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Chocolate as a Luxury throughout the Ages

Today’s modern chocolate consumer revels in the extravagance of a society determined to have more than it can ever need, buy more than it can ever afford, and eat more than it can ever want, especially when it comes to chocolate. This newfound availability of a good once regarded as luxury, has now transformed chocolate to what many now consider mere candy. Gone are the nutrition, originality, and reverence once associated with the “food of the gods,” and what is left is nothing more than a sweet treat tainted with excessive amounts fat and cheap additives (Parkin, “What Are You Eating: Snickers”). And although many celebrate the “revolutionary” progression of chocolate from a food of the elite to one now accessible by all, the idea that chocolate is ubiquitous cannot be further from the truth. In fact, chocolate is still exclusive to the highest social classes, a luxury good through and through, and even with the worldwide rise in chocolate production, pure, high quality chocolate – that of which is now labeled as “artisan” or “craft” – is almost solely intended for elite consumption.

While the well-to-do savor their “bean-to-bars,” the general population must settle with the everyday “Hershey’s kisses” or “Milky ways,” poor substitutes that were created to satisfy the masses (Parkin, “What Are You Eating: Snickers”). Nevertheless, the degree to which this dichotomy extends is but a reflection of the past. The social arrangements observed today parallel that of previous societies throughout history, from the Aztec’s strict confinement of chocolate consumption within their social elite to the European’s emphasis on reserving the food for the upper class; the continuation of these previously observed patterns, as embodied by the range of products offered by vendors on either end of the social spectrum, indicates that chocolate still remains the luxury food it has always been, a source of indulgence for the rich and a commodity to strive towards for the poor (Coe, Coe 86-87, 159-160).

One does not need to venture very far into the chocolate industry to experience the glaring disparity between the quality of chocolate offered in the everyday convenience store and that of a gourmet, specialty shop. Here in Boston, the two are represented by the local CVS and South End’s very own Formaggio’s Kitchen, the first of which is a popular retailer across the US whereas the latter exists only in one other location – the elite community of New York City’s urban sprawl. Thus, before the chocolate itself is even considered, the sheer accessibility of these respective markets indicates the type of merchandise sold at each. It is no surprise then that the chocolate products offered at CVS differs not only in composition, but also in price and packaging from the luxury bars organized in neat rows at Formaggio’s.

CVS Display
The wide variety of brand name chocolate offered at a CVS Pharmacy

CVS Caremark is one of the largest pharmacy convenience stores in the country and because it caters to all of society, everywhere, the retailer must offer a wide range of commodities to satisfy their broad clientele. In other words, they must stock their shelves with every type of brand name chocolate produced here in the States; from “Snickers” bars produced by Mars to the iconic “Hershey’s” milk chocolate bar produced by Hershey itself, CVS has it all (Hess, “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA”). However, although the diversity offered at any one of these convenience stores is impressive, the majority of their chocolate shares a single commonality: they are all composed entirely of milk chocolate, often supplemented with a large proportion of butter, unwarranted amounts of sugar, extra flavoring like vanilla, and other fillings such as nougat for the popular “Milky Way” (“Candy and Chocolate Bars Compared: Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars Nutrition Facts”; Parkin, “What Are You Eating: Snickers”). Many would argue that the added contents are what make these products as well-known as they have become, and even more claim that they crave this type of chocolate specifically for the peanut-caramel insides. Unfortunately for these misguided individuals, the reality is that these very fillings are exactly what prevents the typical “Reese’s” peanut butter cup from serving as a healthy addition to one’s life, and instead makes them the cheap, fattening candy that the average consumer can afford (“Candy and Chocolate Bars Compared: Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars Nutrition Facts”). This practice of mixing inexpensive ingredients into chocolate to help make it more affordable is analogous to the origins of chocolate consumption in Mesoamerica, setting the precedent that impure chocolate is associated with lower quality food (Coe, Coe 86-87; Presilla 20). In fact, the Aztecs, in preparing cacao, recognized that “the inferior product…was mixed with nixtamalli and water” to form a “chocolate-with-maize gruel,” but if the mixture was “cheapened by too much corn or thinned with too much water,” then all of the “effort would be for naught” (Coe, Coe 86-87; Presilla 20). The same concept has returned in modern form, and even though society has moved past the practice of combining corn and chocolate, the artificial ingredients used now are both worse and in larger quantity. As such, the brand name chocolate that dominates the market today are not what they all claim to be – rather than serving as energy-boosting power bars, these candies are the epitome of second-rate scraps, the culmination of the industry’s sly advertising and deceit (Hess, “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA”).

Snickers Chocolate nutrition information includes many artificial ingredients
Snickers nutrition information includes many artificial ingredients

The goods offered at CVS can be identified for their lower quality merely by taking a look down the aisle; all of the chocolate is sold in bulk, the wrappings are colorful and meant to entice children, and the price tags that accompany any purchase fail to draw attention as well (Hess, “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA”). Indeed, everything chocolate at the convenience store is affordable and cheap, and it is fitting that the majority of these products are regarded as mere candy. This type of marketing in itself is suggestive of the type of goods advertised to the common shopper. Nowhere in the store will one find pure, gourmet chocolate like that from Formaggio’s Kitchen; instead, Halloween candy, sweets to be given out, and maybe a small treat on the go is all that is offered at CVS (Hess, “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA”). While there is nothing wrong with merchandise that serves these purposes, the chocolate here will never compare to the “craft” chocolate that should be enjoyed at leisure in the quiet luxury of one’s home.

"Craft" chocolate displayed on shelves at Formaggio's Kitchen in Boston
“Craft” chocolate displayed on shelves at Formaggio’s Kitchen in Boston

Walking into Formaggio’s Kitchen, one is immediately transported to the most charming little shop in rural France, the quaintest street market in Spain, and the most curious ingredient store in Italy. Everything offered here is exotic, from the slabs of cheese on the wall to the rows of extra virgin olive oil on display. It is every culinary enthusiast’s dream. To top it all off, Formaggio’s Kitchen also boasts an impressive shelf of chocolate, each bar made entirely “bean-to-bar” by some of the most skilled confectioners around. Thus, it goes with saying that these products provide the purest experience of how chocolate should be prepared: made from scratch with the most traditional methods using fresh, unroasted cocoa beans of the highest quality (Williams, Eber 168-170). The finished result consists primarily of cacao and a small amount of cane sugar, and as expected, is simply delicious – anyone missing out is really missing the point of chocolate altogether. By foregoing the daunting list of artificial ingredients that are usually included in commercial products, the “craft” chocolate only offered at Formaggio’s represents the other end of the social spectrum and the true meaning of the saying “less is more,” much like the “unadulterated chocolate fit for lords” in Aztec society (Coe, Coe 86-87; Presilla 20; Williams, Eber 168-170). For these reasons, “chocolate” as a general term applies most suitably to these higher quality foods, and since only the elite are able to enjoy them, chocolate is still very much a sign of wealth and opulence.

Patric Chocolate's (a brand of "craft" chocolate) short ingredient list
Patric Chocolate’s (a brand of “craft” chocolate) short ingredient list

With a noticeable increase in quality, there comes a noticeable increase in price as well. In order to pay for the more expensive cocoa beans and the longer, more meticulous method of preparing them for making bars, “craft” chocolate can cost from five times to ten times more than the generic products offered at the local CVS (Williams, Eber 168-170). Moreover, if only the wealthy elite are able to afford these chocolate products, then it must have adequate packaging to advertise to that particular social class; thus, the wrapping for these chocolate bars are ornate and artistically designed – not the cheap plastic bags that are used to attract consumers in the convenience store. Without a doubt, the sophistication of the packaging was far from subtle. From the specific fonts used to spell out each chocolate’s name to the thick paper the words were embossed in, the chocolate products have as much going for them inside as well as outside. This emphasis on serving the rich is a direct extension of the social customs in Europe in the 17th century wherein chocolate was reserved particularly for either royalty or the social elite, albeit the class differences were more publicly enforced back then than the more subtle inequalities today (Coe, Coe 159-160). Nevertheless, the disparity still exists and the steep costs, elaborate packaging, and the upscale district Formaggio’s is located all do their part to reinforce the degree to which this type of chocolate has historically and presently been advertised to the upper class, further distancing these products from their lesser, more generic counterparts.

Patric Chocolate's ornate and relatively sophisticated packaging
Patric Chocolate’s ornate and relatively sophisticated packaging

The drastic market differences within the chocolate industry are manifested in the contrasting qualities, prices, and advertisements of the merchandise offered at that these two distinct locales. Whereas CVS’s modern, “buy-in-bulk” approach appeals to the average consumer in the US, Formaggio’s kitchen’s rustic, almost exotic goods exploit the curiosity – and money – of the rich. However, the sad reality that lies beyond the extensive hierarchy separating the two social classes is the fact that only the wealthy who shop at Formaggio’s kitchen truly experiences chocolate for what the food can offer: its unique taste, clean ingredients, and undiminished health benefits. Everyone else forced to settle with brand name chocolate stuffed with nougat and other fillers are merely duped by the industry itself. And although no change will ever come about from this injustice, due to the immense labor costs intrinsic to cocoa production, it is important for the average consumer to at least recognize what he or she actually walks out with after their everyday trip to the local CVS – or rather, what they’re not walking out with.

 

 

 

Works Cited

“Candy & Chocolate Bars Compared: Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars Nutrition Facts.” A Calorie Counter. A Calorie Counter, 20 Oct. 2013. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://www.acaloriecounter.com/candy-chocolate.php&gt;.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

“Formaggio Kitchen: Cheese 101.” A Little Bit about a Lot of Things. WordPress.com, 24 Dec. 2013. Web. 5 May 2014. <http://dgrubs.com/2013/12/24/formasggio-kitchen-cheese-101/&gt;.

Hess, Alexander E. M. “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA.” USA Today 27 Oct. 2013: n. pag. USA Today: A Gannett Company. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/10/27/most-popular-halloween-candy-in-usa/3274967/&gt;.

Parkin, Johanna. “What Are You Eating: Snickers.” Men’s Health 2013: n. pag. Men’s Health. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://www.menshealth.co.uk/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/ what-are-you-eating-snickers-536760>.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st, Rev ed. New York: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.

Root, Lucas. “Weekend Food Commentary.” Urban Paleo Chef: Making Everyday Food Enjoyable and Satisfying. Urban Paleo Chef, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 5 May 2014. <http://urbanpaleochef.com/ 2013/01/28/weekend-food-commentary-2/>.

“The Spin on Carbs: Think You Are Eating Healthy?” Total Performance Sports: Gym and Athletic Training Center. Total Performance Sports, 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://totalperformancesports.com/nutrition-corner-december-2013-think-you-are-eating-healthy/&gt;.

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor, 2012. Print.

“YUM! Patric Chocolate.” Joy and Sunshine. Joy and Sunshine, 2 Oct. 2013. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://www.joyandsunshine.com/blog/2013/10/02/yum-patric-chocolate/&gt;.

Double Standards in Chocolate Advertisement

Chocolate advertisements are fraught with racist jabs, sexual innuendos, and highly controversial subject matter that are somehow overlooked by society’s otherwise severe scrutiny. The racism that is usually considered wrong is endorsed by pop culture. The sexism that is normally considered offensive is covered up by mass media. And the stereotyping that has already been deemed “unacceptable” by the general populace is still exploited in sly advertising. Indeed, by playing upon people’s unintentional labeling of certain population groups, big chocolate corporations are able to successfully market their products the way they do (Katharina, “Sweet Seduction”). However, the warped and often insulting insinuations that make up the bulk of chocolate marketing can be revealed fairly simply by the mere inversion of a seemingly innocuous advertisement, the act of which, in any other circumstance, would lead to inflamed disputes, ethical deliberations, and general outrage; the following demonstration indicates the discrimination and injustice throughout the advertising scene, and as long as society continues to ignore certain transgressions while stringently pointing out others, such double standards will continue to exist.

A Racist and Sexist Advertisement by Dove Chocolate
A racist and sexist advertisement by Dove Chocolate, surprisingly accepted by society

The above ad has been printed and distributed in magazines across the globe, and at first glance, it is nothing more than a clever play on the similarity in shape of the featured chocolate bars and a very prominent male “six pack.” On the other hand, upon further inspection, one can see that Dove, the responsible chocolate corporation, is also clearly comparing the skin tone of an African American man to that of their chocolate product, an analogy that is both deprecating and objectifying (Emma, 36). In fact, if the man with the “six pack” represents the advertised chocolate, then he too is marketed as well, which unfortunately is an inappropriate but clear reference to historic or even modern day, African slavery (Emma, 37). Furthermore, the advertisement also includes several sexist statements that denounce women as well. Not only is Dove assuming that their female consumers are highly sexualized and solely attracted to the physical aspects of their male counterparts, but it is also implying that women see men as mere goods to enjoy, an assumption that is strictly untrue in every way (Naresh, “It’s All in the Wrapper”; Emma, 20). However, although this ad’s underhanded messages are shocking to say the least, what is truly astounding are not the stereotypical issues raised – it’s the fact that people are ignorant and complacent enough that the advertisement hasn’t yet been removed or criticized at all. Rather, due to society’s apparent comfort with themes like slavery, objectification of men, and the hyper-sexualized notion of women, these types of ads still persist (Naresh, “It’s All in the Wrapper”).

A fictitious advertisement for Lindt Truffles that parodies Dove's
A fictitious advertisement for Lindt Truffles that parodies Dove’s chocolate ad

This entirely fictitious advertisement was created to illustrate how easy it can be for what was once deemed an “ordinary” marketing ploy to transform into one that is downright intolerable. Again, the same problems are presented here: the ad is racist; the ad is sexist; the ad can even be considered scandalous. But why is this image so much worse than the previous one? What about it makes the ad so uncomfortable to look at? And how did a mere reversal in target audience cause the idea to suddenly become “dirty”? Although both images are tasteless in similar ways, blatantly comparing the skin tone of a white woman to that of “white” chocolate seems to be much worse and much more debasing than comparing the skin tone of a black man to that of dark chocolate (Emma, 40-41). Moreover, in regards to sexism, the symbolization of the woman’s breasts as a pair of Lindt truffle chocolates seems to push the advertisement beyond what is considered allowable even though the entire torso of a man was used before. It is these double standards in perspective that finally call people to action, but that’s not good enough. In order for there to be real change, society needs to raise the bar of expectation across the board, not just in whatever areas people are uncomfortable with.

As opposed to the highly sexualized images used so frequently to advertise chocolate, the below parody is exactly what every company seeks to avoid; stripping away the nice figure, the fit body, and the appealing sex symbol, what is left behind bares the truth of what chocolate advertising actually accomplishes. Thus, whereas the previous images were wrong in a subtle manner, this parody on Hershey’s chocolate syrup blatantly compares the obese body of an African American woman to the layers of Hershey’s dripping product. It is clear here that the advertisement is not only racist, as it again plays on the color of the woman’s skin, but it also shamelessly pokes fun at her weight in regards to the products fat-free content, both of which are unacceptable, marketing methods in any type of social media. However, if this is what it takes for society to realize the double standards set in place – that in which toned male bodies are promoted, beautiful female bodies are accepted, but overweight female bodies are rejected – then at what point will society start acting on the racist and sexist references present, as subtle as they may be, and stop pretending that the ad shown below is so much worse than any of the above?

A parody of an advertisement for Hershey's Chocolate Syrup points out how low - morally - chocolate companies have become with their ads
A parody of an advertisement for Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup points out how low – morally – chocolate companies have become with their ads

The three images provided are equally questionable on multiple accounts as they all abuse their racial and sexual focus. Whereas the first has already been officially printed and distributed to the public, the others would have never made it past their conceptualization before their entire ideas were scrapped. This discrepancy represents a fundamental problem in the way society views different population groups, and due to this unequal rigor in enforcing moral and ethical views, people are unknowingly perpetuating racism, sexism, and inaccurate stereotypes, as shown here by yet another example of improper chocolate advertising (Naresh, “It’s All in the Wrapper”). As such, it is only by addressing these issues together – without a priority in condemning one over the other – that the world can achieve change in both advertising and in society itself.

Another example of improper chocolate advertising that highlights the controversial issues mentioned above
Another example of improper chocolate advertising that highlights the controversial issues mentioned above

 

Works Cited

“A Tale of Two Women, Two Races, and Two Chocolates.” The Center on Chocolate or Health: Holding the Prock Chocolate Corporation Accountable for Its Impact on Children and Society. WordPress, n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2014. <http://www.cocoh.net/a-tale-of-two-women-two-races-and-two-chocolates/&gt;.

Amber. “Dove Chocolate #12.” Ad Journal Blog. Blogger, 19 Apr. 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. <http://adjournalblog.blogspot.com/2011/04/dove-chocolate-12.html&gt;.

Kuehn, Katharina. “Sweet Seduction: How Chocolate Advertising Taps into the Consumers’ Emotional Operating System.” Smart Company. Smart Company, 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. <http://www.smartcompany.com.au/marketing/29413-sweet-seduction.html#&gt;.

“Lindt White Chocolate Truffles Bag.” Cost Plus World Market: Unique, Authentic, and Always Affordable. Cost Plus World Market, n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2014. <http://www.worldmarket.com/product/lindt+white+chocolate+truffles+bag.do?&from=Search&gt;.

Ramchandani, Naresh. “It’s All in the Wrapper.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 9 Mar. 2008. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/media/2008/mar/10/advertising&gt;.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire. New York: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

Rowan, Jason. “How Can I Not Showcase These Outtakes from Kate Upton’s QQ Photo Shoot?” Sportress of Blogitude. WordPress, 12 Oct. 2012. Web. 9 Apr. 2014. <http://www.sportressofblogitude.com/2012/10/12/how-can-i-not-showcase-these-outtakes-from-kate-uptons-qq-photo-shoot-hq-pics/&gt;.

Nestlé’s Milk Chocolate & its Fortuitous Beginnings

Milk chocolate was once a special, distinct variant of the chocolate so cherished in 19th century America, and although households across the country enjoyed it all the same, it was a new, different experience from the usual. Today, milk chocolate is chocolate, and with the merging of these two concepts into one, a stark dichotomy between the past and the present is established. What was at first an original idea is now the accepted norm. What was formerly considered novel is now convention by popular demand. And what was in the beginning a humble invention, is now the leading product of the entire industry. However, milk chocolate was never expected to give rise to the largest corporations of the past century, nor was it ever meant to replace the standard so quickly. Rather, milk chocolate was brought about by the creation of a commodity hardly related to candy at all. This revolutionary good was nothing more than the powdered milk every mother is familiar with, but in developing it, Henri Nestlé also became the unanticipated inventor of the world’s first milk chocolate bar (Nestlé, “History”). As such, the sweet, luscious treats that have now redefined chocolate itself, owe their existence to a mere coincidence, a matter of excellent fortune, and the combined efforts of a Swiss nutritionist and his neighbor candle-maker.

To truly appreciate how far milk chocolate has come, one needs to look no further than the food’s fortuitous beginnings. It all started in Vevey, Switzerland, where an altruistic pharmacist, in the hopes of saving the life of his neighbor’s child, put together a mixture of “cow’s milk, wheat flour, and sugar,” a combination he referred to as “Farine lactée” (Nestlé, “History”).

Henri Nestlé's Farine lactée, a combination of cow's milk, wheat flour, and sugar
Henri Nestlé’s Farine lactée, a combination of cow’s milk, wheat flour, and sugar

The pharmacist, of course, was Henri Nestlé, and although his first steps towards the invention of milk chocolate was instead in the direction of infant nutrition, his greatest discovery paved the way for both. In 1867, Nestlé demonstrated for the first time a process to make powdered milk by evaporation (Coe, Coe 250). The resulting formula could not only be preserved for a greater duration of time, but also prepared into liquid milk for feeding infants wherever, whenever. This newfound portability and convenience provided more freedom for young mothers everywhere, allowing many to take advantage of the extra time in their daily routines. Thus, with society’s increasing dependence on Nestlé’s product, his recently founded firm soared to unimaginable heights, but it did not get there on baby formula alone.

A 1903 magazine ad for Henri Nestlé's powdered, milk-based baby food
A 1903 magazine ad for Henri Nestlé’s powdered, milk-based baby food

Henri Nestlé is known for his work in the confectionery business, but by solely crediting him for the creation of milk chocolate, the world neglects to acknowledge the equally important contributions of his partner, Daniel Peter. As a candle-maker at the time, Peter’s connections to chocolate may have been even less aligned than Nestlé’s, but when he married into a family of chocolatiers, he became the missing link between the pharmacist’s independent endeavors and the delicious candy people love today (Peter’s Chocolate, “Our Rich History”). In fact, Nestlé’s neighbor, whose child he saved, was none other than Daniel Peter himself, and ever since then, Peter was inspired to create his own milk product. However, perfecting this blend with chocolate was no easy task. Due to the high water content in normal milk, simply combining it with cocoa paste always ended in a rancid, inedible failure (Presence Switzerland, “Daniel Peter”). Nevertheless, in 1879, Peter’s breakthrough came with his neighbor’s help once again. The two devised a simple plan of using Nestlé’s condensed milk and drying the mixture before adding the necessary cocoa butter (Coe, Coe 250). This method not only produced creamy milk chocolate bars without the original bitterness, but it also enabled manufacturers to reduce the proportion of cocoa used in their goods, paving the way for mass production in factories like Hershey and Mars. If Nestlé represented the milk of milk chocolate, then through the collaboration between these two men, Daniel Peter was without a doubt, the once missing, chocolate half.

Daniel Peter called his new chocolate product "Gala" the Greek word for "milk"
Daniel Peter called his new chocolate product “Gala” the Greek word for “milk”

The chain reaction of events that led to the development of milk chocolate began as an entirely separate incident, one completely unrelated to the food at all. If not for Nestlé’s powdered milk or Peter’s confectionery experience, the course of chocolate’s culinary history would have taken a completely different route, one without the large corporations, wide-reaching economic influences, and the avid fans everywhere. Fortunately, that isn’t the case, and the world has a pharmacist, a candle-maker, and Lady Luck to thank for that.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

"Farine Lactee." Nestlé: Good Food, Good Life. Nestlé, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <http://www.nestle.com.my/csv/creatingsharedvaluecasestudies>.

"Gala Peter Chocolate." Milk Chocolate: History of Milk Chocolate. Whats's Cooking America, 2004. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/MilkChocolate.htm>.

"Nestlé’s Food." History Spaces: Out of the past. Blogger, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <http://historyspaces.blogspot.com/2012/03/history-of-chocolate-chip-cookie-and.html>.

Nestlé. "History." Nestlé: Good Food, Good Life. Nestlé, 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <http://www.nestle.com/aboutus/history#>.

"Our Rich History." Peter's Chocolate. Cargill, 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <http://www.peterschocolate.com/pages/history.html>.

Presence Switzerland, ed. "Daniel Peter." Swssworld.org: Switzerland's Official Information Portal. Ed. Presence Switzerland. Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <http://www.swissworld.org/en/people/portraits_chocolate_makers/daniel_peter/>.

The Popol Vuh and the Globalization of Chocolate

Sprouting from the heart of the Amazon basin, the first cacao trees endowed South America with the “food of the gods,” and for centuries, the indigenous people who inhabited the area indulged on the fruit as if it truly were a gift from the heavens (Klitgard “Theobroma cacao”). Today, what began as an isolated delicacy of the Mayan civilization is now the beloved, yet easily accessible commodity that people from all over the world know as chocolate. What spurred such a rapid globalization of an otherwise extremely demanding crop to cultivate? How did cacao make its way across the Atlantic to the lands so far overseas? And why was this plant, of the myriad of exotic foods to enjoy from the New World, the one that captivated every country it entered? Chocolate’s origin and its almost universal attraction stems from its earliest appearances in the Mayan creation myths detailed in the narratives referred to as the Popol Vuh (Coe, Coe 40). Through the colonial document recorded by a Dominican friar, cacao’s reverence was passed on from the native population of Mesoamerica to the foreign explorers that so fortunately stumbled upon the indigenous civilization (Woodruff, “Francisco Ximenez”). As such, the Popol Vuh is one of the most influential, historical documents for the globalization of chocolate as it plays a major role in introducing Mayan culture, customs, and beliefs to the first of the Europeans, leading to further interactions between the two parties over cacao and the subsequent development of a strong, worldwide interest in this food.

The Popol Vuh or the “Book of Counsel” provides valuable insight into countless Mayan customs, including their perspective on the preparation and consumption of cacao; these implications can be derived from the Mayan creation myth, one of the most prominent stories featured in the collection of narratives (Coe, Coe 40).

According to the Popol Vuh, the “six [creator] deities, covered in green and blue feathers… helped Heart of Sky” shape the earth from the primordial sea, filling the land with animals and later on humans (Smithsonian, “Creation Story of the Maya”). However, their attempts at perfecting people were initially unsuccessful: those molded out of mud were too weak while those carved from wood became ignorant of their duties (Smithsonian, “Creation Story of the Maya”).

Two Mayan gods creating the first humans with mud
Two Mayan gods creating the first humans

Eventually, the gods came upon the “Mountain of Sustenance,” and seeing that it was “filled with delicious things, crowded with yellow ears of maize… white ears of maize… and chocolate,” they decided to utilize these staples to form the present human race, hence the strong emphasis Mayan culture places on the use of cacao (Christenson, 182). It is no surprise then that such a food, having its own place in the creation of mankind, was thoroughly incorporated in nearly every custom practiced by the Natives. From serving as a culinary treat to being held as offerings to the deceased, cacao is by far the Mayan’s most prized possession (Staller, Carrasco 324).

Although the creation myth is entertaining in its own respect, it also represents the importance of cacao to the indigenous people, and for this reason, the Popol Vuh, among other messages inscribed upon Mayan vessels, can be attributed to drawing the attention of early Spanish colonizers towards the benefits of this fruit. By allowing Friar Francisco Ximenez to record the Popol Vuh, the Mayans effectively introduced cacao to not only the explorers that just encountered their civilization, but also all Europeans to come (Woodruff, “Francisco Ximenez”).

A page from the Popol Vuh recorded and translated by Friar Francisco Ximenez
A page from the Popol Vuh recorded and translated by the Dominican friar, Francisco Ximenez

This document, through its translation, distribution, and survival, disseminated both knowledge and rampant curiosity among the Old World populations, remaining till this day as one of the few significant accounts of Mesoamerican mythologies. As a result, the Popol Vuh indirectly demonstrated to the Spanish exactly which crops the Mayans held in high regard, including the undiscovered cacao tree and its luscious fruits, marking the beginning of an extended exchange of cultural and culinary appreciation (Coe, Coe 66).

The influence of the Popol Vuh ushered in new eras of interaction with the indigenous people, ultimately leading to the adoption of chocolate in Europe, the colonization of Mesoamerica, and the hybridization of the two cultures. Today, chocolate is produced all over the world and its mass production points to our cultural and preferential dependence on this food. And as the timeless saying goes, “we are what we eat” – looks like the Popol Vuh was right all along.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Klitgard, Bente, ed. "Theobroma cacao." Kew Royal Botanic Gardens. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2014. <http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Theobroma-cacao.htm>. 

Newberry Library. "Arte de las tres lenguas kakchiquel, quiche y tzutuhil." Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia, 29 June 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Popol_vuh.jpg>.

Popol Vuh creation myth. Popol Vuh: The Book of the People. SacredTexts, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/popol_vuh/book.htm>.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st, Rev ed. New York: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.

Smithsonian. "Creation Story of the Maya." Living Maya Time: Sun, Corn, and the Calender. Smithsonian Institution, 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2014. <http://maya.nmai.si.edu/the-maya/creation-story-maya>. 

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. The Creation Story of the Maya. Living Maya Time: Sun, Corn, and the Calender. Smithsonian Institution, 14 June 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jb5GKmEcJcw#t=53>. 

Staller, John, and Micahel Carrasco. Pre-Columbian Foodways: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Food, Culture, and Markets in Ancient Mesoamerica. New York: Pringer, 2010. Print. 

"The Discovery of Maize." Popol Vuh: Sacred Book of the Quiche Maya People. Trans. Allen J. Christenson. N.p.: Mesoweb, 2007. 180-83. Print.

Woodruff, John. "Francisco Ximenez." JohnWoodruff.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2014. <http://www.johnwoodruff.com/research/ximenez.html>.