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History Of Chocolate: Establishing Differences Between Mayans and Aztecs

Artifacts from Mesoamerica and journals of Spanish explorers depicting the usage of cacao and chocolate emphasize the differences between the cultures and values of the Mayans and Aztecs. These differences help to distinguish the unique beliefs and traditions which the Mayans and Aztecs had. The multimedia and scholarly examples in this post will help to illustrate them.

Both, Mayans and Aztecs, likely considered chocolate a sacred drink. In this first example, a Research Scholar from the New College of Florida, Dr. Gabrielle Vail gives a detailed description on the Mayans’ usage of Cacao. She explains how Mayans of all classes were able to have chocolate through ceremonies and rituals.


A conclusion can be drawn that the Mayan royals were able to share chocolate with their subjects despite the obvious sacred enigma assigned to the chocolate drink. The Mayans seemed to have believed in the unity of the Mayan commoners and royal people. The portrayal of the cacao tree and chocolate come up in Mayan artifacts and manuscripts which likely depict an important spiritual concept.

This is a Mayan vase from the Guatemala Highlands which depicts a moment from the rare Mayan codex titled Popol Vuh. A Maize God’s head remains suspended from a Cacao tree after the Lords of the dead had slain him. However, the Maize God remains alive throughout the codex (Coe and Coe, 39).

Here in this image is the Maize God’s head hanging from the tree. It looks like he was meant to be a part of it.

This scene and the depiction of the cacao tree can be interpreted as a transformation or a renewal. It seems that the Mayans had beliefs that imply spiritual change in deities. It is likely that the Mayans focused less on human sacrifice and more on the spiritual evolution and rebirth. The cacao plant can be interpreted as a symbol of spiritual growth as well. The cacao pods could symbolize a new life sprouting into the world. Unlike the Mayan royals sharing chocolate and extending their beliefs of rebirth to the commoners, the Aztecs had a different approach to cacao and chocolate.

Maricel Presilla, an expert on Cacao and chocolate, describes the Historia General written by Bernardino De Sagahun, a Franciscan Friar. She discusses and quotes Sagahun’s work which describes the Aztecs’ strict rules on who was allowed to drink chocolate. “Cacao’s importance can be glimpsed when Sagahun explains proverbially called ‘heart and blood’ – a treasured substance drunk by lords and distinguished persons ‘because it was worth much and there was very little of it. If one of the common people drank it, if they drank it without sanction, it would cost them their life. For this reason it was called Yollotli eztli: the price of blood and heart” (Presilla, 19). From this, it appears likely that the Aztecs had a strong hierarchy. It seems that Aztec Royals believed that this sacred drink should be exclusively in their possession. They would not allow access to chocolate for the common people, unless the latter were warriors (Coe & Coe, 98). Alike their punishments for commoners who dared to taste chocolate, the Aztecs’ beliefs on what chocolate symbolizes are more graphic.

This is the Codex Fejervary Mayer. It is an ancient pre-Columbian manuscript created by the Aztecs which portrays the cacao tree in one section of it. It is in “the direction of The Land of the Dead, associated with the color red, the color of blood” (Coe & Coe, 101).

The Cacao tree on this part of the codex can be seen on the right in between two Aztec Gods.

The Aztecs seem to have beliefs based on human sacrifices. The Aztecs’ depiction of their religious beliefs was more dismal and atrocious comparing to the Mayans’. The scene from this codex could be interpreted as a warning. Perhaps this scene represents people paying for their sins through sacrifice and confinement to the Underworld.

To conclude, the history of chocolate in Mesoamerica exposes the differences in culture and beliefs between Mayans and Aztecs.

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

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




Dark chocolate and its consumer

In the world today, every individual has different preferences, favourites and likes. In chocolate, this can be the choice of either milk or dark, expensive or cheap, fair-trade or big-5 company etc. These differences are partly due to the specific taste of the person, but also the influence of society and the economy.

In order to understand this concept better I decided to run an experiment. This is how it was conducted:

1) I gathered 4 different chocolates with differing cocoa contents (pictured below). The 4 samples were:
– 45% Hershey’s Special Dark
– 60% Ghirardelli Squares
– 70% Lindt Dark Chocolate
– 85% Lindt Dark Chocolate

I chose these chocolates as they include three common brands that the tasters are familiar with. They are available at almost any convenience store and are recognisable. This was important to me, as I wanted to look at the effect of the big chocolate companies on the consumer. Many of these companies are also associated with the less rich and lower cocoa content candy bars, so they also opened the eyes to the smaller market of dark chocolate within the bigger companies.


2) I then gathered a group together (some of them pictured below) and asked them to taste the chocolate and see whether they could decipher distinctly between the cocoa-content of the chocolates. This was a blind test, so the tasters didn’t see the packaging prior to tasting, but they could tell the brand of the chocolate due to the imprint on the chocolate bar itself. The test was done with no conferring as to test the single taste of the person. I asked them to make note of the taste and mouth feel while tasting.




3) Prior to them tasting the chocolate I asked some simple introduction questions. These included:
– Gender
– How often do you eat dark chocolate?
– When was the last time you ate dark chocolate?
– On a scale of 1-10 (1-will never eat, 10-can’t get enough), how much do you enjoy DARK chocolate?
– On a scale of 1-10 (1-will never eat, 10-can’t get enough), how much do you enjoy MILK chocolate?

4) This was followed up by a series of question considering purchasing, packaging, and associations with dark chocolate.

My experiment came back with very useful results. I tested a total of 7 people, 2 of which were male. Conclusively, the tasters who preferred dark chocolate (3 out of 7) to milk chocolate came back with a 100% correction in distinguishing the different cocoa content of the chocolate. Those that preferred milk chocolate found it hard to separate the 60% chocolate from the 70% chocolate. I feel like this is due to not being accustomed with the taste. However, two of the four people that preferred milk chocolate had eaten dark chocolate within the last week, while some of the dark chocolate eaters hadn’t eaten dark chocolate for a longer period of time, but were still able to define the difference.

I wanted my testers to state their gender so that I could indicate whether there was a difference between male and female in their preference or how they choose chocolate. The two males that taste tested were milk chocolate lovers. One of these males could not tell between the 60%, 70%, and 85% chocolate, while the other couldn’t determine 60% from 70%. The following advertisement from Lindt claims dark chocolate being a product for the female. It is described as sticking in your throat, being bitter, and having a smudgy texture. This association with dark chocolate and the female may be a possible deterrent for the male, or it could also be down to science and the way that females taste different to males.

lindt advertisement

When describing the taste and mouth feel of the 85% chocolate, the reactions of the milk and dark chocolate lovers were very different. The milk chocolate lovers described it as ‘bad’ and ‘horrible aftertaste’, whereas the dark chocolate lovers were less harsh by noting it as ‘bitter’ and ‘chalky’. It appears that it wasn’t their favourite chocolate, but for the milk chocolate lovers, the taste was so bad that it sparked a bigger reaction. This raises the question as to whether milk chocolate lovers are hyper-tasters due to their sensitivity to the bitterness of the chocolate, and how the smoothness and less intense taste of milk chocolate on their taste buds is better suited.

One of the main disparities between milk chocolate and dark chocolate lovers was their approach to purchasing chocolate. The group as a whole decided that dark chocolate is a high-end product and in general is more expensive compared to your everyday candy bar. The tasters that preferred milk chocolate were more likely to opt for cheaper, more for your money, and well-known chocolate bars. As for the dark chocolate lovers, they were likely to spend more on dark chocolate to satisfy their cravings, but if they wanted a quick energy boost they would turn to the cheaper candy bars. They were more likely to savour dark chocolate and spend time enjoying it, which also attributes it to being a luxurious good associated with high class. One participant in this experiment told me that her family would not allow her dark chocolate until she reached a certain age, which also gives it a higher status, in comparison to the many candy bars we find at the counter at a checkout. Two companies mentioned when discussing what chocolate brand they buy, Hershey’s and Mars were at the top of the list. As we know, these are both part of the big-5! However, the dark chocolate lovers said they would also consider smaller companies and seek out something alternative, giving them a more exploratory nature. Laudan writes, “For all, culinary modernism has provided what was wanted: food that was processed, preservable, industrial, novel, and fast, the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford” (Laudan 40). This statement appears to correlate with the feedback from my tasters. Dark chocolate is now more available at a lower cost, but the price issue even presides over taste. We can also put this down to the sugar craving and the rise of sugar in the diet.

For the American consumer, impulse and self-indulgence purchases drive the companies. However, in a new market to chocolate, such as China, there is more gifting taking place.

“China’s breath-taking transformation from a command to a market-socialist economy over the past twenty-five years has turned some 300 million of its 1.3 billion people into ravenous consumers of everything from candy to cars. And until twenty-five years ago, almost none of them had ever eaten a piece of chocolate. They were, to coin a phrase, “chocolate virgins,” their taste for chocolate ready to be shaped by whichever chocolate company came roaring into the country with a winning combination of quality, marketing savvy, and manufacturing and distribution acumen. In short, China was the next great frontier, a market of almost limitless potential to be conquered in a war between the world’s leading chocolate companies for the hearts, minds, and taste buds – and ultimately the wallets – of China’s consumers. To the victor of the chocolate wars would go the spoils of over a billion potential customers for generations to come” (Allen Introduction).

Allen explains how the big-5 companies targeted the Chinese population to convert them to become chocolate consumers. However, the society was very unprepared for it as “chocolate was so foreign that it would have limited appeal to their untrained palates” (Allen 10). There was a shift in the consumption of chocolate but not to as great of an extent as experienced in the west. Chocolate was also seen as a means of gifting, as opposed as a purchase for self-consumption. My tasters explained that sometimes it was hard to purchase higher quality and more expensive chocolate for themselves, but when they looked towards seeking a chocolate gift for someone they would turn to dark chocolate and spend more. They explained that this was due to the association of dark chocolate as a classy product. The packaging as a gift would also sway their choices as they didn’t want to purchase chocolate that looked low quality and cheap.

Dark chocolate seems to hold a role in society which places it above that of milk chocolate. The disparity between people that like the two different types of chocolate cause changes in how they purchase, as well as consume chocolate. Dark chocolate seems to retain its authoritative nature through a word-of-mouth concept about its good properties, as opposed to candy bars with higher sugar and lower cocoa content.

Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association, 2010. Print.
Laudan, Rachel. Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History. Berkeley, CA: U of California, 2013. Print.

Gender Specific Advertising

The role of gender in advertisement is prevalent among a large number of chocolate adverts. Chocolate is associated with being sexy, sensual, romantic, and the female figure is very often associated with these words. Not only do chocolate adverts depict women, they also target females as their consumers. Women on general buy more chocolate than men. “Mintel Group data show that 90% of U.S. women buy chocolates versus 82% of men” (Facts, figures, future).I came across this article that discusses the shift to cater towards the men in the supermarket. “Chocolates could be among the first categories to “man shape.” Specialty chocolate makers have already mixed savory with sweet (think bacon chocolate) and spicy with sweet (pepper chocolates) for several years” (Facts, figures, future). The role of the male in the household is on the rise and they are expected to contribute to more of the previous female-typified chores, such as cooking. Personal image plays a big role in gendering food items. One of the reasons that males may buy less chocolate is that the industry just doesn’t cater to them.

However, although the industry might not cater directly towards males, there appears to be a very sexist approach to chocolate. The BBC released an article on the sensory experience of chocolate and stated, “both men and women can experience the pleasure of chocolate but women’s superior sense of smell means that they may be more likely to enjoy the ride” (BBC). Depicting women in a sense of arousal or sensual experience is the very epitome of chocolate advertisement. For instance Cadbury created the advertisement for their Flake bar. The woman is very obviously naked in a bath. She is shown in a seductive, alluring position, with her mouth open. This association with chocolate is a common scene and the female gender dominates it.

flake advert

On the other hand, the male is very rarely pictured in chocolate advertisements. However, when searching for an advertisement that caters towards the male consumer, I came across the Yorkie Bar. The Yorkie Bar was created by Nestle in 1976 and rivalled Cadbury’s Dairy Milk by creating a chunkier version. The bar contains 5 big chunks of chocolate and is associated with being ‘king-size’. Growing up in my childhood with this bar, the marketing and branding did put me off purchasing the product. I did eat it, but was always put off by the packaging and my brothers would make comments when I chose a Yorkie Bar as my candy choice. This demoralising approach to the female consumer is sexist in my eyes. There were two adverts with slogans that stood out to me. These slogans were “kingsize, not queensize” and “not available in pink”, both depicted below. Blocking off the female consumer is what caused controversy. A bar catering towards men only had not been seen before. Although many chocolate bar advertisements included females, they never refrained the male from purchasing it. This advertisement stood out like a sore thumb in advertising. The two slogans act as a barrier to the female viewer of consumption of the product. They deter the female and invite the male.



In response to this advert, my group decided to take on these slogans. The response is picture below.

Fit for a queen

The first step was to find a picture of a female on a queen-size bed, making it pink, and placing an intelligent slogan to accompany it. By placing the female figure on the queen-size bed we would counteract the caption defining the Yorkie bar as king-size. Our slogan that we created also came into play with this wording. “Fit for a queen” was a response to Nestle targeting their Yorkie bar to the male consumer. We wanted to iterate that the chocolate bar is not just for a man but also a woman. We pushed this boundary further through the use of colour. This was in response to the advertisement with the slogan “not available in pink”. Hence by displaying the chocolate bar in a pink wrapper it totally contradicts this slogan. The bed was also coloured pink to further emphasise this point. Although the name of the bar ‘Yorkie’ comes from the city of York, we altered the meaning to this word. We chose to reference the Yorkshire terrier dog (aka Yorkie) as it added a girly perspective to a woman and her toy dog. The advertisement we created is just a response to Yorkie’s advertisements. The aim was to create a far-fetched response that contradicts greatly to the original advertisements. It is not to act in-place of the original but rather open peoples eyes to what was happening in this particular case.

Works cited

Roxby, Philippa. “Chocolate Craving Comes from Total Sensory Pleasure.” BBC News. N.p., 26 July 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/health-23449795&gt;.

“Will Manlier Chocolates Sweeten Category?” Home. Jan. 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2014. <http://www.factsfiguresfuture.com/issues/january-2012/will-manlier-chocolates-sweeten-category.html&gt;.

Digital image. Daily Mail. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2010/03/05/article-1255749-001BC3F000000258-331_468x355.jpg&gt;.

Digital image. The Times. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. <http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/multimedia/archive/00341/114100916__341964c.jpg&gt;.

Digital image. Blogspot. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. <http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-xFUbuXihmFU/URoL3XpWHQI/AAAAAAAAAj8/Fyg-bMXa-lk/s1600/fullPR-04803-452-1.jpg&gt;.

The Tate and Lyle Sugar Company

The consumption of sugar in the world has increased dramatically since it was first introduced. Today, “the average person consumes 150 pounds of sugar per year – compared to just 7.5 pounds consumed on average in the year 1700” (Mehmet). Not only are these figures alarming, but also sugar is still on the rise and has the highest upward curve of any major food product in the world. This shocking rise is not just down to the natural globalisation of sugar as a commodity, but rather the need and want of the population. This is coupled with many other reasons such as its drop in price, and thus accessibility to the lower classes, as well as its revolution as to save energy on the cost of fuel to create meals for the family. Mintz states that:

 “The history of sucrose in the United Kingdom reveals two basic changes, the first marking the popularization of sweetened tea and treacle, from about 1750 onward; and the second, the opening up of mass consumption, from about 1800 onward. During the period 1750-1780 every English person, no matter how isolated or how poor, and without regard to age or sex, learned about sugar. Most learned to like it enough to want more than they could afford. 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 147).

 Turning my attention to the UK, and more specifically London, I came across the famous Tate and Lyle Company that was established in 1921. However, the two separate companies of Henry Tate & Sons (1883) and Abram Lyle & Sons in (1878) produced separately before this time. These two sugar refineries were located a mere mile from each other and only came together after the death of the two owners. Tate’s main produce was bagged sugar, while Lyle created its famous Golden Syrup, which as Mintz mentioned, was a popularised food. This advert depicts a sweet smiling girl with a can of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. The association that it had was to be super sweet and the little girl helps portray and sell the product. Also in the image is a teacup that associates the popularity of drinking sugar in tea. Sugar became a welcome commodity to the masses, rather than just the elite.

Lyle Advertisement

 The collaboration of the companies came about due to the ferocious battle they both had to stay on top. “By the end of the First World War it was clear that the competition was actually hurting both companies, but neither had a clear upper hand: the Lyles had the edge in profitability, but the Tates’ output was not to be rivalled” (Barrett and Calvi). Thus, the two companies had major assets that combined would create a better company. We have seen this happen in other companies such as Hershey and Mars who had a strong relationship to start, but then broke off with one another as competition got intense. In this case, the reversal happened and the companies split rather than merge.

As soon as the Second World War came round, local women replaced men in the sugar factories. They were known for being fashionable and “a girl in a Tate & Lyle uniform was regarded as glamorous, and women were proud to be seen wearing their outfits on the way to work” (Calvi). The people working for the company were desirable and therefore the product itself thrived in the community. This image depicts the fanciful women of the Tate and Lyle Company. The experience of these individuals can be followed in the recently published book titled “The Sugar Girls: Tales of Hardship, Love and Happiness in Tate &Lyle’s East End”.

Tate and Lyle Sugar Girls

The Sugar Girls Book

 There were both social and economic changes in the history of sugar including the workforce behind the company and the continued demand of sugar for the masses. Most recently, in 2010, Tate and Lyle sold its company to American Sugar Refining. This proves that sugar is still in continuous request and circulation. It occurs at a local level, but its global manifestation continues to dominate both other factories as well as us, the consumers.


Works Cited

Roizen, Michael F., and Mehmet Oz. You, on a Diet: The Owner’s Manual for Waist Management. New York: Free, 2009. Print.

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Hill, Andrew. “The FT30 and How Industry Has Changed.” Financial Times. N.p., 23 July 2010. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.

Finch, Julia, and Richard Wray. “Tate & Lyle Agrees Sale of Historic Sugar Business for £211m.” Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 01 July 2010. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.

Barrett, Duncan, and Nuala Calvi. The Sugar Girls: Tales of Hardship, Love and Happiness in Tate & Lyle’s East End Factories. London: Collins, 2012. Print.

Sugar Girls at the Factory. N.d. The Sugar Girls. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://www.thesugargirls.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/1-sugar-girls-at-the-factory.jpg&gt;.


Xococatl and Cacahuatl

The Mayans (main ruling period 200-950 A.D.) came before the Aztecs (established 1200 A.D) but they developed strong trade, whereby cacao was a main commodity and an influential part of both civilisations. Cacao in Mesoamerica was not available to the masses. It was a produce of immense wealth and cocoa beans were on many occasions used as money. Emperors and upper-class individuals would use cocoa beans as a currency, and in many cases to buy slaves. They were also the only ones that drank the chocolate and its wealth was a hierarchical classification for the Aztecs.

The Mayans and Aztecs did not eat chocolate, but rather they drank it. “For about 90 percent of chocolate’s long history, it was strictly a beverage, and sugar didn’t have anything to do with it” (Bensen, 2008). Chocolate was not actually eaten until it entered Europe and was modified with their finding of sugar. The drink associated with cacao was known as ‘xocolatl’ to the Mayans, and ‘cacahuatl’ to the Aztecs. Xocolatl and cacahuatl translate to “bitter water” and the biological name of chocolate Theobroma cacao to “food of the gods”. Many people commonly recreate this drink today, but the way in which it is made has altered greatly. The bitter taste is not something we associate chocolate with today. From our experience, chocolate is known as a sweet, sinful commodity, but for the Mayans and Aztecs, bitterness was a strong trait of the chocolate they produced. The recipe for the original chocolate drink contains solely crushed cocoa beans mixed with water and chillies, and sometimes cornmeal and vanilla. It would be frothed and then drunk at room temperature. This frothing process took place by pouring the drink from one container to another from a distance or using a molinillo. The picture depicts a man frothing the drink by transferring it from one cup to another.

Man frothing chocolate

When the Spanish came with the European product of sugar, they used this, as well as adding cinnamon and replacing the water with milk. This created a sweeter, unhealthier version of the drink. In the modern era today, the drink is warmed and closely resembles hot chocolate.

Not only was the drink seen as a wealth status, but it also was believed to have medicinal benefits. Compared to the sugary chocolate we eat today, unsweetened cocoa has surprising health benefits. Xocai is a company that sells online “healthy” chocolate. They do not alkalise their chocolate, avoid artificial flavouring and add natural sweeteners.

This promotional video by the company sells the chocolate as a weight loss food and its basis on chocolate production is the way in which the Mayans and Aztecs approached chocolate. It is where they also take their company name, Xocai. They avoid sugar and milk that add unhealthy components to the chocolate.


The idea of the spicy chocolate flavouring has revolutionised even further. When researching the drink online, I stumbled across a company, suitably named Bittermens. They create non-alcoholic bitters that can be added to cocktails or other alcoholic drinks to add flavouring. One of their flavours is the “Xocolatl Mole™ Bitters” (Bittermens, 2013) with primary flavours of chocolate, cinnamon and spices. I was even more interested when I found out that the company was started locally; “Bittermens started production in Somerville, MA at a commercial kitchen that we leased from Taza Chocolate” (Bittermens, 2013). Since their intial start-up they moved to Brookyln, NY in 2011, and most recently New Orleans, LA, in 2013.


“A Brief History of Chocolate.” Smithsonian. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.

“Bittermens, Inc. – The Home of Bittermens Bitters.” Bittermens Inc The Home of Bittermens Bitters. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.

changeyourchocolate. (2012, Sep 26). Xocolatl – Xocai Healthy Chocolate – MXI Corp. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXXe9NjgpJc

2011. Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/53199286@N00/5628548282/. Web. 21 Feb. 2014