Churning into the “Chocolate Age:” How Industrial Age Technologies Created a New Chocolate Era

You may be surprised to find out that the chocolate that we know today is a relatively new, tasty discovery- one that came about from the Industrial Age.

When the Industrial Revolution took place, the world revolutionized with it, and industries of all kinds were forever altered. The chocolate industry, still in the Mayan age, sprouted into a new field and its effects can still be traced today. The technology in the Industrial Revolution provided the tools to advance the field of chocolate, which allowed for mass consumption and commercialization, giving way to the “Chocolate Age.”

Chocolate’s “God-Like” Beginnings

Cacao was considered the “food of the gods,” and was treated as such: before the Industrial Age, chocolate was made the traditional way that the Mayans made it with a long, drawn-out process of cracking shells and traditional grinding to create a bitter chocolate drink (unlike the chocolate of today) (Szogyi, 1997).


Modern Mayan woman demonstrating how her ancestors

would grind cacao (Smithsonian)

This treat was considered to be a drink that was both a commodity and spiritual experience; although it was available to the masses, the wealthy certainly had more access to the treat because they could afford it. Cacao was taken as such a serious product that the Mayans used its seeds as currency; further, it was used to promote fertility and life, and cacao pods are found all over elite and ancient artifacts, temples, and palaces. Clearly, these uses and techniques demonstrate how luxurious chocolate was to them; these processes stayed this way even during the era of the Aztec empire and many centuries later (Horn, 2016 & Szogyi).

The Industrial Difference

This process of chocolate was so revered that it essentially did not change until the Industrial Age with a ground-breaking invention for grinding that used the newly-innovated steam and hydraulic process; in 1778, Doret, a Frenchman, invented a hydraulic machine that grinds cocoa beans into a paste (Beckett, Horn). Before then, the process of grinding was long and tedious and this machine allowed the process to become easier to create for the masses. Soon after, more inventions came along for grinding that further made consumption more popular. For instance, Dubuisson invented a steam chocolate grinder in France because it was even cheaper to replicate than Doret’s product, which allowed for an even higher level of mass consumption of chocolate. The Industrial Age created the environment to allow for this change – without steam and hydraulics, and the friendly and booming business atmosphere for support, Doret and Dubuisson would certainly not have been able to create these inventions. Where would be chocolate be today? One could reasonably predict that we could have eventually have had these technologies, but it is safe to assume that it would have taken the chocolate industry much longer to reach its glory.

The steam engine and hydraulic system are considered staples of this Industrial Age with new technologies across the boards for trains, factories, and buildings, but we can also appreciate how these technologies allowed for the advancement of chocolate technology. The value of chocolate significantly decreased because it was accessible to everyone; from here on, it was no longer an “elite” product or just a “food of the gods,” but, rather, a food for everyone. Thus, the Industrial Age that changed the world on so many fronts quickly churned into the “Chocolate Age” as well.

The idea of the mass consumption of chocolate from the Industrial Age can be traced along the later part of the history of chocolate. Quickly after the revelation with the cocoa beans came a new way to make chocolate an even more accessible product with commercialization – via “dutching” (Squiciarinni & Swinnen, 2016). In 1828, Van Houten, a Dutch chemist, invented a method to press cocoa by separating the cocoa butter by pressing it with alkali, making the matter soften up enough to produce cocoa powder, which was light and fluffy; unlike the current chocolate of that time, dutching made chocolate highly digestible, which would attract new consumers and open up a whole new market for chocolate – just like these technologies helped do so in other industries such as the construction field (i.e. making materials more affordable and attractive for building).

Van Houten’s cocoa press (World Standards)



Additionally, cocoa powder was the secret ingredient needed for the chocolate industry and companies to seamlessly make solid chocolate bars and coat them as well as bring in new flavors such as white chocolate. From there, a second wave of the Chocolate Age had been set and was about to take place.


A Second Wave of the Age – Mass Commercialization and the Chocolate Bar

With the mass consumption of chocolate from these new Industrial technologies came mass commercialization. Quite simply, we can see that chocolate companies would not be what they are today without this commercial influence; specifically, the dutching process sparked a spread of commercialization across Europe, which allowed for the worldwide chocolate industry we have come to know and love. For example, Cadbury, one of the largest chocolate companies today, and Joseph Fry (founder of what is known as Mondolez International today) bought the dutching press; these two companies are credited to be the first companies to create and sell the chocolate bar. They also made the chocolate bar a highly accessible treat with aggressive advertising; this marketing scheme raked in millions of dollars for these companies (Beckett, Horn). It was the catalyst behind the beginning of giant factories built to keep up with this demand.

Thus, the chocolate bar became (and still is) a symbol for a quick, delicious treat for everyone and anyone.


Fry’s chocolate bar packaging (Foods of England)

Moreover, the dutching system then inspired the chocolate exportation business that brought chocolate on to an international stage – a few decades after the start of the chocolate bar, the Van Houten presses became powered by steam engines, and, just like with the Dubuisson’s steam engine, came with another Chocolate Revolution. The mass consumption and commercialization of chocolate began in European countries such as Germany and France, which eventually led its way to the United States (Beckett, Szogyi). These countries then started their own chocolate giants such as Hershey’s and Nestlé, which embody the same mass consumption and commercialization ideals that have advanced the history of chocolate along and allowed it to further churn.

Without the Industrial age, chocolate would just not be the same. It is literally unrecognizable from its Olmec and Mayan roots. From the Industrial Age, the Chocolate Age churned on and on – all starting with the advancements in steam and hydraulics.



Beckett, S.T, et al. Industrial Chocolate – Manufacture and Use. Wiley Publishers: Hoboken.

Horn, Jeff. The Industrial Revolution: History, Documents, and Key Questions. (2016). ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara.

Squicciarini, Mara P & Swinnen, Johan. (2016). The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Smithsonian. Retrieved from

Szogyi, Alex. (1997). Chocolate: Food of the Gods. Greenwood Publishing Group: Westport.

The Foods of England. Retrieved from

World Standards. Retrieved from




Sugar Gave Chocolate to the Masses

The history of chocolate begins with the Olmecs and then was past along to the Mayans and the Aztecs as one civilization conquered another (Presilla 23). All of these ancient civilizations began the process of harvesting cacao pods from the tree and finished by preparing it as a drink – the entire process they completed themselves. It cost nothing for them besides time and labor, so it was a relatively common drink at the time.


1An Aztec woman is depicted above pouring her chocolate drink from one vase into another. This process was used to aerate the chocolate in order to make the drink frothier (Presilla 20). The Molinillo was later invented to create the same results as from this technique (Martin). This technique traveled all the way from the Aztecs to Europe and the Americas.

After the Spanish colonization of the Aztecs in the early 16th century, the Spanish noticed the special chocolate drink they had been making. Bringing this back to their country, they decided to add sugar to the drink that had previously only been flavored with different spices but had yet to be sweetened in such a way (Presilla 25). This addition of sugar is the reason why chocolate was once exclusively for the elite but has since become something that people of all classes can afford and want to enjoy.

When chocolate was first introduced in Spain, it was a drink of the elite due to its exotic and luxurious association (Presilla 25) , along with the cost of labor to import and produce it from the pod. After chocolate had reached Spain, it was then sent to Italy, then France, then Britain, so that other European elite could have what those of Spain did (Martin). At that time, sugar prices were also extremely high, for they have been perpetually decreasing over time, and sugar was considered to be a rarity in 1650 (Martin). Regardless of how the price of cacao was at the time, the price of sugar mattered very much for the cost of the overall product. Since sugar was part of the drink when it was introduced to the other parts of Europe, it became fully associated with it (Martin).


2The European nobility, pictured above, are seen sipping cups of chocolate, which was poured from a special chocolate kettle. This represents how only the wealthy were able to consume chocolate during the 17th century, since it was too expensive for everybody else.

It wasn’t until after 1800 that sugar was able to be mass consumed in the United Kingdom (Mintz 147-148). This was due in large part to the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the steam engine, which began to power sugar mills in places like Jamaica, one of the largest producers of sugar for Europe (Monteith 242-243). This resulted in a huge increase of sugar, which therefore lowered the price, making it more attainable for all. Given the huge role that it has in chocolate, whether in a chocolate drink as it was in the past or as an ingredient in the more recently developed solid chocolate candy, this decrease in price greatly impacted accessibility.

This transition can now be seen as “Culinary Modernism”, which results in affordable food for all that was once considered a luxury only for the elite (Laudan 40). This was able to occur because of the technology that sped up the process of harvesting sugar and the speed of transportation upon exporting it. Mintz claims that after 1850, sugar transformed from a luxury into a necessity for almost every member of society (147-148).

In addition to being cheap, sugar has been an important part of chocolate because consumers have been increasing their desire for and consumption of sugar inversely to the price, so the cheaper it is, the more people have been buying it. in 1880, each person in the United States was consuming about 38 pounds of sugar per year (Mintz), and today that number has risen to about 110 (Blodget). A similar statistical trend is apparent for the amount of chocolate consumed in the United States over the past century, increasing all the way to 38 pounds per person per year (Blodget).

Sugar has also affected the way that the large chocolate companies in the market advertise their products. Children have a natural inclination towards things that taste sweet, so sugary chocolate is something one would assume that most enjoy. 1-2-12AE-25-ExplorePAHistory-a0k9g3-a_349.jpg

3The advertisement above represents the sweet girls that would love to have some sweet milk chocolate. This advertisement displays the cheap price of only 5 and 10 cents for a chocolate bar. The little girl also appears to be very excited about the chocolate bar she has, which the Hershey Company wants to be the case for all of the young children being targeted by this ad.

As tastes have changed over time, from the sugar-free Aztecs to Western civilizations that now include about 87 grams in one serving of milk chocolate (USDA), sugar has always played a key role in who gets to consume chocolate. The addition of sugar was once an expensive luxury that the wealthy got to experience, but once the price of sugar significantly dropped the price of chocolate did as well, making it available for everyone.

Works Cited

Blodget, Henry. “American Per-Capita Sugar Consumption Hits 100 Pounds Per Year.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 19 Feb. 2012. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

“Food Composition Databases Show Foods List.” Food Composition Databases Show Foods List. USDA, 2017. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

3Hershey’s Sweet Milk Chocolate from Chocolate and Cocoa Town. Digital image. Explore PA History. WITF, Inc., 2011. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food.” Gastronomica 1 (2001): 36-44. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

2Longhi, Pietro. The Morning Chocolate. Digital image. Public Domain, 2013. Web. 7 Mar. 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate Expansion.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 8 Feb. 2017. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. N.p.: Penguin, 1986. Print.

Monteith, Kathleen E. A. Jamaica in Slavery and Freedom: History, Heritage and Culture. Kingston: U of the West Indies, 2003. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.

1An Aztec woman generates foam by pouring chocolate from one vessel to another in the Codex Tudela. Digital image. Ancient Origins. Public Domain, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

The “Power of Sweet”: An Anthropological Perspective on the NCA and Visual Interpretations of Chocolate & Sugar in Industrialized Society

National Confectioners Association, founded in 1884 began as a coalition of trades-people to organize and create viability for their products. The contemporary mission statement on their official website perpetuates that original undertaking; “NCA exists to advance, protect and promote the confectionery industry… serving as a transparent and trustworthy source while building and promoting a responsible industry”. Is anyone else raising their brow at this proclamation of transparency – as it would presumably associate to promoting responsible nutritional standards?

“The medicinal and nutritional aspects of sugar’s role were never far apart, any more than they are today (mid-1980s)” persisted Sidney Mintz in her book Sweetness and Power (106). In 1715, well before the inception of the NCA, the Englishman Dr. Frederick Slare published A Vindication of Sugars Against the Charge of Dr. Willis, Other Physicians, and Common Prejudices: Dedicated to the Ladies. From a contemporary feminist perspective, the title alone makes me chuckle. I’m visualizing Slare on a platform pointing into a crowd, “I’m talking to you there, you miss, and you my lady”. Slare believed that “sugar is a veritable cure-all, its only defect being that it could make ladies too fat”. Well – No thank you Dr. Slare for that prejudgment upon female metabolism, a proclamation which surely added to a persisting gender bias. A notion for refute, Dr. Willis shed light on the topic with his anti-sugar views and clinical findings of what would be later known as diabetes mellitus, (Mintz, 106).

“NCA is proud of the role it plays in the public’s understanding and appreciation of candy’s unique role in a happy, balanced lifestyle.” Certainly, they are proud of their $35 billion-dollar industry totaling 55,000 employees in the U.S. alone. I do not intend to be overly jaded on the matter, but I can’t help but recognize the various clinical analyses and public profiles of high fructose corn syrup in our diets as we understand it today, but that’s a larger discussion in and of itself that would require deeper comparative research. Primarily my concerns lie in the fact that HFCS is often mislabeled as ‘natural flavor’ and during the last three decades, has grown to replace what used to be natural cane sugar in our common grocery foods and candies. Generations before us had already grown accustomed to foods preserved with sugar, becoming complacent with their expectations of taste and economical value through visual culture in advertisements. In my opinion, not much public transparency occurs where reliance on less expensive groceries is present.

The Life & Candy ideology expressed by NCA is particularly interesting in how they use the age old economical reach upon our physical and social values. Influenced by hegemonic notions of pollution and purity of the body, nutritional attitudes across all human societies have interpreted this punitive dichotomy for generations. NCA’s marketing lingo is reflective of the influential nature in which our collective emotional experiences in health, reinforce our ritualized notions within cultural practices surrounding holidays and special events.

Never mind the daily addicted chocolate and candy consumer- See this promotional video echoing the “power, power, power of sweet”, as seen through the lens of the confectioners’ industry workers.

We see a progressive move towards less expensive goods that used to be considered only for the elite prior to 18th century Europe and American society. The custom of drinking and consuming chocolate had spread through most of Europe and “one thing that didn’t change – at first, anyhow – was the association of drinking chocolate with high social standing” (Prescilla, 25).

See in the Cadbury ad to your right just how politically inclined a chocolate company was in 1901. The advertising poster was a rousing salute to Edward VII and his wife when he took the British throne (Morton, 86).

Cadbury.Edwardvii“In 1898 in the United States a dollar bought forty-two percent more milk, fifty-one percent more coffee, a third more beef, twice as much sugar, and twice as much flour as in 1872” (Laudan, 41). The NCA began actively lobbying for chocolate companies in the early decades of the 1900s to commercialize chocolate for holidays, and as noted earlier, to this day the NCA still portrays a high relevance with candy to our community practices. I ponder, as Laudan suggests, has “culinary modernism provided what was wanted… the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford”? On that notion, has the National Confectioners Association also prevailed a political platform for chocolate, sugar, and food companies to exploit on the desire to consume what is considered socially elite?

Throughout the creation of anthropology as formal discipline during the 19th century, a new worldview was being introduced, one with scientific tools. With the arrival and maturation of the scientific revolution, the period of enlightenment facilitated human consciousness for the means to alter old world views. In a cultural setting, when interpellation is presumably present, “the experience of the viewer influences the images meaning”. With this known, hegemonic Cadbury.firemangeneralizations can become an illogical way of analyzing an influence of an image upon the whole group of viewers. Therefore, counter-hegemony is an “alternative force that leads us to undo concepts of hegemony”, allowing us to see how the image influences the viewer from a comparative perspective (S & C, 2009).

Coffee, tea, sugar and chocolate long being known as stimulants, we see this reflected in the early 1900s in another – among many – Cadbury advertisements, portraying its popularity with English firemen. Sugar promoting stamina was a lasting notion. See this Baby Ruth ad below that speaks to just that.

babyruth.dextroseGendered advertising was also sewn into most visual aspects of material culture, including in the marketing of candy such as the Tootsie Roll. I think we can reflect upon our social context during these time periods and find parallels between social constructs within advertisements. From a counter-hegemonic perspective, it’s not to say this image below is meant to reinforce gender roles with the consumption of chocolate and sugar products, yet it does create a lens into the artists’ view of the American social scene. tootsieroll.lifeoftheparty

We see thirteen men pictured here, strategically positioned facing this seemingly gleeful American woman holding a Toostie Roll. She, alike the Tootsie, “is the life of every party” as the text reads. I don’t know about you, but if thirteen men were staring at me eating a Tootsie Roll at a party, I’d be finding the closest exit and calling 1-800-N0-T00T$I3!

During a time when women were subjective to the ideologies imposed by men, we see this through the material culture we create. Where heterosexuality is the normal or preferred sexual orientation in most American households. Heteronormative notions in our visual culture is nothing new and we still see advertisements daily, selling sex, and I can’t help but reflect upon Dr. Slares remarks. They indulge the viewer or the reader into a glimpse of the cultural attitudes of the time. The National Confectioners Association has been no stranger to it.


Cartwright, Lisa and Sturken, Marita   2009   Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York, NY  Oxford University Press, 2nd ed.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe   2013 [1996] The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson
Martin, Carla    2017 AAAS E-119 Lecture Slides. Laudan, Rachel on Culinary Modernism (p.41)
Mintz, Sidney   1986 [1985] Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books
Morton, Marcia and Frederic.   1986   Chocolate, An Illustrated History Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, NY   Cadbury Limited images (pg.82 + 87)
National Confectioners Association, 2017
The Power of Sweet – That Power. National Confectioners Association advertisement
Organic Consumers Association, 2017 (Mercola)   2007    How High Fructose Corn Syrup Damages Your Body.
Presilla, Maricel   2009   The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Toop, C. R., Muhlhausler, B. S., O’Dea, K. and Gentili, S.   2014    Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. Consumption of sucrose, but not high fructose corn syrup, leads to increased adiposity and dyslipidaemia in the pregnant and lactating rat.
Unknown Artist, “The LIFE of the Party” Tootsie Roll advertisement
Unknown Artist, “Keep Going with Baby Ruth”


Pre-Columbian cacao usage: more than a delicious snack


In contemporary society, the primary role of chocolate is as something to consume. Although some types of chocolate are more expensive or valued than others, it is generally easy to obtain, not necessarily precious, and available to just about anyone who desires it. In pre-Columbian cultures, however, although chocolate was used as a food, it also had other kinds of significance. It was a precious item, not necessarily available to those who were not elite, and had much symbolic and religious significance, playing an important role at various occasions.

Although evidence of cacao has been found on Olmec pottery shards from as early as 1650 B.C., not much is known about the cacao related customs or beliefs of the Olmec people. More is known about the role of cacao in the Mayan and Aztec civilizations that followed them, thanks to the depictions of cacao in Mayan books (codices) and ceramics and the recollections of the Spanish priests and conquerors, who observed Aztec society before it fell. Indeed, the decoding of the Mayan symbol for cacao (see below) was one of the keys to translating the Mayan hieroglyphic language. (Carla Martin, chocolate class).


Mayan script for the word ‘kakaw’. The drawing is based on Kettunen, Harri; Helmke, Christophe (2008).  “Introduction to Maya Hieroglyphs: Workshop Handbook'”. p. 73.  To learn more about Mayan hieroglyphs, visit:

The Mayan and Aztec civilizations shared similarities in their use of cacao. It’s preparation was far more varied than it is today. Presilla tells us that the idea of how to prepare cacao may have come from other foodstuffs such as maize that were dried, roasted and ground. The beverage made of ground cacao beans and water was typically bitter and savory –  often flavored with chilis and other botanicals – and only sometimes sweetened. Coe tells us that it was often mixed with maize (mature or young) was a way to make a nutritious gruel with more caloric value. Presilla mentions the use of cacao as a seasoning in other dishes as well. The froth was particularly desirable and was created by pouring the liquid from one container into another, sometimes at great height.

Aztec woman pouring

Picture of Aztec woman, from the Codex Tudela, pouring chocolate from one container to another to raise the foam.

Although cacao may have been available to various strata of Mayan society, in Aztec society it could only be used by the elite: nobles, the merchant class (long distance traders), and warriors. The Aztecs felt that bad luck would come if a commoner drank cacao – and the penalty for a commoner who did so was death. According to Coe, the Aztecs also did not care for drunkenness (the penalty was death) and chocolate was viewed as an alternative beverage to alcoholic beverages.  Warm cacao generally seems to have been preferred by Mayans, and it was typically served in tall vessels. When it was served cool, they served it in shallow bowls. The Aztecs liked their cacao cool and served it in small round gourd bowls. The Aztec warrior class also had cacao as part of their rations – the ground cacao was pressed into wafers for portability on their treks. (Coe)

Cacao vessels could be quite elaborate. The ornate ceramic jar depicted below is an example of a Mayan cacao drinking cup. According to the Walters art gallery, the hieroglyphs describe it as a cacao drinking cup, and include the name of the owner. It is covered with a variety of cacao imagery and decorated with molded cacao pods, which also indicate that it is intended for cacao. It’s fine construction indicates that it is for the use of the upper classes. It may have been intended for use in a special feast or as a special gift.


Mayan lidded cacao vessel, decorated with molded cacao pods and cacao imagery and glyphs

Festive and ceremonial use of cacao was a feature for both the Aztecs and the Mayans. At Mayan marriages, the couple exchanged 5 cacao beans with each other. Mayans also had a baptism-like ritual in which children who reached puberty were anointed with a cacao mixture. (Coe, Mexilore). Aztec traders (the pocheta) hosted large banquets as a means of climbing the ladder to higher ranks within the guild, and cacao was an important aspect of the banquet. (Coe) The word “chokolaj” means “to drink chocolate together”, thus referring to the communal aspect of consuming chocolate. (Coe)

Although important as a foodstuff, cacao was also used as money. It was a precious item, as it was fussy to grow and could only be cultivated in a narrow range of temperatures. It would not grow in Aztec lands and had to be acquired through long distance trade or as tribute paid by conquered peoples. Cacao beans were used to pay laborers and Coe tells us of price lists which show the value of various commodities (tomato, rabbit, avocado, etc.) in cacao beans. As Coe points out, drinking cacao was equivalent to actually drinking actual money.

Cacao was also a feature of the symbolic and spiritual universe of the pre-Columbians. Many pictures depict gods with cacao trees, pods, and seeds, including a portrait of the opossum god bearing the legend, “cacao is his food.” (Coe) Cacao was among the offerings placed in graves for the dead to take to the after life. (Presilla) In Aztec cosmic imagery a cacao tree stands at the south, in the land of the dead. (Coe)

The Mayans and the Aztecs also associated blood and cacao.  According to Coe, cacao could metaphorically be referred to by the words for heart and blood, and cacao was sometimes colored with achiote to become red like blood. Some scholars believe that this could be because of the resemblance of the cacao pod to the heart. Or, perhaps as Coe suggests, it was because both the heart and the cacao pod “were the repositories of precious liquids.” Coe also refers to an image in the Mayan Madrid Codex in which gods pierce their ears with obsidian blades. The blood drops down and sprinkles on cacao pods. Finally, as Coe and Mexilore tell us, in the annual Aztec ritual to ensure the continuation of the world, the sacrificial victim was supposed to dance happily before his death and the removal of his heart. To enchant him and keep him happy as he danced, he was made to drink cacao made with the water used to wash the blood from the obsidian blades that were used on the previous sacrificial victim. (Coe)

Cacao played a large and significant role in pre-Columbian society. As a foodstuff, it was prepared in a myriad of ways. It marked important occasions and was typically consumed by the elite. It’s preciousness is shown in that it could be used as money. Indeed, cacao was a significant aspect of the pre-columbian view of the cosmos. One has to wonder what they would think of today’s easy availability, low cost, and casual use.

References Cited

Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Maricel E. Presilla, The New Taste of Chocolate, revised. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Mexicolore, The food of the Gods: Cacao use among the prehispanic Maya,

Mexicolore, Chocolate: the blood of the Gods?, 

Walters Art Gallery, lidded vessel description          

Wikipedia Commons, Mayan glyph for cacao, public domain.

Wikipedia Commons, Aztec woman in Codex Tudela.

Wikipedia Commons, Mayan lidded vessel, owned by Walters Art Gallery, public domain.







The Spread of Cacao and Cultural Appropriation

Cacao is a staple of the western culinary tradition and is enjoyed in nearly every region of the world. Why has cacao become so popular? The answer to this question is not simply “because it tastes good.” Some will turn to biology to answer this question. The presence of theobromine, caffeine, and sugar in chocolate releases feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine to the frontal lobe, hippocampus and hypothalamus (1). While this helps explain why so many different cultures throughout history enjoy chocolate, this biological explanation is not sufficient. Cacao in its natural form has very different chemical properties than a bar of chocolate. Cacao is difficult to cultivate and requires complex processes to go from bean to chocolate bar. It is true that people crave chocolate– but the stimulant properties in chocolate are not strong enough to justify the amount of effort and expertise required to bring chocolate on the market.

Tracing the spread of cacao from Central America requires us to examine how culture, economics, and biology interact.For most of history, the world has borrowed the process of cacao production without paying homage to the cultures that discovered the process. This Food must be understood from a holistic point of view where we are not only examining the final product, but the entire system of production bringing that product into existence (2). The processes used to cultivate cacao are intrinsically intertwined with the cultures that discovered the process of cultivation.

Understanding the spread of cacao requires us to examine its origins and the cultural practices surrounding it. Examining this migration offers important lessons about cultural appropriation and economic development and can help us be more mindful, compassionate consumers.

The first people to cultivate cacao were the Olmec civilization (1500 BCE – 400 BCE). The genetic origin of cacao can be traced to the amazon river bed area in what is modern day ecuador (3).

Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 8.59.27 PM.png

(Source: Martin, Carla. 01 FEB 2017, Chocolate Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture Slide, Harvard Extension School)

Cacao developed humid lowlands of Yucatan Peninsula, generally the domain of the Maya. However, much of the culture surrounding cacao did not develop in that area. We find evidence of cacao culture in the Aztec region which was much hotter and drier. The Aztec relied on Maya labor to produce the cacao products which were central to their religious and cultural practices.

Much of what we know about the early culture surrounding cacao development comes from Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590), who spent many years learning about the way of life of the Aztec. Sahagún is credited as being the world’s first anthropologist and strived to understand the Aztec civilization outside of western biases. The culmination of Sahagún’s work was Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, in which he chronicled the significance of cacao in Aztec rituals, as an indicator of social class for the wealthy, and as a conduit of trade. Sahagún also detailed the crucial network of roads that enabled interregional trade. The reason why we know cacao moved from the Maya zone of influence to the Aztec zone of influence is from Sahagún’s writings.

Beyond this, there is further evidence that cacao trade extended beyond the Aztec-Maya empire as far north as present day Southwestern United States. A cylindrical vessel from 900 CE found in this area tested positive for evidence of cacao and it is believed that the residents of southwest pueblo bartered turquoise in exchange for cacao. This suggests that cacao was central to interregional trade in early Mesoamerica.

Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 10.00.12 PM.png

(Source: Martin, Carla. 01 FEB 2017, Chocolate Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture Slide, Harvard Extension School)

Development of cacao remained confined to this region of the world until Christopher Columbus arrived in Guanaja Bay Island off the coast of present-day Honduras in the Caribbean. Cacao was of particular interest to the Spanish colonists who were suffering malnutrition from their long voyage across the ocean. Cacao was seen as an advantageous export and as a medicinal supplement. The first exports of cacao from the Izalcos port of Acajutla saw rapid growth between the 1500s to 1600s. The price of cacao skyrocketed as chocolate became a popular luxury among European nobility.

Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 10.11.25 PM.png

(Source: Martin, Carla. 01 FEB 2017, Chocolate Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture Slide, Harvard Extension School)

The rise in popularity of cacao occurred alongside the rise of sugar exports. As colonies grew to develop the production of sugar and cacao, so grew the rise of racism and the international slave trade. The industrial revolution ushered in a new age of economic prosperity built on innovation and also exploited labor and resources. Much like the Aztecs to the Maya, Europeans and North Americans relied on slave labor to produce their goods, especially chocolate.

Presently, the systems of exploitation and inequality on cacao production still persist. Chocolate is a $100 billion dollar per year industry and 75% of the world’s chocolate is consumed in North America and Europe. However, 75% of cacao comes from West and Central Africa. The average cacao farmer makes 0.50-0.80 cents per day– well below the Work Bank’s global poverty line of $1.10. Looking at these figures and statistics, it is incumbent upon us to be conscious consumers so we don’t continue the system of oppression and exploitation that has persisted throughout the past.


(1) Albers, Susan. 11 FEB 2014, Psychology Today. Retrieved 05 MAR 2017. Link:

(2) Mintz, Sidney W. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power. pp. 74-150.

(3) Proposed by Cheeseman in 1994. Motomayor et all (2002).

Europe Conquers the New World, Chocolate Conquers Europe

To study the history of chocolate in Europe since the 17th century is to study the socioeconomic climate of the time throughout Europe.  The introduction of chocolate to the European continent occurred via the Spanish conquistadors who discovered the cacao beans and the chocolate drink made from these beans when they interacted with the indigenous peoples.  It is believed that in 1544 Europe got their first taste of chocolate prepared in this way when the conquistadors reported back to the Spanish court with a delegation of Kekchi Mayan Indians who bore gifts for their conquerors, including beaten chocolate (Presilla, 24).  From the Spanish court, chocolate made its way into the lives of the elites in Spain, England and France, as well as other European countries, before becoming the staple commodity widely available to all social classes that it has become today.  Although the nations of Spain, England and France were distinct and undergoing different social and political climates during the time of the arrival of chocolate in the Old World, the history of chocolate consumption in these countries does share the commonality that in both chocolate began as a luxury affordable only to those of greater means before it became the widely accessible commodity it is known as today.


Mayan vase from Chama.  Source: The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised by Marcela E. Presilla

The above image is of a Maya vase from Chama, a region of Guatemala in which cacao is harvested, and shows a chieftain like that of the Kekchi Mayans being carried in a hammock, as was the chief of the Kekchi when he first introduced chocolate to Philip II of Spain.

Spain was one of several European countries to be impacted by the arrival of chocolate from the New World.  Although accounts vary as to how it got to Spain, it is known for certain that by the first half of the seventeenth century the same chocolate that the Spanish creole of Mexico were drinking had integrated into the Spanish Court (Coe, 131).  The way that it was consumed, however, was much more regal than it had been in present-day Mexico.  As it was coveted primarily by the Spanish royals, the way in which this chocolate was consumed became more refined over time.  In the mid-17th century the viceroy of Peru, Marques de Mancera invented a device to prevent ladies from spilling their chocolate onto their finery; The mancerina featured a silver saucer with a large ring in the middle into which a small cup would fit snugly and offered a solution for those noble Spaniards who had the luxury of owning valuable clothing worth protecting from chocolate (Coe, 135).  In fact, chocolate was so commonplace to these Spanish elites that around 1680 it was common to serve it and other sweets to officials during the public executions of the Spanish Inquisition (Snodgrass, 207).  Cosimo de’ Medici of Spain, who later became Grand Duke of Tuscany, was also known to consume chocolate liberally during the public and grand events of the Spanish nobility of Baroque Spain, including while watching a bullfight with the Spanish king, and earned himself a reputation as a “chocoholic” resultantly  (Coe, 135). 


The Mancerina. Source:

The origin of chocolate in France is not known with certainty.  But its association with nobility was not very different in France than it was in Spain.  In Louis XIV’s decadent Palace of Versailles chocolate was a staple served at all public events hosted for the French elite.  It wasn’t until the King’s wife died and he married the conservative Madame de Maintenon that the ruler became thrifty and consumption of chocolate in the palace ended (Coe, 156).  Like the Spanish, the French had appropriated special vessels for serving chocolate.  The chocolatiere, a long vessel with a spout, hinged lid and a straight wooden handle, both poured and frothed the chocolate for serving and was surely made of silver if it was to be used by elites (Smithsonian, 2015).  In France, as in other parts of Europe, the drinking of chocolate was at times taboo for women.  When the Infanta Maria Teresa married the King of France in 1660, she brought Spanish women to serve in her court but was forbidden from drinking chocolate with them and took to doing so in private, as the act was not permissible for noble French women (Coe, 154).  However, this taboo did not last long; In 1671 the marquis de Sevigne wrote to her ill daughter that chocolate would make her well again saying:

“But you are not well, you have hardly slept, chocolate will set you up again.  But you do not have a chocolatiere [chocolate-pot]; I have thought of it a thousand times; what will you do?  Alas, my child, you are not wrong when you believe that I worry about you more than you worry about me.” (Coe, 155)

During this time, chocolate had a reputation for being untouchable to those of modest means.  Recently at Hampton Court Palace researchers discovered a chocolate kitchen, a room in which the King’s personal chocolatier procured chocolate delights for the King and his court on a daily basis.  So essential was this indulgence to the King that his chocolatier was known to travel with him to provide him with his sweet supply.  As in France and Spain, the luxuriousness of consuming chocolate was not limited to the food itself but also included the means by which the chocolate was consumed.  Pots for serving the beverage were often made of silver or gold.  In fact, William III is reputed to have used a chocolate pot that was made of gold and weighed 33 oz!  Many were employed in the making of chocolate and the associated paraphernalia and these costs associated with consumption meant that the drink was unattainable for many (Historic Royal Palaces, 2014)

The article linked below was published by the Smithsonian Institute and outlines the rise and fall of chocolate as the food of nobility.  At one point it details the means by which chocolate eventually became accessible to people of all classes in Europe and the United States.  The Industrial Revolution was in large part to thank for driving down the costs associated with chocolate consumption during the 19th century.  For example, it was during this time that Coenraad Van Houton invented the cocoa process, which created cocoa powder, a staple ingredient of many chocolate products consumed today.  While it is easy to see chocolate today as something that is off-limits to no one, to understand the history of chocolate is to understand that in Europe the commodity began as a luxury to be enjoyed by only those of the highest privilege.


Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver (photographer).  (2012). Mancerina.  [digital image].  Retrieved from:

Baker, Mary Louise. (Photographer). (1926).  Rollout watercolor of the Ratinlixul vase from Guatemala.  [digital image].  Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Coe, M. & Coe, S. (2013).  The true history of chocolate.  London, UK: Thames & Hudson, Ltd.

Historic Royal Palaces.  (2014, September 3).  The making of the chocolate kitchen [Video file].  Retrieved from

Righthand, J. (2015).  A brief history of the chocolate pot.  Smithsonian Institute.  Retrieved from:

Presilla, M.E. (2009).  The new taste of chocolate revised: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes.  Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Snodgrass, M.E. (2004).  Encyclopedia of kitchen history.  New York, NY: Fitzroy Dearborn.

Chocolate as Food


Julia Naumowicz

08 March, 2017

Nicholas Paskert

Chocolate, Culture, and The Politics of Food

The Discovery of Chocolate as Used in Food in Ancient Mesoamerica

Of all the discoveries in the New World, the one that has seen the most monumental influence over the development of the Americas as well as Europe and the rest of the world has been the cacao tree. Theobroma cacao, the scientific name for the cacao tree, is a very exacting plant that requires the most specific growing conditions, found originally only in a very small part of equatorial South America but rediscovered in certain regions of Africa for the purpose of large cacao plantations. The effort that goes into cultivating cacao lends to its value as a unit of currency in the ancient world. When Christopher Columbus wrote during his fourth voyage to the New World in 1502, he made note of an encounter with a native tribe of indigenous Americans in a large dugout canoe. In this entry he describes the contents of the longboat, including “many of those almonds which in New Spain [Mexico] are used for money(Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. p109. Print.).” He mentioned the natives’ reverence for these “almonds”, remarking that “when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen(109).” It can be noted that Columbus was not aware of the existence of cacao itself, as he refers to them in his memoirs as almonds.

When Carl von Linné coined the scientific name for the cacao tree in 1753, more than two hundred years after the discovery both of the cacao tree and of the Mesoamerican civilizations which cultivated it, he settled on Theobroma cacao. Theobroma is Greek, meaning The Food of the Gods, mentioned in religious carvings dating back to the Olmecs (Coe 39). Still, it was believed in the anthropological community for decades that the classic Maya and Aztecs did not use cacao as food. The general perspective by historians regarding the ancient Mesoamerican attitude towards cacao was that the bitter bean was too valuable to be eaten by common folk. It was a special luxury and a symbol of wealthy extravagance, cherished by the noble class as well as warriors and the traveling merchants of the Aztec empire, who would frequently be met with violence on the road due to the value of their cargo and so were considered somewhat of a class of warriors themselves (Coe 98).

The mendicant Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún recorded the preparation of cacao water, or cacahuatl, in his General History of The Things of New Spain, an encyclopedia written partly in Nahuatl, the native language of the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, and partly in Spanish. The drink is typically roasted cacao nibs that are finely ground in a metate, or grinding stone, mixed with ground maize, then stirred into water; the chocolate seller would then stand upright and pour the cacao water from one vessel to another, gradually producing a bubbling froth. At the same time cacao would be ground up with maize and

other seeds, then compressed into a thin wafer that would be put in Aztec soldiers’ food rations (98).

After the Spanish conquest of the New World, beginning in Central America and spreading both north and south, the use of so-called “new world” spices, such as allspice and vanilla, were being introduced to common Old World spices such as black pepper and basil in creative new culinary inventions. The most popular of this is the mole sauce, a rich marriage of savory and sweet with a signature heat that pairs well with most meats and other savory dishes. Much like the meztiso people who were originally credited with inventing this sauce, the mole is considered to be the first blend of Spanish and Nahuatl customs into a new culture of itself. For decades academics believed that it was the meztiso population of the newly established state of Mexico that first mixed cacao with food, however new studies have proven that cacao was eaten as part of dishes as early as 450 CE (Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. p15. Print.).

During an excavation of the Copan ruins in Honduras in 2009, researchers Cameron McNeil and Jeffrey Hurst discovered traces of theobromine in a vessel containing capsaicin, the chemical marker for capsicum peppers, and turkey bones. Theobromine was also found on a dish that had once held tamales, found in the same site (15).

Before McNeil and Hurst made their discovery, it was believed by anthropologists that cacao drinks were specifically marked by a certain set of hieroglyphs, called the Primary Standard Sequence.

It has been long established that the presence of the Primary Standard Sequence would indicate the presence of cacao in a drinking vessel, because the drinking of cacao water, or cacahuatl, was a sacred rite reserved for the Aztec elite as well as those soon to be sacrificed. The Primary Standard Sequence is a formula of Classic or at times post-Classic Mayan hieroglyphs, the first few pictures describe the shape of the vessel and dedicating the vessel itself, either to a patron or to the gods, then the middle of the Sequence describes the contents of the vessel, and the final few glyphs were a series of noble titles (Coe, p45). It was David Stuart, an expert on Mayan hieroglyphics, who discovered that the symbol in Classic and post-Classic Mayan for cacao was a fin or comb and a fish, with the comb indicating ka-, which, combined with the fin of the fish beside it, becomes kaka- with the symbol for –w following it (45) When the Primary Standard Sequence was identified, only then was a drinking vessel or liquid storage vessel sent off for chemical testing. The presence of theobromine, an alkaloid closely related to caffeine, would determine whether or not cacao was drunk out of a particular vessel. With McNeil and Hurst’s discovery, more and more items are being tested for cacao residue (Presilla 15).

In the modern world, cacao is most commonly consumed in the form of sweetened chocolate bars, mixed with palm oil rather than cocoa butter in order to maximize profits. When it comes to savory dishes, the mole sauces enjoyed by Mexico’s ancestors has remained largely unchanged, but there are also subtle regional variations as well as personal touches which vary from household to household.

The first recipe which will be explored has been found was told to Sahagún in this manner, speaking of the cacahuatl sellers in the streets:

She grinds cacao [beans]; she crushes, breaks, pulverizes them. She chooses, selects, separates them. She drenches, soaks, steeps them. She adds water, sparingly, conservatively; aerates it, filters it, strains it, pours it back and forth, aerates it; she makes it form a head, makes foam; she removes the head, makes it thicken, make it dry, pours water into it, stirs water into it (Coe 98).

Well-made cacahuatl was cherished by the upper class, who would serve it at parties. At times it would be mixed with other spices, such as vanilla or black pepper, or the ever popular chipotle chili.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. “How The Aztecs Made Chocolate.” The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. 84. Print.

The first mole sauce to be presented is the reimagination of the turkey dish in which McNeil and Hurst first discovered cacao’s use as an ingredient in Mayan cuisine.


  • 9 ancho chiles (4 ounces), stemmed and seeded
  • 11 pasilla chiles (4 ounces), stemmed and seeded
  • 12 mulato chiles (4 ounces), stemmed and seeded
  • 1 large white onion, unpeeled
  • 1 medium head of garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 (one inch) stick true cinnamon (soft Ceylon cinnamon, sold as canela in Hispanic markets)
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon aniseed
  • 1 medium-sized corn tortilla
  • ½ cup (about 2 ounces) dry-roasted peanuts
  • ½ cup (about 2 ounces) blanched sliced almonds
  • ½ cup (about 2 ounces) hulled green pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup (about 2 ounces) sesame seeds
  • cup extra-virgin olive oil from Arbequina olives or freshly rendered lard
  • 1 medium-sized ripe plantain, peeled and cut into thick slices
  • cup (about 2 ounces) pitted prunes
  • ½ cup (about 2 ounces) dark raisins
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate, preferably El Rey Bucare (58.5% cacao), Askinosie Soconusco (75% cacao), an artisanal Mexican chocolate, or Ibarra brand table chocolate
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup (about 2 ounces) grated Latin American brown loaf sugar (piloncillo), muscovado sugar, or packed dark brown sugar, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Well-flavored chicken broth

To roast the chiles

Wipe [the chiles] clean with a damp cloth. Heat a large griddle, comal, or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Dry-roast the chiles on the griddle in about 6 batches, allowing about 1 minute on each side and pressing them down with a spatula. Transfer them to a large bowl as they are done; cover with about 4 cups warm water and leave them to soak for about 20 minutes. Drain and reserve 1 cup of the soaking liquid

For the rest of the sauce

Dry-roast the onion and the whole head of garlic on the griddle, stirring occasionally, until blackened and blistered, about 8 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Lightly dry-roast the cinnamon, black peppercorns, and aniseed (do not scorch). Frind them to a fine powder om a spice mill or a coffee mill and set aside.

Lightly toast the tortilla on the griddle, allowing about 30 seconds per sidel set aside. Dry-roast the peanuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds, stirring or shaking the griddle, for about 1 minute. Set aside in a small bowl. Toast the sesame seeds for about 30 seconds, stirring or shaking the griddle; scrape out into the same bowl. When cool, finely grind the nuts, seeds, and tortilla in a food processor.

Heat the lard in a large 12-inch skillet over medium heat until melted. Add the plantain slices and sauté until golden brown. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels; set aside the skillet with the fat.

Peel the cooled onion and garlic, chop the onion coarsely, and set aside. Combine all of the roasted ingredients, plantain slices, prunes, and raisins in a large bowl or pot with the reserved chile soaking liquid. Working in 3 or more batches, process the mixture in a blender or food processor to make a purée, adding more chile soaking liquid as needed if the mixture is too thick to process easily. Repeat until all has been processed.

Heat the preserved olive oil or lard in the skillet over medium heat until fragrant. When it ripples, as the purée and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.

If you are planning to use the paste immediately, dilute it by stirring in chicken broth until it is the consistency of thin tomato sauce. It isn’t absolutely necessary, but the consistency will be much silkier if you fore the thinned mixture through a fine-mesh sieve by pushing with a wooden spoon. If you are not using it immediately, cool the mole paste to room temperature, transfer to storafe containers, and pour a thin film of melted lard over the surface to help keep it from spoiling. Seal tightly and store it in a cool place or the refrigerator. It will keep well for several months.

  • “Xalapa-Style Mole (Mole Xalapeño).” The New Taste of Chocolate. Maricel E. Presilla. 193-95. Print.

Below is a video found on YouTube of a modern Steak with Chocolate recipe, found on the Phantom Gourmet’s channel:

Chocolate Traditions: From Enlightenment-era Europe to Today

Early European Chocolate Consumption

It is thought that chocolate was brought to Europe in 1544 when the Kekchi Maya of Guatemala visited Prince Philip in Spain and brought chocolate as one of their many gifts (Coe & Coe, 130-131). Chocolate was an essential element of Mayan culture, and this was represented through their gifting of chocolate to an elite Spaniard. This was just the beginning of chocolate consumption in pre-enlightenment Europe, as the appreciation for sugar and chocolate quickly began to spread through Europe. Furthermore, new methods brought the price of sugar production down, allowing wider audiences to gain access to affordable chocolate. Although chocolate started as a commodity accessible solely to the elite, as sugar gradually became more affordable it increased the significance of chocolate as a symbol and way of celebration for a more widespread audience.

After the initial introduction of chocolate into Europe, it remained a luxury product that was typically enjoyed by the elite class. In The True History of Chocolate, the authors explain “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Coe & Coe, 125). Before it was available to people of all classes, chocolate was a symbol that celebrated wealth and status. One tradition among the elite in Spain was the consumption of a chocolate drunk “at the lavish midafternoon soirees called agasajos, as was the fashion in Spain” (Presilla, 24-25). Although these soirees were not used specifically to celebrate holidays, they were celebrations nonetheless in which chocolate was traditionally consumed.

es6373A German sculpture from 1744 depicting an elite couple enjoying a chocolate drink together

The sculpture pictured above by Johann Kändler demonstrates the availability and appreciate for chocolate among upper-class European citizens. However, sugar soon became more affordable and its consumption spiked and became widespread. This was what allowed chocolate to become a true product of celebration, as the common individual could consume chocolate and afford it to celebrate special occasions. In his book Sweetness and Power, Mintz explains “After 1850, as the price of sugar dropped sharply, that preference became realized in its consumption. A rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, sugar had been transformed into a virtual necessity by 1850” (Mintz, 148). Sweetened goods became widely available in Europe beginning in the 19th century, allowing chocolate to be used as a universal means of celebration. The other key contribution to the widespread availability of chocolate was the process of conching introduced by Rodolphe Lindt in 1879. This revolutionized how chocolate was manufactured and allowed companies to inexpensively produce large quantities of chocolate (Presilla 40-41). Chocolate was no longer only served as a drink, and the packaged, hard chocolates that are now so familiar were produced. Furthermore, producers could package chocolate in ways that allowed them to market the product towards certain holidays. For example, Richard Cadbury created the heart-shaped chocolate box that is now associated with Valentine’s Day in 1861 (Henderson).

Modern Commercialized Chocolate Consumption

Pictured: Godiva Valentine’s Day Heart Chocolate Gift Box.

Today, many chocolatiers market their products towards specific holidays and events. Like Cadbury in 1861, many companies still use the classic heart shape box to market their chocolates towards Valentine’s Day. The Godiva website describes the chocolate box pictured above as “Seduction in a box: Our new dessert-inspired chocolates in a beautifully illustrated gift box for Valentine’s Day” (“Valentine’s”). The chocolate confection represents something more than just a treat, as it is also a celebration of love and is symbolic of Valentine’s Day. Likewise, some brands use their packaging to convey that their chocolate is specially created for certain times of the year. For example, Hershey’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have a fall line of chocolate that is decorated with falling leaves to symbolize autumn.


The Hershey’s website includes the Fall Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures as a part of their Halloween and Fall collection.

The Fall Peanut Butter Cups are no different than typical Reese’s products, except for their fall-themed foiled wrapping. Reese’s caters their products to a large assortment of holidays, including special shaped products for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, and Halloween.

In this Reese’s Halloween commercial from 2013, the advertisement says “Nothing screams Halloween like chocolate and peanut butter”.

Reese’s successfully ties their product and chocolate to celebrations. Although modern holidays are highly commercialized around chocolate, these special holiday-specific creations help to celebrate the holidays and make them extra special. For example, Lindt chocolate makes a Milk Chocolate Santa that is special for the Christmas season. Most individuals in the United States are familiar with chocolate Santas, and eating one may bring on nostalgia associated with the holiday season.


Lindt Milk Chocolate Santa

In America, 300 million people consume chocolate annually, which averages to about twelve pounds per person (Martin, “Big Chocolate”). However, Chocolate consumption is at its highest before holidays. Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Halloween are the seasons in which the most chocolate is purchased (Tannenbaum, 2016). Although chocolate is widely available to the average consumer year-around, its purchase and consumption peaks around the holidays because people view chocolate as a means of celebration. chocolate has been used to celebrate special occasions since its discovery, and marketing tactics have increased its connection with celebration significantly. Furthermore, chocolate’s widespread availability at a large spectrum of price points has allowed it to continue its dominance as one of the most popular celebratory indulgences. It is likely that chocolate will continue to be a treat that is enjoyed by all particularly in times of celebration, as its taste brings about nostalgia and happiness.


Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Fall REESE’S Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures. Digital image. Hershey’s. The Hershey Company, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Henderson, Amy. “How Chocolate and Valentine’s Day Mated for Life.” Smithsonian Institution, 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Kändler, Johann Joachim. Couple Drinking Chocolate. 1744. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Met Fifth Avenue. The Met. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Martin, Carla. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 8 March 2017, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

“Milk Santa 4.4 oz Holiday Chocolate Figure.” Lindt Chocolate. Lindt Chocolate, 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

Reeses. “REESE’S Halloween Cackle”. Online Video Clip. YouTube, 27 Sept. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Tannenbaum, Kiri. “8 Facts About Chocolate.” Delish. Hearst Communications, 05 Apr. 2016. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

“Valentine’s Day Heart Chocolate Gift Box, 14 pc. | GODIVA.” Godiva, 2017. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.


Sugar’s Explosion In Britain: Slave Driven, Technologically Fueled, or the result of Free Trade?

By the twentieth century, sugar had become a common component of the English diet. Several factors led to this development, two of which are the proliferation of slavery in the New World, and advancements in technology that made larger scale production possible. While technology, after the abolition of slavery, continued to play a role in the success of sugar production, sugar prices would likely not have dropped to the degree they did, had it not been for a shift away from British protectionism, a policy that had formerly limited competition in the sugar industry. The reduction of sugar prices is what allowed the product to become so integrated in the diet of everyday people.

One cannot ignore the role the slavery played in the production of sugar into the mid to late nineteenth century. As Sidney Mintz states, British colonists in the Caribbean had began to think about sugar production close to the middle of the seventeenth century.[1] As tobacco production began to be supplanted by sugar production, plantations began to develop, and increasingly, small farms became a thing of the past, and slavery a more popular form of labor than indentured servitude.[2] As Mintz points out, slavery maintained its crucial role in sugar production until the Haitian Revolution[3], which concluded in 1803. This graph of UK per capita sugar consumption over time (from this article) shows that sugar consumption continued to increase well into the nineteenth century. So, while slavery may have played a pivotal role in sugar production in its day, it cannot, however, be given credit for the ultimate explosion of sugar consumption in Britain.

Technological advances also played a key role in sugar production. As Mintz states, until the nineteenth century, “mechanical force was [still] an imperfect and incomplete substitute for manual labor.”[4] However, around the middle of the 1800’s, there were drastic improvements in the technology of the sugar industry, as evident by “[i]mmense improvements in grinding capacity, cane varieties, pest control and cultivation methods, increasing use of machinery, and revolutionary changes in transportation eventuated in vast new agro-industrial complexes.”[5] One such technological improvement was the use of steam powered sugar mills. Another was the multiple effect evaporator, which introduced a cheaper and safer way of evaporating sugar cane juice. As slavery ended in several European countries in the nineteenth century, there was a decrease in the labor available for Caribbean planters, as former slaves sought to escape the plantation.[6] The planters who were most able to utilize technological improvements got a leg up over their peers in the face of increased competition in the sugar market.[7] It seems that technology helped to compensate for emancipation’s effects on the labor supply.

Another development that had significant effect on the sugar industry was the end of the British policy of protectionism. Protectionism is a policy of limiting foreign competition via tariffs, subsidies, quotas, or other limitations.[8] As Mintz articulates, at around the middle of the nineteenth century, the system of protectionism was abandoned in favor of “arrangements that could supply an abundant but cheaper supply of the same goods to English consumers, without special West Indian privileges.”[9] So, it is clear that the end of protectionism, which led to an increase in competition in the English sugar market, played a key role in the reduction of sugar prices, which, of course, was pivotal for the increase in English sugar consumption. The tendency of competition to lower prices, as it pertains to the sugar market specifically, should not be understated. An earlier period of sugar production also attests to the potency of competition. As Ralph Davis articulates, the entrance of English colonies as producers in the sugar market was a noticeable force in the reduction of sugar prices, as they competed with the Portuguese:

“At the beginning of the seventeenth century Portuguese (i.e. Brazilian) production was already growing fast and reducing prices sharply and the English West Indian Islands, when they turned to sugar production, had this large established New World producer to contend with. They came late into the field… and in the early 1660’s they were still contending with the Portuguese even for the English market. But already their competition had caused a considerable decline in prices and prices continued to fall, on the whole, until about 1685, by which time the English product had driven Brazilian sugar from the North European as well as from the English market.”[10]

This price reduction ended, or at least slowed, with the end of competition. It seems unlikely that the sugar producers in the English West Indies would have reduced their prices as much as sugar prices fell following the end of protectionism, if they had still enjoyed the lack of competition that protectionism afforded them. I contend that although new technological advances improving the means of sugar production might still have led to a reduction in sugar prices, this reduction would not have been as great without this shift in British policy.

The change from protectionism to some semblance of free trade was completed by 1870.[11] When they removed “barriers to ‘free’ trade… [British elites made it] possible for the world’s cheapest sugars to reach the widest possible market in Britain.”[12] While slavery, in its time, had some impact in the flourishing of the sugar industry, and technology surely played a role as well, the results of the British departure from protectionism allowed the competition that also helped to drive down sugar prices, which allowed sugar to be consumed more widely by the English population.


American Chemical Society National Historic Chemical Landmarks. “Norbert Rillieux           and the Multiple Effect Evaporator.” Accessed March 10, 2017.

Coleman, Andrew. “Sugar Plantations of Louisiana.” Last Modified April 11, 2013.     Accessed March 10, 2017.                                                                             

Davis, Ralph. “English Foreign Trade, 1660-1700.” The Economic History Review, New Series, 7, no. 2 (1954): 152. doi:10.2307/2591619.
Mintz, Sidney W., Woodville K. Marshall, Mary Karasch, and Richard Frucht. “Slavery and the Rise of Peasantries [with Commentary].” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques 6, no. 1 (1979): 213-53.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New                  York: Penguin Books, 1986, c1985.

Sutherland, Claudia E. “Haitian Revolution 1791-1804.” Copyright 2007-2017.             Accessed March 10, 2017

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Protectionism.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Published May 20, 2010. Accessed March 10, 2017.

‘The Historic Sugar Mills of Java.” Accessed March 10, 2017.

“The Inconvenient Truth about Sugar Consumption (it’s not what you think)”          Published May 1, 2014. Accessed March 10, 2017.


“Sweet Spot Part 4, Olean Sugar Mill, East Java, Indonesia” Copyright Rob and           Yuehong Dickinson 2007.

“Refined Sugar: Where did it come from? Stuff of Genius”


[1] Sidney Mintz. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986, c1985., p. 52

[2] Ibid., 53.

[3] Ibid., 27.

[4] Ibid., 51.

[5] Ibid., 69.

[6] Ibid., 69-70.

[7] Sidney Mintz., Woodville K. Marshall, Mary Karasch, and Richard Frucht. “Slavery and the Rise of Peasantries [with Commentary].” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques 6, no. 1 (1979): p.215.

[8] The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Protectionism.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Published May 20, 2010. Accessed March 10, 2017.

[9] Sidney Mintz. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, p. 61.

[10] Ralph Davis. “English Foreign Trade, 1660-1700.” The Economic History Review, New Series, 7, no. 2 (1954): 152.

[11] Sidney Mintz. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, p.61

[12] Ibid., 70.

Great Chocolate, Greater Relationships

“Great chocolate, greater relationships”. That is the slogan for Tabal chocolate, a company that claims it is “chocolate’s power to bring people together” that inspires them to make their best chocolate (“History”). Through a chocolate exchange at the Denver Art Museum in 2014, the CelebrARTE and Journey programs began a partnership to help students create Mayan chocolate-inspired poetry and art and to “grow as artists and teachers” (Salazar). And in 2013, Milka chocolate came up with a fun project that required Argentine workers to link hands and work together to connect a cow statue with a vending machine and receive free chocolate bars (Cullers). In each of these situations, chocolate is seen as something that brings people together and this is not a new concept.

The Olmecs and Mayans

From the origins of cacao, society and people groups have gathered together to consume some form of chocolate. In as early as 1500 B.C., the Olmecs would remove the seeds from the pods by hand and prepare them for fermentation- a process that had to be done only when many people got together. Joel Palka, a director of an archaeological project around Chiapas, Mexico, still encounters people in the area who prepare chocolate as a family tradition and cultural practice. He says in a Smithsonian article, “like coffee in the Arab world, or beer in northern and Eastern Europe, it’s not only something that’s good, but part of their identity” (Garthwaite). There is also a Mayan word chocola’j that literally means “to drink cacao together”. The upper class in Mayan society found great significance in communal consumption and cacao became almost a luxury set aside only for special situations.

The Cistercians

Recipes using cacao beans have been discovered in a 12th century Cistercian monastery where Cistercian communities, even to this day, gather to prepare and enjoy chocolate in a specific room located above the cloister called the “chocolateria”. Drinking chocolate became such a popular beverage for communal events that Catholics often debated over whether it could be considered a food and should not be consumed during fasting.


Monks preparing chocolate together in a Cistercian monastery

The British

Once cacao was brought to Europe, it served a similar purpose. Chocolate was served at “chocolate houses” in England, where members of the elite upper class would gather together to drink their liquid chocolate, gamble, and share opinions on the pressing philosophical and political issues of the day. Soon, these “houses” became associated with one of the Parliamentary parties, and some evolved into a gentlemen’s club, like the “Cocoa Tree Club”, made up of Tories in England.

The Big Five

By observing some of the original advertisements of the Big Five chocolate companies, we can further understand how throughout history, chocolate is seen as something that brings people together. Many of Cadbury’s advertisements have shown families drinking and enjoying chocolate together, such as one (shown below) in which a woman is seen commenting “This is the nicest way to end an evening” (drinking chocolate together).


A Cadbury advertisement depicting people drinking chocolate together

Another advertisement depicts a family drinking cocoa for breakfast as a “substitute for milk”. Similarly, many older Nestle advertisements depict children playing together, while Mars and Hershey also focus on illustrating couples eating chocolate together.


A Cadbury advertisement depicting a family drinking chocolate for breakfast

This brings us to today. Chocolate companies are still advertising their products as being something that unites people – from couples to friends to even different social groups or cultures. A few years ago, Divine chocolate came out with a series of ads that portrayed female Ghanaian cacao farmers with different captions like “Just developed an appetite for fighting global poverty?” or “Craving a better world or just another piece?”, as if chocolate plays a role in large global issues (Leissle). Many Hershey ads include the motto “shared goodness”, which suggests that consumers are eating the chocolate with others and enjoying it together.


A Divine chocolate advertisement

Outside of how chocolate companies affect our perception of chocolate, society, in general, still gathers around consuming this sweet. It’s common to see families and friends drinking hot chocolate together on a cold winter night, or couples enjoying chocolate together around Valentine’s Day. To enjoy chocolate with others is to share love and joy. As Audrey Richards once said, the “need for nutrition brings people together and creates social groups”. Although chocolate may not necessarily be seen as a necessary nutrition and more as a luxury, it is evident that throughout history, chocolate has done the same.

Works Cited

Cullers, Rebecca. “For Free Chocolate, Strangers Must Hold Hands in Argentine Vending Stunt”. AdWeek. 3 Oct. 2013. Print.

Garthwaite, Josie. “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate”. 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

“History”. Tabal Chocolate. Web. 10 Mar. 2017

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

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.

Salazar, Madalena. “Chocolate Brings People Together at CelebrARTE”. Denver Art Museum. 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.