Tag Archives: addiction

More Sugar! – The Causes of the Rise in British Sugar Consumption

During the 17thcentury all the way through the early 20thcentury, sugar had an incredible rise in production and consumption. This rise in consumption was especially prevalent in Britain. When sugar first arrived in Britain during the middle ages, it was primarily used by the upper class as a sparingly used spice. However, by the 18thand 19thcentury, sugar became a heavily used by all social classes. At the beginning of the 18thcentury the average British person was consuming 4 pounds of sugar per year. However, by the early 20thcentury that number had skyrocketed to about 90 pounds of sugar per person per year (Mintz). This exponential rise in British sugar consumption can be explained by a number of different factors. In this post I will outline the potential economic, practical, and scientific causes for this unforeseen rise in British sugar consumption. 

Graph showing the massive increase in British sugar consumption. 
Image Source 


First and Foremost, the rise in British sugar consumption was definitely caused in-part by the increased production and availability of sugar that the Triangular Trade provided. The Triangular Trade was a trans-Atlantic trade system that included the shipping of slaves from Africa to the Caribbean to work on plantations. In total, about “four million slaves were brought to the Caribbean, and almost all ended up on the sugar plantations” (Sugar and Slavery). This Triangular trade took place during the 17thand 18thcentury and was a huge part of the increase in sugar production in the Caribbean. This increase in production through slavery, created an enormous increase in sugar availability and consumption in Britain. Eventually, Britain began to question the ethics of sugar consumption because “slavery in England… had been deemed illegal since 1772” (Sugar and Slavery). However, even after the end of the Triangular Trade, consumption of sugar per capita continued to rise. Slavery, an increase sugar production, and the increase of sugar availability were all major factors as to why sugar consumption skyrocketed in England.

Image depicting the Triangular Trade and its vastness.  
Image Source

Another reason for the rise in British sugar consumption was the extreme versatility sugar had. Once the British began to trade for massive amounts of sugar, they realized it can have several purposes. Among other things, sugar could be used in medicine, jams, syrups, tea, coffee, fruit drinks, and in deserts (Mintz). Sugar also had decorative purposes as it could be formed into sculptures. However, the uses of sugar as a preservative and sweetener was definitely a major factor of the rise in sugar consumption. With sugar, the British could now preserve their fruits as jams which resulted in a major change in the British culture forever. Jam spread on bread evolved into a staple meal for the British in the 19thcentury. This was mainly because it was a quick and easy meal that provided a sufficient number of calories, especially as women and children entered the industrial workforce. This easy meal for women and children allowed the British economy to thrive “without increasing proportionately the quantities of meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products” (Mintz). This change in diet was heavily reflected in data because “by 1900, it [sugar] was supplying nearly one-fifth of the calories in the English diet” (Mintz). In the end, the cheap cost of sugar as well as its versatility definitely played a major role in the rise in British sugar consumption. 

The last potential reason for the rise in British sugar consumption was science. This was actually a reason for the rise in sugar consumption globally too. When you eat sugar there is a natural reaction by the body to release dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is linked to the “reward circuit associated with addictive behaviors” (Schaefer and Yasin). Essentially anything that causes the body to release dopamine can become very addictive because the only way to fulfill the dopamine high again is to do the same thing that caused the original high. Thus, when one eats sugar, the only way to feel that exact “high” again is to eat sugar again. Furthermore, since the body acclimates to things that cause dopamine releases, it requires higher amounts of sugar in higher frequency to achieve the original sugar “high” sensation (Schaefer and Yasin). This has been proven scientifically and some even believe that “sugar could be as addictive as some street drugs and have similar effects on the brain” (Schaefer and Yasin).  This addictive effect on the brain definitely had a big impact on why the British kept demanding and consuming more and more sugar as time passed. 

Diagram depicting the cycle of addiction that sugar can cause.
Image Source

In the end, it is safe to say that there is nothing that was the sole cause for the rise in British sugar consumption. It was undoubtedly a combination of all the things I have talked about in this post. The increasing affordability of sugar made it economically smart, the versatility of sugar made it practically smart, and the addictive properties of sugar made it scientifically irresistible. Together these factors combined to cause “the most remarkable upward production curve of any major food on the world market” (Martin).  

Scholarly Sources Cited

  • Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 4: Sugar and Cacao’” AAAS 119X, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University. 20 Feb. 2019.
  • Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking, 1985.
  • Schaefer, Anna, and Kareem Yasin. “Is Sugar the Next ‘Street Drug’?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 11 June 2015, http://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/experts-is-sugar-addictive-drug#1. Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE.
  • “Sugar and Slavery.” Sugar in the Atlantic World | Case 6 Sugar and Slavery, clements.umich.edu/exhibits/online/sugarexhibit/sugar06.php.

Media Sources Cited

Cacao-Chocolate Industry and Sugar Addiction

Chocolate is one of the most consumed products in the world. The industry has been extremely successful in marketing chocolate as a healthy product. The industry relies on advertising chocolate as a healthy product. In recent times, researchers have proven that sugar has a negative impact on health. The effect of sugar on health continues to be a controversial topic because the industry has consistently misled the public, creating a perception that its products are healthy. The reality, though, is that a majority of chocolate products have more sugar additives than cacao content.

The global chocolate industry was worth $98.3 billion in 2016. Currently, the U.S. industry is worth $22 billion. The industry has been growing steadily for the last four decades. Chocolate is popular because of its rich, unique and sweet taste. In addition, ever since ancient times, chocolate had been used in a variety of different ways to treat different medical conditions as demonstrated by the image below taken from this class’s lecture.

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Image 1: Historical Medical Uses of Chocolate/Cacao

The perceived health benefits of chocolate products continue to drive the growth of the industry today. The problem though is that these products contain added sugar which plays an important role in making them palatable and tasty. Sugar is also the ingredient that makes chocolate problematic for the long-term health of consumers. The consumption of chocolate is closely associated with the development of conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes because of the sugar in it (Stanhope 52). The industry has spent vast amounts of resources in promoting the healthy aspects of chocolate. Advertising plays an important role in creating consumer awareness but it can also be used to mislead consumers about the nutritional and health value of a product. Deceptive advertising has been used to promote the nutritional value of chocolate and to obscure the negative consequences of sugar additives.

Contemporary State of the Cacao/ Chocolate Industry

Chocolate is one of the most consumed products in the world. The industry is driven by innovation because of intense competition. There are numerous chocolate products and brands that are available for different market segments. In the chocolate market, the quality and richness of a chocolate product is usually defined by the cocoa content. For example, milk chocolate contains 10% cocoa and dark chocolate contains a minimum of around 60% cocoa. With the exception of dark chocolate, any other “chocolate ” product actually contain large amounts of added sugar. Think Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s Buttercups, Nutella. All of these aforementioned famous “chocolate” products contain a higher sugar content than cacao content. The pictures below are from the lecture slides found here. They outline the ingredients found in the Hershey’s Kiss and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. By convention, the first ingredient listed is the most occurring in the substance, and it is no surprise to find that sugar is at the top of the list of ingredients for both chocolate products. What is important to notice as well is that the other ingredients present in these chocolates such as milk is primarily made up of a sugar itself, lactose.

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Image 2: Hershey’s Kiss Ingredients

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Image 3: Reese’s Cup Ingredients

The perceived health benefits of chocolate products continue to drive sales. The Chocolate Industry has spent vast amounts of resources to promote the healthy aspects of its products. Chocolate is marketed as a healthy product that keeps consumers looking young, lowers blood pressure, and makes people feel good. Marketing campaigns have claimed that chocolate delays the onset of heart disease. Ultimately, dark chocolate is popular because the industry has succeeded in managing consumer perception through effective branding.

The advertising of products plays an important tool for chocolate makers to market their products. It is no longer adequate for chocolate makers to produce high-quality products because there are many strong competitors and many channels of distribution. Besides, chocolate competes with many other confectionaries. As such, advertising is a critical success factor in the industry because it creates consumer awareness and provides information about the benefits and uniqueness of the products.

Manufacturers of chocolate have used branding with considerable success. Branding has been focused on managing the perception of chocolate in the minds of consumers (Emari, Jafari, and Mogaddam 5692). The industry has taken advantage of consumer interest in health and wellness in order to position its products. For decades, chocolate brands have made well-targeted health claims. The industry has also succeeded in making their products ubiquitous. The products are readily available to consumers in drug stores, supermarkets, high-end stores and the internet. There are many products that have chocolate in them and are chocolate flavored.

Manufacturers of chocolate products have developed sophisticated targeting strategies. They have developed a universal demographic by targeting every category with different products. The product is universally appealing and is consumed by people of all ages (Shekhar and Raveendran 306). Psychological segmentation plays a critical role in the positioning of chocolate products. For example, marketers target impulse buyers with well-placed products near the supermarket check-out counter. Looking at the local CVS and you notice the many different chocolate and other confectionary products placed near the check-out counters.

Packages additionally play an important role in the marketing of chocolate products because they have nutritional claims that influence consumer decision-making (Shekhar and Raveendran 303). Apart from nutritional claims, visual cues also play an essential role in shaping consumer choices.

Big Chocolate and Health

Global chocolate production has been on a consistent upward trend from the 16th century. Chocolate is rich in cocoa which contains flavonoids which are important because they lower both cholesterol and blood pressure (Drayer n.p.). Dark chocolate has the highest amount of flavonoids. The presence of flavonoids is the basis for the health claims that are made by chocolate companies (Drayer n.p.). The challenge that chocolate companies face though, is that flavonoids have a bitter taste. Bitter chocolate does not appeal to many and the most used way to make chocolate palatable and more flavorful is to add sugar.

In the 1960s, the sugar industry withheld research findings that revealed the negative health effects of sucrose. The industry’s largest companies worked tirelessly to prevent public awareness about the harmful effects of added sugar that linked excessive sugar consumption to heart disease. Through the Sugar Research Foundation, the industry used funding to divert public attention from the negative consequences of sugar (O’connor n.p.). Scientists, such as Harvard’s Frederick Stare were paid to blame saturated fats for heart disease (O’connor n.p.). In hindsight, the unethical conduct of the industry and researchers prevented an early debate about the links between sugar consumption and heart disease. For decades, the public was unaware that excessive sugar consumption could harm human health.

Excessive consumption of sugar has been linked to the development of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes (Stanhope 52). The consumption of added sugars leads to insulin resistance and hyperuricemia. Also, the metabolism of fructose causes liver lipid accumulation and decreased insulin sensitivity (Stanhope 52). Researchers have also established that fructose consumption leads to reduced energy expenditure and increased energy uptake.

Excessive intake of sugar has also been linked to obesity. People who consume high amounts of sugar are more likely to be overweight or obese (Stanhope 52).   For a long time, the public has been misinformed that sugar has nothing to do with obesity. The popularity of sugar products has contributed to the obesity epidemic. Sugar constitutes a significant portion of the daily diet of most people (Stanhope 52). Obesity is a risk factor for the most severe chronic conditions including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Furthermore, sugar consumption is a risk factor for metabolic disease. Indeed, excessive consumption of fructose leads to the deregulation of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.

Sugar Addiction

Sugar addiction is a serious condition that is caused by excessive consumption of sugar. Scientists have proven that sugar has an addictive character that is harmful to human health and wellness. Experimental research on both humans and rats has confirmed that sugar is addictive (DiNicolantonio, O’Keefe, and Wilson 1).  Sugar stimulates the same parts of the brain that cocaine and heroin do. In addition, sugar has a significant impact on the mesolimbic dopamine system and activates the reward system of the brain that causes the release of dopamine (Stanhop 52). Some people find it hard to resist chocolate because of the cravings that can only be satisfied through rewarding by the high sugar content. Sugar also alters the mood by inducing reward and pleasure (Danicolantonio et al. 2).  Excessive sugar consumption creates dependence and should be considered as a public health problem. A YouTube video, albeit a pretty long one, by Ashley Gearhardt, Yale and Rudd Center for Policy and Obesity, demonstrates the complex science of sugar addiction here.

Increased sugar consumption leads to sugar tolerance. Repeated consumption of sugar leads to increased demand because the reward system adapts to the frequent stimulation. Consumers take in more sugar because the body needs more intakes for the same reward (Danicolantonioet al. 2).  Therefore, sugar consumers experience the same tolerance that is experienced by drug addicts (Danicolantonio et al. 2). Cutting sugar from the diet is not easy because of addiction and the deceptive advertising tactics of the industry.

Deceptive Advertising

Deceptive advertising refers to the use of false, misleading, and untrue statements while marketing a product. It describes marketing practices that mislead and misinform (or fail to inform) prospective buyers about the nutritional value or ingredient composition of the product they are looking to purchase.The Big Five chocolate manufacturers have engaged in deceptive advertising to obscure the health consequences of sugar products.

In 2012, Ferrero paid a California mother a total of three million dollars for false advertising (Tepper n.p). The company had depicted Nutella, a chocolate product, as healthy. The case exemplifies the misrepresentation of chocolate products on mass media, and the video here shows a Nutella ad where they intentionally neglect to mention the high sugar and fat content in it and simply present it as a mixture of cacao, hazelnut, and skimmed milk.

Marketers use words commonly associated with health and fitness and specifically gear their ads to a certain target audience. These companies have targeted women with specifically tailored messages that tie sugary products to self-worth (Union of Concerned Scientists n.p.). Children, moreover, have also been the target of customized messages and advertisements by chocolate marketers (Union of Concerned Scientists n.p.) Research indicates that children are vulnerable to advertising and failure to regulate marketing to children has been one of the shortcomings of the Federal Communications Commission.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the corn sugar industry to stop deceptive advertising by using the term “corn sugar” instead of high fructose corn syrup, a product found in many household products. The industry has invested in a marketing campaign aimed at portraying “corn sugar” as natural sugar that is safe. Scientists have argued that high fructose corn syrup is more damaging than regular sugar. The corn industry has been misleading consumers that the added sugar, the high fructose corn syrup, is natural sugar.

Aggressive and misleading advertisements have contributed to the increased consumption of sugar. Most products have “hidden sugar” in their ingredients. In the current environment, it is not enough to rely on the information provided on the label. Sugar-free labels are often misleading (Reichelt n.p). In some cases, sugar-free simply means that there is no added sugar (Reichelt n.p). In other cases, it is that the product is manufactured with sugar substitutes (Reichelt n.p). Products that contain artificial sweeteners are usually labeled as sugar-free. Moreover, sugar-free products may contain carbohydrates or fruits which have sugar components (Reichelt n.p). Most sugar-free products contain naturally occurring sugars such as lactose and fructose.

Deceptive advertising by the sugar industry targets low-income populations. A disproportionate amount of advertising for sugary products is aimed at African-Americans. These low-income areas are less likely to be aware of the harms sugar-free or sugar substitutes, such as high fructose corn syrup, actually cause.   Another method to lure people in these low-income areas to purchase sugary products is by retail outlets providing coupons and discount offers for them.

Government Regulations

The advertising of food products is highly regulated because of safety and health concerns. False or deceptive advertising is unethical and illegal. The Federal Trade Commission Act contains regulations that define false advertising. The federal trade commission (FTC) is charged with the mandate of protecting consumers from deception in the marketplace. Section 5 and 12 of the FTC Act prohibit misleading advertisements. The FTC has made clear statements about the misuse of corn sugar instead of high fructose syrup in advertisements on the internet.

The Food and Drug Agency (FDA) protects consumers by ensuring that chocolate manufacturers comply with labeling regulations. Chocolate manufacturers are expected to comply with specific labeling requirements. Chocolate product labels have to label the quantity of natural sugar and added sugar. The FDA uses warning letters to inform industry players that they are breaching labeling regulations. The regulator has already warned against the use of corn sugar instead of high fructose syrup. Also, the FDA has strict regulations governing the claims that can be made by advertisers on product labeling. Health claims can only be made if they are supported by scientific evidence. The FDA has stated that science experts must support such evidence.

Government regulations provide a basis for legal action by consumers. Chocolate makers have been sued because of deceptive advertising. Consumers who are victims of misleading advertising can contact a lawyer and take legal action. Ferrero and Nestle have settled claims out of court because of misleading advertisements. Youth targeted marketing has been one of the challenges posed by deceptive advertising tactics. However, both the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission have failed to address the marketing of chocolate to children (Union of Concerned Scientists n.p.).

What To Do With What We Know?

The chocolate industry has continued to experience growth because of the popularity of its products. Its products have been marketed as healthy and there is an increase in the amount of sugar-free or healthier foods that keep popping up on the market. It is a fair conclusion to come to that most chocolate products have more sugar additives than actual cacao. Also it is fairly evident that sugar is an addictive substance, and their presence in these chocolates makes them more desirable and more addictive.

Despite all the evidence that correlates increased sugar consumption with an increase in diabetes and fueling of the obesity epidemic, the debate about the ill effects of sugar is still ongoing.  However, due to the ever-increasing restrictions and stricter rules by the government, consumer’s rights are finally being protected. Chocolate companies are culpable to sanctions and lawsuits if they are guilty of deceptive advertising and neglectful labeling . Consequently, consumers are better protected and educated to make their own choice, whether they opt for a healthy option or not. By having the proper information available to them, whether that is understanding the names of sugar substitutes (high fructose corn syrup, etc.) or being skeptical about what is meant by sugar-free, consumers are now able to understand the harms of what it is they would be consuming. Having this information, awareness and healthy skepticism allows consumers to understand how these sugary products are being advertised to them, what is in them , and the potential effects of consuming them.

The big question that we face now though, despite the information at our disposal, is this: the next time you are at your local supermarket/CVS, will you grab a chocolate or sugary product from by the counter?



Continue reading Cacao-Chocolate Industry and Sugar Addiction

Tasting Chocolate or Tasting Sugar?

I held a chocolate tasting with 8 of my friends, and my goal of this chocolate tasting was to assess my friends’ preferences regarding cacao and sugar content. I selected 6 varieties of chocolate containing cacao percentages ranging from 11% to 95%. My theory was that people would prefer chocolate that contains more sugar per serving and less cacao. I believed this to be true because of the way modern Western society thinks about sugar. The results highlighted Western society’s taste for sugar, but they also illustrated other ideas related to what we have been studying.

I tried to create a controlled experiment by removing wrappers and breaking each bar into similar sized pieces. I put the chocolate samples into bowls and had my friends begin with Sample 6, the darkest sample, because of what Professor Martin mentioned in class.

Like the process Barb Stuckey writes about when tasting food, I wanted the subjects to taste the food from “two different perspectives.” First, to “think critically about what [they] taste” and second “to consider whether [they] like it or not” (Stuckey, 134). Following this guideline, I had comment cards for each sample where my friends would write about what they tasted and on the back rank how much they liked the sample from a scale of 1 to 5.

The samples arranged from least to most cacao (left to right).

After the test was finished, I averaged the rankings into a decimal value. I first will present the results of the experiment, and then I will analyze the results. In lieu of including every comment, I will list any words that appeared more than once, or any descriptors that stand out in the context of what we have been learning in class. Many of the comments touch upon social and historical issues regarding the history of chocolate in America and the world.


SAMPLE 1: Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar:  Hersheybar

Cacao: 11%

Sugar: 24g per serving

Average taste ranking: 3.05

Frequent descriptions: sweet (5), hersheys (2), waxy (2)

Notable descriptions: “God, heaven, promised land,” “tastes the most like chocolate”, “sour, milk”

SAMPLE 2:  Chocolove XOXOX Milk chocolate 176046b9870bda4f8b0a145311f326ac.jpg

Cacao: 33%

Sugar: 16g per 1/3 bar

Average taste ranking: 3.74

Frequent descriptions: creamy (4), smooth (2), caramel (3), sweet (3), sugary (2)

Notable descriptions: “aggressively sweet aftertaste,” “luxurious,” “melts in mouth”

SAMPLE 3: Original Lily’s Dark Chocolate Lilys-Original_WS_LLR1

Cacao: 55%

Sugar: less than 1g, sweetened with Stevia**

Average taste ranking: 3.36

Frequent descriptions: sweet (3), coconut (3), not bad (2), simple/one-note (2)

Notable descriptions: “no kick” “not as bad but still not good”

SAMPLE 4: Raaka Smoked Chai 

Cacao: 66%41RLxHTcxsL

Sugar: 10g per half bar

Average taste ranking:  3.67

Frequent descriptions: sweet (6), vanilla (3)

Notable descriptions: “maybe 60% cocoa,” “chalky texture”

SAMPLE 5: GREEN & BLACK’S Organic DARK 85% green-blacks-organic-85-percent-dark-cacao-bar.jpg

Cacao: 85%

Sugar: 5g per 12 pieces

Average taste ranking: 2.78

Frequent descriptions: bitter (3), fruity (2), citrusy (2),

Notable descriptions: “hard to take a big bite”

SAMPLE 6: Taza Wicked Dark 95% wicked_dark_bar_large

Cacao: 95%

Sugar: 2g per ½ packaging

Average taste ranking: 1.64

Frequent descriptions:  bitter (3), sour (3), chalky (2), acidic (2)

Notable descriptions: “can still taste it 5 minutes later,” “earthy,” “almost like black coffee,” “This is Taza”

A brief video of my friends’ reaction to the very dark chocolate


Based on taste preferences, the group liked the chocolate in this order:

Sample 2 (33%), Sample 4 (66%), Sample 3 (55%), Sample 1 (11%), Sample 5 (85%), Sample 6 (95%)

My original theory was not exactly correct – people did not like the Hershey’s chocolate the most. However, my hypothesis that milk chocolate was favored over dark chocolate remains true. The two darkest varieties of chocolate were ranked last, and the highest ranked chocolate was milk chocolate.

First and foremost, I would like to analyze the involvement of sugar and how that relates to chocolate as well as the distinguishable taste of Hershey’s chocolate.


Hershey’s is such a distinctive brand, there are stores fully devoted to selling it.

Hershey’s chocolate (Sample 1) was the most polarizing, with a scale from 0.5 (Although the scale started at 1, I included this piece of data anyway) to a 5. No other sample had both the lowest and highest ranking. I believe that the polarizing nature of Hershey’s comes from both the high sugar content and the unique ingredients.

In his book Hershey, Michael D’Antonio writes that “Hershey’s milk chocolate has had a distinct flavor. It is sweet… but it also carries a single, faintly sour note. This slight difference is caused by the fermentation of milk fat, an unexpected side effect of Schmalbach’s process.” (D’Antonio, 108) The comment “sour milk” reflects that flavor. Hershey’s is certainly distinctive. I want to address the two notable comments, “God, heaven, promised land” and “tastes the most like chocolate.”  D’Antonio writes that Hershey’s “define[s] the taste of chocolate for Americans” (D’Antonio, 108). My tasting proved that for at least two of my friends, this idea is true.


Robert Albritton, in “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry” writes that “Sweetness is the most desired taste to the point that many if not most people can easily be caught up in an ‘excessive appetite for it.’” Americans consume about 31 teaspoons of added sugars every day, he writes (Albritton, 343). According to Albritton, “the addictive quality of sugar can be compared to that of cigarettes.” (Albritton, 343).

My mother finds sugar incredibly addictive. She has combated sugar’s negative health effects by avoiding all added sugar all year except for her birthday. I asked her to tell me about her experience with sugar…

“In college, after a night out, we decided to get a midnight snack. For me it ended up being an entire ice cream pie. Even though I felt sick about a third of the way through, I couldn’t stop eating it until there was none left. I decided that night that I would never eat sweets again—or anything with processed sugar if I could avoid it. Then I decided I could have sugar once a year-on my birthday. To me, the idea of eating a few M&M’s and then stopping is impossible. It is FAR easier to eat no sweets, rather than sweets in moderation. The hardest day of the year to continue this is the day after my birthday. I wake up wanting M&M’s. The rest of the year it’s easy. I don’t crave sweets or feel I’m missing out. Zero is easier then some.”

For most people, cutting out sugar completely is not the answer because it is very hard to do. Added sugar is in everything. But the facts are there—Americans eat too much sugar, and diabetes and obesity are on the rise. What is one to do?

From scientific and anecdotal evidence, it is clear that sugar is addictive and unhealthy in excess. So why isn’t the government doing anything about it? This question leads us to examine the role of government as a whole. In fact, according to Albritton, the sugar industry has an enormous impact on legislation passed by congress. He mentions the 2003 instance where the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) proposed that “added sugars should not exceed 10 percent of daily calorie intake.” However, “this was too much for the US sugar industry to swallow, and they threatened to lobby congress to cut off its $400,000 annual funding of the WHO and FAO if they did not remove the offending norm from their report” (Albritton, 345). And in fact, the UN did remove the guideline. This one example highlights a larger problem – the sugar industry is massive and can control parts of the government. Since the government currently is unable to provide solutions to the “obesity pandemic,” I believe that the next best thing is to educate children about what they are eating and try and provide affordable healthy options. This idea is obviously a much more complex problem, and requires much more thought and analysis than this one blog post. However, one potential solution for excessive sugar intake is sugar substitutes.


As a sort of experiment within my tasting, I included a sample that was sweetened with Stevia rather than sugar. Stevia is a plant-based zero-calorie sweetener. Stevia, like other

The Stevia plant that the sweetener is derived from.

artificial sweeteners, is between 100 and 300 times sweeter than sugar (Stevia, 2017). Sample 3, containing 55% Cacao and no sugar was ranked 3rd overall in the results. Many of the comments about Sample 3 included some variation of “simple.” After trying it myself, I must agree that the flavor is not very nuanced – once on your tongue there is no evolution. However, not one person questioned the contents of this bar or noted that it tasted fake, a common criticism of artificial sweeteners. According to the testers, this chocolate fit in with the others, and during the taste test, none of them knew it was sweetened with Stevia. While scientists and nutritionists debate the merits and side effects of artificial sweeteners, this Stevia sweetened chocolate bar appears to be an alternative for a person trying to limit sugar intake. Artificial sweeteners do not address the larger problems with the sugar industry. However, this experiment has shown that there are other options for those trying to eat less “real” sugar, and they taste pretty good too! One other caveat is the price point of this chocolate bar—At Whole Foods it cost $4.89, compared to a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar that costs $0.98 at Walmart, so these alternatives are not accessible to everyone.



After analyzing the comments, I believe that sugar and sweetness was not the only reason Chocolove was ranked the highest.

David Benton in The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving posits that chocolate cravings come from the “sensory experience associated with eating chocolate, rather than pharmacological constituents” (Benton, 214).

According to Benton, the optimal combination of sugar and fat for palatability “was found to be 7.6% sugar with cream containing 24.7% fat” (Benton, 214). Chocolate contains way more than the “optimal” amount of sugar for taste, however, more sugar is needed “to counteract the bitterness of chocolate.”

Therefore, milk chocolate has “the optimal combination of sweetness and fat.”

Benton also refers to “the melting of chocolate just below body temperature with the resulting mouth-feel,” which adds to the “hedonic experience” and thus the pleasure of eating chocolate. The comments about Sample 2, the Chocolove bar are consistent with this data—this winning chocolate was mostly referenced as creamy, with a note about “melts in mouth.” In direct opposition with those comments, the highest cacao content bar (Sample 6) had notes about its texture too. Many listed it is “chalky.” To me, it is grainy. Chalky and grainy are the opposite of smooth and melty, so perhaps this texture contributed to people’s not liking it.


Overall, this tasting resulted in new ideas and affirmed old ones.

Some other details of this not-so-scientific study may be important to note. My taste testers were all in between the ages of 18 and 20 and all grew up consuming American chocolate. I expect the results might have changed with people from other countries.

If I were just focusing on cacao content, it would have been more effective to use different bars from the same brand. However, I wanted to look at other aspects of chocolate, like stevia as a sweetener and texture, which was why I used a variety of brands. In fact, subjects commented on the terroir of the chocolate without even realizing. Sample 3 and Sample 5 both had comments about flavors that were not listed in the ingredients, illustrated how flavor can be affected by many different things. In Sample 3, three people noted a “coconut” flavor that does not appear in the ingredients. For Sample 5, four people tasted fruity or citrusy notes Even those untrained in chocolate could pick up different notes in different bars of chocolates.

Finally, although some comments mentioned aftertaste, I did not instruct the testers to think about it or aroma. I should have, as they contribute to the overall experience of chocolate.

The testing and subsequent conversations with friends revealed the way chocolate and sugar fit into our lives. In today’s society, we crave sugar, and this study showed that chocolates containing more sugar were perceived as “better” than those containing very little.

The leftovers from the tasting further illustrate the preference for milk chocolate. In the tasting, most people did not finish the full piece of Sample 5 or 6. After the tasting was finished, I offered the leftover samples to everyone, and Samples 1, 2 and 3 were gone almost immediately. Even though Hershey’s chocolate ranked lower on the scale, people ate more of it. Based off of this tasting and conversations with friends and family, Chocolate is hard to resist and even harder to stop eating once we start. The results reflect America’s obsession with sugar by the less distinctive higher fat/sugar chocolate being ranked higher.

Benton argues that addiction may not be the correct word in the context of chocolate “Most people eat chocolate on a regular basis without any signs of its getting out of control, without signs of tolerance or dependence” (Benton, 215). Yet, from my personal experience and that of my friends, many of us do have a problem with chocolate eating getting out of control. I asked my sister what happens when she eats chocolate.

“If it’s in front of me, especially when I have no energy to control myself, I just eat it all. I can’t eat just some,” she said. My twin brother said the same: “For me, sugar is addictive in the very short term; once I start eating I can’t stop.”

Even babies love chocolate!

A friend from the tasting talked about the same thing. “Usually I eat more than I planned to,” my friend Simone said. For some, dark chocolate can circumvent this overeating issue. My friend Rachel said about chocolate: “I love chocolate. But if it’s super rich. I love it for a bit and then I’m done.”

Overall, the testing showed that most people prefer milk chocolate and chocolate containing more sugar over very dark chocolate, highlighting issues with the sugar industry.



Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and Culture. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. 342-51. Print.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2004. 205-19. Print.

“Comprehensive Online Resource for Articles, Recipes & News.” Stevia.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.

Stuckey, Bark. Taste What You’re Missing: the Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Food Tastes Good. New York: Free Press, 2012. Print.

Image sources:

Image 1: My photography

Image 2:  Wikipedia. Hershey bar wrapper image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hershey_bar.

Image 3:  Jet.Chocolove XOXOX Milk bar. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. jet.com/product/Chocolove-XOXO-Milk-Chocolate-Bar-32-oz/dfd113b9fd134cca9e6a2c1c4d7f187f.

Image 4:  Lily’s Sweets. Lily’s Dark Chocolate Bar Wrapper. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://lilyssweets.com/dark-chocolate-bars/

Image 5:  Amazon. Raaka Smoked Chai Bar. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://www.amazon.com/Raaka-Smoked-Chai-Cacao-Chocolate/dp/B00QOU89I0

Image 6:  Green And Black. Organic 85% Cacao Bar Wrapper.Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://us.greenandblacks.com/organic-85-dark-cacao-bar.html

Image 7: Taza Chocolate. Wicked Dark Chocolate Wrapper. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://www.tazachocolate.com/products/wicked-dark

Image 8: Supercarwaar. Hershey World Outside.Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHershey’s_Chocolate_World.jpg

Image 9:Robert Lynch. Stevia Plant Leaf. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://pixabay.com/en/stevia-leaf-sugar-plant-sweetness-74187/

Image 10:  Maurajbo. Baby Wit Chocolate on Face. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:10_month_old_baby_eating_chocolate.jpg



Stimulating Relationships

The indulgence that we know as chocolate has its roots in a South American tree that can not exist without a symbiotic partner. Originating in the upper Amazonian River basin, as an understory tree of the rainforest, Theobroma cacao is a fascinating plant. Pollinated by a single type of insect, colorful melon like pods are full of sweet pulp and bitter seeds–which we refer to today as “beans.” These hefty pods have to attract the assistance of a hungry monkey, Toucan, or human to release the beans and the next generation of trees. Monkeys and birds like the sweet pulp, but when it comes to humans, we became addicted to the bean.

Cacao pods often grow in groups and can be many different colors.

T.cacao migrated northward along the Pacific coast to take hold in a place that is now Central America. Although the details of the journey between continents is a mystery, the first evidence in the historical record that cacao was used as a food source is found in the Rio Ceniza Valley of modern El Salvador. (Martin)

Chemical analysis of pottery shows the Olmec culture made cacao pulp into an intoxicating beer-type drink at least 1000 years before the current era. Eventually the cacao bean byproduct fermented into its own food source and began to resemble chocolate–at least in its crudest liquid form. (Henderson) In the rural communities of the region today you can still find sweet pulpy drinks as well as meal-replacing beverages made from ground cacao beans and maize. These traditional ground bean beverages are bitter, filling, and stimulating enough to provide a morning or afternoon energy boost which keeps the drink popular despite being labor intensive to prepare. The stimulating caffeine and theobromine compounds that the Olmec people unlocked from the cacao bean became a driving force for the political relations and trade between nations until Cortez arrives in the modern era–usurping the entire region and economy for the Spanish crown.

The Classic Maya Civilization (250-900 CE) raised the imbibing of the rustic, gritty, cacao bean drink to a godly level. The artwork they left behind tells the story of how cacao was literally considered to be the food of their pantheon and used in rituals for pivotal moments in society and life. In The New Taste of Chocolate, Presilla points out that “from both the glyphs and actual pictured scenes on Maya posts we have been able to learn that chocolate made using particular recipes was drunk by kings and nobles. There is also evidence that it was used by people of all classes, particularly during rites of passage…” (12) 

 Mayan drinking vase documents one particular event.

The gourds that most people used for drinking have not withstood the impacts of time but some ceramic vessels of the wealthy remain intact. These colorful jewels of Western Hemisphere art document the details about ritual life by describing events, attendees, and even the ingredients. Many of these vessels can be seen in art collections today; the Mayan drinking vase on display in the permanent collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is a fine example of storytelling. Slightly larger than a modern quart jar, the drinking vase has a wrap-around visual narrative that details a ritual, specifically noting out that kakaw (cacao) was one of the stimulating substances used in this event.

Mayan Interpretive dignage MFA

Although the Mayan people still live in the same region today, they mysteriously abandoned their cities around 900 CE and were eventually conquered by the Aztec civilization. Cacao beans not only survived the invasion from the north, they could well have been the cause. The Aztecs so valued the stimulating substance that they used dried beans as coinage to exchange for produce, meat, and other locally available consumables.

small and large cacao bean
The size and quality of a cacao bean determined its worth in the Aztec economy.

Unfortunately for the Aztecs, though their money grew on trees, those trees did not grow on the arid plateau that was the center of their empire. They solved this dilemma by strategically conquering trade routes into regions where cacao was cultivated. The wealth of these conquered regions was then extracted by political tribute–much of which was paid in the form of fermented cacao beans. This cacao wealth was then added into the Aztec economy both by putting it onto the consumable market and by stockpiling it as currency in treasuries. Used throughout their empire as form of payment and a beverage of celebration, cacao was also milled into portable nuggets to use as traveling rations for instant energy. The earliest documents of the Spanish settlers refer to how the native culture prepared cacao with maize into a cold frothy beverage that was used as a meal replacement in the extreme heat of the subtropical afternoons. (Presilla 17-24)  Cacao literally fueled both the people of the working class and the general economy well into the Spanish colonial period.

Anasazi vessels are reminiscent in shape to the Mayan.

Recently have we discovered the literal lengths that native peoples went to in acquiring this stimulating beverage. Modern gas chromatography analysis on Native American pottery has increased our understanding of which cultures had access to the only source of theobromine in the hemisphere. Testing of North American artifacts has shown that long before the Aztecs usurped the market on cacao, the trade routes of the Mayans had extended northward to the Anasazi nation of modern New Mexico. This 1200-mile path between where the vessels were found (in the Pueblo Bonito of Chaco Canyon)  and the nearest source of cacao would have required 600 hours of backpacking through rough country and sweltering heat. As one researcher phrased it “That’s a long way to go for something that you don’t need for survival”, [something] that’s more of a delicacy…”  Whether the Anasazi acquired this cacao through dedicated treks south–which would have taken weeks–or their pueblo was the endpoint of an even slower hand-to-hand, village-to-village trade route, acquiring the ingredients for a cacao beverage came at great cost. (Mozdy) Such an expenditure indicates how intensely desired this addictive substance was.  

The historical record may not tell us how the first cacao trees made their way to a new continent, but we do know that once here, it helped fuel people, economies and trade for centuries. The stimulant properties that the seed contains spurred the native cultures of a continent to covet, acquire, distribute and control access to the plant itself. By affecting and connecting with humans in this way, the plant forged a symbiotic partnership with the indigenous peoples which ensured its survival and success throughout pre-Columbian era.  

Works Referenced:

Henderson, John S., et al. “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Acad Sciences, 16 Nov. 2007, www.pnas.org/content/104/48/18937.full. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

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

Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.” 8 Feb. 2017, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Mozdy, Michael. “Cacao in Chaco Canyon.” Natural History Museum of Utah, Natural History Museum of Utah, 4 Aug. 2017, nhmu.utah.edu/blog/2016/08/04/cacao-chaco-canyon. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Unknown. Anasazi [Pueblo] pottery, Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New MexicoAMNH Digital Special Collections, accessed March 06, 2017, lbry-web-007.amnh.org/digital/items/show/38991.

Unknown. Drinking Vase for “om kakaw”. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, 2003.

Image Citation:

Images may not be reused without attribution.


The only trend in British sugar consumption, since it was first measured in the early 1700s until fairly recently, has been only increase upon increase, year after year. (See chart below) It is the argument of this essay that this phenomenon has taken place because of only two causes. One cause is historical and geographical and the other is the chemical and organic structure of the evolved human brain. The confluence of these two causes caused sugar to become abundantly and cheaply available to the British public, regardless of wealth, and that increased abundance of cheap sugar caused increased consumption of a substance that targets the sweetness sensitive regions of the brain that craves sugar because of our evolutionary past. Simply put, slavery gave Britain a lot of cheap sugar and its universal consumption triggered addictive responses among consumers to demand more and more of it.


There is no doubt that since 1704, when sugar consumption in Britain was only 4 pounds per person, its consumption has skyrocketed to well over 150 pounds per person, per year.
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There are two major causes for this dramatic increase that combined into a perfect storm that transformed sugar from an expensive rarity among the wealthiest Britons to a dirt cheap, ubiquitous commodity on the tables and in the mouths of all citizens from princes to paupers.

There are two major causes for this dramatic increase that combined into a perfect storm that transformed sugar from an expensive rarity among the wealthiest Britons to a dirt cheap, ubiquitous commodity on the tables and in the mouths of all citizens from princes to paupers.rain. The confluence of these two causes caused sugar to become abundantly and cheaply available to the British public, regardless of wealth, and that increased abundance of cheap sugar caused increased consumption of a substance that targets the sweetness sensitive regions of the brain that craves sugar because of our evolutionary past. Simply put, slavery gave Britain a lot of cheap sugar and its universal consumption triggered addictive responses among consumers to demand more and more of it.


There is no doubt that since 1704, when sugar consumption in Britain was only 4 pounds per person, its consumption has skyrocketed to well over 150 pounds per person, per year.

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The enslavement and transport of millions of Africans by the British and Europeans to the Americas where sugar, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, cotton and rice could be grown in prodigious quantities by the slaves at little cost and exported to Europe and North America where the insatiable appetites of the populace demanded an ever increasing supply of these now inexpensive commodities. Since slaves were paid no wages and given only bare subsistence in diet, clothing and housing to perform the work, the overhead of sugar planters in South America was quite low compared to how much money they would have had to pay for voluntary paid laborers. Without the slavery part of the economic equation in the production of New World sugar, there would never have been the flood of it into Britain, Europe and North America. Sugar would have remained a very expensive and rare treat for the wealthy. Because sugar production requires vast acreage of cane fields and a large round the clock processing facility, it is probable that cane sugar production could never have been profitable if the planters would have had to pay for the labor. Only slavery allowed sugar production to be profitable and indeed very profitable.

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The pleasure and reward centers of the human brain are particularly sensitive to sweetness that lies deep in our evolutionary past when our pre-human ancestors desperately searched for ripe fruit and berries with enough sugar content to keep the larger primate brains in functioning order. Sweetness on the African savannah or forests is quite rare. Locating wild berries or hanging fruit meant the difference between survival and starvation. The competition for such rare resources was keen and no doubt most of our ancestors perished in the daily struggle for enough food to see another day. Because our brain, among the largest of land creatures, requires significant amounts of glucose to function properly. Because of this, the taste buds on our tongues are always seeking sugar and respond very positively to its presence from early infancy. While sugar is rare in the wild, found only in fruits and berries in significant amounts, when our brain encounters it as the British public first did when it became abundant and cheap, our brains went wild with sugar desire. Britain and Europe prior to the beginning of the exploitation of the Americas and Africa, survived on diets quite bland and tasteless except for a handful of spices and herbs imported at great cost from Asia. Basically, the only sweetness most people encountered in their brief lives, that were usually cut short by disease and malnutrition, was infrequent encounters with honey. However, honey was rare and costly. The peasantry could hardly be said to be very familiar with anything that tasted good or sweet. Therefore, when cheap sugar began to pour into Britain, Europe and North America, thanks to slavery, even the lowest subsistence tenant farmer’s family  

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could enjoy the pleasure that sugar triggered in their brains. With few other pleasures during their hard lives, people could at least enjoy the sweet bounty that human slavery provided for only a few pennies.

Only in recent years has the British consumption of sugar begun to wane as the health dangers of its over-consumption become apparent to more and more people through scientific studies of sugar’s effects on the human body. However, like any addictive drug, sugar’s hold on the food industry and humanity’s enjoyment of sweet taste, is proving a difficult hold to weaken. When sugar is commonly added to the many industrially processed foods consumed by many people, its consumption is often hidden.

The enormous increase of sugar consumption by the British over the course of two centuries is explainable only by sugar’s low cost and its powerful and addictive effects on the human brain. It is truly a unique occurrence in human history to consider how a simple agricultural product of narrow nutritional  merit could take over the diets of entire nations because of the scourge of human slavery and the food’s addictive properties.


  1. Britain is built on sugar: our national sweet tooth defines us



  1. The Creation of an Atlantic Economy: Sugar and Slaves



  1. Sack and sugar, and the aetiology of gout in England between 1650 and 1900



  1. Enslavement and Industrialisation



  1. Sugar and Britain’s obesity crisis: the key questions answered


  1. How much sugar do we eat?


  1. Changes in British Sugar Consumption during the 17th and 18th Centuries


  1. We’re all sugar junkies now: Britons now wolf down an almost unimaginable 160 teaspoons of it a week – and the even worse news? It really IS addictive



  1. Oxford History of the British Empire. The Eighteenth Century. The British West Indies, 1748-1815.