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Choco-lot of Deceit: How Chocolate (and Sugar) Culture and Ads Impact Children’s Health


Chocolate is a staple for U.S. children, whether they consume it in the form of chocolate milk at schools; receive chocolate gifts for birthdays, Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween; or whether they indulge in chocolate through impulse purchases and conscious consumption at restaurants. It can hardly come as a surprise that this consumption–which includes the ingestion of copious amounts of sugar within various forms of chocolate–has seen the same upward trend as many chronic illnesses now affecting children, including diabetes and obesity.

Children cannot be blamed for this uptrend. They are reliant on their parents to regulate their dietary consumption. Furthermore, they are seen as a valuable target audience for chocolate and confectionery makers, who create appealing targeted messages aimed to make children (and their parents) more receptive to consuming chocolate, establishing brand loyalty early on, and exacerbating the rise of the aforementioned chronic illnesses.

This analysis of the chocolate market and its ties to children will first give a general overview of the global and U.S. chocolate markets, looking specifically at the chocolate sales aimed at and purchased by children and teenagers. It will then examine the history of chocolate, the intertwined narrative of chocolate and sugar, the addictive qualities of sugar, and the intentional misdirection away from the negative impacts of sugar by the industry itself.

Setting the Stage: The History of Chocolate and Sugar

The History of Chocolate

Cacao, chocolate, and chocolate beverages were first consumed by the Olmecs as far back as 2,600 years ago, which was regarded to have aphrodisiac, spiritual, medicinal, and godly qualities. It was subsequently used by the Mayans and the Aztecs, with both preparing the beverage similarly, although the former consumed it hot, while the latter consumed it cold. This cacao was used for legal tender, an elite commodity (as a beverage), and rituals. It was also used in marriage discussions and fertility rituals [1].

For instance, the Aztecs held enormous storehouses of cacao beans, since they had to be transported 900 miles to the Aztecs cities, as the Mexican soil did not favor cacao tree growth. For a trader, one load of cacao was three xiquipillis, or 24,000 beans; the major courts, such as that of Netzahualcoyotl, had to be stocked with 4 xiquipillis daily, equivalent to 11,680,000 beans annually, or 486 loads [2].

Cacao was highly revered as a godly commodity. The foam itself was seen as the most sacred part of the drink [3] and was seen as an elixir for the soul. When depicted on ancient artifacts, it is often featured being consumed by the gods or depicts the royal bloodline of deities by portraying the deity blossoming forth among pods and flowers [4].

However, the chocolate produced and exalted in these Mesoamerican civilizations did not remain unchanged after the arrival of Columbus, nor is this ancient the most commonly consumed in contemporary America, especially among the young children in question, who would not be receptive to unsweetened, bitter chocolate.

According to The True History of Chocolate, some of the older ingredients Europeans began to substitute out were:

  • “Ear flower”
  • Chili pepper

These new ingredients included:

  • Cinnamon
  • Anise seed
  • Black pepper

However, the largest change was the regular addition of cane sugar [5]. Before chocolate became the tantalizing treat of children’s dreams (and dieticians’ nightmares), it had to become intimately interwoven with sugar. Just like cacao, sugar has a complex narrative often full of deceit and exploitation.

The Human Toll of Sugar Production

Enslaved people on a Caribbean sugar plantation harvesting sugar cane

Sugar was first produced in 500 C.E., with Hindu religious texts mentioning the boiling of molasses and crystallization. Before sugar was produced in the New World, it was grown in the Middle East. Sugar spread through conquest, trade, and travel, with Europe first having access to sugar in 700 C.E and having continued exposure during the Crusades. However, even after Middle Eastern sugar production slows when operations were moved to the New World, the sugar plantations were supposedly transplanted [6].

The warm, moist climate of the Caribbean, which facilitated cacao growth, also proved extremely favorable for sugar crops. Once the sugar cane is ready to harvest, it is collected, chopped, and then ground into a pulp. This pulp is then pressed, pounded, or soaked in liquid. Next, the liquid is heated, which causes it to evaporate and concentrate into sugar crystals. The video below demonstrates the complexity of creating sugar even the available modern technology [7]. For production in the 1800s, the process was much more difficult.

Because of the labor-intense process required to produce sugar, sugar company owners turned to slaves to reduce costs. Overall, 12.5 million abducted Africans were shipped to the New World, of which 10.7 million survived the Middle Passage; in other words, 14.4% of kidnapped people died. Once there, 95% were sent to Brazil and the Caribbean, with only 5% being sent to the present-day U.S. In the Caribbean from 1701 to 1810, Barbados had 252,500 and Jamaica has 662,400 African slaves [8].

Corruption Continues: Sugar Lies in the 1960s

“They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades.”

Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. and an author of JAMA Internal Medicine

The deceit around sugar continued into the 1900s, where the sugar industry used its immense power to prioritize profit over health, a trend seen by many confectionery companies and other large corporations that purposefully target children without any regard for their health. During the 1960s, and for the next five decades, the sugar industry paid scientists to shift the blame for the rising trend in obesity rate onto fat [9].

The trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation paid 3 Harvard scientists to “minimize the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat” [10].

However, this was not an isolated incident, with Coca-Cola also having bribed researchers with millions in 2015 to have them downplay the connection between sugary drinks and obesity. Moreover, more directly connected to chocolate makers, in June 2016, The Associated Press reported that candy makers were also funding biased reports to claim that children that who ate candy weight less than those who did not [11].

As these cases show, these large sugar and candy industries are not interested in the well-being of American children; in fact, they are perfectly willing to fabricate lies that directly impact children and their health to generate revenue. In the case of the candy makers, their corruption of scientific research is especially concerning because it prevents parents from making informed decisions for their children’s health, and it demonstrates that any targeted action toward children, especially regarding food advertising, should be viewed with scrutiny.

Before examining the role of marketing to children and the harmful impact of advertising on youth, a brief overview of the chocolate market is necessary.

Overview: Global and U.S. Chocolate Markets

Global Markets

Globally, 300 million people consumed 7.3 billion tons of retail chocolate confectionery annually during 2015-2016, with it expected to reach 7.7 million tons by 2018-2019 [12]. This comes out to around 12 pounds per person [13]. These global sales of chocolate reached $98.2 billion USD during the same years, with the U.S. comprising the largest percentage [14]. However, these numbers only portray a minuscule portion of the narrative for the contemporary chocolate market. The average omits the unequal distribution of both producers and consumers; ignores the nuanced intersections with race, class, gender, age, and sexuality that impact target audiences and their consumption; and obscures the immense power disparities between the poorest cacao farmers and the most profitable chocolate corporations.

This enormous industry is incredibly homogeneous; for instance, only 3 companies make up 99.4% of snack-sized candy on the market [15]:

U.S. Markets

The U.S. makes up the largest portion of the industry, with 4 of the top 10 global confectionery companies by net sales value originating in the U.S [16] :

  1. Mars Wrigley Confectionery, division of Mars Inc (USA) – $18,000
  2. Mondelēz International (USA) – $12,390
  3. Hershey Co (USA) – $7,779
  4. Kellogg Co (USA) – $1,890

Overall, the U.S. market in 2015 amounted to approximately $18.3 billion USD in global of the total global sales of $98.2 billion [17], meaning the U.S. market accounts for 18.6% of the global market.

Marketing to Children

Young toddler reaching for sugary cereal

Children are a valuable market for advertisers, especially in industries that directly appeal to children and teenagers, such as toys, clothing, license and merchandise, and of course, food. Marketing to kids is a large, profitable business, with $17 billion spent annually on advertisements specifically targeting them (up from $100 million in 1983). Likewise, children under 14 spend approximately 40 billion annually and teenagers spend $159 billion, with children overall influencing $500 billion in purchases yearly [18].

These children spend their lives constantly bombarded with branding, holding 145 brand conversations a week; witnessing more than 25,000 ads a year just on television from the ages of 2-11; and consuming ads via the Internet, cell phones, video games, and even in school [19]. With such a constant stream of advertising, chocolate makers stand to make generous profits from children, even at the expense of their health.

Federal Trade Commission Regulations on Advertising to Children

Under the Advertising and Promotion Law 1997, Minnesota Institute of Legal Education, the Deception and Unfairness Authority, under Section 5 of the FTC Act, prohibits unfair and deceptive acts in commerce, as set by their Deception Policy Statement. They identify deceptive advertising toward children as:

“An interpretation that might not be reasonable for an adult may well be reasonable from the perspective of a child. Claims tend to be taken literally by young children” [20].

Starek, III, Roscoe B. “The ABCs at the FTC: Marketing and Advertising to Children.” Federal Trade Commission, July 18, 2013.

They clearly consider the more limited ability of children to “detect exaggerated or untrue statements,” which may have been used in ads to further promote sales. Of course, teenagers have a much easier time discerning between truth and exaggeration in advertisements, but they can also still be reasonably misled by advertising, especially in a field as dynamic and unstable as nutrition.

The FTC includes a special page dedicated to addressing food marketing to children and adolescents, especially since irresponsible advertising would only serve to exacerbate the increasing obesity and chronic illness rates in the U.S. However, the FTC did note that: “responsible marketing can play a positive role in improving children’s diets and physical activity level” [21]. Perhaps chocolate companies, especially since many have been making public commitments to provide ethically sourced, sustainable chocolate, can also make a similar commitment to responsible marketing toward youth.

Nesquik banned from describing hot chocolate as a “great start to the day” in the UK.

The Negative Effects of Advertising on Children and Adolescents

As advertising in media (and to children) evolves, the line between entertainment and advertising blurs (ex. The production and entertainment value of Super Bowl commercials). This line, already more ambiguous for younger children and teens, becomes harder and harder to differentiate, and with that, the impact of advertising on children should be carefully examined. How much is too much? Where does it fall into exploitation? How do large chocolate corporations appeal to one of their target demographics–children–ahead of their competition without falling into manipulation? Besides carefully following the FTC’s regulations, the psychological and behavioral impact of marketing to children should be clearly understand by both the government and chocolate companies, and clearer regulations for what is or is not acceptable should be drafted to manage chocolate and other food companies.

For instance, some of the themes conveyed in ads toward children can influence poor behavior in children. Just as advertisers seek children for marketing because they are malleable and are still developing their life-long preferences and tastes [22], children can be exposed to detrimental themes such as unhealthy food brand preferences, tobacco, etc. Likewise, children, particularly girls (although it also affects boys) may be harmed or have negative body/self esteem issues exacerbated by harmful marketing [23].

Children under 7 are especially vulnerable because, according to Piaget, they are not able to detect “persuasive intent,” meaning they are much easier to fool and manipulate [24]. Likewise, although there are calls to educate children about advertising to help them protect themselves from malicious ads, but current efforts may not be effective; in fact, some studies have shown that the <7 may be much higher, with “children…not capable of understanding the ‘commercial intent’ of advertising until they reach the age of 12” [25].

Example of Rejected Chocolate Advertising

Kinder Egg Websites

In the UK, several Kinder egg websites (a subsidiary of Ferraro) promoting Kinder toys and eggs have been banned for promoting junk food advertising toward children. Some, like Kindernauts, had activity pages and child-friendly crafting activities, while others, like, have Kinder-themed video games for children aged 3+. In the UK, these violate their Committee of Advertising Practice rules of not promoting food with high fat, salt, or sugar for youth [26].


  • [1] Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’”
  • [2] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate.
  • [3] Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’”
  • [4] ibid.
  • [5] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate.
  • [6] Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History.
  • [7] Discovery UK. SUGAR | How It’s Made.
  • [8] Eltison and Richardson, “Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.”
  • [9] O’Connor, Anahad. “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat.”
  • [10] ibid.
  • [11] ibid.
  • [12] “Consumption of Chocolate Worldwide, 2012/13-2018/19.” Statista.
  • [13] Martin, Carla D. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and the Race for the Global Market.”
  • [14] “Chocolate Retail Sales Worldwide 2016.” Statista.
  • [15] Martin, Carla D. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and the Race for the Global Market.”
  • [16] “The Chocolate Industry.” International Cocoa Organization.
  • [17] “Chocolate Market Retail Sales Worldwide by Country, 2015.” Statista.
  • [18] Martin, Carla D. “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.”
  • [19] ibid.
  • [20]  Starek, III, Roscoe B. “The ABCs at the FTC: Marketing and Advertising to Children.” Federal Trade Commission.
  • [21] “Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents.” Federal Trade Commission.
  • [22] “Marketing and Advertising to Children.” ICC – International Chamber of Commerce.
  • [23] Lapierre, Matthew A., Frances Fleming-Milici, Esther Rozendaal, Anna R. McAlister, and Jessica Castonguay. “The Effect of Advertising on Children and Adolescents.”
  • [24] ibid.
  • [25] Watson, Bruce. “The Tricky Business of Advertising to Children.”
  • [26] Smithers, Rebecca. “Websites of Kinder Chocolate Banned over Ads Targeting Children.”

Works Cited

Multimedia Cited

Where to buy chocolate ?: A Comparative Analysis of Chocolate Markets in Harvard Square

Chocolate uniquely embodies a number of contradictions. It’s almost universal, yet very personal. Consistent, yet incredibly diverse. Sweet, yet bitter. Luxurious and expensive, yet cheap and ubiquitous. Valentine’s day for adults, halloween for children—there is a chocolate for everyone. Considering all the different profiles and qualities that chocolate has taken on in its millennia-long history, it follows that there are a number of establishments consumers can go to in order to enjoy this versatile treat. Walking through Harvard Square, one can find themselves at any of the three main purveyors of chocolate—each of which carries its own unique implications, connotations, and ‘personality.’

The first such setting is perhaps best characterized by convenience, and in the context of Harvard Square, there is no store more convenient than CVS (so convenient that, not long ago, there were three within a one block radius of each other). Though technically a pharmacy, most CVS locations are better known for their general merchandise, including everything from toiletries to convenience foods. With its vast and diverse offerings, and over 9,800 stores across the United States, CVS is the epitome of a chocolate purveyor to the masses. That is, similar to grocery stores or large chain supermarkets such as Walmart, Stop & Shop, or Kroger, which is where the majority turn to for confectionary purchases (IBISWorld). That being said, chocolate is far from the focal point of these stores.

Figure 1

Just across the street from CVS, one may find themselves at Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, which is representative of a different type of setting for buying chocolate, perhaps best described as ‘specialty stores.’ Cardullo’s in particular offers an array of fresh foods and gourmet delicacies from around the world, including wine, cheese and, of course, chocolate. There are a number of other stores nearby (and across the country) with a similar premise as Formaggio Kitchen or Bacco Wine & Cheese, where chocolate is not necessarily the focus or the sole product featured, but the food categories offered are still limited. Consequently, each such category is theoretically given more ‘weight’ in how important it is to the store. This specialization also carries the implication that the products offered are carefully/deliberately curated, and are of high quality.

The last stop on this chocolate journey through Harvard Square brings us to L.A. Burdick, which takes specialization to the next level. At L.A. Burdick, one can find themselves in a chocolate heaven of Larry Burdick’s creations, which is the clear and primary focus of the establishment. Other such stores in the greater Boston area may include the Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland, Beacon Hill Chocolates, and EHChocolatier, representing the most niche of the three main ‘purchasing settings’ as they all primarily sell gourmet chocolate goods of their own creation.

The differences between these purveyors could not be more stark and yet they are all places consumers go to buy chocolate. Their various focal points and priorities are reflected in their respective selections, pricing, sourcing, and messaging.


Walking through the ‘Candy’ and ‘Chocolate’ aisle at CVS, one is immediately struck by the bold, bright colored packaging that marks almost all of their chocolate products. As displayed below, many of these are variations of the big name chocolate candy bars/treats that pervade the US such as Kit Kat, M&M’s and Reese’s Cups. But perhaps the first thing to note about the CVS chocolate section is how the overwhelming majority are more candy bar than actual chocolate. That is, there is a limited selection of primarily chocolate-based products (those with few additional ingredients such as caramel or ‘fruit & nut’), even fewer options for plain milk chocolate (four to be exact, of which three are owned by the same parent company), and only three options for dark chocolate. In a separate aisle, however, there is a stand for what CVS labels “Premium Chocolates,” where they have three additional labels with a ‘pure’ chocolate option—Ghirardelli, Lindt, and Endangered Species. Ghirardelli and Lindt both have multiple choices for cacao percentage (they are also owned by the same parent company).

The variety of chocolates at CVS is relatively new phenomenon that reflects the evolving tastes of American consumers. Indeed, “American consumers are expanding their consumption beyond traditional mass market chocolate such as Hershey”s” (Squicciarini & Swinnen). That being said, this notion of variety can be misleading considering that around 80% of the 45+ chocolate products found in these sections at CVS are owned/distributed by just 4 corporations, half of which are Hershey products and the other half of which are Mars, Lindt, and Ferrero products (Ferrero acquired Nestlé’s U.S. chocolate business in 2018). The selection at CVS mirrors U.S. overall market share, with these four companies controlling just about 80% of the market (Wilmot & Back). Indeed, large scale deals between retail chains like CVS and chocolate conglomerates likely perpetuate the dominance of these companies’ products in the chocolate market. Thus while the amalgam of packaging colors, shapes, and sizes may give the impression of diversity, it becomes clear that most of the chocolate and brand variety is superficial with the only differentiator being the flavoring.

Figure 3: Just four companies control about 80% of the overall chocolate market share, which mirrors the selection variety at CVS.

Compare this to Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe—a family-owned, local specialty store that’s been at the heart of Harvard Square for nearly 70 years and it’s a completely different story. While they still have their fair share of ‘industrial chocolate’ varieties, i.e. “mass-produced confections [that] are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacaos” (Sethi), it’s the relative variety of craft chocolate brands that leaves the greatest impression upon arriving at their designated chocolate and dessert sections. With their selection including around 15 companies producing craft chocolate who specialize solely in chocolate production, it’s easy to get a hint of the diversity in the market—as well as in taste.

Figure 4: Portion of industrial chocolate available at Cardullo’s

Moreover, within their rather vast chocolate selection, there are two columns that, at first glance, may be reminiscent of CVS’s offerings in terms of its colorful packaging and familiar brands (see Figure 4). Upon further inspection however, their place at Cardullo’s becomes evident. While chocolates in this section are indeed of the ‘industrial’ variety, they are included at Cardullo’s because the brands or country of origin are uncommon for the U.S. For example, Figure 5 illustrates that the Kit Kat at Cardullo’s has an origin and branding difference—the Cardullo’s version is manufactured by Nestlé, as is the case for all Kit Kats outside the US, while the U.S. version is made under license by a division of The Hershey Company.

Figure 5: Left side is Kit Kat sold at CVS, right side is that sold at Cardullo’s

Such differences have notable implications for the chocolate itself, which trace back to around the 1930s when the “process of manufacturing chocolate was gradually shifting from improvisation to exact science as manufacturers experimented with various ways to render the essence from roasted cocoa beans. No two companies employed the same practices […] Each process produced its own unique flavor, and over time, these differences translated into distinct national tastes” (Brenner 63). In the case of a Kit Kat for instance, the European version contains less sugar and a higher cocoa and fat content than its American counterpart. This national preference has even gone as far as affecting legislation such that in the UK a product is required to be at least 25% cocoa solids in order to be called milk chocolate, whereas in the US such a designation requires only that it contain a minimum of 10% chocolate liquor (Spector).

Unlike Cardullo’s and CVS, L.A. Burdick sells all its chocolate under its own brand name. It is a charming store that specializes in chocolate creations of all forms. Here, one finds a very different kind of variety wherein all of the chocolate is made from, and branded as, the same source (i.e. L.A. Burdick), but there are numerous varieties with different shapes, sizes, types, flavorings, consistencies, etc. Specifically, they offer a number of regular and themed “collections” or assortments featuring different combinations of their 36+ truffle and bonbon varieties. While some of these, usually those that are on the smaller side such as their “Chocolate Bee Collection” are displayed for purchase in the shop, the majority are available to order online as customizable gifts or for a range of special events. In the physical store, however, there is also the option to purchase several of their bonbons and truffles on an individual basis. Alongside these delicacies, they also sell chocolate-covered nuts and dried fruits, an impressive collection of more conventional chocolate bars, as well as an array of (mostly) chocolate pastries and confections. Considering these products are all made under the same name, the extent of their chocolate bar collection is particularly noteworthy: they offer 18 varieties covering a range of cacao percentages, flavorings/added ingredients, and cacao bean origin. Throughout the store there are also a handful of artfully crafted, intricate chocolate creations (e.g. Rocher nest), with one even explicitly labeled as ‘display only,’ further emphasizing the blurry line between these artisanal chocolates and art. Lastly, and perhaps most popular, is their variety of drinking chocolate options. This includes three standard drink preparations in addition to a ‘single source dark chocolate’ option, whose source rotates every month among seven different locations, each with a specific and unique flavor profile that they detail on their menu.


Quality is perhaps one of the most cited traits in chocolate, but it is also one of the most ambiguous. Depending on who you ask, quality in chocolate can refer to any number of traits–be it the cacao plant variety or origin, the maker, the consistency, the taste, the process, or even the brand. Indeed, perceptions of quality vary country by country and are often reflective of the level of a country’s economic development. Cidell and Alberts found that “quality is based on material characteristic whose relative importance in determining quality depends on the country in which different stages of economic innovation took place.” Different producers catering to different audiences tend emphasize different things with the mass market producers we tend to find at CVS emphasizing taste, consistency and lifestyle elements (think “Have a break. Have a Kit Kat”). The smaller capacity chocolate makers we find at Cardullo’s (and potentially L.A. Burdick), on the other hand, emphasize the handmade nature, small production runs, ‘pure’ ingredients and natural tastes.

There are real differences between brands of chocolate, though the effect of those differences on the esoteric notion of quality is up for debate. For example, soy lecithin is used in the majority of chocolate products as a surfactant, meaning it lowers the viscosity of the chocolate during the production process, thereby making it easier to work with for tempering and molding. While the same can be achieved by adding more cocoa butter, this is a lot more expensive as well as more time consuming as it requires a longer period of conching (Terenzi, Chess). As a result, many of the mass produced chocolates—including all of those sold at CVS employ the former process and ingredients. The chocolates at Cardullo’s tend to communicate their quality through a varied selection of single-origin bars, thereby suggesting the use of high-quality beans and/or specialty cacao which subscribes to “a notion of quality that is linked to lack of defects and the presence of fine flavor and aroma(s)” (Martin). Similarly, they imply that an “artisanal” approach to chocolate-making leads to a higher quality product—though this is not necessarily as straightforward as it may seem since the term has no standardized implication for their cacao bean sourcing or production practices. Rather, it can be more a marketing effort to increase perceived quality. On the other hand, Cardullo’s does carry some mass produced well-branded chocolates as well with dubious quality relative to their price. For example, Valrhona, Neuhaus and Godiva, all carried by Cardullo’s, have extremely strong reputations and consumer perceptions of quality, yet all contain soy lecithin and other additives in their dark chocolate products (on the other hand, Cardullo’s was the only store visited to carry some chocolate bars with just cocoa constituents and cane sugar—all of L.A. Burdick’s bars contain the ingredient). One area where consumers can gain real insight into the chocolates at Cardullo’s are the bean to bar varieties—while these chocolates are not guaranteed to be good, this increases the likelihood that the cacao is deliberately sourced as opposed to using bulk commodity cacao.

I would be remiss if, in a discussion of quality, I ignored the significant role that marketing and branding have on perceived quality, regardless of the actual ingredients, tastes, origins, etc. of the chocolate. Indeed, consumer information is imperfect and, as with wines, the majority of consumers tend to rely on factors like brand reputation, package appearance, cacao percentage, and, of course, price. Many of L.A. Burdick’s chocolates, though sold at a specialty store under a specialty brand, lack complete transparency as to their origins and are, in fact, private labeled chocolates made by other companies (potentially some of the same companies that make lower cost chocolate for stores like CVS). There are infinite ways to define quality in chocolates and most would agree the chocolates at Cardullo’s are of “higher quality” than those at CVS, but that is not universally true and the processes and ingredients used to deride more mass market chocolates can still find themselves in the ‘higher end’ line up of specialty shops like Cardullo’s. Unsurprisingly, CVS’s selection doesn’t stand out on the quality front—the majority of their chocolate options are in the form of candy bars, which were historically designed with the express purpose of using cheaper ingredients under the guise of a chocolate product, which in pn packaging would appear comparable in size to a plain chocolate bar (Lecture, The Rise of Big Chocolate).


The difference in cost between these three distinct chocolate purveyors is a little more straightforward in that, unsurprisingly, there is a linear, upward trajectory of sale price as the stores become more specialized. As the stores became more expensive, their range of prices also grew significantly, with L.A. Burdick’s, the most expensive store, having the largest gulf between its lowest cost and highest cost products. In discussing pricing however, it is important to consider the fact that it’s not only a function of the cost of the product—though that is an important consideration—but also a deliberate marketing and brand positioning decision. That being said, in the stores considered here, there is a difference in the underlying cost of producing the chocolate products that correlates with their final price. The chocolates sold at CVS, made in large manufacturing facilities targeted at the mass market, and often with bulk commodity cacao, are cheaper because such processes and resources cost less per product. On the other hand, some of the options at Cardullo’s were largely higher priced because they were made in smaller batches, used more manual or time-consuming processes and/or employed more expensive (and fewer) ingredients—as an example, Dick Taylor’s single-origin dark chocolates only have two ingredients (i.e. cacao and cane sugar) (Abesamis). Such craft chocolates often exist at “a disadvantage to the bulk, industrial market, as they often operate along lines less traditional to capitalist production” (Martin), but make up for this disadvantage by positioning their brands as premium products deserving of a higher price point.

Perception and branding is another extremely powerful driver of pricing (Lybeck, et al.). Consumers often associate specialty shops with artisan-like quality and higher prices, just as they might believe a dedicated butcher shop has higher quality meats than the butcher at a supermarket. The same phenomenon plays out in the stores that I visited, with the most specialized store, L.A. Burdick, having higher priced chocolates than Cardullo’s even though it is unclear if the underlying cost or quality of the chocolates each sells is as different. The premium at L.A. Burdick is placed on the perceived additional care a specialty shop would put into their product because, after all, it’s the only product they sell. L.A. Burdick’s website emphasizes this care (and the associated costs) when they emphasize the “hand-made” elements, even though there is likely no discernible difference between a hand-packed and machine-packed high quality chocolate: “each artisan bonbon is hand-cut or shaped, hand-garnished, hand-finished, and hand-packed” (“Chocolate Assortments”).

Takeaway: Intended Audience

Much of the reasoning behind the decisions described above, from product selection to pricing strategy, boil down to their respective target audience/consumer. As such, there is no ‘better’ place to buy chocolate (as far as chocolate for chocolate’s sake goes, this can be a different story with respect to ethical considerations), but rather the right place to suit your specific wants and needs. This is indeed reflected in the variety, quality, and cost of their respective selections. That is, at CVS, nearly everything from their chocolate options and placement in store to their pricing strategy screams convenience, accessibility, and a focus on impulse purchases (the majority of their chocolate selection is scattered by the registers and self-checkout stations) making it no secret that their chocolate selection is not a priority—nor should it be. Rather, open 24/7 in a college town with busy students and professionals, CVS is appealing to the average consumer. Specifically, it relies on those who go there for convenience because in addition to its uninterrupted hours, it’s an established, nationwide brand where people know they can go to find a little bit of everything. In this vein, it wouldn’t even make sense for CVS to offer more exclusive (and by extension, more expensive) options as they’re not targeting consumers with the deliberate intention of buying chocolate, but rather as an add-on to toothpaste at the register, a last minute ‘get well soon’ gift, or a quick snack. The other shops, however, can be destinations where consumers often come in with strong chocolate purchasing intent.

Thus while these three purveyors differ significantly in their stocking, quality and pricing strategy when it comes to chocolate, they each fill a large desire for their respective products. Indeed, their coexistence and success in different parts of the market is emblematic of the versatile role chocolate plays in our society—one that can be a low-cost treat, a delicacy, a consolation gift or an expression of love.

Works Cited

Abesamis, Abigail. “What’s Fancy Chocolate Made Of That Makes It So Expensive?” HuffPost Life, HuffPost News, 28 Aug. 2018,

Amir, Anna. “Industry Report 31135: Chocolate Production in the US.” IBISWorld, IBISWorld, Feb. 2019,

Berger, Jonah, et al. “The Influence of Product Variety on Brand Perception and Choice.” Marketing Science, vol. 26, no. 4, 1 July 2007, pp. 460–472., doi:10.1287/mksc.1060.0253.

Brenner, Joel Glenn. “Chapter Five: To the Milky Way and Beyond.” The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, Broadway Books, 2000, pp. 49–69.

Chess, Kate. “Soy-Free Chocolate.” The Equal Exchange Blog, Equal Exchange, 28 Sept. 2018,

“Chocolate Assortments.” L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolate, L.A. Burdick Chocolate,

Chocolate Industry Analysis 2018 – Cost & Trends, FranchiseHelp, 2018,

Cidell, Julie L., and Heike C. Alberts. “Constructing Quality: The Multinational Histories of Chocolate.” Geoforum, vol. 37, no. 6, 2006, pp. 999–1007., doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2006.02.006.

Lybeck, Annika, et al. “Store Brands vs. Manufacturer Brands: Consumer Perceptions and Buying of Chocolate Bars in Finland.” The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, vol. 16, no. 4, 2006, pp. 471–492., doi:10.1080/09593960600844343.

Martin, Carla D. “Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market.” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (Blog), 31 Aug. 2017,

Martin, Carla D. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 13 Mar. 2019, Harvard University: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University: Cambridge, MA.

Sethi, Simran. “What Separates ‘Craft’ from Industrial Chocolate? It’s about Diversity.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 Feb. 2017,

Spector, Dina. “Why British And American Chocolate Taste Different.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 27 Jan. 2015,

Squicciarini, Mara, and Johan Swinnen. Economics of Chocolate. Oxford Univ Press, 2016.

Terenzi, Sharon. “Soy Lecithin in Chocolate: Why Is It So Controversial?” The Chocolate Journalist, 9 Oct. 2018,

Wilmot, Stephen, and Aaron Back. “Are Americans Falling Out of Love With Chocolate?” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 5 Feb. 2018,

A Mestizo Tradition in Cacao: The Introduction and Incorporation of Molinillos

The history of chocolate mirrors the history of mestizaje from Mesoamerica to modern-day Mexico and Central America, with the contemporary product serving as the result of both Mesoamerican and Spanish influences. Even the production of authentic, ancient, or traditional Mesoamerican cacao beverages and chocolate are infused with post-colonial influences, from the addition of new ingredients to entirely new techniques for crafting chocolate. Of these, the introduction of the molinillo, now considered a staple component in crafting traditional Mexican chocolate, represents the culmination of indigenous and Spanish techniques.

Pre-Conquest Mesoamerican Chocolate

Cacao was harvested and consumed as early as the Olmec civilization, with cacao originating from their word for currency, ka-ka-w [1]. The Mayans adopted cacao into their respective civilization–for consumption, as legal tender, and for rituals.

Cacao was essential for social, physical, and spiritual well-being, regarded for its medicinal, spiritual, and aphrodisiac qualities. The Mayan would prepare the batidos and other hot chocolate beverages from the ground cacao pulps. They were also used for arranging marriages, with the term tac haa, “to serve chocolate,” commonly used to describe the discussions in which they would determine marriages while drinking chocolate. Mixtec went a step further, using “cacao” as a phrase for royal marriage [2]. For the Aztecs, only the elites and wealthy consumed it because it couldn’t grow in Mexico, so they had to transport it 900 miles on their back [3].

Aztec sculpture holding a cacao pod.

Early pre-Columbian religious references to cacao are also prevalent in both Mayan and Aztec artifacts, with the Popol Vuh ascribing cacao with godly qualities and the Dresden Codex featuring cacao throughout, including consumption by the gods [4]. Likewise, in the Madrid Codex, Aztecs believed that cacao beans were the physical manifestation of Quetzalcoatl [5]. Other religious depictions included:

  • Cacao in fertility rites, with Ixchel and the rain god exchanging cacao.
  • Cacao tree depictions of royal bloodlines, with deities emerging from cacao trees with pods and flowers to symbolize their royal blood [6].

Figure: Aztec statue holding a cacao pod.

“Chocolate for the body; foam for the soul.”

Meredith Dreiss, Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods [7]

The foam produced was of special religious importance, with the foam seen as the most sacred part of the drink [8]. With this reverence toward the froth, the molinillo, as the instrument used to facilitate easier production of the froth, would also be revered and would become deeply intertwined in the chocolate-making process.

Molinillo in Mesoamerica? The Spanish Arrive

Many would expect that the Mayans and Aztecs used molinillos, since they are now regarded as crucial instruments when crafting authentic traditional chocolate beverages, but in fact, the molinillo was most likely introduced by the Spanish, possibly during the 16th century. While it is true that pre-Columbian texts mentioned turtle/tortoise shell stirring spoons and stirrers, there were no mentions of molinillos in pre-Columbian texts. Moreover, it was noticeably absent from the first Nahuatl-Spanish dictionary in 1571 [9].

Some of the possible confusion could stem from anachronistic depictions of the molinillo, such as the one below:

 “The artist has misunderstood the use of the metate [curved cacao grinding stone], and has mistakenly included the post-Conquest molinillo. (From J. Ogilby, America, London, 1671.) 

Instead, they used “small, hemispherical bowls” as drinking and mixing vessels, made with materials ranging from ceramics, to decorated calabash gourds (Crescentia cujete tree), to gold (huei tlatoani). Foam was created by pouring chocolate repeatedly between drinking vessels to produce the foam [10].

Left: 6-9th century Mayan ceramic vessel, Guatemala  | right: 7-8th century Mayan ceramic vessel, Mexico
Mayan woman producing foam via pouring technique

It wasn’t until 1780, when Jesuit Francesco Saverio Clavigero, mentioned the molinillo but not the traditional method of pouring the beverage to produce foam [11].

Molinillo: The Basics

The molinillo, a kitchen tool used to froth hot chocolate beverages, is a carved, handcrafted wooden stick, with a slender handle at one end and a knob at the other [12]. Its name is derived from its circular shape and its motion when used for producing foam resembling that of a molino (windmill) [13]. Each molinillo is unique and varies in size depending on the amount of beverage to be produced. The first iterations involved a simple ball or square at the end of a long handle. However, these soon were adapted to better facilitate frothing. Modern molinillos are crafted from a single block of wood, forming a slender wooden “whisk” with a long tapered handle and a carved knob with rings and other movable parts on the other end [14].

Each molinillo is unique, and the basic design can be flourished with details such as colored accents or ivory pieces, as well as square tops instead of rounded [15].

Molinillo with Color Accents
Molinillo with Squarish Top

Using a Molinillo

Frothing hot chocolate beverages with a molinillo is straightforward. Simply put, the slender handle is gripped between the palms, which are then rubbed together to rotate the carved knob back and forth. This motion grinds the chocolate discs used for the beverages against the pestle bottom of the drinking vessel [16], allowing the beverage to froth within a few minutes.

A Mexican Cook, “Using A Molinillo to Make Hot Chocolate.”

The motion is so simple, in fact, that the molinillo frothing process is even a popular rhyme among Mexican children and their teachers:

Bate, bate, chocolate,
tu nariz de cacahuate.
Uno, dos, tres, CHO!
Uno, dos, tres, CO!
Uno, dos, tres, LA!
Uno, dos, tres, TE!
Chocolate, chocolate!
Bate, bate, chocolate!
Bate, bate, bate, bate,
Bate, bate, CHOCOLATE![17]

Bate = Stir or whip
tu nariz de cacahuate = roughly "your peanut nose"
Uno, dos, tres = One, two, three

Crafting Molinillos

“Molinillo and chocolate depend on each other–one cannot exist without the other. “

Molinillos are carved from a single piece of wood rotating on an axis. Typically soft wood from trees like the aile mexicano (Alnus acuminata ssp. glabrata) are used for carving because they are odorless and flavorless as to not impact the flavor of the chocolate. The black sections of the molinillo are not painted; rather, the friction from the velocity of the wood spinning on the axis of the machine burns the wood a darker color, which the crafter then polishes. Once the base is completed with all the large grooves, all the smaller notch carvings (helpful for circulating the milk to increase frothiness) are completed by hand [18].

Molinillo Tradicional [Making a Molinillo from Wood]

Each molinillo is unique, and the basic design can be flourished with details such as colored accents or ivory pieces:

Artisanal Molinillo Crafting

For molinillo artisans in areas popular for their chocolate, such as 3rd generation crafter Jesus Torres Gomez, carving molinillos, among other wooden kitchen utensils, is both a skill and an artform, passed down for over 100 years as they continue to modify and perfect their craftsmanship. While he uses a motor to facilitate the rotation of the wood piece, all the carvings are completed by hand. He produces 3 types of molinillos:

  • Criollo, for making the foam for chocolate atole in the central valleys.
  • For making the foam for hot chocolate.
  • More elaborate item to serve as a decorative souvenir for tourists in Oaxaca (not meant to be used).

Similar to the more extravagant uses of chocolate and chocolate-producing equipment in Mesoamerica, these items are often also used for special events, including weddings and quinceañeras (coming of age celebration for 15th birthday) [19].

Jesus Torres Gomez, “Artesano de Molinillos”

Modern-Day Molinillos and “Authentic Recipes”

Contemporary molinillos serve more as a nostalgic artifact than a necessary tool for the average chocolate beverage consumer. For champurrado–traditional Mexican chocolate-based atole– and hot chocolate, recipes available online often include many modifications to traditional recipes, incorporating many ingredients not available to pre-Columbian Mesoamericans. For the thicker champurrado, they are often flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, cloves, and other spices, as well as grated piloncillo (raw, undefined sugar cane)[20].

Likewise, they often include milk instead of water, and they are frothed with whisks or spoons. For “authentic Mexican hot chocolate” recipes, chocolate beverages are not strictly based on traditional Mayan or Aztec chocolate recipes; similar to the effect of molinillos on chocolate crafting, they combine indigenous and Spanish influences. However, molinillos are still incorporated into more traditional recipes, particularly Oaxacan hot chocolate, which uses water instead of milk and is whisked with a molinillo [21].


  • [1] Khan, Gulnaz. “Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate-Making.”
  • [2] Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’”
  • [3] Festa, Jessica. “Sweet Guatemala: A Look At The Country’s Mayan Chocolate History And Modern Experiences.”
  • [4] Martin, Carla D.
  • [5] De la Fuente del Moral, Fatima.
  • [6] Martin, Carla D.
  • [7] Dreiss, Meredith L., and Sharon Greenhill. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods.
  • [8] Martin, Carla D.
  • [9] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate.
  • [10] ibid
  • [11] ibid
  • [12] Edwards, Owen. “A Historic Kitchen Utensil Captures What It Takes to Make Hot Chocolate From Scratch.”
  • [13] CORTV. Jesús Torres Gómez artesano en molinillos.
  • [14] Bowman, Barbara. “Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer).”
  • [15] ibid
  • [16] “Molinillo: Hot Cocoa Frother | Mexico, Wooden Stick, Traditional Hot Chocolate Grinder, Frothing Stick, Molinillos.” UncommonGoods.
  • [17] Fain, Lisa. “Mexican Hot Chocolate and a Molinillo.”
  • [18] Cocinando con Rita. Molinillo Tradicional.
  • [19] CORTV.
  • [20] Rodriguez, Vianncy. “How to Make Champurrado.”
  • [21] “How to Make Authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate.” A Side of Sweet.

Works Cited

Multimedia Cited

———. Molinillo with Squarish Top. Gourmet Sleuth, Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer). Accessed May 16, 2019.

A Study of New Orleans’ Piety and Desire Chocolate

Disclaimer: While this is an ethnographic look at the Piety and Desire Chocolate brand, it is incomplete simply for the fact that I have not actually seen the store, factory, or products in person myself, nor have I ever visited New Orleans or conducted significant research of the sociocultural atmosphere of the place. This post is also strictly meant to be read in an academic and is not an endorsement of the Piety & Desire Chocolate brand, nor is it sponsored by the company.

Meet Piety and Desire Chocolate

Piety and Desire Chocolate is a craft “chocolaterie” in New Orleans, Louisiana, not far from the French Quarter. Owner and chocolate maker Christopher Nobles opened the “factory and boutique” in 2017 and has started making a name for the brand in the realm of local, artisanal products in New Orleans. I encountered them surfing the “#beantobar” tag on Instagram, evidence of the brand’s commitment to marketing its process as a way to distinguish itself in a competitive food market.

According to their website, the brand describes itself as:

Piety and Desire Chocolate mines the fine lines. Just as its holy beginnings as a “food of the gods” led to its transformation into a seductive delight, so we strive to strike the perfect harmony between reverence and passion in the balance of science and art, the parity of piety and desire.

Detail-oriented and passionate about their product, Piety and Desire appears to uphold the commitment to high-quality products of the craft food movement. (Martin) The name of the company is striking, too, and clearly important to the business’s philosophy of chocolate making. Piety and desire – both human elements with long histories with cocoa – are at the foundations of the company’s motivation, according to an interview with Nobles:

I wanted a name that reflected my family’s six-ish generations of New Orleans history in an honorable, non-fleur-de-lis-laden or culturally appropriated fashion… I’m the third of the past five generations to settle in (Faubourg) Marigny. [The name] Piety and Desire mirrors the history of cacao itself. Beginning as a sacred food of the gods in ancient Mesoamerica (among many spiritual aspects), these noble seeds also represented more secular aspects of life, from its use as a currency to its use as an aphrodisiac.

Christopher Nobles, Freund interview

Immediately from these two sources of information about the company, its website and its owner, a prospective consumer is marketed a product that is desirable for more than just its taste – it is desirable for its cultural and religious symbolism, for its connection to nobility, and for the sensual experience so highly associated with it.

Another important part of the company’s model is its commitment to the environment. According to its frequently asked questions section, the company website states:

Not only are our chocolate bars are all packaged with recycled paper and compostable cellophane, but the outside sleeve is wildflower-seed-infused. You can simply plant this sleeve to support your local pollinators!

a photo featuring two bars of single-origin, bean-to-bar chocolate by Piety & Desire Chocolate; to the right, we see that the 55% bar is wrapped in a biodegradable sleeve as Nobles discussed in his interview with The Advocate

This specific packaging choice shows a real dedication to environmental issues and the health of the planet. In addition to recyclability, compostability, and the extra benefit of encouraging consumers to plant wildflowers after indulging in their confections, Piety and Desire also offers vegan options among its products. The impact of veganism of the environment is a highly contentious issue, but including vegan products widens the audience of the store such that people who may already be concerned about the environment (and thus choose to be vegan) are more likely to bring their patronage.

The packaging also points to another result of Piety and Desire’s bean-to-bar philosophy: it lacks many certifications that some would expect as givens for a craft chocolaterie. They are not certified organic, according to their frequently asked questions, but the company offers a worthy explanation as to why they do not have this certification for the cacao they buy. Bean-to-bar chocolate requires a certain level of engagement between chocolate makers and cacao farmers that does not exist in other corners of the industry. By pointing out that the cacao they buy is most likely grown organically but grown by farmers who may not be able to afford the fees associated with official certification, Piety and Desire goes one step further and puts their customers in direct conversation with the farmers who supply their cacao. Consumers who talk with Nobles or read their website, or even scroll through their Instagram account, are made to think about the conditions of cacao farmers. Piety and Desire engages in direct and conscious trade, lacking a “fair trade” certification, as well. The willingness to explain why these perhaps-expected certifications are absent is very positive because, as we have seen since our first lecture, not all certifications mean what we as consumers may think that they mean. (Martin, “Chocolate Politics…) Ethical actions do not always come with labels to brand them as such.

More Context

One cannot discuss Piety and Desire Chocolate without discussing New Orleans. The culture and history of the place is inextricably linked to the chocolate that Piety and Desire creates in many different ways.


The flavors and shapes of the bonbons that Nobles crafts in-house are very specifically situate the brand in New Orleans. From King Cake and Sazerac bonbons to the use of very New Orleans flavors like bourbon, coffee, and rum, the brand appeals to local tastes.

Nobles also specifies that he uses “100% raw Louisiana cane sugar” in all his products in various interviews, on the packaging for Piety and Desire Chocolate, and on their website. Despite the historical connection between cane sugar production and plantation slavery (in Louisiana, no less), the use of a local sugar to sweeten the chocolates and confections he makes seems to be seen as a point of pride and a dedication to crafting high quality products. After all, emblazoning “made with 100% raw Louisiana cane sugar” on packaging makes it into a marketing tactic.

In this vein, I became interested to know more about this “raw” sugar. Piety and Desire Chocolate uses sugar from Three Brothers Farms in Louisiana, a family owned operation. As we know, to get to any crystalline form of sugar, heating is necessary (Mintz, pp. 21); therefore, the “raw” label of this sugar boggled me. Having discussed the use of buzz words like “raw” in class as a tactic to increase perception of chocolate as a healthy food, it is unsurprising to see on this packaging, especially having seen packets of “Sugar in the Raw©” in coffee shops all around Harvard Square. But I digress.

On top of using local flavors, cultural institutions like Mardi Gras, and some local ingredients, the language used in the official company Instagram page was fascinating to me. Here, I wish that I had more personal knowledge of New Orleans’ cultural norms, especially due to the complicated and fraught racial history of the region, but I will attempt to unpack what I can. The language used, presumably by Nobles as the proprietor of Piety and Desire Chocolate, very clearly uses ebonics and stylized writing in order to communicate a “blaccent.”


This reminded me of Robertson’s discussion on how people talk about chocolate:

In the mythology of chocolate the power relations of production and consumption are subsumed by a more attractive narrative of exotic peoples and their surroundings, and by historical anecdote. Chocolate seems to generate a particular type of history writings – even in purportedly ‘academic’ texts – one which delves unashamedly into the realms of fantasy and romance.

Robertson, pp. 85-6)

A huge aspect of white fantasy is the fantasy of black bodies, black actions, and black words – we can see as much is the gentrification of hip hop and rap by artists like Iggy Azalea and Miley Cyrus, to point to one modern example. The use of the blaccent in advertising initially made me, as a spectator, imagine that the person making this chocolate was black. Of course, as someone very far removed from New Orleans, I am not sure this is a fair assumption to have had, but it was an assumption nonetheless. Then, through my research, I saw that Christopher Nobles was the owner of Piety and Desire Chocolate – a white man.

This context put almost everything I had thought about Piety and Desire in a new light. While there are bonbons in the store’s offerings that use common, locally-based flavor profiles, there were also more complex, rare flavor offerings including saffron, matcha, jasmine, and goat cheese, to name a few. While there may may be no such thing as an “average consumer,” (Martin, “Haute patisserie…”) and generalizations simply do not apply in the real world of consumer palates, seeing flavors like this – flavors that a consumer could never find in the candy isle of a drug store – made me think even more about Piety and Desire’s audience. As someone from a low-income background, I know that I have seen my family members turn their noses up at flavors which come from outside our comfort zone or flavors which have been marketed in such a way as to emphasize their “gourmet” qualities (one immediately thinks of truffle, for example). I wonder if this, too, is something that narrows the audience of a craft chocolate store like Piety and Desire, and how that can be amended – I firmly believe that flavors should not belong to certain classes, as food is a human right.

Without a detailed investigation of the demographics Piety and Desire serves, one cannot be certain of any sort of racial or class-based disparity in consumers, especially not in terms of flavor-profiling according to generalized perceptions of different races/classes. It is simply something to that I thought about as I continued to learn about the company; it became especially curious to me when I found this post on the company’s Instagram:

View this post on Instagram

Happy Juneteenth! In our hope to spread the celebration of this important commemoration of the abolition of slavery in the former Confederacy on June 19th, 1865, we will be giving away a free chocolate of your choosing simply for stopping in and saying, “Happy Juneteenth!” starting today and running through the end of June! No purchase necessary; truly Free, as all should be. Sadly, slavery still persists in this world in various places, most notably in the form of child slavery in the commodity cacao trade, chiefly in West African nations that supply the majority of the world’s industrial chocolate makers. This is one of many reasons we only engage in Direct Trade, paying well above market and “fair” trade pricing for an ethically produced and -traded agricultural product of the highest quality. Thank you for helping us make a small dent in this injustice through your patronage and for helping to spread the joy of the Change that manifested on Juneteenth while we Hope for the future to bring much more Love and Equality. ✨❤️✨

A post shared by Piety and Desire Chocolate (@pietydesirechoc) on


I encountered it twice – once before seeing that Christopher Nobles was white, and then again after. My first impression was that the brand was attempting to raise awareness of cacao slavery and use its platform to try to inspire change. Additionally, giving away chocolate, however small of a boon it may seem in the grand scheme of things, seemed to be a form of reparations for a community which has been seeking long-deserved justice and reparations for generations. Before going more in depth on this particular topic, I’d like to evaluate the ethical stances of Piety and Desire Chocolate as a company more broadly.

Ethical Criteria

In an interview, Nobles is quoted as saying:

…our movement [craft chocolate] being a global business has a greater thread of social responsibility. Many of us go above and beyond the standards of Fair Trade, paying many times more than that price directly to producers, cooperatives and farmers in what’s known as direct or conscious trade. I feel it’s my responsibility to source from organic sources, who, by intercropping or abandoning less environmentally sustainable agricultural models, make the world a little bit greener.

Christopher Nobles

The ethical awareness, then, can be seen as foundational to the company’s operations. Beyond operations, the company’s impact on the consumer seems to be targeted as well, as best as these things can be. Without tasting the chocolate, the true sense evidence that would be able to tell someone if Piety and Desire Chocolate is doing anything different from the crowd of commodity chocolate brands with its chocolate, I am not sure I can address this; however, from its attempts to educate consumers not only about how its chocolate is made but also about social issues surrounding cocoa production, I think that Piety and Desire Chocolate is very good to its consumers.

Another positive aspect is the commitment to environmental health, evidenced by packaging choices that go above and beyond sustainability. While the pleasure-based language of much of its advertising does lead me to believe that physical health is not a priority of Piety and Desire, its use of local and some organic ingredients as part of the craft food movement, putting it in opposition to the heavily processed commodity food industry, makes me more hopeful about its health consciousness as a company. It is also transparent about its production process, both enumerating steps on its website and having an open-space design in its shop that allows consumers to see different stages of chocolate production.

Tying back to the conversation on Juneteenth, slavery, and reparations, an issue I had with Piety and Desire Chocolate’s model is that they seem not to use West African cacao. We know that most cacao comes from West African farmers, but that the craft food movement has been loath to use West African cacao due to questions of quality. (Martin, “Haute patisserie…”) Additionally, the McNulty article on Piety and Desire Chocolate stated that “Beans arrive fermented and dried in burlap sacks from farms in Central America and South America,” implying that there is no use of West African cacao in the company’s products. Of course, a direct inquiry in necessary to ascertain the validity of that claim, but operating on that assumption reveals some hypocrisy in the brand’s supposed activism.

How can Piety and Desire say that it is trying to promote awareness of the slavery in cacao farms when their direct/conscious trade cacao is not from West Africa, where this problem is the worst? How can they tie together the historical trauma of slavery in Louisiana to the slavery of modern day cacao farmers without acknowledging the greater similarity: that both involved the exploitation of West African people by white people? (Off) By not buying West African cacao, Piety and Desire is also not helping to end slavery on West African cacao farms. Using this tactic and connection to promote itself to an audience that likely includes people of the African diaspora in Louisiana seems tone deaf.

In conclusion, Piety and Desire Chocolate seems to have been founded from a place of immense privilege, as most artisanal chocolate is. This does not mean that their products are not created ethically or of lesser quality than they could be, but that they are simply one of many craft chocolate companies attempting to makes its mark on the industry without making much of an impact on the actual issues endemic to the industry. I think that Piety and Desire Chocolate does its part as well as it can in the context of the craft food movement, but I would like to know more about their pricing, the sources of their cacao, and the demographics of their customers.

Works Cited

Interview with a Chocoholic: Seeing Course Themes in Conversation

In analyzing how chocolate interacts with social spheres, it seems intuitive to interrogate how people interact with and around chocolate. Such an investigation can be done in a number of ways – examining the chocolate section of a grocery store or supermarket, for example, or hosting a chocolate tasting among friends and noting their observations and preferences.

This post focuses on an interview with a family friend about their thoughts on chocolate, the role chocolate has in their life, and how their relationship with chocolate has changed over time. In the process of discussing this individual’s general relationship with chocolate, preferences in chocolate consumption, and experiences with chocolate as a social phenomenon, I will discuss how salient parts of their story relate to themes discussed in class, including but not limited to chocolate and sweets as they relate to children, hallmark characteristics of chocolate, single origin chocolates, and chocolate as a marker of social status.

An early introduction to chocolate

The interviewee’s reaction to being interviewed about chocolate was enthusiastically affirmative. Chocolate and sweets have been an integral part of her life ever since she was a child.

“I don’t have an earliest memory of chocolate,” the interviewee said. “It’s just always been there. My dad has a massive sweet tooth, and for as long as I could remember we just had chocolate around.”

The interviewee is not alone in being exposed to chocolate and sweets from a young age. Candy and other food commercials often explicitly and implicitly target children directly, indoctrinating fans early on and contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic (Martin, slide 29). Halloween has, for children, become synonymous with free or exorbitant amounts of candy, while brands have been competing for children’s loyalty for at least decades.

However, the interviewee’s most vivid childhood memories of chocolate have nothing to do with advertisements. Instead, she recounts a family ritual with her father and sister: “We had this routine every Sunday where my dad would go to the store to buy the paper,” the interviewee said with a smile. “My dad would go get his paper, and we would tag along with him. Afterward, he would buy a bag of fancy chocolates while we could each get a bar of chocolate.”

As a child, the interviewee’s tastes tended toward the super sweet, with a memorable favorite being Cadbury Dairy Milk bars. “I was a kid, so I had a sweet tooth, so of course I went for milk chocolate,” she said with a laugh. She seems to agree with social perceptions of children favoring sweetness (Martin, slide 24), commenting, “The older I get, the darker my chocolate tastes get.” But as a kid? “I’d go for the super sweet milk chocolate!”

“Since when is it horizontal? I remember when they printed it vertically. So much more they could do with the packaging!”

Nowadays the interviewee’s sweet tooth has moved on to other sweets. “I like my chocolate to be bitter,” she said. “I like my chocolate real, real dark. I don’t know [how it happened], it just evolved over time. One day during Sunday, instead of picking up a Cadbury I picked up some slightly-darker-than-milk chocolate. It was still really sweet but it didn’t have the dairy sweet of the chocolate… I realized the darker I went, the less sugar there was to disguise the subtler notes in the chocolate’s flavor.”

While her tastes in chocolate have changed drastically since those formative days, some of the interviewee’s chocolate preferences are permanently influenced by the Sunday ritual. Her favorite chocolates from her father’s bag – when she managed to coax one out of him – were “the goopy ones,” she said, the kind with raspberry jelly or orange paste, and as an adult she still loves chocolates with goopy fillings. Caramels are a special favorite.

But the interviewee now has a permanent soft spot for the subtler flavors more obvious in dark chocolate. “Once you notice the little hints and coughs and smudges of flavor that are hidden just below the surface, you can’t go back,” she said. “You feel like you’re doing yourself and the chocolate a disservice. It’s like listening to a song but filtering out one of the instruments.” The complexity of flavor she references seems a large reason for chocolate’s wide appeal across cultures (Martin, slides 36-38).

Good Chocolates and the Things that Make Them Possible

The interviewee claims not to have many preferences on chocolate, saying, “There’s expensive chocolate and there’s cheap chocolate, and I eat it all.” However, she does have favorites and particularly strong dislikes. This section will discuss first her distaste for a popular brand of chocolate, then  her criteria for evaluating chocolate, as well as innovations in the chocolate industry that make such criteria possible.

For starters, there is one brand that some consider a synonym for chocolate but that the interviewee cannot stand. “Hershey’s isn’t chocolate,” she said. “It’s chocolate-flavored candy.” She identifies two separate factors that make Hershey’s chocolate intolerable: texture and flavor.

“The thing that throws me off the most about Hershey’s is the texture,” the interviewee said. “It’s more gloppy and chewy because it has a candy texture, almost like a taffy texture, but somehow more cloying.” She describes chocolate as breaking with a snap and being smooth as it melts, two qualities she does not associate with Hershey’s.

She finds the flavor of America’s most iconic chocolate underwhelming as well. “Flavor-wise, Hershey’s is dusty to me,” the interviewee said. “It doesn’t taste like the cocoa powder is well incorporated into the mixture. It tastes like you can taste the powder… which is also why I say it doesn’t taste like chocolate, because in actual chocolate the flavor would be more seamless instead of just milk and cocoa butter and cocoa powder.”

In contrast, the interviewee also described characteristics of good chocolate. She sums up a good chocolate bar as “basically, fundamentally, a single mouthfeel experience.” A piece of chocolate is smooth in flavor as well as texture – one uniform flavor across the tongue instead of different pockets of flavor next to each other, and creamy and rich when pressed between the roof of one’s mouth and one’s tongue.

Chocolate’s smooth flavor and texture are not only the two main criteria by which the interviewee evaluates chocolate but also due to crucial parts of the chocolate-making process. For flavor, chocolate made from unroasted cocoa tastes brighter, fruitier, and more bitter, whereas roasting the cocoa produces a richer and less bitter flavor (Martin, slide 51). In addition to roasting, one can also treat cocoa powder with alkali, resulting in what is called “Dutch process cocoa.” While naturally occurring cocoa powder is slightly acidic, Dutch process cocoa powder has a pH level of 7, which is the same as water (Velie 2019). The natural acidity in cocoa is responsible for citrusy and fruity flavors in chocolate, whereas treating cocoa with alkali mellows this tartness into earthier flavors and gives the cocoa a more consistently woodsy or nutty flavor (Velie).

Chocolate’s signature smooth texture, on the other hand, is thanks less to chemical treatments and more to physical manipulations of cocoa.  To begin, chocolate owes much of its smoothness to the milling process in chocolate-making. Chocolate that is being milled is crushed and pressed until its particles are of a size between 15 and 30 microns wide, the perfect range for the silky smoothness of chocolate (Martin, slide 59). While particles wider than 30 microns feel sandy or gritty, particles of less than 15 microns wide cause a slimy or silty texture. Once the particles in chocolate are in the right size range, they undergo a process called conching to ensure even incorporation of dry and wet ingredients throughout the chocolate (Dand 268). While scientists don’t agree what about this hours-long incorporating step gives chocolate its smoothness, conching is nonetheless now considered a critical part of chocolate production (Dand 283). Finally, tempering is a process of forming smooth crystalline structures in chocolate by melting and reforming it to specific conditions (Martin, slide 63). When done well, tempering can improve both flavor and texture, as well as help chocolate’s shelf life (Martin).

So several factors contribute to chocolate’s signature mouthfeel, but once flavor and texture were ensured the interviewee did have more to say on her chocolate preferences, particularly by way of flavor and origin.

Terroir and Taste

When asked how she decides what makes a good dark chocolate, the interviewee quipped, “Obviously, my notes depend on origin. Obviously, it depends where you get the chocolate for what the subtle notes [of flavor] are.” Her comments are representative of a common approach to food consumption known as terroir, which can be loosely defined as the qualities of a food that can be attributed to local ingredients, environmental factors, and other noteworthy characteristics related to the place where the food is produced (Martin, slide 45). In other words, terroir can be thought of as the flavors or textures in a food that are uniquely related to how or where the food is produced. Cacao-producing countries use the concept of terroir to brand their cacao as having flavors particular to their region, such as the idea that chocolate made from Ghanaian cacao has a uniquely Ghanaian flavor (Martin, slide 47). Terroir is understudied, especially with chocolate, and an imprecise science thanks to its subjective nature and subtle differences between even foods produced from the same ingredients in the same ways (Martin). Nonetheless, it is key for many chocolate connoisseurs who place both warranted and unwarranted weight on cacao origin.

But terroir wasn’t always an important part of selecting chocolate for the interviewee. As a former student of Harvard College, she was formally introduced to single-origin chocolate at the nearby chocolate shop L.A. Burdick, which sorts and sells its chocolate bars almost exclusively according to their cacao’s countries of origin. After copious amounts of experimentation, the interviewee decided she had two favorite chocolate flavors, which she named by country.

“I thought my favorite [chocolate flavor] was Ecuadorian dark chocolate,” the interviewee said. “But over time it’s evolved a bit – it’s now a toss up between the Brazilian and the Ecuadorian.” She describes the Ecuadorian as earthier and heavier, not spicy or chili-flavored but somehow still “almost peppery,” whereas she remembers the Brazilian as more vegetal with a fresher and cleaner flavor, almost like apple or pear.

Now that she has graduated from Harvard, the interviewee cannot so easily access single-origin chocolate. “I don’t look into chocolate origins so much anymore,” she said. “But if it [the chocolate bar] does say a country of origin, if it’s a country of origin that I like, then I’ll get it because it’s good chocolate. Or at least it’s historically been good chocolate in my experience.” That is, the interviewee does not necessarily choose chocolate based on country of origin and instead uses this information to make educational guesses on what other chocolate is also to her liking. Ultimately, she cares more about trying new chocolate than staying loyal to a particular bar. “If it’s a bar I’ve never had or from a place I’ve never had, I’ll prioritize it over a bar I know I like. And then I save one spot for a bar I know I like in case the other ones are duds.”

Sweets and Socialites: Chocolate as a Status Symbol

As much as she loves chocolate and sweets, the interviewee does not love holidays associated with candy. More specifically, she has distinctly unpleasant memories of Valentine’s Day from her high school days. As a secular institution the school had to avoid emphasizing religious holidays, and with a shortage of secular holidays the student council embraced Valentine’s Day as “an uncomplicated secular holiday focusing on love,” the interviewee said.

“They were selling everything you could imagine,” the interviewee said. “Roses, singing telegraphs, chocolate, balloons. You would pay to receive a rose or chocolate or balloon or send it to a friend. People went all out – it became a status thing to receive lots of roses or lots of balloons…especially among girls. People would send roses to their friends so that no one didn’t have roses. Then it became, are you really friends if you don’t send a rose?”

The commodification of affection through gifts extended to chocolates and balloons and telegrams too. As a result, the interviewee said, chocolate became a status symbol at school for one day out of the year as long as it was visibly a gift from someone else. “That one day a year was the cashing out of social credit,” the interviewee said. “You’re flaunting your social money bags, all on that one day.”

Though an alarming example of the commodification of human affection, the situation at the interviewee’s high school is far from unusual. My own elementary and high schools boasted similarly unofficial popularity contests around Valentine’s Day, measured by cards, flowers, and candy. More surprising is perhaps the fact that such use of chocolate as a measure of influence or power is historically precedented. Ancient Mesoamericans paid taxes to their rulers in the form of cacao beans, a system that continued into the 17th century (Martin, slide 20), and chocolate spread from the Americas through European spheres of influence specifically as an ingredient among the upper class until industrialization and modernization made mass-produced chocolate affordable and accessible to all (Martin, slides 37-38).

At the Heart of It: Simply Delicious

Ultimately, the interviewee’s thoughts on chocolate are fairly straightforward. As a person who loves food, she has a softness for sweets, and her sweet tooth has a weakness for the unique taste profile that chocolate has. While advertisements paint chocolate as a sensual experience – “You want to sell chocolate? Make people think chocolate and sex are fundamentally interlinked” – at the end of the day chocolate is still a food, particularly one with a rich and diverse flavor, irresistibly smooth texture, and countless cultural adaptations. Researching and tasting different chocolates are only helpful insofar as they contribute to the creation of ever better chocolate. After all, as the interviewee said, “Sometimes you just want something really decadent, and nothing feels as decadent as chocolate.”

Works Cited

Dand, Robin. “Cocoa Bean Processing and the Manufacture of Chocolate.” The International Cocoa Trade. Amsterdam: Elvesier, 2011.

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate Expansion.” AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 13 February 2019. Harvard College. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisement.” AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 3 April 2019. Harvard College. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cocoa.” AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 20 February 2019. Harvard College. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race of the Global Market.” AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 13 March 2019. Harvard College. Lecture.

Velie, Marissa Sertich. Serious Eats. “What’s the Difference Between Dutch Process and Natural Cocoa Powder?” Last modified March 15, 2019. 2014/08/difference-dutch-process-natural-cocoa-powder-substitute.html.

Plant and Community Disease: Impediments in Small Scale Cacao Farming.

In the summer after my sophomore year of college, I conducted research on sustainable development in Costa Rica and Panama. This was one of the most enriching academic and personal experiences in my life to-date, especially the week that I spent living on a small-scale cacao farm in Mastatal, Costa Rica. That magical week involved working and eating alongside the absolutely lovely family that has owned the land its cacao trees for generations.

Mastatal is a unique agricultural community that lies in the south west region of the San Jose Province. It is a town that has always relied on agriculture, usually on a small scale. It has never industrialized and found a comfortable place in the larger Costa Rica economy, but since the turn of the century it has revived its economy through agricultural tourism, or agritourism.

Wait… what is agritourism?

Agricultural tourism is a subset of the larger trend toward ecotourism, a style of travel that involves leaving a small footprint on the environment, while connecting on a deeper level with it. Agritourism involves staying and working on a farm with the goal of getting closer to the source of the food you eat. This trend is generally being driven by global changes in food and dining, climate and energy conservation, health and wellness, and heritage conservation (Ciglovska, 278). Four farms in Mastatal, all focusing on different products, use agritourism as a source of additional income, hosting visitors, giving tours, making local dishes, and putting the travelers to work. Where I was staying, La Iguana Chocolate, was the main attraction, because everybody loves chocolate.

The group of students that I was a part of worked alongside the family that owned the cacao operation, while conducting field research on the budding agritourism industry in the small town as a whole. The work was hard but rewarding and gave me closer insight into the process of harvesting cacao and making chocolate, as well as the struggles of a small scale producer. Chocolate is made from the beans inside a fruit that grows from a tree, something that I was unaware of before my time on the farm. Upon arriving we were given a full tasting, one of the services that is offered to travelers each day. The couple that operates the farm greeted us with an interesting looking fruit that reminded me of a squash, and when they broke it open it was filled with small white fuzzy pods. They encouraged us to take one of the pods and eat the white fuzzy material off of it, and that was the moment that I found my favorite fruit. Yes, cacao is my favorite fruit. It sounds crazy… most people have no idea where the cocoa powder and butter that makes their favorite treat comes from, or that the raw fruity product could be so delicious. For those of you struggling to believe me, I have attached a video of a tasting. That first sight of the cacao pods was only the beginning of my time spent with them over the course of my time at La Iguana.

The most rewarding part of the whole week was the time spent in the fields harvesting the cacao pods. The work is eye-opening in its difficulty. We started our day with a quick breakfast at around seven o’clock in the morning before packing lunch and all the necessary tools onto the back of a single horse. We then set off through the back of the immediate property, down a dirt, and then mud, road for about a mile until we came to a river. Shoes were removed and the river was crossed, the small dog accompanying us was carried, of course. After we scaled a large hill we finally reached the edge of a forest, situated in higher altitude than we were previously. The walk alone was enough to exhaust the group, but it is highly necessary that the cacao trees are in the perfect environment to grow effectively. Cacao trees need to be in an area with high moisture but good draining, usually shaded by other trees and surrounded by a heavy underbrush of leaves. This is knowledge that has been passed down for generations, since the first cacao tree was brought to Mastatal. These very particular conditions were perfect in this hillside forest, and the journey to reach the trees is absolutely worth it when the trees are highly productive. This is especially true when your livelihood depends on it.

Once we got to the vast area of cacao trees there was important training that needed to take place. There were several strains of cacao growing in the field. This meant that the ideal color and shape of the pods that were ready for harvest could differ from tree to tree. Green pods turn a deep yellow, but yellow pods turn a bright red. Clearly there is room for confusion. Beyond that, any pod that has black spots on it must be taken down despite its level of ripeness. The black spots are a disease that can ruin an entire harvest, Moniliophthora roreri, but more on that later. We also had to learn how to properly use the sharp tools to cut the pods from the trunks of the cacao trees. It seemed like at every step in the process of growing and harvesting cacao there was only one very specific way of doing things. While we may have been a bit unprepared, we were set off into the forest, machete and large hemp bag in hand.

Aside from the cliff of mud and rushing river that had to be passed to reach the crop, the work itself was awfully dangerous as well. Costa Rica is home to the Fer-de-Lance, an incredibly venomous viper who likes to live in underbrush… underbrush much like that required to grow cacao. Some of the pods are also out of reach, making climbing a tree with a machete in hand necessary. Once our bags were full with pods, we hauled them to the center of the forest and all dumped them out to extract the beans. While working on the pods, we chatted with the family about how they got started in cacao, and what the biggest challenges have been in making a living from the crop.

Pile of cacao pods from our harvest. Black pods have the Monilio disease and may not be useable.

While roughly two thirds of the worlds cacao production happens in West Africa, the plant is indigenous to Central and South America, an area that produces only five percent of the worlds cacao today (Leissle, 16). This is due to the colonial exportation of the production means to an area that was understood as having cheap and abundant labor that could support the booming chocolate industry. La Iguana is one of the few farms still producing cacao in the Mastatal area. We were told that cacao trees were brought to the area in the middle of the twentieth century because the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture saw it as an opportunity to breathe life into the economy of the area. In essence, small scale subsistence and fruit farmers were forced to change their production techniques and land use to cater to cacao. Encouraging shaded agro-ecosystems like cacao also “provide a promising means of addressing the challenges of creating a forest‐like habitat for tropical biodiversity in a rapidly deforested landscape, while simultaneously providing a lucrative crop for local agricultural communities” (Phillips‐Mora et al.).

However, many of the farmers that were planting cacao in Mastatal had to stop in the mid-90s when Monilio, the fungal disease discussed above, was spread through the area. We were told that there was no concrete understanding of how the disease came to the area, perhaps on the clothes of a traveler studying cacao. It was clear that this disease could cause hardship that seemed unsurmountable. It was well known that Monilio could be destroy long-term economic viability if even one yield was infected (Evans et al.). After the disease initially hit the La Iguana farm, they could not get enough pure cacao pods and had to revert to selling only fruit from their smaller fruit farm for a living. A highlight is that even in pods with black spots covering most of the fruit, it is possible that the fungus has not yet reached the beans on the inside, and the cacao is still useable.

A drawing I did for the farm as a parting gift. It reads “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” in reference to Monilia on cacao.

While La Iguana has implemented a few techniques to diminish the impact of the Monilia on their crop that has allowed them to maintain good harvests, there have been other struggles for the small farm in establishing a sustainable business model. The largest struggle for them, as well as the other farms shifting towards an agritourism model, was attracting the right crowds of people. The research that I ultimately produced from my time there looked at the marketing techniques of each of these farms, and how they are perceived by the surrounding community. I found that the initial launch of these farms as tourist destinations brought the wrong kind of people to the town, creating a tension between the farms and other locals. Jarkko Saarinen is a scholar who has done extensive research in the field, and he made a similar generalization that “high development goals of rural tourism may separate rural communities and tourism actors, which can cause economic and social conflicts, insecurity and locally unwanted changes in rural landscapes.” However, once La Iguana was able to control the crowds they were attracting, and their ability to bring new people to the area started having a positive impact on the greater community, they reached a new level of stability and social sustainability.

However, both the control of tourists coming to eat chocolate from the source, and the control of Monilio are ongoing battles for La Iguana Chocolate as well as other small scale cacao farmers in the region. I am infinitely grateful for the time I was able to spend there, and the friends I made in Mastatal. The knowledge that I gained from living and working in a small agricultural town going through a beautiful economic transformation will allow me to better navigate these communities in the future and work with them on their long term development and sustainability: environmental, economic, and social.

Works Cited:

Evans, Harry C., et al. “What’s in a Name: Crinipellis, the Final Resting Place for the Frosty Pod Rot Pathogen of Cocoa?” Mycologist, vol. 16, no. 4, Nov. 2002, pp. 148–52. Cambridge Core, doi:10.1017/S0269915X02004093.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity, 2018.

Phillips‐Mora, W., et al. “Biodiversity and Biogeography of the Cacao (Theobroma Cacao) Pathogen Moniliophthora Roreri in Tropical America.” Plant Pathology, vol. 56, no. 6, 2007, pp. 911–22. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1365-3059.2007.01646.x.

Saarinen, Jarkko. “Traditions of Sustainability in Tourism Studies.” Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 33, no. 4, Oct. 2006, pp. 1121–40. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.annals.2006.06.007.

All photos were taken by Taylor Gates.

A Lot Can be Learned from the Selection of Chocolate at CVS

As a massive international corporation, CVS offers numerous products and services to their customers around the globe. Traditionally, they have acted as a pharmacy and drug store. Yet, within recent decades, CVS has become more of a convenience store in that it still offers pharmaceutical services and drugs, but it also now offers everything from cleaning supplies to ice cream. Furthermore, considering the fact that many Americans live relatively close to a CVS, it could be argued that many of the smaller consumables, such as chocolate, are purchased there. Thus, in analyzing the modern-day chocolate market for the majority of the public, CVS is an excellent case study to examine how chocolate is being sold to the masses. Thus, this multimedia essay will utilize the chocolate selection from CVS as a case study to determine how chocolate is being marketed to the public.

Race, Gender, Luxury and How Chocolate is Advertised

            The history of chocolate advertisement is one that is extremely rich with influence from countless external forces and cultures. Since its conception, chocolate, and the advertisement for its consumption, have been heavily influenced by both race and gender. The relationship between chocolate and race is strong and the two have related to one another since the Europeans found out about chocolate. Chocolate and chocolate production have historically been related to slavery, particularly African slavery, which continues to this day. The enslavement of African men and boys does still continue to this day and, “in a 2000 report on human rights in Côte d’Ivoire, the U.S. State Department estimated, with startling candour, ‘that 15,000 Malian children work on Ivoiran cocoa and coffee plantations… Many are under 12 years of age, sold into indentured servitude for US$140 and work 12-hour days for $135 to $189 a year’” (Off 133). Along with gender, race’s long connection with chocolate and chocolate production can still be seen to this day within the form of chocolate advertisement. That is, many of the ways in which chocolate is advertised play on these relationships between gender and race and chocolate. This can be seen in the fact that, “contemporary chocolate advertisements as well as wrappings feature black bodies or distorted images of blackness in order to promote chocolate products” (Hackenesh 98). Within the context of gender, “the consumption of chocolate in the west became feminized early in its history” (Robertson 20). That is, “women were charged with providing wholesome cocoa for respectable consumption within the family” (Robertson 20). Along with race and gender, the idea of chocolate as a luxury item is yet another aspect of its history that can be seen to this day. This early western idea of chocolate as a luxury good can best be seen within the coffee and chocolate houses of the seventeenth century. That is, “from the male-dominated coffee and chocolate houses of the seventeenth century, chocolate became associated with luxury and leisure in the domestic sphere from the eighteenth century” (Robertson 20). The influence of this idea of chocolate as a luxury item cannot be overstated and its influence can be seen to this day. This influence has been so powerful that it remains one of the most utilized tropes within modern chocolate advertisement. Thus, although race and gender have influenced chocolate throughout its history, and can be seen within many forms of multimedia chocolate advertisements, this idea of chocolate as a luxury good remains one of the strongest advertising tropes and one that can be seen throughout the selection of chocolate available at stores such as CVS. So, because of this, the luxury aspect of chocolate advertising will be the main focus of the remainder of this case study of the chocolate selection available at CVS.

A racist chocolate advertisement relating African skin color to chocolate treats
Source: Lecture 4, Slide 5
A classic feminized add for chocolate

The Chocolate Selection at CVS

            As CVS has expanded its selection of items, particularly its selection of consumables, its chocolate so too has expanded. When you search for chocolate on the CVS website or you enter a physical CVS location, you are immediately confronted with the classic brands that you would expect. This includes brands such as: Dove, Hershey, Cadbury, Toblerone, Mars, Lindt etc. These brands have remained staples throughout America, and the world, for decades and thus they have garnered loyal support from many customers. That is, “the main reason for this longevity [of the major chocolate producers] is consumers’ usually strong loyalty to the taste of their chocolate; many consumers make a lifetime commitment to thei favorite chocolate brands” (Allen 21). Seeing these brands immediately made me feel comfortable. I felt that because I knew these brands, I could make an informed decision based on the brand name. At no point was I concerned with how the chocolate was produced, or even the ingredients of the chocolate, my decisions were based solely on brand name and packaging. Furthermore, as I view chocolate as a luxury and not something that should be eaten all the time or in large quantities, I was not concerned with the calorie content of any of the items. I knew that I was buying this luxury good to splurge and thus, calories were of no concern to me. Many of the large brands utilized images and colors on their packages so that they seemed luxurious and special. Dark purple and blue are often used on the packaging, as well as gold, in order to exude a certain type of luxury and exclusivity. Although much of the selection from the larger brands, such as Mars and Hershey, revolved around their classic treats, there was also a number of chocolates that were a darker chocolate with more cocoa. These chocolates were attempting to be more luxurious and exclusive even though they come from a well-known and inexpensive brand like Mars, Hershey, or Cadbury. An example of this can be seen in the Hershey’s Kisses Special Dark. Hershey’s kisses are a classic product from Hershey, and arguably one of the most famous chocolate treats in America. They are inexpensive and not considered to be the highest-end or most luxurious chocolate treat. Yet, by changing the packaging by adding a dark purple color and wrapping the Kisses in purple tinfoil rather than the classic silver foil the treats seem much more luxurious and high-end. The addition of ‘Special Dark’ on the label speaks to a certain level of prestige and luxury, and it also hints at the ingredient content of the treats which seem to be of better and higher quality. This attempt of a large brand that is not necessarily known for extremely high-quality and luxurious chocolate, like Hershey, attempting to advertise a luxurious and high-end product differs from a large brand that is more synonymous with high-end chocolate. This can be seen in the packaging of the Lindt Lindor chocolates. Lindt is more synonymous with a higher-end and more luxurious chocolate than is Hershey, thus all of their products immediately have that luxury cachet simply because of the brand name. The Lindt Lindor packaging is simple and elegant and includes colors such as dark blue and gold.

The ‘luxurious’ packaging for Lindt Lindor chocolates which are synonymous with luxury and exclusivity
A screenshot from the first products that come up when one searches ‘chocolate on the CVS website

The Dangers of Chocolate Advertising

            One aspect of these attempts at utilizing luxury as a selling-point for chocolate is that these companies use this idea of luxury without backing it up through an explanation how the chocolate is produced and why it is of better quality than other treats. The containers focus on textures and mouthfeels of the various products, yet do not speak about what makes the particular chocolate more expensive and of better quality than other products. The Lindt Lindor packaging, for example, says “Irresistibly Smooth” on the front, yet does not speak to the actual quality of the chocolate and the ingredients of the product. This is an ingenious ploy by the chocolate companies because they need not drastically increase their cost of production, but rather just adjust the advertising and increase the price to create the lure of luxury and exclusivity. Thus, consumers must become aware of these ploys by the chocolate manufacturers and ensure that they are paying for quality of production and ingredients, not luxurious advertising.


Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes :the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s

            Consumers. AMACOM, American Management Association, 2009.

Hackenesch, Silke. “Advertising Chocolate, Consuming Race? On the Peculiar Relationship of

            Chocolate Advertising, German Colonialism, and Blackness.” Vol. 12, no. 1, 2014, pp.


Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet.

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

Sweet Taste, Bitter Origins:

Child Labor in the Cacao Industry

Not Much Has Changed

To the masses, the societal perception of chocolate has always been positively affiliated with the best sentiments and sensations, a treat and a delicacy associated with comfort and sweetness. However, one needs to look no further than the very palpable and authentic account of one young child laborer who had been working on a cacao farm for five years. When asked what he thought about other people’s affinity for chocolate and the international adoration and mania surrounding it, he responded, “They are enjoying something that I suffered to make…They are eating my flesh” (O’Keefe). The sudden imagery and sharp language here, while perhaps unwelcoming at first, is completely necessary in order to thoroughly capture the brutality and centuries-long interwoven connection between the mega-international cacao industry and the concentrated pockets of effectively forced child labor in key regions within West Africa, namely the nations of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Ghana. There is a deep-rooted and complex history of the rise of chocolate as a product and how it became such a global staple even on the industrial stage. As times have progressed, world views championing humanity have continued to be popularized with the necessary complementary certain societal frameworks being modified to support this humanitarian movement. However, much of the original extortionary dynamic between those producing chocolate and those farming the cacao remains in society to this day. While in the past, big chocolate suppliers played a willing role in the extortion of indigenous populations in fertile equatorial cacao-growing regions, the contemporary dynamic bears keen resemblance in today’s case with giant multinational corporations playing an integral role in the ongoing injustices in West Africa in the form of millions of child laborers.

The Disconnect

In a situation where hundreds of millions of dollars and countless other resources are being annually committed to a global problem, how is it feasible that the aforementioned international predicament persists to exist? Indeed, the essence of the problem goes far beyond the unyielding international obsession and demand for chocolate and past the intrinsically extortionary relationship reinforced by a capitalistically centered society­–both unequivocally important factors. However, the key to realizing noticeable change may lie perhaps in the most important aspect of the machine which also may happen to ironically be the least explored element: cultural and family dynamics reinforcing an anachronistic and inhumane system of child labor. Ultimately, the fusion of all of the well-documented historical information society has on past human injustices combined with a proliferation of more of the reputable ethnographic and empirical work giving key insights into the daily affairs and structure of families afflicted with child labor could work to effectively illuminate the very same people responsible for the extreme global chocolate demand. By maximizing the number of those who have access to the true nature of the industry and minimizing the filter put in place to make the reality of these injustices falsely seem more digestible (at least to the chocolate-loving first-world countries), society can refocus its efforts towards eradicating those very injustices embedded within the industry.

A young boy uses a machete to break cocoa pods at a farm near Abengourou in eastern Ivory Coast in December.

The Machine

Before diving into the intricacies of local family politics within agricultural communities in West Africa, the aforementioned issues such as the exorbitant international chocolate demand coupled with the rapaciously money-motivated multinational corporations and the politics contained within merit acknowledgment. To put into perspective this amazing relationship between the main two relatively poor African nations and their role in a multi-billion-dollar international industry, consider the following:

“The multinational chocolate makers are heavily dependent on West Africa. More than 70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in the region, and the vast majority of that supply comes from two countries: Ivory Coast and Ghana, which together produce 60% of the global total. The two nations have a combined GDP of around $73 billion, according to the World Bank—or significantly less than Nestlé’s $100 billion in sales last year. Yet the global chocolate business would be thrown into chaos without them.” (O’Keefe)

Here, one can examine three key patterns.

  1. Extremely high international demand–there is $100 billion raked in through annual sales by Nestle, just one of the chocolate multinationals (not even including Mar’s or Hershey’s or Mondelez). Inclusion of other corporations would multiply the number a few times over.
  2. A thorough disconnect between domestic inputs in the form of the labor supplied by the Ivory Coast and Ghana (much of which is child labor) [60$ of global chocolate production] and the financial gain realized, or lack thereof [combined $73 billion in GDP].  
  3. A lack of acknowledgement/compensation/recognition for the centrality and importance of cacao farmers to the international chocolate industry. Despite a rise in cacao prices worldwide, there hasn’t been a correlated rise in farmer income, leaving many well below the official World Bank poverty line

All in all, aside from the ghastly financial figures O’Keefe cites to highlight the injustices within the industry, perhaps his most memorable statement is that still, “hundreds of thousands of children are used as free labor by their own families and often asked to take on dangerous tasks like harvesting with machetes or hauling 100-pound bags of beans.” (O’Keefe)

Multinational Omnipresent Implications

Sadly, a lot of the child labor problem continues to persist not because of a lack of effort on the part of the multinational corporations (although it certainly is a factor to an extent in many cases), but perhaps because an element of unfamiliarity of key defects that lie at the core of the issue. Akin to the Harkin-Engel Protocol, there is evidence of these multinational corporations as well as other mechanisms such as various NGOs organizing humanitarian and altruistic efforts to combat the child labor crisis. On Nestle’s website in 2016 for example, they reported spending $5.5 million for their efforts:

“The company has built or renovated 42 schools in cocoa-growing communities and has helped support families so they can afford to keep their kids in school rather than sending them off to work and the company has implemented a monitoring system, it says, to identify at-risk children and report the findings back to the company and its suppliers. When alerted to instances of child trafficking or slavery, “we report it to appropriate authorities immediately” (Jones).

On the surface, while Nestle’s actions here are seemingly valiant at first glance, one must also truly question the full scope and validity of their commitment to eradicating the problem, especially when put into perspective of the roughly $100 billion netted in annual sales (that has since only climbed upward). Thus, one then must go beyond the macro-factors and consider key micro-pressures and elements that have long-term and long-lasting ramifications on the reinforcement of a child labor system that has spiraled out of control–queue the local family household.


Problems Beneath the Surface: Family Ties

Much of the root cause of the ongoing child labor crisis comes into fruition much earlier in the industrial timeline than even the first step of chocolate production-cacao farming. Before considering the actual physical phenomenon of the existence of child workers, it is paramount, too, to consider the key environmental pressures and micro-elements within the household that buttress the system. Grand sweeping explanations like “poverty,” “colonialism,” and “technological insufficiencies,” do not suffice at this point in time, because generally speaking, those reasons have been in public discourse for centuries. What is most important are the facts that most people either don’t know or never had access to. It is ironic that it was the international abolishment and condemnation of slavery at the turn of the 20th century that shifted production factors from natives and the enslaved to farmers and families in cacao-growing regions like West Africa. While the shift in production factors was at first a boon for the economies of said societies, the fundamental restructuring of family dynamic and the economic reliance on same-roof household child labor quickly became an irreversible trend.

Today, that effect cascades through many facets of daily life—from food to schooling to some of the simple virtues which most take for granted such as leisure. Anthropologist Amanda Berlan, in her comprehensive study of social factors in West African villages, highlights one notable empirical pattern where there exists a trend of economically and socially-driven divorce rates and separated households that come to have punitive ramifications in the lives of the children. Upon divorce, inconsistent inheritance patterns or in many cases outright neglect leaves many children hopeless. Indeed, this study is exemplary of the many more empirically based examination that the chocolate industry needs in order to rectify the child labor crisis. In fact, Berlan found through interviews that the vast majority of respondents “revealed that this inheritance pattern and tradition often results in fathers neglecting their parental responsibility towards the child,” in turn often affecting the child’s nutrition, education, and general right at a chance at life. The aforementioned instances of multinational efforts, when coupled with empirical research has proven to be an effective approach as well. In line with the Harkin-Engel Protocol, Nestle conducted a 3 year pilot program reaching 26,000 farmers in the Ivory Coast where it reported a 51% decrease in the number of children performing hazardous labor in cacao farming (Balch). Indeed, this instance is a step up, but the millions more who have yet to be reached, not to mention the questionable modifier of “non-hazardous” qualifying as acceptable asserts that society has much farther to go before eradicating child labor.

Looking Forward

The Harkin-Engel problem was a step in the right direction. However, there exists a persistent trend of both chocolate loving consumers and profit loving multinationals that cooperate in this system and effectively fuel its existences, injustices included and all. As Berlan’s interviews illuminates:

“Many key informants expressed considerable frustration that child labour remains a problem in cocoa production in West Africa. Many of them did not feel that interventions to date had been effective (one key informant referred to them as ‘a complete waste of money’) or even that the problem was sufficiently well understood.”

To better understand and solve this problem, society must keep all of the past injustices in the human consciousness, while remaining keenly eager to self-educate on the modern day effects to stem from the said unfortunate historical phenomena of the past. It isn’t just a problem of history, necessarily–today, it has also become a problem of awareness and general basic understanding and compassion. With an increase in ethnographically and anthropologically driven research, society can gain the capacity to not only look at the general problem of child labor but also effectively key in on specific facets within the crisis, such as environmentally induced local family trends, in order to more thoroughly combat this malpractice.


  • Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088–1100.
  • Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet
  • Oliver Balch (20 June 2018). “Child labour: the true cost of chocolate production”.
  • “Your Halloween Candy’s Hidden Ingredient: Child Slave Labor”. Mother Jones. 31 October 2016.
  • Brian O’Keefe

Big Chocolate Child Labor *Video*

  • Photographs by Benjamin Lowy
  • Coursepack Images

Beyond the Taste

A Paperless Post Invitation for the chocolate tasting

The Nitty-Gritty of the Tasting

We selected six different chocolate bars from six different brands from Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe in Harvard Square. All the chocolates were labeled as “dark” and all of them were marketed as unflavored – no nuts or filling. Our aim was to provide a range of chocolate bars that stretched across a spectrum of cacao percentage. The initial tasting was blind; the participants were only given the unwrapped chocolate to taste with no information about brand, packaging, or price. Each taster went down the line tasting each chocolate and provided initial feedback and thoughts on each chocolate. We asked them to describe flavor, texture, and to make a guess about cacao percentage. After they tasted all the chocolate, we asked participants to rearrange chocolates in order of estimated cacao concentration. Then we asked them to choose their favorite and least favorite and explain their decision. Our aim was to understand people’s different assumptions about chocolate as well as have them closely pay attention to the flavors, textures, and intensities of the different chocolate. We conducted the first part of the tasting blind as to not influence the comments with branding or commercial messaging. We then revealed the packaging/ cacao content and observed how people’s opinions shifted. After that, we then interviewed the participants about their history with chocolate and how the tasting influenced their perception or understanding of chocolate. The whole experience of the tasting and conversations with the participants organically highlighted a lot of the themes we have discussed in class including themes of gender, health, and luxury.

Listed below are the chocolates we used in the tasting as well as some of the initial impressions and comments from tasters:

Taza Stone Ground Bolivia 87% Dark

Chocolate #1: Taza Stone Ground 87% Dark Bolivia All of the participants noted that this chocolate felt “chalky” or “powdery”. However, there was a split when deciding whether this was a good or bad thing. Some tasters, like Annie, hated the texture while Victoria said she was drawn to the chocolate because of the texture. Three participants remarked that they tasted some sort of fruity cherry flavor. All of the tasters had a mildly positive impression of the chocolate. Cacao percentage guesses ranged from 60%-80%.

Alpaco Noir 66% Dark

Chocolate #2: Alpaco Noir 66% Dark – All the tasters immediately noted that they thought this chocolate was “yummier” than the first. Everyone said that the chocolate tasted sweeter and felt smoother. Both Annie and Adam used the word “accessible” to describe the chocolate and Anna said the chocolate felt more “commercial”. More on these descriptions in the analysis below. People guessed that the cacao content ranged from 60%-70%.

Cote d’Or Noir Noir

Chocolate #3: Cote d’Or Noir Noir People really engaged with the flavor of this chocolate. Most of the participants tasted some sort of espresso or coffee flavor that they said elevated the chocolate’s flavor profile. Anna described the chocolate as “earthen” and Victoria said the chocolate tasted, “funkier, but in a good way”. People thought that this chocolate was sweeter than its predecessors and estimated that the cacao percentage would be between 50%-65%.

Lake Champlain 57% Dark

Chocolate #4: Lake Champlain 57% Dark Immediately, people noted that this chocolate was the sweetest yet. Two of the participants, Annie and Amanda both said the chocolate was not melting in their mouths and it was difficult to taste the flavor of the chocolate. Anna summed up her thoughts by saying that the chocolate tasted like “hotel pillow chocolate”. Adam described the texture as dehydrating. People guessed the cacao content to be from 40%-55%

Hershey’s Special Dark

Chocolate #5: Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate When asked about the flavor profile of this chocolate – all the participants simply said “sugary”. Annie said the chocolate was so singularly sweet that it was hard to taste the chocolate in the chocolate. Everyone said that the texture was really smooth and guessed that the cacao content was around 10%-30%.

Anitidote 100% Raw Cacao

Chocolate #6: Antidote Chocolate 100% Raw Cacao People really disliked this chocolate, many of them going as far to spit the chocolate out. Annie noted that she tasted “vinegar paired with playground wood chips” and Adam said that the chocolate reminded him of a “bad shot of vodka”. Everyone noted acidity and bitterness. More so, no one was able to identify a “chocolate-y” flavor. Anna went as far as to say, “if I ate this with a blindfold I would not be able to tell you that this is related to chocolate in any way”. People guessed the chocolate was 90%-100% cacao

For the most part, participants guesses about cacao concentration were accurate and they arranged the chocolate in mostly the correct order. Participant’s blind favorite chocolates were split between the Lake Champlain and the Cote d’Or. The conversations we had after the brands were revealed began to unpack their understandings of chocolate and what it means to consume it.


We asked all the participants to discuss their early memories of chocolate and how they experienced chocolate in childhood. Every single participant mentioned women in their memories. All of the respondent’s early relationships with chocolate were mediated by their relationships with different women in their lives. The different vignettes of memory illustrate the various ways in which chocolate interacts with societal conceptions of femininity and womanhood. In her Chocolate, Women, and Empire, Emma Robertson examines how chocolate advertising in the 20th century outlined new uses for chocolate beyond its nutritious or taste-based value: “Advertising has created, and reinforced, particular uses and identities for each type of product: so whilst a chocolate bar may be consumed as a source of concentrated energy to be carried on walking expeditions for instance), a box of chocolates may be bought as a gift (with all the social implications of the gift relationship)”[i] Chocolate consumption can help craft a performance of identity and relationships, and we see that especially with chocolate’s ties to femininity.

Chocolate, as a gift, acts as romantic signaling. One participant, Anna, mentioned that her childhood memories of chocolate center around her parent’s relationship: “My dad will always buy my mom chocolate when he does something to make her mad”. Anna’s comment highlights a lasting trope in chocolate marketing: gifts of chocolate can appease an angered women and demonstrate a man’s thoughtfulness and suitability as a partner. As Robertson explains, “Men are assured that their gift will symbolize their appropriateness as romantic partners”, and chocolate can serve as means of defining relationships between men and women. Advertisements for Rowntree’s Black Magic chocolate product launched in the 1930s illustrates how this gendered relationship was crafted through marketing. George Harris worked closely with the J Walter Thompson Advertising Company to launch Black Magic in 1933. Harris determined that Black Magic should be marketed as an affordable gift from a man to a woman. The advertisements for Black Magic demonstrate the romantic messaging that Rowntree relied on. Robertson quotes a 1934 ad, “He was so interested in his awful football match that he didn’t seem to notice me”. The ad offers a box of Black Magic as a remedy to a potential lovers’ quarrel. As Anna remembers, chocolate played this role in her own parent’s relationship. Chocolate performs a symbolic purpose and allows her parents to perform a chocolate-mediated heterosexual back-and-forth 85 years after Rowntree launched its marketing campaign.

A 1934 Advertisement for Black Magic. The young woman occupies the foreground as a man occupies the background, cigar in hand.

Both Adam and Annie’s gendered memories of chocolate involve domestic ritual. Annie fondly remembers eating dark chocolate with her grandmother as a foundational moment in her chocolate memory. She and her grandmother would share a bar of refrigerated dark chocolate every evening as a nightly ritual. Annie described these memories as formative moments in her relationship with her grandmother and chocolate provided a ritual on consumption that allowed them to connect across generations as women. Adam’s childhood memories of chocolate also highlight a domestic ritual. His mother would always make him a cup of hot chocolate after school in the winter. They would drink the cocoa together and hot cocoa remains his favorite vehicle for chocolate. This domestic cocoa ritual echoes some of the earliest messaging about chocolate’s role in the home. In the eighteenth century, chocolate moved from being a masculine product consumed in male-dominated spaces to being a domestic product mediated by women.[ii] In the nineteenth century, chocolate became more affordable and women of many classes were tasked with managing chocolates role in the home. Hot chocolate as a drink was marketed to be a nutritious and fortifying beverage that allowed children to prosper. Advertisements and marketing outlined women’s responsibility for the domestic distribution of chocolate: “women were charged with providing wholesome cocoa for the respectable consumption within the family”[iii] Adam’s memories of his mother serving him hot cocoa directly mirror the early advertisements that defined how mothers and housewives must involve chocolate in family life. Women – as mothers and housewives and defenders of domesticity – are tasked with practicing societal values and mediating products in the home. As Anna, Annie, and Adam explained, these early memories of chocolate in the home define their current understanding of chocolate and its role in their lives.

Luxury and Class

When discussing the Alpaco chocolate, people used phrases that relate to class and status. Annie and Adam described the chocolate as “accessible” and Anna said it tasted “commercial”. In the conversation after the tasting, Anna went on to say that choosing the Alpaco chocolate as her favorite would make her feel “uncultured”. This launched a broader conversation about chocolate and its often classist connotations. The participants said that the felt they were supposed to like the “fancier” (higher cacao) chocolate. The association of high cacao with luxury itself is an assumption about chocolate production, price, and status. Anna explained that when she realized that dark chocolate was the “classy” chocolate to favor over milk, she trained herself to like it. This association of different chocolate with differing levels of luxury and status, reveals the conception of luxury that paints a backdrop to chocolate consumption.

An advertisement for Schmitten Luxury Chocolate starring Priyanka Chopra. A beautiful woman prancing along idyllic European cobblestone streets while a decadent wave of chocolate chases her illustrates some of the central conceits of luxury marketing.

In the eighteenth century, chocolate became a product of domestic “luxury and leisure”[i] whose consumption was defined by class. Chocolate became more affordable in the nineteenth century, but many chocolate products and brands maintain a luxurious image (and price-point) today. The definition and experience of luxury itself has changed in the past few centuries. In many ways, luxury experiences and products are more accessible now to more people than ever before. Luxury services and products can be obtained with a few swipes on a smartphone. As Peter McNeil and Giorgi Riello explain, “luxury is today increasingly standardized and comes with a pegged price attached to it.”[ii] Many products, populate both high-end and low-end markets. McNeil and Giorgia illustrate how coffee is both marketed and consumed as a simultaneous commodity and luxury.[iii] I would argue that chocolate is in many ways the same. It is ubiquitous and easily accessible, yet certain niches of the chocolate market rely on luxury products and prices and do so successfully.

          Chocolate can be both a commodity and luxury because of both product differentiation and marketing. Marketing and advertising can determine what makes a product a luxury and in the past few decades there has been a “’luxurification’ of consumption through advertising, shopping, fashion, and media”[iv] This process of ‘luxirification’ played out in our tasting. At the end of the tasting, all the participants were asked to rearrange the chocolate in order of preference. Every single participant put the Antidote 100% Raw Cacao as their last choice. However, when we revealed the original packaging of all the chocolates we asked the participants which chocolate they would select of the shelf based on packaging. Three participants said that they would buy the Antidote chocolate because “it looked fancy” or it seemed like “a good luxury gift”. Annie went as far as to say “the packaging made it look like raw cacao is actually something I might want to eat”. The packaged advertising created an imagined demand in her mind for raw cacao, an expensive luxury product.

Chocolate is deeply entrenched in class dynamics and shifting societal perceptions of luxury. The tasting demonstrated how deeply those considerations influence taste and purchasing decisions.


In the discussion after the tasting, some participants remarked that they did not feel that bad about eating so much chocolate first thing in the morning because “dark chocolate was healthy”. Both Annie and Anna said that they thought of dark chocolate as completely divorced from the world of candy or confection. Annie said that she thought of dark chocolate as an energy supplement and Anna cited chocolate’s anti-oxidant properties as a health benefit.

The belief that chocolate has medicinal properties has been around since the beginning. The earliest European documentation of chocolate records its medicinal uses. In Bernadino de Sahagún’s 16th century Florentine Codex, the friar wrote an ethnography of the Mesoamerican people he interacted with, the first record of its kind. The Florentine Codex includes descriptions of cacao and how the plan interacted with Aztec health. Sahagun describes the Aztecs concocting frothed drinks before battle to help aid with energy and strength. Over the next few centuries, Europeans adopted a belief in chocolate’s medicinal properties before interest faded in the 20th century.

Is chocolate really healthy?

In recent years, after a series of studies were published about chocolate’s proposed medicinal properties, interest has reignited. Many people believe that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has medical value because of chemical compounds found in chocolate. However, many of these studies have projected claims that do not hold up when either repeated or scaled.

David Benton explains how many of these claims are either false or overblown. The chemicals that people cite as being helpful – methlyzanthines, caffeine, phenylethylamine – are found in too small quantities in chocolate to actually have a noticeable impact. Benton suggests that the positive effects of chocolate are more likely psychological rather than physiological and there is a large chance that chocolate makes us feel good because it tastes good: “The combination of sweetness and fat approaches the ideal hedonic combination”.[i] Benton is combatting a sizable societal belief that chocolate may be a miracle food with huge biological benefit. In his article, Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered, James Howe pushes against a popular anthropological belief that chocolate determined the healthy cardiovascular system of the Kuna people of Panama. How outlines how non-rigorous ethnography can lead to problematic associations between chocolate, nativity, and health.[ii]  


What was initially supposed to be a straightforward chocolate tasting exploring cacao intensity in chocolate turned into so much more. All of the participants were so excited to share their experiences with chocolate and their thoughts about the complex themes chocolate intersects with. All of the analysis in this post was driven by the comments of the participants and I think that their comments reflect widely held perceptions of chocolate. There are so many more aspects of chocolate to explore, including race and ethics, but I wanted the content of the conversation to be driven by the participants. Chocolate is such an uniquely amazing food in that just a few bites can lead to an hour’s worth of conversation spanning such large topics such as gender, class, and health.

[1] Emma Robertson, Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History, Studies in Imperialism (Manchester, England) (Manchester ; New York : New York: Manchester University Press ; Distributed in the United States exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

[1] Emma Robertson, Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History 20

[1] Robertson 20

[1] Robertson 20 P 20

[1] Peter McNeil and Giorgio Riello, Luxury: A Rich History, 1 edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). 231

[1] Ibid 233

[1] Ibid 234

[1] Astrid Nehlig, ed., Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, 1 edition (Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2004). 206

[1]James Howe, “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12, no. 1 (2012): 43–52,

Works Cited

James Howe, “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12, no. 1 (2012): 43–52,

Astrid Nehlig, ed., Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, 1 edition (Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2004).

Peter McNeil and Giorgio Riello, Luxury: A Rich History, 1 edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

Emma Robertson, Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History, Studies in Imperialism (Manchester, England) (Manchester ; New York : New York: Manchester University Press ; Distributed in the United States exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

A Tasting of Ethical Chocolate

Chocolate plays a staple in many people’s modern day to day life whether it be a gourmet ingredient in baking, an aid to lower blood pressure, or just a delicious treat to finish the day.  It played an even larger role in the past with the Mayan and Aztec cultures; commonly used for medicinal, spiritual (marriage and death rites), nutritional, and cooking purposes. Although the use of cocoa transformed over centuries, the demand for it remained high, along with other chocolate ingredients including sugar.  To keep up with high demands, “triangular trade” was used, importing and exporting raw materials, manufactures, and slaves between America, Europe, and Africa. “England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system. The most important product of the system was sugar,” (Mintz, Sweetness and Power). It is estimated that a group of 50,000 slaves was required to produce 20,000 tons of sugar a year for European consumers (Lecture).  In order to meet this quota, enslaved Africans were forced to work 18-hour shifts. Eventually, the Haitian Revolution contributed to the end of the slave trade in 1807. This is commonly known to many Americans through history classes and textbooks. Unfortunately, slavery was not abolished during this event and many famous chocolate companies, such as Cadbury, were exposed for using slave labor in production years later. Forced labor and indentured servitude still exists today and is very popular on cocoa-growing farms. However, there are “Bean to Bar” chocolate companies that produce ethical chocolate and only use cocoa that has a clean history, not connected to slavery or any form of harsh labor.  The theme and goal of my chocolate tasting is to bring awareness to my friends, who consume chocolate daily, about this horrific situation and encourage the purchase of the ethical chocolate I will provide.

When consuming a piece of a chocolate bar or a chocolate chip cookie, the first thing that comes to mind is typically not how it was produced or where the cocoa came from.  Famous brands such as Herseys, Lindt, Cadbury, and Goddiva, we are especially quick to purchase and consume without question due to their popularity and presence in advertising.  However, the Cadbury slavery scandal in the early 1900s demonstrates why we need to be more cautious when buying our favorite chocolates. During the mid-1800s John Cadbury began producing chocolate and cocoa until taken over by his two sons. Richard and George Cadbury focused on improving the quality of cocoa using van Houten’s hydraulic press while preaching Quaker values and attempting to build a better factory village.  The Cadbury factory in Europe was praised for its working conditions and protection of women, but in the early 1900s, it was discovered that the island of São Tomé, where Cadbury purchased 45% of their cocoa beans from, was using thousands of slaves (Satre, Chocolate on Trial). This goes to show that we cannot be so quick to trust famous companies and their production history, especially because their factories require an amount of cocoa beans that is hard to trace back to every plantation.  

West Africa produces around 70% of cocoa used by the 40 to 50 million people who depend on it for their livelihood.  This cocoa is harvested on over 600,000 farms, most of which are small holders. The West African government and economy is driven by cocoa production and when multinational chocolate manufacturers encourage these developing countries to grow more cocoa, these farms are forced to drop prices.  With low prices, the farms are desperate to save their land and resort to cheap, forced labor. It is estimated that the price of cocoa would have to multiply by 10 in order to end forced labor in the industry. “Children are being trafficked every day to work on cocoa farms as slaves. The average cost for a child is $250. [An] Estimated 1.8 million children are at risk for falling under the Worst forms of Child Labor conditions set by the UN (ILO 182). There are over 27 million slaves in the world today. Of them over 9 million are children,” (Slave Free Chocolate).  These facts from the Slave Free Chocolate organization are the harsh reality of the chocolate industry and many big-name chocolate brands.

Even if farms in West Africa are slave free, the labor asked of the workers is extensive and unhealthy.  The hours of the work in the hot sun can cause major fatigue, heat stress, diseases caught from animal and insect bites, and ultimately, death.  These workers also lack access to clean water, bathroom facilities, and clean spaces for food preparation. Children are especially at risk working around sharp tools, pesticides, and heavy loads that can permanently damage their skeletal form.

Although there have been several attempts to solve this labor crisis in the cocoa industry, there are various issues with every solution.  Many national governments have tried to become involved and policies have been made to stop forced labor, but the lack of price setting mechanisms and presence of trade barriers make this difficult. Additionally, chocolate corporations such as the World Cocoa Foundation and MARS have failed to make an impact due to lack of consumer education.  The goal of my chocolate tasting was to increase awareness in this category and encourage my friends to purchase certified trade-free chocolate.

Fortunately, there are several chocolate brands that pride themselves on their ethical production.  I chose to serve these brands at my chocolate tasting to create the theme of fair-trade guilt-free chocolate to bring awareness to an issue that many people are unaware of.  Fair-trade chocolate brands can be hard to find in large retail stores such as CVS, who typically sell larger brands such as Hersey’s and Dove. I headed to Cardullo’s in Harvard Square in search for ethical chocolate and was surprised by the large variety they offered.  When on the hunt for fair-trade chocolate, I learned in lecture that there are stamps and stickers on the wrappers of the brands that prioritize using fair- trade ingredients such as cocoa. I ended up purchasing chocolate from Taza, Scharffen Berger, Chocolove, and Chuao Chocolatier.  The chocolate looked gourmet, but the price point was definitely steeper than your average Hershey’s bar.

My roommates, friends, and fellow Chocolate classmates enjoying Fair Trade chocolate!
The chocolate I provided to my guests, all consisting of ethical backgrounds

Taza chocolate is a stone ground chocolate that emphasizes the taste of pure cacao and I chose the “Toffee Almond and Sea Salt” flavor.  Produced in Somerville, MA, “Taza is a pioneer in ethical cacao sourcing. We were the first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program. We maintain direct relationships with our cacao farmers and pay a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao. We partner only with cacao producers who respect the rights of workers and the environment,” (Taza Chocolate).  Introducing this chocolate to my friends, the local production aspect of this brand made it a fan favorite. Although the taste of bold cacao was new for many of them, they all expressed they felt better knowing the clean history of production of the chocolate they were consuming.

Scharffen Berger was next up on the tasting agenda.  Along with Chocolove, Scharffen Berger was stamped with the “Rainforest Alliance Certified” symbol and I chose to serve the “extra rich milk chocolate” flavor.  “The Rainforest Alliance is an international non-profit organization that works to conserve biodiversity and promote the rights and well-being of workers, their families and communities,” (Scharffen Berger).  Not only does The Rainforest Alliance prioritize the conditions and well-being of farmers, but it also takes the environment and the preservation of the rainforests and other landscapes of production.  I was surprised at how unaware my friends were about The Rainforest Alliance, but they were extremely excited to learn about how beneficial it was in several aspects. Everyone agreed that this was your average chocolate bar, but more gourmet and rich.

Also a supporter of The Rainforest Alliance, Chocolove, produced in Boulder, Colorado, manufactures over 30 different flavors of decadent chocolate bars.  Chocolove claims to be very invested in sustainability and the social responsibility that comes along with fair-trade production. Not only does Chocolove work with Fair Trade and The Rainforest alliance, they also are a contributor to the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), an organization that “strives to organize and educate farmers on issues of labor,” (Chocolove).  This chocolate was a fan favorite, as the flavor served was “Pretzel Milk Chocolate”. At this point in the tasting, I started receiving feedback that my friends and guests were actually beginning to prefer these ethical brands of chocolate. Prior to this tasting, many of them had the preconceived notion that fair-trade, organic chocolate was strictly dark, gritty chocolate.  They had no idea it came in so many forms and flavors.

The last chocolate I provided, from the company, Chuao Chocolatier, was especially original.  The flavor I purchased, “Sprinkle Dreams” consisted of “crisp waffle cone, hazelnuts, and rainbow sprinkles in milk chocolate”.  “Chuao Chocolatier is the first Venezuelan Chocolatier based in the United States,” (Chuao Chocolatier). Chef Michael Antonorsi and his brother Richard created this company with their ancestor’s history in mind.  They express their respect for cacao and those who grow it along with working with ethical business partners. This chocolate was by far the most gourmet and original chocolate served and this really sealed the deal for the guests that fair-trade chocolate is perhaps the best chocolate.

The majority of cocoa is produced on small, family managed farms in West Africa, making it challenging to track the location and history of the cocoa used by larger businesses in the industry.  When demand for cocoa increases and the price drops, there is often a labor shortage and this led to cheap, forced labor and ultimately, slavery in the 1990s. Fair Trade certification organizations help farmers earn fair prices to ensure safe labor that meet working standards.  Fair Trade also promotes sustainability and social responsibility for not only workers, but also the environment. Unfortunately, Hershey’s, the manufacturer of more than 40% of the chocolate industry has not made an effort to work with Fair Trade Cocoa. However, some big companies such as Ben & Jerry’s do use and work with Fair Trade Cocoa. I have hope that more industies in the market will eventually shift to using Fair Trade ingredients considering all of the positive feedback and entusiasm I received from the guests at my chocolate tasting. If the world continues to educate consumers of chocolate about the slavery that still exists today, people may have a change in taste buds towards a more ethical form of chocolate.

Work Cited

“About Taza.” Taza Chocolate,

“Chuao Chocolatier – Gourmet Chocolate from an Artisan Chocolatier.” Chuao Chocolatier – Gourmet Chocolate from an Artisan Chocolatier,

“Ethical Chocolate Companies.” Slave Free Chocolate,

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking, 1985.

“Rainforest Alliance Certified™.” SCHARFFEN BERGER,

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.

“Sustainability & Social Responsibility.” Chocolove Online Store,