Tag Archives: antioxidants

Interview with a Chocoholic

My informant was chosen due to her self-proclaimed addiction to the product in question, chocolate. The following interview seeks to uncover the role that chocolate has played in her life, her current relationship with chocolate and her perception of chocolate on a global scale (i.e. production, certifications, etc.).

“When did you first find yourself falling in love with chocolate?”

“I started loving chocolate when I was seven years old.”

I started to laugh. “So you’re telling me that you know the exact age that you started to fall in love with chocolate?”

“Yes! I do and the reason I do was because that was how old I was when my mother married my stepfather. He was a New York City police officer and one of his weekend jobs was to work security for a candy factory, so my siblings and I would go along with my stepfather to the candy factory every Saturday. That’s probably why I had cavities.” Now she was the one laughing. “I was always so excited because we would get to drive the go karts around in the candy factory.”

“Go karts? In a candy factory?”

“Yes. It was actually called The Candy Factory and it was over in the Brooklyn Terminal Market. We would all ride around in those carts where you lift up cartons of candy and transport it out to the trucks that delivered them to the store. We would stop at each section in the factory and take whatever candy we wanted home with us for the weekend. It was like my stepfather’s payment for watching the factory. We would take home Reese’s peanut butter cups and Joyva jelly rings, which were chocolate covered raspberry rings, and those were my favorite. I fell in love with chocolate.”


(Image Retrieved from: http://groceryonlinemarket.com/product/joyva-jell-rings-chocolate-covered-3-ring-pack-1-35-ounces-pack-of-24/)

“Do you think that your love of chocolate came from the way your family felt about chocolate? Did your mother like to eat chocolate as much as you did?”

“Well, my mom likes to eat rasinettes but she mostly eats jelly donuts, so, no. I’m the chocaholic of the family and I turned my husband into one. When I met him 35 years ago he hated chocolate. He hated it! And then he lived with me and now he absolutely loves chocolate and he always wants to eat it. He got addicted to it because sugar is very addicting. He just didn’t like the taste of it before. You know how some people just like salty versus sweet? Well, he was just eating salty things. After living together for a while I noticed he would put chocolate on his sundaes or make chocolate covered strawberries. Pretty soon after that he was ordering chocolate cake at restaurants for dessert instead of cheesecake. He started drinking hot chocolate and mochas also. Oh god, I want a chocolate bar now.”

“Speaking of chocolate bars, what is your chocolate preference? How much cacao do you prefer in a chocolate bar?”

“70% because I love dark chocolate and it’s not too bitter at that point. Once you get past 70% though it is really bitter. My favorite brand of chocolate is See’s candies. When I walk into a See’s store I always say, “You should make perfume out of this!” It’s like aromatherapy. I love See’s and I like Lindt, which I think is Swiss. I know Belgium and Swiss chocolate is really delicious. It’s just creamy and it’s rich tasting. I love chocolate. It’s healthy and it’s an antioxidant. It’s also an anti-inflammatory I found out! I read that on the internet. Oh! And chocolate has endorphins, it gives you a feeling of happiness.”


(Image Retrieved from: https://www.riceepicurean.com/sees-candies/)

As it turns out, my informant was correct. Chocolate contains flavanols which act as an anti-inflammatory in the body, however, Goya et al. points out that flavanol concentrations vary among chocolate products (Goya et al. 2016, 212). A study conducted by Melchior et al. in 1991 also confirms that chocolate increases beta-endorphins after consuming chocolate beverages (Melchior et al. 1991, 941).

I figured this would be the perfect time to dive into the health aspects of chocolate. “Are there any reasons you would consider chocolate to be unhealthy?”

“Cholesterol. Chocolate increases your cholesterol, which is not heart healthy, although they say that chocolate does have antioxidants in it which are good for you! Also, there is too much sugar in it which just isn’t good for you when you are worried about diabetes! You have to be careful too because chocolate is an addiction so once you start eating chocolate you crave it. I did. I do. I still crave it. I can’t imagine life without chocolate. It’s totally my vice. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink much. If I had to be on an island, I would bring chocolate.”

The popular belief that chocolate increases cholesterol is no doubt derived from the common misconception that follows the meaning behind HDL’s, high-density lipoproteins, and LDL’s, low-density lipoproteins. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, LDL’s are considered to be the “bad” form of cholesterol, with high levels raising risk for heart disease and stroke. HDL’s are considered to be the “good” form of cholesterol, lowering the risk for heart disease and stroke (CDC 2017). It is recognized that the anti-oxidant activity that follows the consumption of chocolate actually helps decrease ones low-density lipoprotein cholesterol activity while increasing ones high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (Wilson 2015, 17). Therefore, certain types of chocolate are considered to be heart healthy as they delay the progression of diseases such as atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis (Wilson 2015, 17).

The notion that chocolate, which contains a lot of sugar, is a danger to those who have diabetes, seems like a completely rational statement. However, a study conducted in 2015 by Mellor et al. suggests that this may not be entirely true. As it turns out, small amounts of polyphenol rich chocolate, up to about 20-45g per day, can be safely added to the diets of those who have diabetes (Mellor et al. 2015, 9917). Unfortunately, it is not common for the level of polyphenol’s in chocolate to be labeled on products. As more research in this area continues, this may be expected to change (Mellor et al. 2015, 9917). After explaining the relationship between chocolate and cholesterol as well as chocolate with diabetes to my informant, we were able to continue the interview.

“How often would you say that you eat chocolate?”

“I used to eat chocolate at least three times a week but now I’ve cut my sugar down due to the cancer so I try to have it maybe once every two weeks. I would have a whole bar at a time, I couldn’t stop.”

“How did your consumption of chocolate change when you were diagnosed with breast cancer?”

“I got depressed. I still eat a little bit, not too much now. I modified my diet but I still can’t resist it every couple of weeks. They say to cut back on sugar because sugar feeds cancer so I don’t eat as much sugar in my diet but if I do eat sugar it is usually saved for dark chocolate. Last time I had a bag of dark chocolate peanut butter cups.

I became curious as to what exactly the relationship was between chocolate and cancer. According to a study in the European Journal of Cancer Care, dark chocolate contains catcehins which act as an anti-cancer compound or as a preventative for the development of cancer (European Journal of Cancer Care 2000, 131). However, it is also recognized that sugar fuels cancer. Receptors associated with cell survival in tumors are maintained through intracellular glucose levels and SGLT1’s, or the stabilization of the sodium glucose transporter 1 (Penson 2009, 918). It is then no wonder that those who have cancer are more likely to consume their catechins through less sugary products such as tea.

“When was your last chocolate binge?”

She started giggling again, as if I had caught her red handed doing something she was not supposed to be doing. “Honestly, it was yesterday. They were on sale! It was $4.99 for the bag and I wound up eating the whole thing in two days. That’s why I’m so happy right now. But I did gain back a pound that I had lost so I do seem to gain weight right away after I eat the chocolate.”

When my informant mentioned she had gained weight after eating chocolate, I decided to investigate the relationship between chocolate and obesity. This led me to a study conducted in 2013 by Gu et al. who conducted animal trials in an attempt to identify the positive effects of cocoa. The introduction of cocoa in mice was said to reduce obesity after just a ten week period (Grace et al. 2014, 795). While it is unclear whether or not certain levels of flavinols in cocoa, or in dark chocolate, are responsible for an anti-obesity effect in humans, the results from a variety of animal studies seems to point in that direction. However, more research in humans must be conducted before there can be any confirmation that this is the case. Dark chocolate, the product that my informant had consumed before her weight gain, contains “more cocoa butter and fat” than cocoa powder, which was analyzed in comparison with dark chocolate during the trials mentioned above (Grace et al. 2014, 793).

“Where do you usually buy your chocolate? For example, would you ever buy chocolate at a gas station?”

“Not unless I’m on Highway 5 for a long time and I’m dying for it. I used to buy the Mexican chocolate bars at the supermarket, melt them and make hot chocolate. Those bars have cinnamon in them, I don’t even have to add anything. They come in these round, circular containers that are yellow with red writing. I forget the name of the brand. I could look it up online!”


(Image Retrieved from: http://kitchenencounters.typepad.com/blog/2010/12/-mexican-chocolate-cinnamon-orange-brownies-.html)

“No, that’s alright. Thank you. So, which grocery stores do you go to when you purchase chocolate?”

“I like Whole Foods because they have a variety of different countries the chocolate comes from. I can easily find the Swiss chocolate or the Belgium chocolate in that store versus a Safeway. Also, Cost Plus Imports is a great place to buy chocolate.”

I decided to switch gears here a little bit and discuss the ways in which chocolate is processed. “What do you consider the term processed to mean?”

“Processed? I think that means adding substances to the food that isn’t naturally organic. It’s when you add chemicals and fats that are unhealthy so that it tastes better.”

This brings up another common misconception. Many people associate the term processed with the term unhealthy. As it turns out, that is not always the case. “According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) processed food is defined as any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, packaging, or other procedures that alter the food from its natural state (MSU 2014). Chocolate actually undergoes many of these processes.

“Were you aware that chocolate is a processed food?”

“No, but at Trader Joes they have organic chocolate and I buy their organic 70% cacao dark chocolate.”

I could sense here that my informant believed that because the product was organic, it must not be processed. I decided to explore this idea further. “How do you feel about food that is marked organic?”

“I prefer it because I don’t want chemicals, pesticides and unnatural products in my food. I want to eat clean , especially after the remission of my cancer.”

The USDA claims that the term organic may be used on labels for raw or processed agricultural products (USDA 2018). Were you aware that processed products could be labeled as organic?

“No I wasn’t aware of that. I wish these labels would be more specific as far as letting us know exactly what is in the food or what has happened to the food.”

“Now that you know chocolate is processed, what steps do you think are involved in its’ production?”

“I have never thought about that. I actually never knew that it was processed. I assume they have to take it out of the pod, clean it, grind it, probably add sugar or some sweetener to it and put it in a mold. That’s all I can think of.”

My informant was correct, however, there were a few steps missing from her list. According to Dr. Martin (2018), the steps involved in processing chocolate are as follows: the harvesting of cacao pods, the extraction of seeds, fermentation, drying (in sun or over fire), sorting and bagging of beans, roasting, winnowing (aka deshelling, husking), Grinding in a metate, pressing in a hydraulic press, and finally, conching (Martin 2018, Lecture). I repeated this list to my informant and proceeded to ask her more questions.

I wanted to make sure she understood the steps that I had previously addressed. “What do you think winnowing means?”

“Widowing? Winn-o-wing? Can I look it up on google? Winnowing…winnowing…what do I think it means? I have no idea to be quite honest.”

“Winnowing, in this sense, means to de-shell or husk the cacao.”

“I would have never thought that. I winnow pistachio nuts, walnuts, I’ve winnowed! Yeah, winnow, I do that all the time. I never knew I was winnowing.”


(Image Retrieved from: http://www.chocablog.com/features/the-chocolate-tree-a-scottish-bean-to-bar-story/)

“Given the complex process involved in creating the chocolate that you see at the supermarket, how much would you say is a reasonable price to pay for a chocolate bar?”

“That depends on how much I’m buying but I usually won’t spend more than seven dollars on chocolate. I’ll either buy a really great chocolate bar or buy a bag of chocolate with peanut butter in it. If it’s over seven dollars though in one store visit I’ll say, forget it. I will only spend more than that if I am buying gifts for other people.”

By the end of this interview it had become clear that while chocolate as a product is readily available for consumption, the information concerning its’ production is not. Many people do not realize the complexity involved in creating the chocolate bar or fully understand the labels that are associated with the food that they consume. This experience as a whole was very eye-opening for my informant and acted as a reminder of what my own conceptions were surrounding chocolate when I had first began Dr. Martin’s course, “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.”

Works Cited:

2017. “LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), May 9. https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm

2018. “Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.” E-CFR, May 9. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:

Farhat, G., Drummond, S., Fyfe, L., & Al‐Dujaili, E. (2014). Dark Chocolate: An Obesity Paradox or a Culprit for Weight Gain? Phytotherapy Research, 28(6), 791-797.

Goya, L., Martín, M., Sarria, B., Ramos, S., Mateos, R., & Bravo, L. (2016). Effect of Cocoa and Its Flavonoids on Biomarkers of Inflammation: Studies of Cell Culture, Animals and Humans. Nutrients, 8(4), 212.

Melchior, Rigaud, Colas-Linhart, Petiet, Girard, & Apfelbaum. (1991). Immunoreactive beta-endorphin increases after an aspartame chocolate drink in healthy human subjects. Physiology & Behavior, 50(5), 941-944.

Mellor, D., Sathyapalan, T., Kilpatrick, E., & Atkin, S. (2015). Diabetes and chocolate: Friend or foe? Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 63(45), 9910-8.

Parrish, Ashley. 2014. “What is a processed food?” Michigan State University (MSU), May 9. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/what_is_a_processed_food

Penson, R. (2009). Sugar fuels cancer. Cancer, 115(5), 918-921.

Wilson, Wilson, Philip K., Hurst, W. Jeffrey, & Royal Society of Chemistry. (2015). Chocolate and health : Chemistry, nutrition and therapy. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry.


Modern View on Chocolate

Chocolate has had a major significance in society over the years. Many events and holidays use chocolate as a major part of their rituals. Chocolate can be traced all the way back to Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Mayans and the Aztecs. These civilizations viewed chocolate as a great luxury item that had many powerful qualities. Chocolate was used in many rituals, spanning from marriage rituals, religious rituals, and even a belief that it could cure illnesses. The view on chocolate has changed over the years, however. Today, people have started to simply associate chocolate as a commodity involving sweetness and romance. Also, people are often unaware how their chocolate is being produced and if the cacao farms that produce it are being run ethically. I took the time to conduct an interview with a friend of mine to understand his view on chocolate and the significance it has to him. Clearly, there are quite a few myths that people have about chocolate and hopefully I am able to shed some light on why people view chocolate in such a different way than it had been looked at before.

imagesWhile chocolate has spread to many parts of the world today, it was not always so accessible to people. Cacao can be traced all the way back to beginning with the Mesoamerican civilizations. The Mesoamerican people viewed chocolate as a luxury item given to them by the gods. Many documents such as the Dresden Codex and Paris Codex, as seen to the right, allow us to see how big of a role chocolate played in the lives of these people. Cacao was often used in many different rituals and also was used to cure some illnesses. In the Mayan civilization, cacao was used for digestion and as an anti- inflammatory. Eventually, chocolate spread to the Europeans and underwent some hybridization. The Europeans would add ingredients to the chocolate such as cinnamon to enhance the flavor of it. Chocolate influenced many social aspects in Europe such as class, religion, and politics. Eventually, chocolate would spread more globally and although not having great success in parts of Asia, it would be consumed across the world including North America. People in today’s society are often unaware of the roots of chocolate and cacao. In conducting the interview, when I asked my friend where they would consider the roots of chocolate, they responded, “I think of European countries like Switzerland when I think of where chocolate started.” This shows how people are unknowing to the roots that chocolate has and where cacao has been traced back to. Also, while we have many views on chocolate today, with romance being the most common association, people are unaware how significant of a role chocolate played in early civilizations. When asked about the views early civilizations on chocolate, they responded, “I would imagine it was the same as today. Mostly a sweet candy with romantic significance.” I believe this undermines how much of an impact cacao and chocolate had on early civilizations and the important role it played in their everyday lives.

The process of producing chocolate is not the simplest process. There are many labor intensive tasks that must be performed on the cacao farms. Some of the tasks that are required include clearing trees, planting, grafting, applying fertilizers, and transporting items. While these may not seem like hazardous tasks, there many potential risks in completing them. In order to complete the work, workers must walk long distances on uneven and often slippery surfaces, use sharp and heavy objects, and also experience a great deal of sun and heat exposure. Many safety precautions are not put in place in order to ensure safety of the workers. Farm workers also very often lack access to bathrooms, filtered water, and clean spaces to prepare food. In finding out if people are aware of the labor involved in producing cacao and if they are run ethically, I asked my friend about their perception of cacao farms. He said, “Honestly, I don’t know too much about how the farms that produce chocolate are run. I would assume that most of the producers follow standards and the working conditions are secure.” It is quite evident that people are not informed on the standards that cacao farms have and how ethically they are producing their chocolate. Farmers are usually getting volatile income and therefore don’t get paid wages or a salary. As Amanda Berlan states, “Forced labour in cocoa is documented in many regions, ranging from Mesoamerica, South America, to Africa and the Caribbean from as early as the 1650s to the twenty-first century.” (Berlan, 2013) This evidence allows us to see that forced labor on these cacao farms is not a new phenomenon. Child labor is also a big exploitation on West African farms. Children provide cheap labor for cacao farms and are often put into often dangerous conditions for little pay. As you can see by the image on the right, children are put into hazardous imgres-2situations such as transporting heavy bags of cacao. This is extremely dangerous for the overall well being of the children. However, not all chocolate producers run cacao farms that are unethical. Some companies such as Theo’s pride themselves on making sure everybody in the bean to bar process can thrive. They want to ensure that their cacao farmers are in good working conditions and making a stable amount of income. As their website states, “Every Theo purchase directly supports the livelihoods of over 5,500 cocoa farmers in our supply chain and their 30,000 family members, enabling farmers to send their children to school, feed their families, and reinvest in their communities.” It is important, based on the lack of knowledge of cacao farms from the interview, that we must inform people of how cacao farms run and which take advantage and exploit their farmers.


While we are able to conclude that the history of chocolate and how it is produced is quite unknown to people, I want to investigate the modern view on chocolate and how advertisers and producers capitalize on this view. Over the years chocolate has developed the stigma for being used in romance and aroma. As noted by my friend in the interview, “For me, chocolate is one of those items I get when I want to reward myself or a friend. I feel it has that romantic vibe to it” Chocolate has been advertised to people as having the ability, especially on women, to entice an excessively aroused feeling. As you can see by the image to the right, women are constantly being depicted as being seducedSeduction by chocolate. Men, on the other hand, are often seen as of higher status in these commercials. Men get depicted as the ones who are constantly attempting to seduce the female and seen for their appearance, not brains. Advertisers are constantly picking up on the stigmas and perceptions that people associate with chocolate and then implement them into their commercials or advertisements. While it may not seem important that we are aware of how advertisers are showing chocolate, there are many implications that result from these marketing strategies. One of the main factors in the childhood obesity epidemic is the marketing directly to children. In today’s society of technology and social media, it is nearly impossible to monitor everything children see. Therefore, it is important that we don’t allow big chocolate producers to have marketing ploys that result in false stereotypes and ideas. In the chocolate industry, there has already been a shift in how we view race in chocolate. As professor Martin has stated in her lectures, chocolate and vanilla have become cultural metaphors for race. These metaphors insinuate that chocolate is to blackness and vanilla is to whiteness. These metaphors expand far beyond simply color. They have even developed their own associations as whiteness is purity and cleanliness, while blackness is sin and dirtiness. Another important note that Dr. Martin has made is how chocolate can reveal mainstream cultural blind spots in relation to racism and inequality. Due to this, it is important to educate people as opposed to exploiting stereotypes.


While we know that chocolate has been considered extremely beneficial in early civilizations, as it was often used therapeutically, people now may have a false sense of health in regards to chocolate. Many chocolate recipes were developed for what their creators believed to be maximal health benefit. However, people began to associate chocolate with health problems. In my interview, I asked my friend how they viewed chocolate and the benefits of eating chocolate and they replied, “I don’t know how beneficial it is to eating chocolate all the time, but I don’t think it hurts to have it sometimes as a snack.” While there are some risks in eating chocolate that range from toxins in the cacao shells to high amounts of sugar and saturated fat, chocolate has many beneficial qualities in being consumed. One benefit is the high amount of antioxidants received from eating chocolate. Also, chocolate has many cardioprotective qualities. This has been seen in cases such as the Kuna Case Study. In this study, they found that the Kuna people had better cardiovascular health than others due to the consumption of chocolate. Although some findings pose that this a potential complication due to the Kuna people also having a fish diet, chocolate clearly can have a positive impact on overall health. (Howe, 2012). According to Francene Steinberg, the effects of cacao flavonoids on cardiovascular health have been seen to reduce platelet reactivity, which then reduces the risk for clot formation. (Steinberg, 219) Chocolate also has the ability to work as an anti inflammatory and have anti tumoral properties. As seen by the image onfive foods the right, dark chocolate has been noted as a food that can help prevent cancer. As Watson states, Although in vitro studies have shown that cocoa flavonoids exert anti-tumoral effects, further studies are needed.” (Watson et al., 2013) However, the stigma that people have towards the benefits of eating chocolate often promote that there are very few and eating chocolate only causes health problems. People have found that the ideal chocolate to eat is 70% cacao and also limits cocoa butter content. It is also important to consider that the chocolate came from a cacao farm that avoided chemicals while being in a safe environment. Although chocolate has become seen as an unhealthy snack to some people, there are still many beneficial qualities to consuming chocolate.


Clearly, it is important to understand that there are many people who are unaware about the many facets of chocolate and the production of it. When looking at the origins of chocolate, many people do not know where it truly originated and how important it was to those people. The Mesoamerican civilizations regarded chocolate as one of the highest luxuries and used it in many different rituals. Also, it is evident that people are not very educated on the process in which their chocolate is produced. Many cacao farms, especially in West Africa, exploit adults and children in order to make more of a profit. With education and awareness of these poor conditions, people can understand how their chocolate is being made and if that company is upholding ethical standards. Not only may people not understand where their chocolate is being produced, they are often unaware of the potential benefits to consuming chocolate. Studies have found that chocolate provides key antioxidants and also improves cardiovascular health. Also, it is important to understand the myths and stereotypes associated with chocolate. Chocolate is constantly being shown as this sexual arousing item for females with men using it to seduce these women. Advertisements and companies capitalize on these stereotypes and use them in order to sell their product. After conducting this interview with my friend, I have began to get a better understand of how chocolate is viewed in most people’s eyes. Chocolate has played a major role in society for many years and it is important to inform people of the truths to consuming chocolate rather than keeping different myths and stereotypes about it alive.


Works Cited


Steinberg, Francene M, et al. “Cocoa and Chocolate Flavonoids: Implications for Cardiovascular Health.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 103, no. 2, 2003, pp. 215–223., doi:10.1053/jada.2003.50028


Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.”Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies, University of California Press Journals, 1 Feb. 2012, gcfs.ucpress.edu/content/12/1/43.


Watson, Ronald R., et al. Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Humana, 2013.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088–1100., doi:10.1080/00220388.2013.780041.

Chocolate Tasting: Creating Conscientious Consumers Through Increased Awareness

After spending a semester studying the history, culture and politics of chocolate at Harvard University with Professor Carla D. Martin, I decided to host a chocolate tasting to put to test what had been presented in class and in our readings. My invitation to the tasting was enthusiastically accepted by several friends who love, of course, all things chocolate. My goal was threefold: to educate them about the anatomy of a chocolate bar, to explore some of the issues facing the chocolate industry today, and to examine the packaging and significance of certifications.  By increasing their awareness of these topics, I hoped to inspire them to become more conscientious consumers.


The challenge quickly became which chocolate bars to include in my taste test.  Walking down the aisles of a few local grocery and convenience stores proved daunting.  There were just so many bars to choose from.  In The New Taste of Chocolate, Maricel E. Presilla writes, “the face of chocolate has changed fantastically in the last few years in that shoppers now find themselves confronted with some bewildering choices” (p 126).  And bewildered I was. When surveying the multitude of labels, I considered ingredients, certifications, and messaging. Ultimately, I arrived at a sample of seventeen bars including three different milk chocolates, a few dark chocolates with varying amounts of cocoa, and a selection of bars with additional ingredients such as almonds, mint, caramels, and sugar substitutes.  I also included one raw cacao bar to see how it would fare.  In addition, I selected several bars that had specific certifications and messaging on their packaging to prompt discussion about the issues in the chocolate industry today.

I elected to host a blind taste test so that my friends could judge each chocolate free from pre-conceived notions, preferences, and packaging information.  I assigned each bar a letter and created a spreadsheet which the participants used to record their results.  I instructed them to use all of their senses to fully experience each chocolate bar.  First, they looked at each sample for color and sheen.  They then smelled the chocolate to enjoy the aroma.  After breaking each sample to experience the “snap”, they tasted them.  My group proved to be very enthusiastic and shared their findings with great description using terms such as “sweet,” “too sweet,” “artificial,” “chalky,” “salty,” “milky,” “creamy,” “delicious,” “nutty,” “fruity,” “bleh” and “awful.”

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 4.38.53 PM.png

The general consensus among this group was that they preferred dark chocolate to milk, and favored a bar with a cocoa content of around 70%, finding a bar with 85% cocoa too bitter. As a group of mostly affluent, educated and health conscious women, they liked bars with natural and organic ingredients rather than artificial flavors and soy lecithin.  In her article “Fresh off The Farm”, Patricia Unterman explains, “when you choose to eat organic and sustainably raised produce, a little karma rubs off on you and makes everything taste better,” which resonated with this group. I found it interesting that they all readily identified the Hershey’s milk chocolate bar and agreed it reminded them of their childhoods. Though they admitted they don’t regularly consume Hershey’s, they still enjoy it as a key ingredient in s’mores.  Most of them enjoyed chocolate bars with nuts, few liked fruit additives, and only one liked the raw bar.  Some were pleasantly surprised by the bars with the artificial sweetener Stevia. They considered them to be “less guilty” treats having no sugar and fewer calories.


I concluded the tasting with an analysis of the packaging of the different bars. We looked at the manufacturer, their messaging, list of ingredients, bean origination and certifications. While some of the participants were familiar with the various certifications, most were not and only one was familiar with the issues present in the chocolate industry today. The group expressed a desire to gain a broader understanding of these issues so that they could be more discriminating in their choices and use their purchasing power to support the causes they felt most strongly about.  In Eating Out: Social Differentiation, Consumption and Pleasure, Warde and Martens note “consumption practices are driven by a conscious reflexivity such that people monitor, reflect upon and adapt their personal conduct in light of its perceived consequences.”

The industry today is fraught with many interrelated challenges including the worst forms of child labor, poverty, and sustainability to name a few, and certifications allow consumers to learn which chocolate companies support ethical and sustainable practices.  Worst forms of child labor include slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and any work by its nature that is harmful to the health, safety and morals of children (Martin, April 21). In The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich , Ndogo Sylla explains child labor is extensively utilized in cacao harvesting and estimates that 2 million children work in the West African countries of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.  Cacao farmers labor under difficult circumstances and are subject to physical injury and exposure to toxic pesticides while earning on average $.50 to $.80 per day per capita making it virtually impossible to support a paid labor force or sustainable farming practices (Warde and Martens, p 497).


The idea of fair trade dates back to the late 1940’s and has evolved over the past 70 years with the goal to reduce poverty through everyday shopping.  A multitude of organizations strive to tackle poverty in the poorest countries by improving workers’ social, economic and environmental conditions.  Others raise awareness and work to protect endangered species and the planet.  The images and links below represent some of the different certifications we discussed:


Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 4.39.12 PM.png:

Fairtrade International(FI) is a multi-stakeholder, non-profit organization focusing on the empowerment of producers and workers in developing countries through trade. Fairtrade International provides leadership, tools and services needed to connect producers and consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and work towards sustainable livelihoods. https://www.flocert.net/glossary/fairtrade-international-fairtrade-labelling-organizations-international-e-v/

Fair Trade Certified enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, fishermen, consumers, industry, and the earth. We achieve our mission by certifying and promoting Fair Trade products. https://www.fairtradecertified.org

Equal Exchange Equal Exchange’s mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through our success, the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world. http://equalexchange.coop/about

UTZ Certified shows UTZ stands for sustainable farming and better opportunities for farmers, their families and our planet. The UTZ program enables farmers to learn better farming methods, improve working conditions and take better care of their children and the environment.Through the UTZ program farmers grow better crops, generate more income and create better opportunities while safeguarding the environment and securing the earth’s natural resources.  Now and in the future, consumers that products have been sourced, from farm to shop shelf, in a sustainable manner. To become certified, all UTZ suppliers have to follow our Code of Conduct, which offers expert guidance on better farming methods, working conditions and care for nature. https://utz.org

Rainforest Alliance Our green frog certification seal indicates that a farm, forest, or tourism enterprise has been audited to meet standards that require environmental, social, and economic sustainability. It is a non-governmental organization (NGO) working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land- use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/faqs/what-does-rainforest-alliance-certified-mean


After much deliberation, considering aroma, color, sheen, snap, flavor and texture, the group unanimously agreed the Hachez Cocoa D’Arriba 77% Classic was their favorite. One taster exclaimed, “It’s so creamy and the flavor is so rich.”



Joseph Emile Hachez, a chocolatier of Belgian origin, established The Bremer HACHEZ Chocolade GmbH & Co. KG in 1890 in Bremen, Germany. Though the company has changed hands several times over the past century, Hachez remains one of the most well-regarded producers of superior chocolates in Germany. As highlighted on their packaging, “Hachez offers authentic chocolates of superior quality and craftsmanship-from the cocoa bean to the chocolate bar.”

“Still using the original recipes, they are one of the few German chocolate manufacturers to do everything in one location – from cleaning the cocoa beans to roasting them, molding the chocolate and packaging them. This allows them to oversee each stage of manufacturing to ensure every last piece of chocolate meets their high standards” (Chocoversum.de).


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About 100 hours of work are put into every cocoa bean which leaves the factory in Bremen as chocolate. The CHOCOVERSUM shows the tradition and the attention to detail, which is practiced in the HACHEZ chocolate factory in Bremen by over 350 employees on a daily basis. (Chocoversum.de)


Though their packaging displays no certifications or social, political or environmental messaging, Hachez belongs to both BDSI, the Association of German Confectionary, and GISCO, the German Institute on Sustainable Cocoa, which aim to address some of the issues facing the cacao industry today. The BDSI works to improve the standard of living for cocoa farmers and their families by promoting sustainable farming and education, and by offering loans to farmers to fund investments to increase productivity, quality and efficiency.  They find exploitive child labor practices unacceptable and are working with local communities to eliminate it through education and schooling. BDSI intends to boost the percent of sustainable cocoa in manufacturing to 50% by 2020 and to 70% by 2025 and to increase the share of responsibly produced cocoa in chocolate and confections sold in Germany.  Similarly, GISCO’s focus is to improve the living conditions of cocoa farmers and their families and to conserve natural resources and biodiversity in cocoa producing countries.


To understand the anatomy of any chocolate bar, it is essential to consider all of the ingredients and workers that contribute to the final product. The basis for chocolate is cacao, which is derived from the seed of the tree, Theobroma cacao, or “food-of-the-gods cacao.” These trees grow in a band around the world, hugging the equator, and thriving only where there are perfect temperatures and plentiful moisture (Off, p 10). Approximately 70% of the worlds cocoa comes from West African, in particular, Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana.  Latin America accounts for 16% of cocoa production and Asia and Oceana account for another 12%.  Over 10% of the global harvest is processed in Germany where Hachez is based.

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Farmers gently separate the cacao pods from the trees and crack them open to remove the pulp which encases the precious beans.  Once cleaned of debris, the beans and surrounding pulp are covered in banana leaves to begin the important process of fermentation which develops the flavor of the beans. The fermentation process can take between two and six days.  When fermentation is complete, the beans are dried, sorted and bagged for shipment.

At Hachez, they claim to use only the finest cocoa varieties from farmers whom they consider to be socially responsible, environmentally friendly and practice sustainable farming. The unique flavor characteristics of the variety of beans they use reflect their terroir, “loosely translated as ‘a sense of place,’ which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment and people have had on the production of the product” (Martin, April 18).

Upon receiving the beans, Hachez’s chocolatiers sort them and run them through a machine to remove stones, sticks, and other foreign substances.  Next, the beans are “roasted in traditional drums using hot air currents to extract the optimal development of flavor and aroma” (Chocoverse.de). After a winnower separates the husks from the nibs, Hachez grinds the nibs specifically to a granular diameter of .0014 mm to produce a more delicate texture. Next, the chocolate is put through a conche for up to 72 hours to reduce the size of the particles in order to fully refine the aroma and to enhance the smoothness and delicate consistency. The chocolate is then tempered: “the temperature of the mass is raised, then carefully lowered so that the crystal structure of the fat may be destroyed to prevent the bar from becoming blotchy and granular, with a poor color.  Tempering remains a vital step in the manufacture of the finest quality chocolate” (Coe and Coe, p 248). The end result is a chocolate bar with great aroma, sheen, snap, flavor and texture.  As one taster exclaimed, “This bar is amazing.  The rich flavor and creamy texture make it the best one by far.”


Near the end of the tasting, we explored the health benefits of chocolate when consumed responsibly.  Chocolate with the greatest health benefits has a minimum 70% cacao, is organic, has limited amounts of cocoa butter and added fats, and is enjoyed in small amounts of about 2 oz. per day (Martin, April 11). Scientists have identified in cacao antioxidant properties which reduce disease causing free radicals. Antioxidants like this help ward off cancer, repair damaged cells, and impact the effects of aging.  Dark chocolate in particular is high in polyphenols and flavonoids providing a large dose of antioxidants per serving.  Flavanols, the main type of flavonoid found in dark chocolate, also are known to positively affect heart health because they help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.

The tasters left feeling much smarter about the bean to bar process, more aware of the issues facing the chocolate industry today, enlightened about the health benefits of dark chocolate, and most important, empowered as shoppers.  I would argue I succeeded in turning them into conscientious consumers.


Works Cited

Coe, Sphie D. and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2006 (3rd Edition).

Mintz, Sydney W., Sweetness and Power. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1985.

Off, Carol, Bitter Chocolate, Anatomy of an Industry. New York: The New Press, 2014.

Martin, Carla D.  “Modern Day Slavery”, Harvard University, AAS E119, March 21, 2018.

Martin, Carla D. “Health, Nutrition, and Politics of Food”, Harvard University, AAS E119, April 11, 2018.

Martin, Carla D. “Psychology, Terroir and Taste”, Harvard University, AAS E119,  April 18, 2018.

Presilla, Maricel E., The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2001.

Unterman, Patricia, “Fresh off the Farm”, SF Examiner, Aug 20, 2000.

Warde, A. and I. Martens, Eating Out: Social Differentiation, Consumption and Pleasure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich. 1st ed. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University, 2014.

Chocoversum by Hachez. https://www.chocoversum.de/en/

Association of the German Confectionary Industry. https://www.bdsi.de

German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa. https://www.kakaoforum.de/en/






Chocolate: Healthy or Health-Free?

With an overwhelming flux of information sitting at our fingertips, it has become increasingly important to be able to decipher marketing motives and assess the scientific validity of the health claims presented by news platforms, online sources, social media, and word of mouth. Chocolate, in particular, has been a frequent featured topic in the discourse surrounding health during the past two decades. Headlines, ranging from “Chocolate Can Boost Your Workout. Really.” to “Chocolate is good for you? Sure, and the Easter bunny is real, too”, highlight the competing claims between health reports. Considering chocolate’s role as a driver of mass consumption in our society, it is essential to differentiate between the medicinal properties of crude cocoa goods and the highly-processed chocolate products advertised to consumers.

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An Instagram account sharing recipes for healthy chocolate treats.

Theobroma cacao, food of the Gods, has had a longstanding association with health and medicine. Its incorporation into the customs and rituals of the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs document the myriad of medicinal properties that the substance possessed. The adoption of chocolate by the Spanish and other Europeans recognized these health-related benefits and continued the tradition of consuming chocolate for medicinal purposes among other uses (Coe and Coe, 1996). By the mid-twentieth century, however, chocolate had transitioned from a food, drug, and currency to a guilty pleasure that was beginning to be associated with health problems. Only over the past few decades have the purported benefits of chocolate resurged, this time with substantial backing from the scientific community. This led to products, such as low-fat chocolate milk and heart-healthy dark chocolate treats, flooding the market, their promises of lower blood pressure and younger-looking skin buzzing in our minds. These promises about chocolate’s healthy properties are even promoted by some of the biggest names of popular fiction. J.K. Rowling’s protagonist, Harry Potter, was offered a chocolate as a restorative measure after encountering a Dementor.

More than anything, however, these alluring chocolate products swarm us with questions.

  1. To what extent are the health benefits of chocolate substantiated by scientific research or are they simply marketing ploys?
  2. How do the production processes increase or compromise the nutritional value of the chocolate?

Tracing the health accounts involving chocolate from the Mesoamerican civilizations, through European transformation, to present-day scientific literature emphasizes many health benefits, and more notably, reinforces the importance of moderation, a value too intentionally veiled by a market that profits from a population driven to excess.

Cacao in Mesoamerican Medical Practices

Chocolate’s reputed medical prospects can be traced back to ancient times, long predating the use of scientific research to verify the product’s proposed health benefits. The early civilizations of the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs valued cacao as a source of energy, strength, fertility, and restoration. Aztec sources, in particular, have been extremely useful in helping us better understand the role that cacao played in ancient remedies. The Florentine Codex, complied by Bernardino de Sahagun, presents extensive details about the dietary, health, and medical practices of the Aztecs, as well as many other aspects of their lives and culture (Dillinger et al., 2000). The document noted the use of cacao to treat stomach and intestinal problems, fatigue and fevers. Accounts also described the stimulant and aphrodisiac effects of chocolate as well as the use of cacao as an additive to make other medicines more palatable. One clear example of the medicinal use of cacao during ancient times is the prescription for childhood diarrhea, which required five cacao beans to be ground and served as a beverage to the sick child (Dillinger et al., 2000). Particularly important to recognize is the emphasis of cacao consumption in moderation. Sahagun’s informants made a clear distinction between the benefits conferred by moderate consumption of cacao and the side effects of excessive cacao intake (Dillinger et al., 2000).

“[Green cacao] makes one drunk, takes effect on one, makes one dizzy, confuses one, makes one sick, deranges one. When an ordinary amount is drunk, it gladdens one, refreshes one, consoles one, invigorates one. Thus it is said: ‘I take cacao. I wet my lips. I refresh myself’” (Sahagun 1590, Part 12: 119-120) (Dillinger et al., 2000)

These words of caution demonstrate that overconsumption of the even the purest form of cacao—clearly unsweetened and unprocessed, unlike most popular chocolate products today—is unhealthy and leads to undesired side effects. Therefore, documents detailing Mesoamerican medical practices highlight the widespread use of cacao as a treatment and additive for various ailments; these records, however, also caution against excessive consumption of this natural product, a lesson that must be recognized and practiced in our society today.

Chocolate Integration into European Medicine
Advertisement for milk chocolate includes that the product is physician recommended and helps with intestinal problems.

The incorporation of chocolate into European culture and practices involved the hybridization of the product in many different respects. One such hybridization required crossing the medical barrier. The Spanish stripped away much of the spiritual significance that the Mesoamericans associated with chocolate; instead, they promoted chocolate as a drug with medical purposes. Their intent was to integrate chocolate into their humoral system, which they used to understand health and medicine (Coe and Coe, 1996). Thus, chocolate became popular in Europe first as a drug and treatment. Anecdotes about the effects of chocolate quickly spread, peaking the interest of physicians and other intellectuals in the health effects of these products. In addition to treating ailments, much to the same effect as the Mesoamericans had described, chocolate was often prescribed to European sailors and people traveling long distances as a form of sustenance during their voyages. Chocolate was recommended for three main reasons: to help individuals gain weight, to stimulate the nervous system, and to improve digestion (Dillinger et al., 2000).

William Hughes, who authored a book including information on all the ways to make chocolate, advocated for the use of chocolate in a medical capacity. “It is the most wholesome and most excellent drink that is yet found out. . . it is good alone to make up a breakfast, needing no other food, either bread or drink, is beneficial to the body, and without exception, may be drunk by people of all ages, young as well as old, of what sex or what constitution so ever and is very good for women with childe, nourishing the embryo, and preventing fainting fits, which some breeding women are subject unto: it helpeth nature to concoct phlegme and superfluous moisture in the stomack; it voideth the excrements by urine and sweat abundantly, and breedeth store of very good blood, thereby supplying the expence of spirits, it expels gravel, and keepth the body fat and plump, and also preserveth the countenance fresh and fair: it strengthens the vitals, and is good against fevers, cattarrhs, asthmaes, and consumptions of all sorts” (Dillinger et al., 2000). Hughes was simply one among many who praised the use of chocolate as a healing and restorative substance, its benefits affecting many levels of human health, spanning the developmental stage and beyond adulthood. Prescribers, however, were guarded against excessive consumption of chocolate, even for medical purposes.

“[Chocolate] produces good Effects, when used moderately, it also … [produces] bad ones when taken to Excess, or mix’t with too many sharp Drugs…because its exalted Principles cause too great a Rarefaction in the Humours” (Paoletti, and Paoletti, 2012)

This recurring emphasis on moderation demonstrates that even though chocolate has been considered a healthy substance for thousands of years, it has never been a product intended for excessive indulgence.

The Science Underlying Chocolate Health Claims

European manuscripts from the seventh century to the twentieth century described over one hundred medicinal uses of chocolate, corroborating what the Aztecs had known and practiced with chocolate. During the twentieth century however, chocolate garnered an unfavorable reputation following the split of dietetics from medicine (Watson et al., 2013). The support for the purported medical benefits of chocolate offered by oral tradition and anecdotal evidence was no longer sufficient to convince the public. Therefore, during the late 1900s, experimentally derived biomedical evidence came to the forefront of our discussions about chocolate and became the basis of many marketing campaigns. Finally, the effects of chocolate documented by the Mesoamericans and by Europeans centuries earlier could be explained by biochemical properties and mechanisms elucidated by modern science.

There are more than 200 compounds in cocoa that could potentially be playing a role in the relationship between cocoa consumption and health outcomes. However, these substances may only be present at a negligible concentration in finished chocolate products or may have low bioavailability in humans; therefore, not all the different substances in cocoa produce meaningful benefits for people (Paoletti, and Paoletti, 2012). Most of the health benefits conferred by chocolate consumption are due to cocoa’s high polyphenol content. In addition to cocoa, polyphenols and flavonoids can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, red wine, and other plant-based sources (“Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled”). Flavonoids, which are a polyphenolic compound, constitute approximately twenty percent of cocoa, making cocoa a rich source of antioxidants (Crichton et al., 2016). For Americans, chocolate serves as their third highest daily source of antioxidants (Latif 2003). As shown by the table below, when compared to other sources of these compounds, chocolate contains a much higher flavonoids content as well as higher antioxidant activity (Steinberg et al., 2003). Antioxidants mount important defenses against free radicals that can accumulate as a result of normal bodily processes. The buildup of free radicals and increase in oxidation can lead to damage to the body and subsequent health complications; for example, increased oxidation can lead to plaque formation on artery walls (“Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled”).

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Table from Steinberg et al. 2013 shows high flavonoid content and antioxidant power of chocolate compared to other sources of these compounds.

The most significant association between chocolate and a disease outcome has been the correlation between increased chocolate consumption and a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Dr. Eric Ding at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed 24 different studies along with a team of researchers to examine the effects of cocoa flavonoids on risk for cardiovascular disease. They found that “flavonoids reduced blood pressure and unhealthy LDL cholesterol, increased healthy HDL cholesterol, improved blood flow, and lowered insulin resistance” (“Chocolate: Pros and cons of this sweet treat”). Despite these positive effects, it is unclear whether cocoa consumption can actually prevent a heart attack or if it simply mitigates factors that contribute to one.

Dark Chocolate Facts

In addition to heart health, studies investigating the effects of cocoa consumption have also observed antidiabetic effects (by increasing nitric oxide bioavailability to ameliorate insulin resistance), anti-stress effects (through the release of serotonin), anti-obese effects, anti-inflammatory effects and anti-tumor effects (Latif 2013). Studies tracing the effects of cocoa in the brain noted an increase in cerebral blood flow, as well as improved information processing and memory after a high dose of flavonoids for an eight-week period (Crichton et al., 2016). While these positive correlations in many different domains of human health are promising, much more research is required to better understand the mechanisms by which cocoa achieves these effects as well as to better anticipate long-term effects.

Misconceptions in the Market: What You Read vs. What You Eat

After decades of bearing the brunt of chocolate’s bad reputation, chocolate companies boomed as the increasing scientific evidence of chocolate’s health benefits gave producers new angles from which they could draw in consumers. New products, such as heart healthy dark chocolate treats, flooded markets and old products, such as chocolate milk, returned to stores, this time with a scientific stamp of approval.

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Over-eager customers are enticed by buzzwords, such as “heart healthy,” on chocolate products, not realizing that understanding the nutritional value of advertised chocolate products requires not only knowledge of the science behind effects of cocoa but also insight into the production processes that transform cocoa into the final product advertised on shelves. Firstly, it is important to differentiate between the types of chocolate. Dark chocolate contains a much higher amount of flavonoids that milk chocolate (Latif 2013). Products like milk chocolate have a much lower cocoa amount and instead contain many additives, such as sugar, fat, milk, and other ingredients that diminish the potential positive effects cocoa consumption can have on human health (“Chocolate: Pros and cons of this sweet treat”). Secondly, purchasing chocolate with high cocoa content, such as dark chocolate, does not necessarily mean that the final product contains a high concentration of polyphenols because of the significant effect that processing has on the nutritional value of chocolate (Paoletti, and Paoletti 2012). Cacao beans initially have a very strong bitter taste due to the high amount of polyphenols present in the raw fruit; this taste can be so potent that cacao beans can be inedible. Thus, the post-harvest processes of fermenting, roasting, alkalizing, sweetening and others are intended to diminish the original flavor. The consequence of this extensive processing is a loss in the antioxidant power of chocolate. “As much as 90% of the flavonoids may be lost due to cocoa processing” (Latif 2013).

Therefore, even though the two products advertised above emphasize the science-substantiated health benefits of chocolate, the processing significantly lowers the nutritional value of the final products. Companies tangentially brand the science behind their processed chocolate products, even though their products are hugely different from the raw cocoa used in studies. “The average dose of flavonoids in the studies Dr. Ding reviewed was 400 milligrams a day. ‘The problem is, that’s about the equivalent of eight bars of dark chocolate or 30 bars of milk chocolate,” he says. “When you eat these actual chocolate bars, all the calories and sugar come with them.’” (“Chocolate: Pros and cons of this sweet treat”). Today, even with backing from modern science, the recommended consumption of chocolate is still a moderate portion, typically around one ounce a few times a week (Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled”).

Tracing the perceived health benefits of chocolate over the centuries demonstrates that the purported healthy effects of cocoa consumption have always been recognized and substantiated by a powerful medium, whether it be oral tradition of the Aztecs, the anecdotal evidence of Europeans, or the biochemical research of modern societies. More importantly, analyzing the reception of chocolate by different peoples and cultures reveals the emphasis on moderation that has persisted. In a society with chocolate companies that profit from excessive indulgence, it has become crucial for individuals to be careful about the quality and quantity of chocolate they consume.

Works Cited

“Chocolate: Pros and cons of this sweet treat.” Harvard Health Publications. Harvard University, n.d. Web. 01 May 2017.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Crichton, Georgina E., et al. “Chocolate Intake Is Associated with Better Cognitive Function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study.” Appetite, vol. 100, 2016, pp. 126–132.

Dillinger, T L, et al. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 130, no. 8S Suppl, 2000, pp. 2057S–72S.

“Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled | Cleveland Clinic: Health Library.” Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, n.d. Web. 01 May 2017.

Latif, R. “Chocolate/Cocoa and Human Health: a Review.” The Netherlands Journal of Medicine, vol. 71, no. 2, 2013, pp. 63–8.

Paoletti, and Paoletti, Rodolfo. Chocolate and Health. Milan, Springer, 2012.

Steinberg, et al. “Cocoa and Chocolate Flavonoids: Implications for Cardiovascular Health.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 103, no. 2, 2003, pp. 215–223.

Watson, Ronald Ross; Preedy, Victor R.; Zibadi, Sherma. Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Vol. 7, Totowa, NJ, Humana Press, 2013.

Image Sources

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2017. <www.chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/sloanechocolate.jpg?w=483&h=379>.

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2017. <http://333oee3bik6e1t8q4y139009mcg.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/CACAO_DarkChocolateFacts.png&gt;.

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2017.<www.behance.net/gallery/6533023/Hersheys-Special-Dark- Chocolate-Kisses-Campaign>.

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2017.  <www.adnatomy.files.wordpress.  com/2013/03/my-after-22workhorse22.png>.

Chocolate: ‘Humouring’ the World of Medicine for Centuries

In Baroque Europe, food and medicine were two largely inseparable entities (Moss 27). Most physicians relied on Galen’s system (see Image 1) as a way to divide human physiology into four categories, or “humoural qualities:” sanguine, bilious, phlegmatic, or melancholic (Moss 27). However, many foods encountered in the New World, such as chocolate, could not be logically assigned to this existing structure of medicinal organization, presenting a challenge for physicians and commoners alike (Moss 27). This was arguably the beginning of a larger shift in which medicine and food would eventually occupy two largely separate frameworks. Interestingly enough, in recent years this divide between food and medicine has started to dissolve as nutritional therapies and so-called antioxidant-rich “superfoods” have become popular, and chocolate has certainly not been left out of the equation (Moss 27). By tracing the origins of the conceptual union of food and medicine, specifically focusing on the difficulty of incorporating chocolate into the Humoural System, one can follow the trajectory of this dynamic relationship to contemporary examples of chocolate that can arguably be characterized as a rebirth of “food as medicine.”

Image 1: This chart integrates several elements of the Humoural System, guidelines popularized by the second century Greek philosopher and physician Galen. Many 16th and 17th century beliefs were based on this framework based on achieving balance within the body (Moss, 26).

The use of medicinal chocolate, and more generally, food as medicine is also found in the Mesoamerican tradition, and the indigenous medicinal framework supporting its use had similarities to that of Galen’s system.  Though both Aztec and European perspectives were based on a “hot-cold” system, the Mexica view also blended religion, and the earth was viewed as a plan with four cardinal directions with the Aztec empire in the center.  The five localities were all assigned colors and attributes during healing processes (Dillinger, 2059S). Illnesses were also though to be caused by imbalances in the body, and dietary treatments were prescribed accordingly in both indigenous, and eventually European, cultures (Moss, 27).

Though Aztecs seemed to integrate chocolate seamlessly into their framework of medicine, Europeans were somewhat puzzled by its diverse qualities. According to Aztec traditions, chocolate supposedly enhanced the blood through its vital and sacred qualities and was used for a variety of ailments including: reducing fever, increasing breast milk production, cleansing teeth, diminishing timidity, or even preventing syphilis. (Wilson, 158). However, because categorization within the Galen System, was highly logical, this presented a problem.  Hot and spicy foods such as pepper and new chiles were considered “hot and dry” and were associated with bilious tendencies, while bland tasting dishes including dairy or grains were thought to promote cool, phlegmatic habits (Moss 27). Chocolate, as it was prepared by the indigenous cultures, was served as a hot drink, therefore hot and moist, yet contained spices which would have classified it as dry and therefore sanguine. (Moss 27).  To add to the confusion, when considered as an astringent bean, it would have been “cold and wet,” but as a bitter power, “cold and dry” would have been a more fitting classification (Moss 28). Literature states that even opposing ailments were both thought to be ameliorated by drinking chocolate. For example, it was thought to both encourage sleep and promote energy (Wilson, 158). Due to the inability to fit chocolate, among other New World foodstuffs, into the European “Four Humours” system, I argue that food and medicine began occupying separate spheres within everyday life, a trend that would continue as industry specialization and culinary advances came into play in later years.

To contemporary physicians and consumers alike, the “Four Humours” system is a thing of the past, a historical artifact of a time period lacking scientific knowledge and modern-day conceptions of medicine. However, recent trends in so-called “paleo diets” superfoods, and nutritional remedies for everyday ailments in some ways seem to reference this “ancient” framework of understanding the how the body functions best. The chocolate industry has wasted no time in jumping on this culinary-medicinal bandwagon, and today companies such as Mars, Inc. are working with organizations such as the American Cocoa Association and other well-renowned labs to study a variety of aspects of chocolate consumption related to health benefits (Presilla, 57). These types of collaborations have undoubtedly had an impact on the branding and marketing spheres of the chocolate industries (Image 2).

Image 2: Along with other large chocolate manufacturers, Hershey’s has attempted to capitalize on the growing interest in antioxidant “superfoods.” However, according to an 2013 article from Confectionary New.com, the contents of some of Hershey’s labels such as this one have come under legal fire (Nieburg, 2013). 

As scientists learn more about specific compounds and how to integrate these into our diet in a healthful way, one cannot help but be reminded of the ancient origins of “chocolate as medicine.” The “Four Humours” system is an interesting example that reflects the attitudes and scientific knowledge of people at the time. Though food and medicine would eventually occupy largely separate entities over time, and chocolate gained an identity a dessert commodity, recent inquiries into chocolate’s flavenol content (Presilla 57-59) and how to integrate it healthfully into our diet are reminiscent of the ancient focus on achieving balance as a primary health goal. Though only a thin line separates dietary enhancements from actual pharmaceuticals (Presilla, 59), Hippocrates, a predecessor of Galen, seemed to have come to a similar conclusion, ““Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”







Dillinger, Teresa L., Patricia Barriga, Sylvia Escárcega, Martha Jimenez, Diana Salazar Lowe, and Louis E. Grivetti. “Food of the gods: cure for humanity? A cultural history of the medicinal and ritual use of chocolate.” The Journal of nutrition 130, no. 8 (2000): 2057S-2072S.

Moss, Sarah, and Alexander Badenoch. Chocolate: a global history. Reaktion Books, 2009.

National Library of Medicine. “The world of Shakespeare’s humors” url: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/shakespeare/fourhumors.html. 19 Sept 2013.

Nieburg, Oliver. “District court will not dismiss Hershey antioxidant labeling suit.” Confectionary News.com. (2013).

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

Wilson, Philip K. “Centuries of seeking chocolate’s medicinal benefits.” The Lancet 376, no. 9736 (2010): 158-159.