housework and prepare food. As a result, Mesoamerican women introduced European settlers to the different ways of preparing cacao and rather than the Europeans modifying chocolate to fit their different cultural tastes, Europeans developed a cultural taste for Indian chocolate (Marcy Norton, 2006). Historians have often ignored the role of gender in shaping history and as a result, many people fail to realize that Mesoamerican women are largely responsible for introducing chocolate to the world out of obscurity.

For example, many people believe Europeans were the first to sweeten chocolate, however Mesoamericans had been sweetening chocolate for a while.


Martin, Carla. “Colonial Mesoamerican Cacao Beverage Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.


Source: Martin, Carla. “Colonial European Chocolate Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.

As chocolate made its way through Spain, Italy, France, and Britain, recipes were passed down between women from kitchen to kitchen. This played a formative role in discovering new uses for chocolate but scholars and historians have traditionally ignored studying and documenting this because chocolate has long been considered a “women’s” domain. As a result, the early evolution of chocolate throughout Europe is poorly documented and relatively unknown.

As the industry surrounding chocolate developed in the early 1900s, women were excluded participation in the development of chocolate as a business and it wasn’t until  1970s that Mar’s Chocolate hired a woman named Lone Clark to Vice President of HR, an unprecedented move at the time but still a testament to the newness of welcoming women into ownership of an industry that they by and large laid the foundations to.

Furthermore, chocolate has long been a tool for those in power to set the agenda on the wants and desires of women. Advertising is largely dominated by men and has historically had a lack of diversity of women in senior level positions. As a result, the messages connecting women to chocolate have focused on reinforcing highly gendered, heteronormative stereotypes of femininity. It is yet another way men have defined what constitutes women’s spaces and what it means to be a woman.

Catharine and Elaine’s success as chocolatiers represents women taking ownership of “women’s” domains, and paying homage to the unacknowledged labor of women who introduced the world to chocolate.



Dishman, Lydia. “The Gender Divide and the Traits of Effective Leadership: Who Comes Out on Top?” Fast Company, 05/20/2014. Retrieved online:

Hsieh, Elaine, Catharine, Sweeney. Personal Interview about EH Chocolatiers. Conducted March, 2015.

Lavedan, Antonio. “Tratado de los usos, abusos, propiedades y virtudes del tabaco, café, té y chocolate : extractado de los mejores autores que han tratado de esta materia, á fin de que su uso no perjudique á la salud, antes bien pueda servir de alivio y curación de muchos males.” Madrid : En la Imprenta Real, 1796.

Retrieved online:

Mars Inc. “At Mars, the Evolution of Female Leaders Started Early,” Mars News., 03/23/2017. Retrieved online:

Martin, Carla. “Colonial European Chocolate Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Colonial Mesoamerican Cacao Beverage Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.



Chocolate Lessons: Knowledge Gleaned from Chocolate Bars Sold in the Natural Foods Aisle

On average, Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate per person each year or a little less than a quarter pound of chocolate per week. A typical chocolate bar ranges from 1.5-3.5 ounces. Therefore, 12 pounds of chocolate equates to enjoying 55-128 chocolate bars (depending on its size) per year! It is safe to say, for better or for worse, chocolate has become an integral part of the American diet.

Historically, chocolate was consumed for medicinal purposes, primarily as a source of nourishment and energy. Today, the developed world struggles with being simultaneously over nourished and malnourished from an imbalanced diet. Nevertheless, chocolate health claims persist, usually in reference to darker chocolates. Beneficial properties of cocoa include antioxidant, cardiovascular, and psychological enhancement, which are linked to its polyphenol, flavanol, and caffeine content (Castell, Pérez-Cano, and Bisson, 2013). These health claims are not present on chocolate bar labels, though.

In the last couple of decades, food packaging has actually become quite informationally dense. How can you sift through all of the information on chocolate labels to know what’s really important? Additionally, what can we learn from a chocolate bar’s packaging, besides its nutritional content? The goal of this blog post is to help decipher the various symbols, certification meanings, and key words that appear on chocolate wrappers.

Ultimately, you, as the consumer, have to decide what is important to you and what you are looking for in your chocolate purchases, not only in terms of taste but also social responsibility. Equipping yourself with the knowledge to know what to look for, and what symbols, certifications, and other words on chocolate packages mean, makes informed chocolate purchases a much smoother process and ensures you have the best chocolate buying experience possible. Before chocolate tasting can become embodied knowledge, it requires repetition in order to pick up on flavor nuances of single origin chocolate or to be able to tell if a chocolate bar was made with over-roasted cacao beans. In the same way, learning the stories and processes behind the chocolate you are eating requires some research, occasionally beyond the label itself.

I studied the chocolate bars in the natural foods aisle of a Stop & Shop grocery store in the greater Boston area to see what information could be gleaned from the chocolate labels within this section. I did not include enrobed chocolate candies within this aisle, “regular” chocolate bars (i.e., Hershey’s) in the main candy aisle or those present in the checkout lanes. I chose to focus on the chocolate bars within the natural foods aisle because, typically, these brands offer more information and stories about cacao procurement, processing, and its impact on people or the environment, whereas chocolate produced by most Big Five brands only provide nutritional information on the back of the wrapper. The Big Five chocolate brands include well-known companies: Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Nestle, and Ferrero (Allen, 2010).

The type of consumer who shops for chocolate in the natural foods aisle is most likely not just looking for a sugar fix because there are cheaper ways to meet that need. The intended audience includes individuals who may be interested in supporting social or environmental causes, and who are probably health conscious, even though it is still chocolate. Additionally, he or she may have a sophisticated or informed palate, and prefer quality chocolate with nuanced flavors. The natural foods aisle typically offers products that are slightly more expensive than its conventional counterparts, so the consumer is not making his or her choice of chocolate based solely on price point. Rather, the consumer possibly has a higher disposable income and is able to spend two or three times as much money on a chocolate bar from this section than on chocolate from one of the large chocolate corporations previously mentioned.

The natural foods aisle in Stop & Shop offers eight different brands of chocolate bars: Chocolove XOXOX, Green & Black’s, Divine, Theo, TCHO, LILY’s, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Alter Eco. These bars are being sold for $2.50-$3.99, with Chocolove XOXOX being the cheapest because it was on sale. Divine, LILY’s, and Alter Eco lands at the upper end of the options. The TCHO 70% dark chocolate bar usually retails for $4.29, but happened to be on sale. Still, these are moderately priced “good” chocolate bars compared to other specialty chocolate companies and retailers who sell their bars for about double the price. The juxtaposition of these brands, with a $1.00 (or less) Hershey’s chocolate bar, provides an interesting comparison in both price and taste.

The eight brands offer bars in a variety of flavors ranging from 34% milk chocolate to 85% dark chocolate with the option of added fruit or nut pieces. The white chocolate selection was nonexistent in this section at this particular grocery store. However, just for informational purposes, one brand (outside of the eight focused on here) does contribute a white chocolate peanut butter cup.

Just a few of the brands provide chocolate bars made from single origin cacao, which might be a more common provision at specialty retail stores. Both TCHO and Divine use Ghanaian cacao, and Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from Ecuador. Chocolove XOXOX states on the back of the wrapper that their Belgian chocolate bars are crafted with African cocoa beans. This somewhat vague statement only alludes to the fact that their beans do not come from Central or South America, or Southeast Asia but could be sourced from one or more of the cacao producing countries within the large continent of Africa. Additionally, Green & Black’s credits Trinitario cacao beans for giving their chocolate a rich and unique flavor profile. Trinitario cacao beans are thought to embody the best qualities of its genetic parents, the Criollo and Forastero varieties, with the hybrid cacao being both hardy and possessing a nice flavor profile (Prisilla, 2009). Likewise, the purpose of brands specifying single origin or the use of a single cacao variety suggests an increase in quality or flavor characteristics that add value to the end product. Thus, the price of these types of bars is usually slightly higher compared to mixed bean origin or variety, and especially compared to bulk cacao.

There are a few things that stand out upon taking a closer look at the packages. First, Alter Eco is the only brand that uses a cardboard packaging to house its chocolate. All of the other brands wrap their bars in a glossy paper. In both cases, the chocolate is likely sealed in foil before receiving either the glossy paper or cardboard outer wrapper. While the outer cardboard layer looks visually appealing and feels nice to the touch, it also makes the bar appear larger than it actually is. The 2.8 ounce Alter Eco chocolate bar looks bigger than the 3 ounce LILY’S bar sitting next to it on the shelf, as the image shows below. Thus, most consumers probably believe they are purchasing a larger chocolate bar if they do not read the front of the package and realize the chocolate bar is smaller by weight than some other options.

FullSizeRender-2 2
Alter Eco 2.8 ounce chocolate bar

Like several other brands, Theo includes a brief description about the company and their procurement and processing practices on the back of the package. Here, Theo shares it is a bean to bar chocolate company, which means the company purchases the fermented and dried cacao beans, and then carries out each of the remaining processing steps (about 10) from roasting to packaging, according to their unique preferences. Thus, the company oversees the entire chocolate making process and can tweak each batch according to its needs and the desired outcome, making it a true craft.

Green & Black’s label does not readily offer information about the company’s processing practices other than it uses fair trade and organic ingredients. Interestingly, the backside of the label does say Mondelez Global LLC distributes Green & Black’s chocolate bars. Mondelez is one of the largest global snack food companies and now owns Cadbury, one of the Big Five chocolate companies. Last year, Mondelez even attempted to acquire the Hershey Company, but Hershey declined the offer (Bukhari, 2017). Thus, Mondelez is a significant player within the global food system. This association alone may deter some consumers from purchasing Green & Black’s chocolate.

Another unexpected but perhaps pioneering find is LILY’s, whose chocolate bars are sweetened with the natural sweetener, Stevia, and erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Additionally, LILY’s adds inulin, a fiber commonly used as a bulking agent. These are not traditional chocolate bar ingredients, but perhaps the fewer calories and grams of sugar allow individuals with specific dietary restrictions to still purchase fair trade chocolate. The bar also boasts that it is still “100% indulgent.”

Before dissecting the chocolate bars’ various certifications, I want to look at Divine’s commitment to its producers. In the West, chocolate consumption has long been feminized, associated with temptation and indulgence (Robertson, 2009). Women are important as both chocolate consumers and producers, something Divine has recognized. The two images above depict Divine’s pledge to support the female cacao farmers within Kuapa Kokoo (cocoa co-operative) in Ghana and make sure their voices are heard. In doing so, these female business owners are positioned as powerful actors within the cacao and chocolate industries, rather than being viewed as exploited workers in an underdeveloped country (Leissle, 2012). This has significant implications not only for the female producers, but also culturally, and for future standards within the chocolate industry.

This final section includes a brief discussion on food certifications. Fair trade certification is the most popular certification that the eight brands feature. Other certifications that appear on the chocolate wrappers include USDA Organic, Non-GMO Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan, Kosher (dairy), Fair for Life, and rBST free. I was surprised I did not find the UTZ Certified symbol on any of the chocolate bars, since UTZ is the most common cacao certification related to sustainable farming practices.

Fair trade certifications can be represented in a variety of ways depending on the party providing the certification. The images above show several different certifications present on the different brands’ packaging that symbolize the employment of fair trade practices. In order for a product to be labeled “fair trade,” all members of the processing chain (including producers) must pay into the fair trade system. As a result, producers are promised better trading conditions including long term relationships with buyers, garner presumably higher wages, have better working conditions, and live overall improved lives. However, many question whether this system is as transformative as it claims to be. The terms “fair trade” and “sustainable” have become ubiquitous, and the commodification of the terms also threatens their legitimacy (Sylla, 2014).

When thinking about food certifications, it is important to remember these certifications are neither all encompassing nor meant to solve all social or environmental issues with one label. Companies are now starting to launch their own certifications rather than going through a third party certification. It will be up to the individual company to define the criteria for “fair” or “sustainable,” or any new term it deems important. Whole Foods already uses its “Whole Trade Certified” label. Consequently, continuing to be an educated consumer will be extremely imperative in order to know what the certifications represent and what the companies stand for. It is unclear whether these self-certifications will be viewed as legitimate certifications or just add to the confusion many consumers feel when reading food labels.

While the objective of self-certification is to offer more affordable fair trade items to consumers, it raises the question of whether that should be the ultimate goal of selling fair trade products, and what the tradeoffs are for making fair trade more affordable and part of the mainstream? If large food conglomerates begin to self-regulate certifications, rather than paying third party companies, who is to say the consumer will actual benefit from the money saved? Historically, when the price of goods has dropped, large corporations scoop up the difference and pocket the extra profits, rather than decreasing the cost for the consumer (Albrittion, 2013). However, consumers still have the power to vote with their dollars.

The next time you peruse the chocolate selection within a store, feel empowered to study the information provided on the packaging (and conduct further research if needed) rather than being overwhelmed by various symbols and industry jargon.


**All images were taken by the author


Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. 2013. “Between Obesity And Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”. In Food And Culture: A Reader, 3rd ed., 342-352. New York: Routledge.

Allen, Lawrence L. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle For The Hearts, Minds, And Wallets Of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association.

Bukhari, Jeff. 2017. “Why Investors Are Bingeing On Snack-Maker Mondelez”. Fortune.Com.

Castell, Margarida, Francisco Jose Pérez-Cano, and Jean-François Bisson. 2013. “Clinical Benefits Of Cocoa: A Review”. In Chocolate In Health And Nutrition, 1st ed., 265-276. Humana Press.

Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2): 121-139.

Prisilla, Maricel E. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Robertson, Emma. 2009. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich. 1st ed. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.


Chocolate in our life

The beginning of chocolate


Chocolate comes from Theobroma Cacao.  Theobroma cacao is botanical name for the cacao tree and cocoa tree from the Malvaceae family. Genus Theobroma has 22 different cocoa species. Theobroma cacao is the name given by the European botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. This plant is not special high because has from 4 to 8 meters. The tree comes from tropical forests in South and Central America as well as parts from Mexico. The plant is evergreen.

Chocolate is a preparation of the seeds of cacao. Roasted, husked, ground, it is often sweetened and flavored with vanilla and sugar, although fruits such as raspberries can sometimes be used as well.

Chocolate was invented in South America around 1000 BCE.  While the Olmec were probably the first people who tried it, the Mayan’s civilization were the first to plant the cacao. The chocolate and cocoa were very important in their life. Theobroma means Food of the Gods in the Mayan language. Of their myths, Mayans believed that the Plumed Serpent gave Cacao to them, after people were created from maize by the divine grandparent deity Xmucane. The Mayans took this time celebrate Cacao because they thought that this is a gift from the God.

The Ancient Mayans prepared chocolate just for drinking because they didn’t know a solid chocolate.  The production of this beverage was very similar to the production today. After all processes (harvesting, fermentation, drying, roasting, grounding) they added hot water, honey, vanilla, chili, corn, etc.

Between 1200-1500AD, the Aztecs also were planting cacao. This caused a competition for the Mayans because they dominated and used the cocoa as a currency. For example fish wrapped in maize husks was worth 3 Cacao beans.

The chocolate and cocoa were very important for the Mayans and Aztecs because they used it in lots of religious rituals. Cacao was also perceived like a connection between earth, underworld and sky, royal bloodline. Mayans thought that plant is integral to keeping cycles of death, life, and rebirth. Cacao was thought to boost energy and made the imbiber stronger.

Christopher Columbus was the first European who discovered a cacao tree. . He sent the Cacao to the King Ferdinand. While cocoa was rare for some time, around 20 years after Columbus’ first sample, Prince Philip of Spain received the cocoa drink from a Dominican friar. The reception to this was so positive that France and Portugal didn’t trade cocoa to the rest of Europe for 100 years. At the beginning chocolate was only imported to Spain.

Throughout the rest of Europe, chocolate appeared in the 17th century. The chocolate beverage was very luxury good.


Production of chocolate

            The statistics say that the biggest production of cacao is in those countries:

  • Cŏte d’Ivoire
  • Ghana
  • Indonesia
  • Brazil
  • Nigeria
  • Cameroon
  • Malaysia


From my ealier blog post I want to remind that:

“The first step of cacao production is harvesting. When the pods are properly ripened it is possible to remove them by knife or machete from the tree. The pods must be pried open to access the beans inside. One pod typically can contain around 30-45 beans.  The beans are placed in bins for few days to await processing. Afterwards they go to specially designed facilities where they can be fermented and dried.

The next step is fermentation. The fermentation process takes around four or seven days. But this is depends on the condition such as: temperature or humidity. During the fermentation, beans are mixed in every 48 hours. This process is very important because we can obtain flavor precursors, kills seeds, activate enzymes, and volatile aromatics produced in the fermenting pulp diffuse into the seeds, adding additional flavors. Fermentation is very important because the quality of the Cacao is depends on this process. When the Cacao is under-fermented the taste is flat, bitter, beany, and astringent. Conversely, when the product is over-fermented the flavor can come off as hammy, wet cardboard, and the sickening sweet-sour taste has been compared to what seems like vomit, parmesan cheese, moldy, cat urine, fruit loops, olives or sour cream.

The third step is drying. This process takes around one or two weeks. The beans are spread out over a large, flat surface. During this time, it is important to rake them often. The beans are usually dried under the direct sun, sometimes is possible to use artificial heating but the first option is preferable because can help to avoid some undesirable flavors like smoke or oil. Drying can also be a part of fermentation because sometimes this process takes first days of drying. Also it helps to reduce moisture in the cacao, avoid molding, start Maillard reactions and ensure good quality of the cocoa.

The next step is sorting. During this is possible to remove moldy as well flat and destroyed beans, as well extra detritus picked up in the previous stages, such as insects, plastics, glass, and dirt.

Finally Cacao can be packed and shipped. It is important to remember that bagging, storage and transports must be climate controlled to preserve the quality of the beans. Like proper temperature, humidity or polyethylene sacks must all be carefully controlled and monitored.”

Roasting and winnowing the cocoa. Those processes have a place in a manufactory. Roasting the cocoa helps to get the properly color and flavor. The shells of cocoa during this process are much more brittle. Inside the shells we can find cocoa nibs (is kind of raw chocolate of cacao beans which have to be roasted). After roasting the nibs are sorted according to size. This step is called winnowing.

The next process is grinding. During this the nibs are turned into cocoa liquor (cocoa mass). Thanks to the heating of granular consistency we can obtain liquid because the nibs are melted. After this the product is mixed with sugar and cocoa butter.

Types of chocolate


We have a lot of types of chocolates. The type is depends on the substances which are in the product like sugar, milk, chocolate liquor (ground mass of cocoa beans), cocoa butter (the waxy ivory – yellow fat obtained from chocolate liquor)

            We can distinguish some types of chocolates:

Dark Chocolate – it contains at least 30% to extremely 70-80% of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and sugar. The taste becomes bitterer when the level of sugar is smaller. Dark chocolate can also contain vanilla and lecithin.

Unsweetened Chocolate – it contains pure chocolate liquor, composed of ground cocoa beans. This product has very bitter taste. It is used for baking when it is possible to add a sugar.

Bittersweet Chocolate – it contains at least 35% of cocoa solids and 50 – 80% of chocolate liquor.

Sweet Dark Chocolate – it contains at least 15% of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and sugar.

Milk Chocolate – it contains at least 10% of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, 12% of condensed milk or dry milk solids. This kind of chocolate has much more lighter color, and is sweeter than dark chocolate.

White Chocolate – doesn’t contain chocolate liquor and basically is not a chocolate. This product has at least 20% of cocoa butter, 14% of milk solids and no more than 55% of sugar.


The most know chocolate’s brands on the worlds are: Lindt (Switzerland), Cadbury (United Kingdom), Milka (Switzerland), Toblerone (Switzerland), Ghirardelli (Italy), Ferrero Rocher (Italy), Taza (United States), Hershey (United States), Mars (United States).

Consumption of Chocolate


The consumption of chocolate is huge. People in the United States in 2015 spent around $ 22B USD on chocolate. They ate around 12 lbs of chocolate per person.

We can distinguish five top nations who like chocolate the most:

  • Switzerland 22 lbs per year
  • Austria 20,13 lbs per year
  • Ireland 19,47 lbs per year
  • Germany 18,04 lbs per year
  • Norway 17,93 lbs per year

All of those countries are European. In Europe the most popular chocolate is – milk chocolate.

This kind of chocolate is much sweeter than dark chocolate. One of the most popular chocolate in Europe is “Milka”. This product has many different varieties of taste, for example with strawberries, cherry, Oreo cookies, nuts, raisins, yoghurt, etc. Is also not special expensive. Approximately 1 chocolate package costs $2.

Is chocolate healthy?

            According to the Harvard School of Public Health a few pieces of chocolate per month can make our life longer and sweeter.

Cacao and especially dark chocolate is very rich in magnesium. The chemical symbol is Mg. this is a mineral who participate in many biochemical reactions in our body. Cacao nibs have around 272 mg per 100g.

Chocolate which is very rich in cacao and cacao helps to reduce a weigh. This is because these products have a lot of fiber who helps with digestion. The cacao also helps to keep our bowel movements regular. Also is good to take it when is a problem with constipations because the fiber in cacao work well during the digestion process.

The cocoa and chocolate have a lot of iron. This element is needed to produce red blood cells. When the level of iron is too low the body suffers for anemia. Is a good idea to intake the iron with vitamin C because the absorption of Fe is much better.

The chocolate is very rich in antioxidants like polyphenols, catechins, flavanols which are responsible to absorb free radicals that can damage in the body (for example cancer).  Dark chocolate has much more antioxidants than some fruit lie for example blueberries or Acai berries.

Cacao and dark chocolate can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Also those products have very good influence on blood pressure and insulin resistance. The antioxidants like flavanols stimulate the endothelium to give a gas – Nitric Oxide (NO). This substance is responsible for sending out the signal to the arteries to relax. This process makes our blood pressure lower. The dark chocolate can also reduce the level of oxidized bad LDL which can react with free radicals.

When we are eating chocolate or cocoa our brain is stimulated by them. Cacao can produce in our body two chemicals: phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide. The first one we produce when we are happy or excited (for example during the eating chocolate). Our pulse is much quicker.

The dark chocolate can also protect the skin against the sun. The product has a lot of flavonols which are responsible for improving the blood flow to the skin and increase the hydration, density of the skin. It is a good idea to eat a dark chocolate a few months before for example vacation or visiting places with a lot of sun.

Our brain can also be improved by eating a dark chocolate. It happens because of the flavanol which can improve the blood flow in our brain. The product also contains some substances like theobromine or caffeine which work as a stimulant for the brain.

Chocolate doesn’t have bad influence on our tooth. If we have a tooth decay is because of the sugar which we can find in a lot of food products. We have to remember that dark chocolate with high level of cacao has less sugar. Actually, a chocolate consists an anti – bacterial substances which can help and prevent the tooth illness.

As we can observe the dark chocolate and cacao have good influence on our body. It is recommended to eat a few times per month because those products are rich in some chemical elements which our bodies need to work properly. Is very important to remember that if we want to eat good chocolate we need to choose a product with high percent of cacao without many sugar. We shouldn’t eat it every day because we gain too much weight but is good to eat for dessert a few times per week.

In a 100 gram of dark chocolate (70 – 85% of cocoa) bar we can find:

  • 67% RDA for Iron
  • 58% RDA for Magnesium
  • 98% RDA for Manganese
  • 89% RDA for copper
  • 11 grams of fiber
  • A lot of potassium, selenium, zinc, phosphorus

RDA*  – recommended daily allowance



As we can see the chocolate is a food product with amazing history. Has good influence on our health and frame of mind. We have to remember that dark chocolate with high consistence of cacao is the best for our body because have a lot of nutrients and very low level of sugar.



Scholarly sources:

1.Chiaki Sanbongi, Naomi Osakabe, Midori Natsume, Toshio Takizawa, Shuichi Gomi and Toshihiko Osawa.  Antioxidative Polyphenols Isolated from Theobroma cacao. Chiaki Sanbongi, Naomi Osakabe, Midori Natsume, Toshio Takizawa, Shuichi Gomi and Toshihiko Osawa, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry,volume 46, numero 2, 1998, pages 454–457,

2.Miller, K. B.; Hurst, W. J.; Payne, M. J.; Stuart, D. A.; Apgar, J.; Sweigart, D. S.; Ou, B. (2008). “Impact of Alkalization on the Antioxidant and Flavanol Content of Commercial Cocoa Powders”. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 56 (18): 8527–33; 8527.

3.Szogyi, Alex (1997). Chocolate: Food of the Gods. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 199. ISBN: 978-0-313-30506-1

4.Terry G. Powis; W. Jeffrey Hurst; María del Carmen Rodríguez; Ponciano Ortíz C.; Michael Blake; David Cheetham; Michael D. Coe; John G. Hodgson (December 2007). Ochocolate in the world. Antiquity . 81 (314). ISSN 0003-598X. Retrieved 2011-02-15.

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