Tag Archives: Aztecs

Health Benefits of Chocolate

May 2019, Final Multimedia Essay

Obesity Rates and Diet

Obesity is rapidly on the rise and has been classified as one of the largest public health issues known today. Obesity is a disease that can cause an individual to be at risk for various other health complications such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses. In the Untied States, the population of overweight children has tripled since 1980 causing around two-thirds of the American population to be considered overweight (Albritton, 2010). There is a stark contrast between the health of the population and the modernization of society. It has been shown that as populations continue to grow and society continues to modernize and improve, the health of individuals is on the downfall. Worldwide there has been a six-fold increase in the number of individuals who suffer from diabetes since 1985. In India, it was noted that 11 percent of the population suffers from obesity, whereas in Mexico this was found to be 14 percent (Albritton, 2010). This is in part related to the large increase in sugar and sugar filled substances available to the public. Marion Nestle, found that on average Americans consume around 31 teaspoons of sugar a day, half of this coming from soft drinks (Albritton, 2010). Because of the Industrial Revolution and the advancement of technology, sugar (one of the cheapest food ingredients along with salt and fat) has been used by various companies to increase mass production.  

Just as the sugar consumption has been increasing, there is a rapid increase in salt and fat consumption. Today in the United States, salt consumption has increased by twenty percent over a ten-year period. Consequently, as people increase their salt consumption they look for a substance to quench their thirst, which in many cases is satisfied with sugar beverages; thus, increasing sugar consumption. Additionally, there has been around a twenty-fold increase in fat consumption since 2005 (Albritton, 2010). Because of the rapid increase in chronic disease, the World Health Organization in 2003 enacted certain recommendations for specific dietary intakes. For example, they stated that sugars should not go beyond ten percent of an individual’s daily calorie intake. Despite these recommendations, the junk food business has catered towards children’s craving snacks causing American children to receive around twenty five percent of calorie intake from snacks and therefore a continuous increase in sugar consumption (Albritton, 2010).

Obesity Rates by Regions from 1990-2011

Misconception of Chocolate

While most of these sugary, salty and fatty substances come from other junk food brands rather than chocolate, many individuals continue to associate chocolate as a primary cause for the increase in health risks among individuals. Today, chocolate companies have transformed a substance that was once glorified and solely consumed by the elite into one that has become negatively viewed and mass produced. Just as in all other industries, the influence of technology has allowed for chocolate brands to increase their production rate by mass producing a variety of different forms of chocolate. Consequently, individuals have shifted from consuming the rich and pure form of chocolate to consuming a highly processed type that includes the use of more sugar and cheaper ingredients. However, this does not mean that all types of chocolate must be categorized as having a negative impact on an individual’s health but rather that there must be more precaution when choosing what and how much chocolate to consume. Contrary to popular belief, chocolate, can have a wide range of health benefits if the consumer properly selects for the correct type, quality and quantity of chocolate.  

History of Chocolate and Health

Chocolate was first used by the Olmec in 1100 BC. The cacao comes from the tree known as Theobroma Cacao originally found in the Amazon basin. The name itself, originates from the Greek language: Theo which means god and Broma which means drink. The Incas considered this drink to be “a drink of the gods” and therefore the elite were the only ones who were allowed to drink from it (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009). They believed the fruit provided wisdom and power while the chocolate drink would benefit their health. The Aztec Emperor Montezuma referred to the drink as “A divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue” (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009). Not only did they view cacao as an energy substance but also thought of it as having aphrodisiac properties. It was noted that the Aztec emperor would drink a large amount of chocolate each day before engaging in sexual intercourse (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Theobroma Cacao Tree

When the Spaniards discovered chocolate and observed the way the Aztecs used this substance, they soon realized the medicinal benefits the cacao drink could have. The Aztecs would primarily consume this drink before hard labor, in order to avoid getting tired throughout the day (Coe & Coe, 2007). As the discovery of chocolate began to spread, the literature began documenting the health benefits of chocolate. In 1592 the Badianus Manuscript stated that the cocoa flowers had the ability to reduce fatigue. In 1590, the Florentine Codex stated that cocoa could be used to treat fever, diarrhea and heart weakness (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). In 1591 Juan de Cárdenas published the treatise on New World Foods and described that if cacao was prepared a certain way (toasting, grinding and mixing with atole) this could aid in digestion and make an individual powerful and joyful (Coe & Coe, 2007). Soon after the Spanish discovery of chocolate, it was introduced throughout Europe and in 1741 Linnaeus documented the role of chocolate as a source of nourishment, a cure for illness and an aphrodisiac. In 1834 prior to the first chocolate boom, the Dispensatory of the United States stated that chocolate was nutritious and should only be consumed as a drink in the morning as a substitute for an individual’s morning coffee (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Although the Aztecs and the Mayas mainly consumed chocolate as a liquid drink, the Industrial Revolution popularized chocolate as solid bars. In 1847 Joseph Fry created the first chocolate bar and soon after the first chocolate boom occurred between 1880-1940, when there was a spike in income and more people began purchasing and consuming chocolate (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). The creation of two key inventions during this time, Hydraulic press and Dutch-process, allowed for diversity in the chocolate making business. The Hydraulic press was used to strip away the fats from the cocoa and produce cocoa butter from the beans. The Dutch-process introduced the alkalization of the cocoa which could change the color of the chocolate products made (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). These key inventions allowed for the creation of different forms of chocolate, which large chocolate companies would benefit from in order to expand their specific brand. Chocolate was soon created in the form of cereals, cakes, ice cream and even lotion. However, chocolate bars continued to be among the most popular type of chocolate consumed in the American economy.

Not only were chocolate bars consumed by children but also by soldiers during the American Civil War. With the new packaging and production of chocolate bars, the soldiers were able to easily and quickly consume this new food product. Similar to the Aztecs, the soldiers took advantage of this energy dense food product. During the war and specifically in times of emergency, the chocolate bars would help provide soldiers an easy and efficient way to sustain themselves throughout battle (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Use of Chocolate in the Army

Biochemistry of Chocolate

In addition to energy, chocolate has been studied to provide a large range of health benefits including cardiovascular benefits, insulin resistance, lipid levels, antioxidant effects, mental health benefits and many more. In an interview with Marissa Zarco, MS RDN she noted the key reason for such health benefits comes from the micronutrients found in chocolate specifically flavanols. Mrs. Zarco explained that the flavanols found in chocolate exhibit a vasodilating effect on the human body and therefore can have a positive effect on cardiovascular diseases and blood pressure.

Flavanols are a subcategory of polyphenols which are found in plants and have been proven to alter the function of different pathways in the body. Flavanols are made up of two aromatic rings which are bound together by a three-carbon chain (Farhat, Drummond, Fyfe, Al- Dujaili, 2014). Flavanols can be subdivided into monomers which are called epicatechin and catechin and polymers which are known as procyanidins. The monomers are more common in various different types of fruit and the procyanidins give cocoa the bitter taste (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009).  Flavanols have the ability to reduce blood pressure, improve cardiovascular effects through vasodilation, antioxidant effects by reducing reactive oxygen species and improving platelet levels etc.

Health Benefits of Flavanols

Specifically, flavanols activate nitric oxide concentration levels, which can help combat reactive oxygen species and prevent oxidative stress. When the body has too high a concentration of reactive oxygen species such as oxygen free radicals, the body will go into oxidative stress and cause for the development of severe diseases. Therefore, a high flavanol diet will allow for an increase in the nitric oxide concentration which can lead to vasodilation, prevent cell adhesion and platelet aggregation. However, not all types of chocolate contain the same amount of flavanol content because of the reduction in the flavanol levels that occurs as the cocoa beans are processed. (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009).  

Three Factors to Consider

When choosing which chocolate to buy, an individual must consider three factors: type, quality, and quantity of chocolate. When choosing the type of chocolate there are usually three options: dark, milk and white chocolate. An individual should aim to choose one that has the highest amount of cocoa with the lowest amount of sugar (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). In order to create the different types of chocolates, they must undergo manufacturing steps and therefore some are richer in flavanols, cocoa nibs, milk or added sugars compared to others.

Dark chocolate compared to milk and white chocolate has the highest number of cocoa solids and lowest amount of sugar and is rich in flavanols. Milk chocolate has a small amount of cocoa solids mixed with a milk substance whether it be condensed or powdered. Lastly, white chocolate is the least pure out of the three, this type of chocolate has no cocoa solids and is instead made up of twenty percent of cocoa butter in addition to a milk product (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Three Types of Chocolate

The quality of chocolate is assessed by the number of ingredients, the proportion of ingredients, and the processing methods the chocolate goes through. The key ingredients that are considered are: cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder. When choosing a chocolate an individual should pay close attention to the label and determine the proportion of cocoa nibs compared to all other ingredients (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Cocoa Nibs

Lastly, the quantity of chocolate is important when analyzing the nutritional benefits. In the past, many nutritionists recommended individuals who were suffering from obesity and/or trying to lose weight to completely eliminate chocolate from their diet. However, today nutritionists have realized the importance of chocolate in protecting the human body from severe diseases or a state of oxidative stress and therefore have emphasized the need to restrict the amount consumed rather than completely eliminate it. Studies have shown that small doses of 5-10g daily of dark chocolate can positively enhance human health whether it be through anti-inflammation, hypertension, and/or altering plasma lipid levels (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Overindulgence of Chocolate

Blood Pressure

Moderate consumption of dark chocolate can help with lowering blood pressure. A study conducted with the Kuna individuals stated that because of their high levels of consumption of chocolate beverages they exhibited remarkably low blood pressure states. However, after further investigation it was noted that this study was not properly conducted and the correlation between the levels of chocolate consumption of the Kuna individuals and blood pressure was not accurate (Howe, 2012). However, this is not to say that current studies have not found a correlation between chocolate consumption and blood pressure.

It has been shown that a regular intake of dark chocolate promotes blood vessel dilation because of the effect of polyphenols on increasing nitric oxide concentration and thus lowering blood pressure (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). Additionally, chocolate has some levels of potassium which can result in the release of sodium ions therefore aiding the regulation of blood pressure levels. The Rusconi et al. (2012) study assed the relationship between different types of chocolate and blood pressure. The study recruited a group of adult males and had them consume a certain amount of either dark or white chocolate every day. Over the course of 28 days they noticed a decrease in blood pressure in the participants who only consumed dark chocolate (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Plasma Lipid Levels

Chocolate can also improve an individual’s plasma lipid levels. Specifically, cocoa butter found in dark chocolate contains oleic acid which is said to affect lipid levels. Cocoa butter has been found to increase HDL cholesterol, decrease LDL cholesterol and decrease the availability of triglycerides in the human body, which can then have a positive effect on the presence of cardiovascular diseases. A study found this to be true after a group of participants consumed around 75g of dark chocolate a day for three weeks. While this did not hold for the consumption of white chocolate, when assessing milk chocolate the researchers also found there to be a decrease in the triglyceride levels and an increase in the HDL cholesterol levels (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Mental Health

Chocolate can have an impact on mental health and cravings. Because chocolate contains highly branched amino acids, there can be an increase in the amount of serotonin released. Serotonin is neurotransmitter that is linked to depression: low levels of serotonin can increase depression. Therefore, by increasing serotonin levels, chocolate can help improve an individual’s mood. This can be observed throughout a women’s menstrual cycle. During this time a women’s progesterone levels decrease and their cravings for chocolate increase; thus, combatting the effect of depression during this time (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Chocolate and Mood


Although there is a rapid rise in obesity rates and chronic diseases it is incorrect to generalize this to the effect of chocolate products. As shown, there are a great amount of studies that have been conducted in order to explore the health benefits of chocolate. While it is true that chocolate can negatively impact human health, this is not always the case. By focusing on the three factors: type, quality and quantity when consuming chocolate an individual protects him/herself from the negative effects that can be seen when someone over consumes chocolate that has high amounts of sugar and other cheap ingredients. While, most studies focus on dark chocolate and its health benefits there should be more research focused on how to make this type of chocolate more accessible to the entire population. A valuable food product such as chocolate, should not only be restricted to the elite, as it once was with the Aztecs and Maya, but rather consumed and enjoyed by all.


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The Movement of Cacao and its Contributions to Today’s Contradictory Chocolate Culture

Chocolate. Convenient, but luxurious. Heartwarming, yet harmful to health. Innocently childish, but sinfully sexual. Rich and elite, yet somehow democratized. The cultural impact and social connotations of chocolate are about as diverse and confounding as the chemical makeup of the cacao beans themselves. Metaphorically and physically, it seems as if chocolate can take on any form we impose on it. It has no strict definition, so it either contributes to the confusing complexity of our culture today or is oversimplified through the imposition of a specific but incomplete structure. One might wonder how and why chocolate, specifically, so profoundly developed these odd cultural characteristics in the Western world.

The development of the role of chocolate in society today ties fundamentally back to the effect of the spread of chocolate from its Mesoamerican home to Europe, when the functionality of chocolate shifted and developed into what we know today. Whereas all aspects of chocolate production and consumption were intertwined and fundamentally connected in Mesoamerican society, its spread to Europe caused an irreversible disconnect between all stages of the chocolate experience. Chocolate no longer served as a reflection of or connection to humanity and society. Instead, it took on an exotic quality, able to be molded into the desires of the person.  It became a social construct and developed a standardized, homogenous cultural trap for Westerners, both fulfilling and now defining their own desires rather than reflecting it.

In Mesoamerican society, where cacao was first cultivated and consumed, cacao served as a pillar of the social, cultural, and religious structures and was as a crucial reflection of the state of society as a whole (Coe 17, 39-40). Mesoamerican people, specifically the Aztec and Maya, integrated cacao into every portion of their life and were connected to cacao and chocolate at every stage of its harvesting, consumption, or use otherwise. Cacao served as a currency, a luxury food for the elite, a powerful source of energy for warriors, a symbol of religious significance, and a deep and meaningful connection to the significance and origins of life (Leissle 30-32). All members of society were aware of its role at every stage of development and consumption and felt a personal stake in maintaining and cherishing the importance of the cacao plant. Each person’s life was intrinsically connected to that of the cacao plant (Coe 41-42). Cacao reinforced the social structure, the culture, and the way of life, and consequently also reflected it.

However, cacao’s connection to European societies was intrinsically different. Europeans were introduced to cacao with prejudice, with a mindset already in place that would forever change the way that they interact with the plant. Their goals in traveling to the Americas were to find cures and remedies for all that seemed to be plaguing their own societies. They were looking for sources of wealth, medicine, romance, and more (Coe 96).  And with such a strong, desperate desire to find these things, they ended up fabricating them out of whatever they found, especially cacao. The first Europeans to “discover” cacao already had a destiny planned out for cacao before even setting eyes on it, and this destiny was what they brought back to their home.

What does this mean for the contribution of cacao and chocolate to Europe’s culture? Clearly, since the very beginning, chocolate served as a mode of fabricating a reality that fit the wishes and desires of Europeans. It served as an exotic, luxurious drink of the elite (Leissle 35-36). It served as a medicine, a cure-all for the various ailments that plagued European society (Coe 126-129). It was simultaneously sexualized (Coe 171) for adults and later purified for children. It was politically, religiously, and medically debated (Leissle 35). Chocolate could be anything and everything. Since Europeans felt no historical, traditional, or other connection to cacao, they had complete discretion over the role it played in their own lives. As this power fell into the hands of millions of Europeans, the role of cacao was suddenly no longer well-defined. Chocolate became a little bit of everything, but it thus fell victim to not truly being much of anything. Because of this, it escapes specific categorizations and is associated with general contradicting characteristics (sensuality, wealth, luxury, innocence, etc.). Take, for example, a Ferrero Rocher advertisement, displaying chocolate as a luxury for the wealthy (Ferrero Rocher). Another advertisement, released by Sainsbury, depicts quite the opposite scenario where chocolate is meant to warm the hearts of the jaded common men fighting in WWI (Sainsbury’s).

Ferrero Rocher Commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jld1rpsrtSI

Sainsbury Commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWF2JBb1bvM

Or consider, for instance, a Godiva commercial where chocolate is advertised as a highly gendered, sexualized product (Godiva Chocolates). Yet, we can quickly turn to a Cadbury commercial that ties chocolate to innocent young children and family values (Cadbury):

Godiva Commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfA1iAgPczY  

Cadbury Commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0eEqeizNCA

Curiously, as early Europeans defined cacao and chocolate culture, they were unconsciously setting themselves up to later be dominated by the same product that they once controlled. Besides its enticing flavors, the ability to fit any desire gradually made chocolate extremely popular, which transferred power back to cacao. The Western world trapped itself in a generalizing, homogenifying culture defined by chocolate’s cultural associations. Today, we see that chocolate has grown so powerful that now it defines for us the contradictory culture that we initially created for it.

One of the clearest examples of this is how cacao’s role changed in the reinforcement of class structure. In Mesoamerican society, cacao reinforced strict social dichotomies, mainly through how each class interacted with the substance (Leissle 33) (Martin and Sampeck 39-40). The chocolate drink and cacao cakes were for the nobility and warriors (Coe 33, 76, 95).  Lower classes did not consume it often (Coe 95), but they were fundamentally connected to cacao ecologically, financially (as a currency), and symbolically (Leissle 30). No matter the class, everyone was aware of every step of cacao harvesting, use, and value addition. This universal awareness of cacao’s role in society seemed to create a very transparent social structure.

When cacao moved to Europe, it took on a different way of reinforcing class structure. Cacao production was moved to far away plantations in Sao Tome, Principe, Ghana, Nigeria, Côte D’Ivoire, and more (Martin and Sampeck 49-50). Cacao stopped reflecting society or connecting cacao and humanity. We are no longer familiar with who grows it, how it is made, and how it affects us. We have trapped ourselves in a world of mirrors, where all that is visible is our final personal interaction with the product. All else is hidden behind closed doors. Europeans could define the role that chocolate played; they could show what they wanted, hide what they wanted, cherish some aspects, and spit on others. But, fragmenting cacao’s value and social impact inherently fragmented humanity as well.

It is common in this day and age to believe that ancient societies like those of the Aztec and Maya were incredibly powerful, stable, and knowledgeable. It appears as if these people held the key to life, youth, health, happiness, and more, but this is not necessarily true. The Maya and Aztec appeared successful because their lifestyle was centered around traditions and objects that dated back centuries, possibly even millenia. In contrast, with the diversity of concepts, foods, objects, and more that the Europeans had been introduced to which had no traditional or fundamental connection, they were essentially given the incredible power to decide for themselves how to incorporate each new discovery into their own society. By pure nature of the situation, as we see with cacao specifically, out of a stable and established culture grew a fluid, moldable, and complex one that has trapped Westerners in a contradictory culture that now ironically defines their roles for them.

Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Cadbury. “Cadbury – Mum’s Birthday TV Advert – 2018 (60 secs).” YouTube, Cadbury, 12 Jan. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0eEqeizNCA.

Ferrero Rocher. “Ferrero Rocher: Christmas Greetings.” YouTube, Ferrero Rocher, 29 Nov. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jld1rpsrtSI.

Godiva Chocolates UK. “New Godiva Masterpieces Chocolates. Chocolate Never Felt so Good.” YouTube, Godiva Chocolates UK, 3 Oct. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfA1iAgPczY.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. Special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37–60., doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

Sainsbury’s. “1914 | Sainsbury’s Ad | Christmas 2014.” YouTube, Sainsbury’s, 12 Nov. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWF2JBb1bvM.

The Industrial Revolution: Chocolate for All!

Take a moment to Imagine not having access to the luxury of indulging in chocolate. It’s hard to believe that prior to the Industrial Revolution, chocolate was considered more of an elite privilege that was practically out of the common man’s reach. This was partially due to the fact that the cost of growing and producing chocolate was extremely high –  it was a laborious and time-consuming task, and only the earnings of the elite could support consumption on a regular basis. The Industrial Revolution birthed the modernization and development of chocolate production through mechanization, completely changing the effects around consumption. The Industrial Revolution lowered the production cost, increased efficiency, and improved taste, texture, and appearance of the product as a whole. Today, chocolate is everywhere! From well-known candy bars such as Hershey’s, and Mars (currently known as the Milky Way bar), to chocolate syrup mixed into mocha’s that is available at almost every coffee shop. For the purpose of this blog post, I would like to touch on a few of the incredible advances in the chocolate making industry made possible by the Industrial Revolution: the conche, winnowing machine, hydraulic press, and the marriage of chocolate and sugar.

Often referred to as the “food of the gods,” cacao was used by the Maya, Aztec, and Spanish to create a chocolatey drink that would most likely taste pretty bitter and unappealing compared to the endless forms, tastes, and textures available to us today. However, by the time the Industrial Revolution occurred, a man by the name of Rudolf Lindt was also craving something different – an indulgence that was far less coarse and gritty. He craved a chocolate that was smooth, offering that irreplaceable melt-in-your-mouth texture. Thanks to Lindt, his dream became a reality using a machine called the conche. The conche was developed in 1879 and radically changed the texture, taste, and appearance of chocolate. Instead of grinding the chocolate using a metate (just like the Maya, Aztec, and Spanish), the conche continuously stirred the chocolate while using heat to create a creamy, melty, heavenly texture. Rumor has it that Lindt discovered this technique by accidentally leaving the conche running for a few days at a time. In my opinion, what started out as an accident actually turned in to one of the tastiest chocolate making discoveries.

This youtube video, “Production of Dark Chocolate Bean to Bar”, demonstrates the use a conche. As you can see, the chocolate is being stirred and particles are being polished in order to achieve that flawlessly smooth texture we experience when eating a Lindt truffle.

Another important improvement in the quality and texture of chocolate came about by the development the winnowing machine. As Kristy Leissle explains, “Prior to the Industrial Revolution, cocoa beans had to be broken and winnowed by hand” (Leissle 50). The process of winnowing by hand was extremely tedious and oftentimes excruciating, due to the fibrous husks that could easily cut the laborers’ hands and slip underneath their fingernails. Leissle goes on to explain the modern process as much more forgiving and user friendly. “Today, a machine usually cracks the beans, loosening or removing parts of the shell and breaking the seed into smaller pieces, which are then called nibs. A winnower sorts the nibs into piles of similar size, most often by vibrating them through screens with varying mesh” (Leissle 50). The winnowing process is crucial because when shells are not properly removed the taste and texture is compromised. The process is further explained and demonstrated in the video below.

This video from Craft Chocolate Tv explains/demonstrates modern day cracking and winnowing with the help of a winnowing machine.

One of the most impactful inventions in the chocolate industry was developed during the 18th century – The Hydraulic Press. Coenraad Johannes Van Houten’s hydraulic press completely transformed chocolate by pressing the chocolate liquor with immense force until two products appeared: cocoa butter and a solid cake. This process came about in 1828 when Van Houten decided that he wanted to create a powdered chocolate with a much lower fat content than what was already available. So, “For this, he eventually developed a very efficient hydraulic press; untreated chocolate ‘liquor’ –  the end result of the grinding process – contains about 53 percent cacao butter, but Van Houten’s machine managed to reduce this to 27-28 percent, leaving a ‘cake’ that could be pulverized into fine powder” (Coe & Coe 234). Applying this type of pressure with the hydraulic press made the production of chocolate much faster and more cost effective. Additionally, the Dutch chemist used alkaline salts to improve the flavor and prevent bitterness, which was well received by the masses.

Photo from world standards images — hydraulic press invented by Coenraad Johannes Van Houten

Lastly, I would like to discuss the important concept of wedding of chocolate and sugar. This marriage of these two products played a huge part in the development and appeal of chocolate. Sugar was so important that “During the period 1750-1850 every English person, no matter how isolated or how poor, and without regard to age or sex, learned about sugar… A rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, sugar had been transformed into a virtual necessity by 1850” (Mintz 148). Manufacturer’s such as Cadbury and Fry began to flourish. As a result of utilizing sugar instead of other more expensive ingredients (such as vanilla), chocolate became available to the different classes due to the significant cost reduction. It also boosted chocolate’s appeal to children through advertisements using images of smiling kids like the boy featured in the picture below.

Fry’s chocolate advertisement is trying to demonstrate how their chocolate can please everyone — even an unhappy child previously throwing a tantrum. This advertisement appeals to both parents and children.

Because of the Industrial Revolution, chocolate went from being an expensive drink that appealed to an elite group of wealthy individuals, to a treat that men, women, and children could enjoy regardless of the social class they belonged to. As mentioned above, the conche, winnowing machine, hydraulic press, and the marriage of chocolate and sugar all played a role in making chocolate appealing and readily available to a much broader audience.

Works cited:

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

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

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


Cracking & Winnowing Cacao – Episode 3 – Craft Chocolate Tv CraftChocolateTV – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R35XDPNy93Q

Fry’s Chocolate advertisement.JPG.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 28 Nov 2016, 03:40 UTC. 15 Mar 2019, 19:52 <https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Fry%27s_Chocolate_advertisement.JPG&oldid=222289146>.

Van Houten’s Hydraulic Press, http://www.worldstandards.eu/images/cocoa%20press.jpg

KADZAMA. “Production of Dark Chocolate Bean to Bar / Melangeur 50 Kg | KADZAMA.” YouTube, YouTube, 24 Apr. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhIF_V2Y7Zo.

Deceptive Chocolate: Tracing Counterfeit Cacao Culture from Aztec Currency to Modern Production

Paying with a one hundred dollar bill in any store will prompt cashiers to raise their eyebrows. Yet, their skepticism is not unfounded. According to the United States Department of Treasury, approximately $70 million counterfeit dollars currently circulate the market (Wilber). While people remain hyperaware about the current proliferation of counterfeit currency, this practice is not new. One form of imitation currency evolved during the Post Classic Period (1300-1500) in Mesoamerica, a reign known as the Aztec empire. During this time, the Aztecs witnessed the spread of counterfeit currency — their highly prized cacao beans.

The number of cacao beans a person possessed during the Aztec empire determined their social status. People used cacao to purchase commodities such as turkey hens, pay employees wages, and host social climbing parties (Coe 99). Since cacao became a difficult commodity to obtain in large amounts and grow quickly, Aztec cacao distributors began faking cacao beans (Coe 100). As cacao galvanized followers across the world over time, major cacao production companies started faking all aspects of cacao from chocolate bar filler ingredients to brand labels.

Despite public denouncement of counterfeit culture throughout history, cacao counterfeit culture has never truly gone away. The idea of counterfeit cacao, which has evolved into counterfeit chocolate, has prevailed in society due to scanty regulation and created more consumer health risks.

The Beginnings of Deception in the Aztec Empire

Cacao was used to trade for various commodities such as food products and animal parts

Pre-Conquest Mesoamericans exalted huge amounts of cacao beans. Instead of calculating cacao value by weight or bulk, merchants assessed cacao value by counting beans (Coe 81). Key leaders such as Texcoco’s Nezahualcoyotl and Tenochtitlan’s Motecuhuzoma adopted this mindset when they stashed millions of beans in their vaults and graves to preserve their wealth (Coe 82). Due to the overwhelming potential of of commodities, the Aztecs began creating and refining fake cacao bean production.

Anthropologist Joel Palka, who investigated archaeological sites in Mexico and Guatemala, unearthed the widespread use of clay cacao beans. (Garthwaite). In an interview with The Smithsonian, Palka suggests that these beans may have passed through the market as a real currency or even substituted for cacao during rituals. As the Aztec’s main currency, billions of cacao beans circulated the market. Most certainly, cacao counterfeit currency reached the wealthy who possessed millions of beans. Since it would be impossible for the wealthy to throw out all fakes among millions of cacao beans, this suggests counterfeit cacao culture existed and proliferated.

Creating a Fake Currency

In a mountain of cacao beans, it becomes difficult to discern real beans from their fake counterparts

Even with billions of cacao beans exchanges, Aztec cacao sellers took great measures to disguise their fake cacao. According to Bernard Sahagun, a Spaniard documenting Aztec lives, cacao sellers processed fakes using hot ashes, chalk, and a generous coating of amaranth dough, wax, or avocado pits (Coe 100). To further camouflage their counterfeit cacao, sellers mixed the fake cacao with pure Theobroma cacao beans. Other cacao deception experts exploited empty shells by filling the insides with mud (De Maré).

The many methods used to deceive buyers presented risks, such as exposure and banishment, but documentation of this practice makes counterfeiting seem universal at the time and for the most part, unchallenged by leadership (De Maré). While people no longer use cacao as a currency, the same counterfeiting ethos has not been lost in society. In fact, this cynical practice of counterfeiting still pervades the chocolate market and can drastically affect consumers’ health. This is now chocolate adulteration.

Counterfeit Cacao Becomes Adulterated Chocolate

In Europe, it is common to see adulteration in the production phase. Since nineteenth century France, producers have replaced cocoa butter with egg yolks or mutton and added alkali to artificially darken chocolate (Coe 243). More recently, the 2005 European government allowed chocolate producers to add any sugar to chocolate along with 40% chocolate filler and still label it chocolate, despite chocolate purists’ outcry (Bolenz). Unsurprisingly, producers then selected cheaper fillers such as lactose Helianthus tuberosus flour, pea and oat fibers, and potato starches (Bolenz).

During a similar time, government leaders accused several companies, including Cadbury and Hershey, of adulterating cacao butter (Squicciarini). Now companies can avoid this public humiliation by rebranding products. Labeling products “chocolate flavored” in order to distract the consumer from the product’s true cacao percentage is considered legal (Bolenz). Since these corporations control a large percentage of the chocolate distribution chain, customers have a limited sense of what chocolate tastes like without additional fillers. The popularity of chocolate adulteration, exemplified by the participation of two big five companies, shows how chocolate fraud endures during modern times.

Illegitimate companies pass off their products as reliable but their counterfeit products pose extreme dangers to customers

Counterfeiting becomes especially visible when malicious producers employ flashy brand names to attract consumers. During Lunar New Year in 2017, the French government discovered a Chinese company that plagiarized Ferrero and Mars stickers to pass off their fake chocolate as legitimate (Yu). Unfortunately, many people probably purchased and consumed the counterfeit candies containing chemicals or larvae before then (Yu). While governments may punish counterfeit chocolate, the proliferation of fake chocolate, from fake branding to adulterated ingredients, persists and poses significant risks to consumers.

Evidence of counterfeit cacao dates back to the Aztec empire, but the practice remains rampant today. With the advent of new counterfeiting practices, the consumer now faces potential health risks. Only when more people start learning about cacao and chocolate counterfeiting, demand recipe transparency from companies, and pressure leaders to regulate and dismantle unethical companies will consumers learn to savor the taste of pure, unadulterated chocolate.

Works Cited

Bolenz, S., Amtsberg, K. and Schäpe, R. (2006), The broader usage of sugars and fillers in milk chocolate made possible by the new EC cocoa directive. International Journal of Food Science & Technology, 41: 45-55.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third Edition, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2013.

De Maré, Laurie. “Museum of the National Bank of Belgium.” A Tasty Currency: Cocoa – Museum of the National Bank of Belgium, 4 Mar. 2013, http://www.nbbmuseum.be/en/2013/03/kakao.htm.

Garthwaite, Josie. “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Feb. 2015, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/archaeology-chocolate-180954243/.

Squicciarini, Mara P, and Johan Swinnen. The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Wilber, Del Quentin. “Fantastic Fakes: Busting a $70 Million Counterfeiting Ring.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 27 Apr. 2016, www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-counterfeit-money/.

Yu, Douglas. “Fake Ferrero and Mars Chocolate Seized in China.” Confectionerynews.com, William Reed Business Media Ltd., 8 Feb. 2017, www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2017/02/08/Fake-Ferrero-and-Mars-chocolate-seized-in-China.

Media Citations

“Chinese Counterfeit Chocolate with Larvae Worms.” YouTube, YouTube, 3 Sept. 2007, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sO9OTPXbXUA.

Ross, Kurt. “Cacao Trading Manual.” Codex Mendoza: Aztec Manuscript. Barcelone, Espagne: Miller Graphics, 1978. Print.

Greenwood-Haigh, David. “Cocao Beans.” Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/users/dghchocolatier-5671698/

From Foam to Milk: The History of Chocolate Ingredients

March 2019, Multimedia Essay 1,

Around 1500 BCE, the Olmecs discovered cacao, which was later introduced to the Maya and Aztecs and eventually reached Europe and the United States (Coe & Coe, 2007). The way in which chocolate was made throughout time remained relatively similar; however, the ingredients that were used in the different regions and time periods differed. Depending on where one lived and the geographical and economic conditions of that region, the specific ingredients aside from the cacao pods were unique. While some individuals added more flowers and/or chili, others added more cinnamon and/or milk. This continuous addition of different ingredients slowly transformed chocolate to what we know it as today (Coe & Coe, 2007).

Chocolate Food Products

Maya and Aztec Chocolate:

Earlier civilizations such as the Maya and Aztecs placed great importance on the froth-producing process. By transferring the liquid from one vessel to another at a specific height, foam would be produced. The foam was considered to be the most favorable part of the chocolate drink (Coe & Coe, 2007). The image depicted below, as well as other evidence from the period, demonstrates that both the early and late Maya and Aztecs highly valued the foam making process.

Princeton Vase: Collecting the foam

The Maya typically consumed their chocolate hot rather than cold. Two essential ingredients that the late Maya incorporated into their drinks were vanilla and ear flower. In the Americas they also incorporated chili (Capsicum annum), achiote, flowers, sugar and vanilla, which touched upon different taste types, such as spicy, sweet, floral, unammi, nutty and starchy (Sampeck & Thayn, 2017). Because of the economic situation and lack of resources in some regions, not all individuals were able to use a variety of different ingredients to make the drink. However, they still were determined to create a chocolate drink, so they instead substituted some of the more expensive ingredients for others that they could afford. For example, the Batido made by the Guatemalan Indians included vanilla, achiote, ear flower and ground sapote kernels which was then mixed with black pepper and cacao. However, because this region did not have the financial means to purchase and consume a large amount of true cacao, communities learned to preserve the cacao and conceal the flavoring of their drinks with the addition of black pepper. In the Batido, there was much more black pepper added compared to cacao (Coe & Coe, 2007).   

The Aztecs shared similar practices with the Maya but differed in the ingredients and the way in which the drink was consumed. Similar to the Maya, the Aztecs treasured the foam that was produced from the drink, stating that the foam was the healthiest part of the chocolate drink (Coe & Coe, 2007).  However, instead of consuming the chocolate drink hot, this beverage was usually served cold.

The Aztecs, just as the Maya, began adding a variety of different ingredients which would then be used for different occasions and given to different individuals. There was never one single form of chocolate recipe but rather a large variety of different recipes and ingredients that would be used to make them. Some of these ingredients included maize, seeds from the Ceiba tree, vanilla, and flowers (Coe & Coe, 2007). Among this wide range of ingredients, the Aztecs highly valued three essential ingredients: Hueinacaztli, Tlilxochitl, and Mecaxochitl. Hueinacaztli was the ear-shaped petal from the flower of Cymbopetalum penduliflorum, Tlilxochitl was the black flower, which today we refer to as vanilla, and Mecaxochitl, the string flower, was related to black pepper. (Coe & Coe, 2007).

Highly Valued Foam collected from the Vessel Pouring

European Chocolate:

In the late 1500s, the Spanish, who were fascinated by the chocolate drink made by the Aztecs and its potential, brought chocolate back to their country (Editors, 2017). Soon after, they transformed the cold and bitter drink that was once consumed by the Aztecs into a much more rich and desirable drink. They followed the processing techniques created by the Maya and Aztecs but used different tools to make and serve the chocolate. Rather than pouring the chocolate from one vessel to the next, they would use the molinillo to gather the foam from the liquid. As more European countries such as Italy, France and Britain began exploring different parts of Central America, these countries also brought the product back home (Editors, 2017). Because of their geographic diversity, power and economic stability, Europeans continued to add a variety of different ingredients that were unheard of to the Maya or Aztecs. Some of these included cinnamon, almonds, hazelnut, nutmeg, clove, citron, lemon peel, achiote, musk, orange blossom, and jasmine petals (Coe & Coe, 2007). Some of the most commonly used ingredients were sugar, vanilla, anise, and cinnamon.

The recipes used to make chocolate were adapted from various different parts of Europe, and the British especially were considered to have some of the richest tasting chocolate. Antonios CoMenero de Ledesma’s 1644 recipe illustrates the diverse use of ingredients in the Europeans chocolate drinks:100 cacao beans

  • 100 cacao beans
  •             2 chillis (can substitute for black pepper)
  •             Hanful of Anise
  •             Ear flower
  •             2 Mecasuchiles
  •             1 Vanilla
  •             2 oz cinnamon
  •             12 almonds
  •             Hazelnuts
  •             ½ lbs of sugar
  •             Achiote to taste

            (Coe & Coe, 2007)

In addition to making a chocolate drink, the Europeans began to incorporate chocolate into other food cuisines. For example, black polenta was topped with chocolate bread crumbs, butter, almonds and cinnamon, pieces of liver dipped in chocolate and a chocolate soup which included cacao, milk, sugar, cinnamon and egg yolk mixed together and eaten with toast (Coe & Coe, 2007). 

Chocolate Today:

Although the production of chocolate has remained relatively similar throughout history, the specific ingredients that have been added has allowed each time period and geographical location to reflect a unique version of a chocolate drink. Today, the chocolate we consume has a greater amount of sugar and milk than what was once used. For example, Hershey’s chocolate similarly places great importance on the manufacturing and processing of the beans, but another large component is the addition of milk. The milk is combined with sugar and then mixed with chocolate liquor and cocoa butter (D’Antonio, 2006). Milk has become the essential ingredient for Hershey’s chocolate bar, which in some way hides the flavor of the true cacao beans that are used. However, without milk, Hershey’s chocolate would not be what it is known as today.

It is interesting to note the stark contrast between the chocolate used by the earlier civilization and the chocolate that is consumed today. What once required a minimal amount of ingredients to retain a unique taste now requires a variety of different and overpowering ingredients to make it appealing to the consumer. One would imagine that with technological improvements and refined processes available today, we would accentuate the true flavor of cacao; however, this is not necessarily true. The addition of ingredients such as sugar and milk have concealed the power of the cacao beans that the Maya and Aztecs cherished. The production process may have remained the same, but the quality of the products created has changed.


  1. Coe, S ., &  Coe, M. (2007) [1996]. The True History of Chocolate.
  2. D’Antonio, M. (2006). Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126
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  4. Sampeck, K., & Thayn, J. (2017). “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” pp. 72-99

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Why Did the Spaniards Choose Cane Sugar over Honey? Was This the Healthiest Choice?

Before the colonial encounter, Mesoamericans commonly consumed cacao as a chocolate beverage in ritualistic, medicinal, and social contexts. Ingredients, such as flowers, spices, and honey, were added to diversify the flavor of the beverage. Specifically, honey is the oldest sweetener known to man in the world, although its exact date of origin is unknown. However, humans did begin to use honey at least 10,000 years ago, as was demonstrated by a cave painting found in the early 1900s in Valencia, Spain.

Honey seeker depicted on 8000 year old cave painting at Arana Caves in Spain

This painting is at least 8,000 years old and shows a honey seeker, and in ancient times people in the Middle East, Roman Empire, and China collected honey to use as a sweetener, currency, and medicine (Nayik et al., 2014). When the Spaniards first encountered the Mesoamerican chocolate drink in the 1500s, it was too bitter for their palates and thus they relied on the principal spices or honey to consume the beverage comfortably (Coe & Coe, 2013). Although the intake of honey as food and medicine provided many nutritional and therapeutic benefits, soon after the Spaniards encountered chocolate, the Mesoamerican chocolate recipe was transformed in that cane sugar replaced honey as the sweetener. The sugar cane plant was a novelty to the Maya and the Aztecs when the Spaniards introduced and began to cultivate it in Mesoamerica after the Conquest (Coe & Coe, 2013). Honey as a sweetener could not satisfy the European sweet tooth, which was accustomed to the cane sugar that was introduced during medieval times in the western part of the Old World (Coe & Coe, 2013). In addition to the enhanced sweetness cane sugar offered, the chocolate recipe transformation occurred due to the increase in the perceived medicinal and nutritional properties and the source reliability that cane sugar also offered. In the modern context, however, this transformation may have not been for the best.

Despite honey’s ancient history, cane sugar quickly gained nutritional and medicinal popularity first among the wealthy and then most households in Europe. Cane sugar was first introduced to Europeans around 1100 AD, but it was classified as a spice rather than as a sweetener (Mintz, 1986). Around this time, cane sugar began to replace honey for medicinal purposes. Medical figures declared that cane sugar was more “soothing and solving” than honey (Mintz, 1986). Due to its perceived heightened medicinal properties, cane sugar was reserved for the wealthy while honey was delegated to poorer patients (Mintz, 1986). However, as cane sugar became more commonplace, honey became more expensive (Mintz, 1986). All around, cane sugar replaced honey, and this transformation was not limited to medicine. By the middle of the thirteenth century, cane sugar began to replace honey as a sweetener in wealthy households. Cane sugar came to replace honey in the diets of Europeans because of the perceived nutritional benefits it provided. It became a source of calories for the often undernourished working class. With the rise of coffee and tea, both of which lacked calories, cane sugar provided much-needed calories (Mintz, 1986). Also, cane sugar provided a cheaper alternative to other calorie-rich, but expensive, food items. Lastly, cane sugar was a better preservative than honey, as it contained the more effective sucrose (Mintz, 1986). Therefore, Europeans could save perishable foods, such as meats and fruits, for longer periods of time, which was also cost-effective. The perceived medicinal, nutritional, and financial benefits of sugar over honey led to the shift of honey as a sweetener to cane sugar as a sweetener, which played a part in the Spaniards altering the Mesoamerican chocolate recipe.

Another factor that influenced the shift from honey to cane sugar in Spaniards’ chocolate recipes was the source from which cane sugar is extracted compared to that of honey. Comparable to cane sugar’s source, honey’s source is variable and more biologically expensive.

Video representation of the honey production process

The video above describes the process of producing honey from the nectar of flowers via bees. Considering that a single bee must drink from thousands of flowers to fill its honey stomach, then serially transfer said nectar into the mouth of other bees before fanning their wings to create an air current that evaporates and thickens the nectar, the honey-making process is labor intensive on the part of the bees. Furthermore, for just one pound of honey, more than 10,000 bees will together fly three times around the world and drink from 8 million flowers. In contrast, the source of cane sugar is much more reliable and the biological cost is lower, as it is not an organism that must travel back and forth and rely on the movement of other organisms.

Video representation of the cane sugar manufacturing process

The video above demonstrates the cane sugar manufacturing process, starting from the sugar cane plant. This plant is a tropical grass that can grow up to 20 feet high. When sugar cane is ready for harvest, the tops of the grass are cut, and the base stocks are left behind so they can grow into the next crop. Due to this harvesting style, sugar cane is a renewable resource as it does not have to be replanted to produce a new crop. This is one benefit that cane sugar provides over honey, as bees must reproduce to continue the lines of queen bees and forager bees. After harvest, the sugar cane is transported to a mill and washed and cut into shreds. The shreds are crushed by rollers before they are placed in separators that remove the fibers and send the juice to evaporators. The resultant syrup is boiled to remove water, and then cooled before crystallization. More steps follow, but despite the complex extraction of cane sugar from the sugar cane plant, this source is more reliable than bees who are subject to climate change, infertility, and diseases. This reliability was summed up by Alexander the Great’s Admiral Nearchos around 300 BC, who referred to the sugar cane plant as “‘Indian reeds that make honey without bees’” (Nordic Sugar A/S, 2019) . Even during ancient times and without modern sugar production technology, the juice from the sugar cane plant was pressed out and boiled to produce crystallized sugar (Nordic Sugar A/S, 2019) . Since cane sugar production primarily relies on a renewable resource and man-made technology, it is more constant and not as biologically expensive as honey production, which makes cane sugar more readily available as a sweetener.

Although cane sugar was perceived as providing more medicinal benefits and nutritional benefits to the diets of Europeans than honey, research today discounts this belief. According to a study published in the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, since honey is denser than cane sugar, one tablespoon of honey carries more than one tablespoon of cane sugar (Anonymous, 2011). Also, honey offers some nutrients that cane sugars does not, such as antioxidants (Anonymous, 2011). Therefore, this research overrides the notion that cane sugar is medically and nutritionally superior to honey. In hindsight, replacing honey as a sweetener with cane sugar does not appear to have been the healthiest choice, as honey does provide more calories and nutrients. However, cane sugar was and still is a better preservative and its taste more enjoyable, comparable to honey.

Overall, the honey to cane sugar transformation in chocolate recipes ultimately served to sweeten the beverage at the expense of healthier consumption. Although sugar cane is a more reliable source for sweetener than flowers and bees, nowadays humans are relying on an insubstantial added sweetener. Even though honey is also an added sweetener, it is nutritiously and medically superior to cane sugar. However, cane sugar was integral to the rise in popularity of chocolate, as its sweetness and taste could not be matched by honey in the palates of Europeans.

Multimedia Sources

Hanson, Joe [It’s Okay To Be Smart]. (2016, March 28). How Do Bees Make Honey [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZlEjDLJCmg

[Imperial Sugar]. (2015, June 9). How Cane Sugar Is Made [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/EP_fgp7zYKk

Nayik, G., Shah, T., Muzaffar, K., Wani, S., Gull, A., Majid, I., & Bhat, F. (2014). Honey: Its history and religious significance: A review. Universal Journal of Pharmacy, 03(1), 5-8.


Anonymous. (2011). Honey or Sugar? Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, 40(1), 224.

Coe, S. D. and Coe, M. D. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Mintz, S. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

Nordic Sugar A/S. (2019). A Sweet Story. Retrieved March 8, 2019, from https://www.nordicsugar.com/know-your-sugar/natural-sweetness/a-sweet-story/

“Chocolate is a Fighting Food!”

Well over half a century ago the Aztec empire flourished in Mesoamerica, their soldiers marching on rations that included cacao (Coe 104). Some five hundred years later in North America, the United States military began developing chocolate rations which would stay in use from the beginning of World War II all the way into the 1990s. How is it that these two seemingly disparate cultures, separated by time, technology, and continents, chose to adopt cacao into their military rations?     

There were fundamental parallels that cacao and chocolate had in the cultures and militaries of these two nations. Both nations were not growers of cacao themselves. The Aztecs relied on trade, or tribute, to acquire their cacao. US candy companies purchased foreign cacao from consolidators and became the conduit for chocolate in the States. This meant that cacao was distributed to the populace by a certain group. Whether it is an Aztec noble or a branded candy company distributing the cacao, they distribute meaning along with the chocolate. And those cultural messages are crucial to the morale of an army in wartime, it is meant to show the soldiers that they are honored, respected, and valued. This was transmitted, in part, through the nourishment their military command provides them with.

Cacao was a highly valued commodity in Aztec lands. The Aztec could not grow it themselves in their local frost-prone region of the Mexican highlands (Coe 79). But they eagerly  sought it out through trade and tribute (Coe 79). Trade was done by a merchant class, the pochteca, who ventured out with their porters to trade for cacao beans as well as other products to bring back to the Aztec (Coe 79-80). Cacao was also acquired via tribute through the efforts of, or threat of efforts of, the Aztec military (Coe 79), and much was stockpiled in the hands of the ruling nobility (Coe 81-82).

Chocolate was also used to supply the Aztec military. Soldiers on the move were given ground cacao as a supplement to their rations (Presilla 19). Presilla mentions that this was “presumably easier to carry and prepare than whole beans requiring processing” (Presilla 19). Another important factor could be cacao’s resistance to spoilage over long periods of time. Armies of other empires have starved because they have extended too far and for too long outside the ability supply them with rations. For a more recent example, during the Spanish-American War, for every one soldier that fell in battle there were fourteen that died from insufficient provisioning or food spoilage (Hamilton 328),  in part due to their dependence on herds of animals for food (Hamilton 327), and the vulnerability of meat to spoilage. While not a complete food source, the Aztecs’ ground cacao was light, non-spoiling, calorific, mildly stimulating, and could at least slow down if not prevent starvation on extended campaigns. As a supplement to the Aztecs staple ration of toasted tortillas (Coe 73) it fed the successful, mobile army of the warrior class.

Chocolate had a special place within Aztec culture, being both a sign of status and a reward. Its availability was funneled through the merchant and noble classes, and served as a payment and an honorific to other classes. Two thousand containers a day of chocolate drinks were given to Motecuhzoma’s guards (Coe 82).  And they were not the only soldiers receiving cacao (Coe 82). Victorious soldiers were invited into the palace to be honored by the nobility, which included the drinking of cacao (Presilla 18-19). Chocolate’s place in the Aztec culture and consequently in the Aztec military was greater than its literal value through scarcity. In The True History of Chocolate, the Coes postulate that chocolate’s entrance into the military sphere may stem from the Aztecs associating it with the heart and blood, and their calling it a “right and true potion for Aztec warriors” (Coe 104).

Six hundred years later in North America, cacao had also found a valued place in US food culture. Cacao was not native to North America any more than it was to the Aztec’s Mesoamerican highlands. However, chocolate had become a widespread food treat in North America, associated with comfort, love, a special occasion, and any other identity the candy companies’ advertisers could attach to it. Chocolate was widely available, though wartime reduced its availability on the civilian market.

By World War II, the US’s army was capable of traveling vast distances very rapidly, and portable food was also essential to their success. In July 1936 the US Military’s Subsistence Research Laboratory (SRL) was formed to develop new rations for the US army (Hamilton 328). Initially they had a tiny staff and a $300 budget for researching rations (Hamilton 328). A, B, C, and K rations were developed over time, all designed to nourish troops, some with the facilities of cooking and refrigeration, some already fully prepared and ready to eat. These rations often included candy bars, such as chocolate bars, as treats.

While the Hershey Company was interested in the lucrative military rations business before SRL’s founding (Hamilton 329), but Hershey’s began working with the SRL in 1937 Field_Ration_D_chocolatewhen the company was approached by Captain Paul P. Logan of the US Quartermaster Corps who asked them to help make “a kind of survival ration” (Burger). It was not until 1939 that Field Ration D was fully approved (Ration D Bars).


(Right: Jacobson, image of a twelve-pack of  D Rations)


The D Ration or “Logan Bar” named after the aforementioned Logan (DeArmond 2), was a chocolate bar, but not a candy bar. Logan told Samuel Hinkle, an industrial chemist working for the Hershey Company, that the bar should taste “about like a boiled potato” (Bowers 10). The ingredients were “chocolate liquor, sugar, skim milk powder, cocoa butter, oat flour, vanillin” (Ration D Bars). These bars were designed to be light, easy to carry emergency food, allowing soldiers to remain mobile  for extended periods of time without the need of resupply. What sets the D ration apart from the A, B, C, and K rations are that D Rations were intended to not taste good. It had to be edible but not desirable. It was important that soldiers weren’t tempted to eat their emergency rations until necessary. Despite this, D Rations were sometimes included as a supplement to or included in other rations such as the K Ration. Later in 1943 Hershey’s developed the tropical chocolate bar which was designed to resist extreme heats of  up to 120FHersheys_Tropical_chocolate (Hershey’s Tropical Bars). Incidentally a version of this tropical bar would be brought aboard the Apollo 15 mission, probably the farthest a chocolate bar has traveled (Hershey’s Tropical Bars).

(Left: Jacobson, Image of a Tropical Ration)


Hershey’s was not the only chocolate company involved in developing and providing military rations. Nor was it the only candy company. For instance Mars, Inc. sold a variety of products, some of which, including M&Ms, were sold exclusively to the military, at least until the end of the war (Nieburg).2012-10-26-1942MMswarposterarmy1

(Left: Mirrer, M&M propoganda poster)

The SRL consulted with these companies extensively (Backer 52). These companies got some input in the specification of the food that the army received. But candy manufacturers managed to exempt themselves entirely from specifications for sales via commissary (Backer 65-66). Both through the rations and through the discretionary candy available for purchase by soldiers in the commissary, the power of branding in this captive market was something the candy companies competed hard for. And even the candies in rations were allowed a bit of variety as long as they met certain specifications (Backer 66).

The SRL not only was making military rations, but also was shaping ”the consumption of food” in the culture at large (Backer 52). The SRL researcher’s perception of what constituted an “American” food was determining what the soldiers were provided (Backer 52). When the SRL gave soldiers a HERSHEY candy bar in their K rations, or a D Ration, or sold branded items in their commissaries, they were defining and promoting what was an American food. This also shaped others’ perception of an American food. Around the world people were exposed to US soldiers eating branded foods and discarding wrappers, etc. Finally it also shaped what the American industry could produce for civilians. For a company to get a contract it had to be able to produce food to specification in large quantity, which meant, for practicality, when a factory produced food for civilians it would be of a similar kind.  Chocolate became strongly identified with US soldiers through WWII, and US brands traveled with them.

In turn, the SRL, was also influenced by the tastes of soldiers. In the words of one of the SRL’s consultants Dr. Ancel Keys: “A ration that will not be eaten is worse than useless” (Hamilton 333). After long periods of consuming K Rations, soldiers were eating only the items the liked, the chocolate bar for instance, and discarding the rest (Risch 186). This created a three way cultural interaction where the SRL had to meet the requirements of the Army, the limitations of the companies, and the tastes of the soldiers. But as the focal point, the SRL also had direct influence on all three. Companies would have to adjust their manufacturing infrastructure; the Army had to adjust its specifications; and soldiers in the end would have to eat at least in some part what was given to them.

Despite all the complication involved with ration-making, Hershey’s was fairly successful with the D Ration. Over the course of WWII more than three billion D Rations were produced and the Hershey Company received five ‘E’ awards (Ration D Bars) which are awarded to plants that have met and surpassed expectations and obstacles (Army-Navy E Award). However, while the D Ration and Tropical Rations variations would continue to be produced into the early 1990s, the entering of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) into service in 1981 (Doona 15.2) began a slow replacement process.

During World War Two, so much chocolate was being used by the military that chocolate was harder to acquire for civilians (Jacobson). This is illustrated by a 1944 Wall Street Journal Commodity Letter which, when commenting on a large shipment of cacao arriving in the US, states: “Civilians won’t find chocolate more plentiful, but the rise in shipments is expected to stave off a further cut in home front quotas” (Commodity Letter). The result is a kind of artificial hierarchy where the military and those most able to afford it have easier access to chocolate than civilians.

The type of battles fought by the US in WWII and by the Aztec empire could not have been more different, in everything from equipment, to objectives, and scale. But cacao, in the form of chocolate or ground cacao, was considered a necessary source of sustenance for these soldiers separated by 600 years and a continent. This is despite chocolate’s seemingly contradictory place within the two societies. The Aztec held cacao as a drink for the rich and powerful, and the beans were used as a currency (Presilla 18). In the States, industrialization made sweet chocolate  relatively easy to acquire and eat, while chocolate nevertheless accumulated special meaning via corporate advertising and its association with the military during WWII.

In both cultures, chocolate had a dual purpose of both being ration and reward. Especially when you consider cacao’s monetary value in the Aztec society, their soldiers were, in a sense, consuming money. For American soldiers the D Ration may not have been much of a reward, but the chocolate bars included in other rations were intended as treats and were valued as familiar comfort from home, perhaps the most familiar food in their ration. One of the issues with the K and C Ration was that it required a instructional video for the soldiers to understand how to use some of the unfamiliar ingredients (Hamilton 335). Chocolate bars add a certain level of familiarity to these sometimes unfamiliar food substances. Additionally, these candy bars would be available to be purchased from commissaries and were sought after.

As quoted previously, in The True History of Chocolate, Coe suggests that chocolate carried ritual significance for the Aztecs (Coe 104).  It is more than a ration; it has a place in the creation of morale. Advertising did not present US military rations as having any overtly mystical associations, but they were branded as special power foods. For example in the short propaganda film Food for Fighters,

emphasis is made on the scientific efforts that went into developing the meals as well as the nutritional value of it, all while demeaning the value of the Axis forces’ foods (Food for Fighters). Nestle ran an ad campaign on behalf of their rations for the US Military fn87dt1vtq8eyiwhich produced this poster touting the value of chocolate as a ration (Chocolate is a Fighting Food!). And, while postulation is not fact, as Coe acknowledges, given the amount of ritual surrounding chocolate it is not an absurd conclusion  that the Aztecs intended a morale lifting result from the honors bestowed by cacao.


(Left: Chocolate is a Fighting Food!, Vintage Ad Browser.)


All armies require good morale to be effective. In The Quartermaster Corps: Organization, Supply and Services, Erna Risch describes how important food is to morale: “The regular serving of palatable food is the greatest single factor in building and maintaining high spirit and morale” (Risch 174). While military use of cacao/chocolate offered a great deal of logistical utility and efficiency,  the Aztec and US militaries used cacao/chocolate as rations, rewards, and also a sort of power food, distributing special status upon their soldiers.

These messages of status were channeled through the distributors of the resources, Aztec nobility and US chocolate industry brands in conjunction with the SRL. And thus, chocolate, a non-native food product became an essential wartime ration, delivering not only nutrition but also positive messages of strength, support and honor to soldiers 600 years apart.


Works Cited

“Army-Navy E Award.” Naval History and Heritage Command, 22 Aug. 2017, 12:08:14 EDT, http://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/a/army-navy-e-award.html.

Backer, Kellen. “World War II and the Triumph of Industrialized Food.” ProQuest, University of Wisconsin-Madison, ProQuest, 2012, https://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1025743697?accountid=11311.

Bowers, Ken, and Samuel Hinkle. “Oral History Interview with Samuel Hinkle.” Hershey Community Archives, https://data.hersheyarchives.org/Public/oralhistory/Hinkle_91OH01.pdf. Accessed 3 May 2018.

Burger, Terry W. “Chocolate! The Wars Secret Weapon.” America In WWII, 7 Feb. 2007, http://www.americainwwii.com/articles/chocolate-the-wars-secret-weapon/.

“Chocolate Is a Fighting Food!” Vintage Ad Browser, http://www.vintageadbrowser.com/search?q=Fighting+food.

Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky, and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.

“Commodity Letter.” Wall Street Journal, 5 Dec. 1944, https://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/131501812?accountid=11311.

DeArmond, Fred. “Square Meals in Shirt Pockets.” Nation’s Business, Sept. 1942, https://search-proquest-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/231619226/fulltextPDF/83D72F3592E841EDPQ/1?accountid=11311.

Doona, Christopher J., et al. Case Studies in Novel Food Processing Technologies: Innovations in Processing, Packaging and Predictive Modelling. Woodhead Publishing, 2010, https://proquest.safaribooksonline.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/9781845695514?uicode=harvard.

“Food for Fighters.” Internet Archive, Office of War Info., 1943, https://archive.org/details/FoodforF1943.

Hamilton, Alissa. “World War Ii’s Mobilization Of The Science Of Food Acceptability: How Ration Palatability Became A Military Research Priority.” Ecology of Food and Nutrition, vol. 42, no. 4-5, 2003, pp. 325–356., doi:10.1080/0367024030247805.

“Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate Bar.” Hershey Community Archives, http://www.hersheyarchives.org/essay/details.aspx?EssayId=39&Rurl=%2fresources%2fsearch-results.aspx%3fType%3dBrowseEssay.

Jacobson, Sean. “‘Chocolate Is a Fighting Food!” – Chocolate Bars in the Second World War.” National Museum of American History, Smithsonian, 24 Oct. 2016, https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/chocolate-bars-second-world-war.

Mirrer, Louise. “How World War II Changed Everything — Even Our Taste for Candy.” Huffington Post, Huffington Post, 15 Nov. 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/louise-mirrer/how-world-war-ii-changed-_b_2024730.html.

Nieburg, Oliver. “Untold War Stories: Mars and M&M’s Military History.” Confectionery News.com, William Reed Business Media Ltd, 10 Nov. 2016, http://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2016/11/10/Untold-war-stories-Mars-and-M-M-s-military-history.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: a Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

“Ration D Bars.” Hershey Community Archives, http://www.hersheyarchives.org/essay/details.aspx?EssayId=26&Rurl=%2Fresources%2Fsearch-results.aspx%3FType%3DBrowseEssay.

Risch, Erna. The Quartermaster Corps: Organization, Supply, and Services. vol. 1 4, Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1953, https://books.google.com/books?id=ZYpQAQAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Pre Columbian customs and beliefs involving cacao and chocolate

In today’s society, chocolate is a well known commodity that many people associate with sweetness and romance. A key ingredient in the making of chocolate is cacao. When people think about chocolate, they think of a sweet treat with European origins from places such as Switzerland. However, many people are often unaware that cacao was believed to be discovered in early Mesoamerican civilizations. These civilizations also had quite a different view of cacao and chocolate than the modern view. They viewed these items as luxury goods given to them by the gods and used them for more than simply eating. Cacao and chocolate were used in religious rituals, marriage rituals, and even used to cure illness. The Mayans viewed chocolate so fondly that they would have a yearly festival to honor the cacao god, Ek Chuah.

Cacao can be traced all the way back to the Mesoamerican civilizations. According to Magnus Pharao Hansen, cacao was seen as luxury crop during this time period and it provided theobromine for the nervous system after a labor process of cultivation and processing. This evidence allows us to understand that Mesoamerica was becoming a civilization, moving past the stages of just necessities and creating class division and hierarchy. The image to the right shows vessels with residue of pasted image 0theobromine, which is an ingredient in cacao. This shows us that chocolate was becoming a big attraction in civilizations such as the Olmecs. Other civilizations such as Mayans and Aztecs have records that show a strong presence of cacao and chocolate.Documents such as the Dresden Codex, Madrid Codex, and ParisCodex (shown on the right) were in hieroglyphics and have cacao featured throughout, often being consumed by gods in ritual activities. Evidently, cacao was viewed by the MesoamDresden_codex_page_2erican people as more than just a food item, but rather a sacred item given to them by the gods. According to historian Marcy Norton, cacao was viewed in a religious setting as essential to one’s physical, social, and spiritual well- being. During this time as well, many marriage customs involved the presence of cacao. The Mayan marriage rituals had the husband serve chocolate to the father of the girl he wanted to marry and discuss the marriage. Cacao was also used in customs involved death. The rites of death referred to cacao that was dyed red and helped ease the soul’s journey to the underworld. Cacao was used in beverages, as well, during the time of the Mayans. Chocolate beverages were viewed as sacred drinks with the foam being the most important part of the beverage. The beverages were able to boost energy for people due to the caffeine in the chocolate. Usually, it was men of royalty and elite status who consumed chocolate through beverages, while women and children were not allowed to drink the cacao. This is because they viewed it as an intoxicating food. Eventually, cacao and chocolate were being used for medicinal purposes. In the Mayan civilization, cacao was used for digestion and as an anti- inflammatory. In the Aztec civilization, cacao was used to cure infections and illnesses. As Teresa L. Dillinger states, “Childhood diarrhea was treated with a prescription that used five cacao beans. These were ground and blended with the root of tlayapoloni xiuitl (unknown plant) and then drunk. To relieve fever and faintness the prescription called for 8–10 cacao beans to be ground with dried maize kernels and blended with tlacoxochitl.” (Dillinger et al, 2060S) While the uses for chocolate expanded far beyond social use and pleasure, cacao still had an effect on the social landscape of the Mesoamerican civilizations. The Mayans had words such as “chokola’j”, which is translated to “to drink chocolate together”. Cacao had quite a special effect on people and played an important role in society and still does to this day.

Clearly, there were many customs and beliefs that the Pre Columbian civilizations had involving chocolate and cacao. The influence chocolate was able to have on these civilizations was immense and impacted their everyday lives. Many aspects of life were changed socially, religiously, and physically. Cacao and chocolate were able to change social interactions and physical treatments of people. People in the Mesoamerican civilizations used chocolate during many marriage, death, and religious rituals. As shown in lecture, foods and beverages such as the one shown on the right, still use the influence of earlresizey civilizations in order to sell products. The description of this beverage states, “Recommended served warm (106°), this delicious and relaxing beverage was blended to revive the delicacies and keen insights of the ancient Aztec tribes of Central America. Passed from generation to generation, our take on this blessed drink brings you the sensational benefits of anti-oxidant rich cacao and the powerful digestion aid blend of spices to create a tasty healthful experience.” With this description, we can clearly see how the Mayans and Aztecs views on chocolate still influence the modern global chocolate market. Due to the significance of cacao in the Mesoamerican society, chocolate has played a major role in the lives of many people and continues to have a major influence all over the world.

Hansen, Magnus Pharao. “Cacao: How a Single Word Holds the Key to Understanding the Mesoamerican Past.” Nawatl Scholar, 1 Jan. 1970, nahuatlstudies.blogspot.com/2015/01/cacao-how-contested-history-of-single.html?spref=tw.

Dillinger, Teresa 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. 8, 2000, doi:10.1093/jn/130.8.2057s.

St Jean, Julie. “Medicinal and Ritualistic Uses for Chocolate in Mesoamerica.” Medicinal and Ritualistic Uses For Chocolate in Mesoamercia, 9 Feb. 2018, http://www.heritagedaily.com/2018/02/medicinal-and-ritualistic-uses-for-chocolate-in-mesoamerica-2/98809.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods,’”

Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.”

Chia, Coca and Cacao: Stimulants in Meso and South American Culture and Their Lasting Effects

Chia seeds, coca, cacao and their derivatives were used by the ancient civilizations of the Mayans, Aztecs, Olmecs and Incans in a variety of ways for a variety of different reasons. They were used as sacrifices, as food, and even as a currency. Chia, coca, and cacao share a lot more in common than these words starting with the same letter; most people, however, do not know that. Exploring the relationships between these substances is vital to understanding how these substances had shaped the civilizations of the past and is still shaping ours today.

Chia seeds were a staple in the diet of Aztec civilizations along with beans, amaranth, and maize[1].There is ample evidence to suggest that Mayans also consumed chia seeds in their diet due to “chia” translating to “strength” [2] in Mayan and the region of Chiapas, which comes from Chiapan meaning “river of the chia”[3]. The Aztecs offered these seeds to their gods during religious ceremonies and were consumed with the thought that it had supernatural powers. “Ancient warriors attributed their stamina to this tiny seed.” [4] It is worth noting that a diet consisting of the four aforementioned crops meet today’s Food and Agricultural Organization diet requirements[5]. Chia seeds, as we now know, are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and dietary fiber[6][7]. These supernatural seeds have an extraordinary ability to absorb water and it can be visualized in this video: https://youtu.be/ZyjK3nOxzjs[8]. The reported “increased stamina” after consuming these seeds is because of this high absorption ability of them.

The coca plant is most commonly found on the Andes mountain range in Peru and Bolivia, the home of the ancient Incan civilization. The following excerpt from Sigmund Freud’s “Uber Coca” shows how coca was viewed and used by the indigenous people that cultivated it:

When the Spanish conquerors forced their way into Peru they found that the coca plant was cultivated and was closely connected with the religious customs of the people. Legend held that Manco Capac, the divine son of the Sun, had descended brought them knowledge of the gods, taught them the useful arts, and given them the coca leaf, this divine plant which satiates the hungry, strengthens the weak, and causes them to forget their misfortune. Coca leaves were offered in sacrifice to the gods, were chewed during religious ceremonies, and were even placed in the mouths of the dead in order to assure them of a favorable reception in the beyond.[9]

Like the chia seeds, there is a religious significance embedded in the society’s use of the coca plant. Coca leaves like chia seeds were cited to have supernatural and miraculous powers. Freud points out the story of a sixty two year old man performing “laborious excavation work for five days and nights” all while sleeping no more than two hours and consuming nothing but coca leaves.[10] Nowadays, tourists in the Andes are given a tea made from coca leaves that helps cure altitude sickness[11]. Despite having many other uses, the main use of coca is that of a stimulant that increases the physical capacity of the body.[12] However, nowadays the most common and far deadlier is the coca plant’s addictive derivative: cocaine.

The recipe for chocolate has been around for many centuries with traces going back all the way to the predecessors of the Mayan civilization, the Olmecs[13]. They were thought to be the first to first develop the recipe for “chocolate”. Chocolate and cacao beans were used in a range of different uses from religious ceremonies and medicines just as the coca leaf and chia seeds were also used. It was even thought to be an aphrodisiac[14]. The chemical name given to the cacao tree, theobroma cacao, translates to “food of the gods”[15]. The Mayan hieroglyph below shows just that, as it depicts the God of Maize as a cacao tree. This depiction signifies the importance of cacao as a crop to the Mayan civilization.


Maya Maize God

Recent studies show that what we know today as “dark chocolate” contains two main alkaloids that are responsible for its stimulant properties, theobromine and caffeine.[16] It is therefore safe to assume that even before the incorporation of sugar into chocolate recipes it had stimulant properties like coca leaves and chia seeds. And while there is no evidence to suggest that chocolate was used to perform “supernatural” and “miraculous” feats, it is not beyond the realm of possibility.

All of chia, coca, and cacao have been used in some sort of way as a drink mixed with other ingredients to release their stimulant properties. Moreover, chia seeds and cacao beans were used as currencies in the Aztec and Mayan civilizations respectively[17].[18] More recently than the Mayan and Aztec periods, the derivatives of the coca leaf and the cacao beans, cocaine and chocolate respectively, have become highly addictive substances that are widely consumed nowadays. The former is illegal and the latter is not, however, the amount of money in both industries is in the multibillions, with the people at the top of the chain usually the ones to profit the most. Pablo Escobar, the King of Cocaine, reportedly burned two million dollars of cash to keep his daughter warm.[19]

Chia, unlike coca, cacao and their derivatives, does not have an exploitative history. In the later cultivation of chocolate, sugar was, and still is today, a main component used in chocolate production. Sugar workers, slaves “imported” from Africa, were treated very harshly on colonies. The following website shows just how just many slaves were exported from Africa over the years: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_history_of_american_slavery/2015/06/animated_interactive_of_the_history_of_the_atlantic_slave_trade.html[20]

Cocaine’s exploitative and negative history came more recently in the 1900s when after seeing initial success in it being used as an anesthetic, later became thought of as a narcotic like opiates when the number of addicts rose.[21] The War on Drugs by the United States of America on South American countries in the late 20th century saw many people die just as many Africans died during their life tenure as unpaid workers or even before their ship had docked in their forced destination.


Chia seeds and the history of their cultivation and consumption being free of controversy is very possibly the reason it was nearly forgotten and why people are not as aware of it now as they are of chocolate and cocaine. Spanish colonists banned the cultivation of both the coca leaf and chia seeds as they viewed the religious association of these substances as “heathenish and sinful”.[22] Unlike chia, however, the Spanish later allowed coca cultivation as they saw that the Indians were unable to complete their labor without it[23]. A combination of these factors led to chia not being widely present. In addition, there does not exist universally known brand names for a chia seeds product. Coca Cola (although it does not contain cocaine anymore), and Hersheys or Cadbury are synonymous with coca/cocaine and chocolate respectively. Furthermore, there are widely acclaimed and recognized movies about chocolate such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that instantly come to mind and many movies and television shows about drug dealers and the cocaine business like for instance, Narcos. Movies or shows about chia on the other hand, if they even exist, do not even ring a faint bell in one’s memory.

The association of all these substances to some religious deity or ritual, their perceived supernatural powers, and their wide range of uses are what initially elevated these crops to a higher regard in ancient times. What has kept these items in the current conversation though is their stimulant properties and the large amounts of profit associated with their respective industries.


[1] “Chia History – An Ancient Crop.” AzCHIA, https://azchia.com/chia-seeds-history/.

[2] “Chia Seed History and Origin.” ANCIENT GRAINS, http://www.ancientgrains.com/chia-seed-history-and-origin/.

[3] “Chia History – An Ancient Crop.” AzCHIA.

[4] “Chia Seed History and Origin.” ANCIENT GRAINS.

[5] “Chia History – An Ancient Crop.” AzCHIA.

[6] Ullah, Rahman, et al. “Nutritional and Therapeutic Perspectives of Chia (Salvia Hispanica L.): a Review.”

[7] “Chia History – An Ancient Crop.” AzCHIA.

[8] Watch Chia Seed Expanding in Time Lapse, https://youtu.be/ZyjK3nOxzjs.

[9] Sigmund Freud, “Uber Coca,” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, no. 1 (1984): 206.

[10] Freud, “Uber Coca,” 207.

[11] Michael D. Coe. “The Tree of the Food of the Gods” in The True History of Chocolate (Thames and Hudson Ltd., 2013), 33.

[12] Freud, “Uber Coca,” 212.

[13] Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion,” 3.

[14] Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods,’”16.

[15] Michael D. Coe. “The Tree of the Food of the Gods,”31.

[16] Michael D. Coe. “The Tree of the Food of the Gods,”57-58.

[17] “Chia History – An Ancient Crop.” AzCHIA.

[18] Carla D. Martin, “Chocolate Expansion,” 8.

[19] Amanda Macias, “10 Facts Reveal the Absurdity of Pablo Escobar’s Wealth.”

[20]Kahn, Andrew, and Jamelle Bouie. “This Haunting Animation Maps the Journeys of 15,790 Slave Ships in Two Minutes.”

[21] Joseph F. Spillane, “Making a Modern Drug: The Manufacture, Sale, and Control of Cocaine in the United States, 1880-1920,” in Cocaine: Global Histories, ed. Paul Gootenberg (London: Routledge, 2006), 22.

[22] Freud, “Uber Coca,” 207.

[23] Ibid.

Works Cited:

  1. “Chia History – An Ancient Crop.” AzCHIA, azchia.com/chia-seeds-history/. Accessed 14 Mar. 2018.
  2. “Chia Seed History and Origin.” ANCIENT GRAINS, 20 Mar. 2015, http://www.ancientgrains.com/chia-seed-history-and-origin/. Accessed 13 Mar. 2018.
  3. Freud, Sigmund. “Uber Coca: Freud’s Cocaine Discoveries.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Edited by Howard Shaffer, vol. 1, 1984, pp. 206–212.
  4. Kahn, Andrew, and Jamelle Bouie. “This Haunting Animation Maps the Journeys of 15,790 Slave Ships in Two Minutes.” Slate Magazine, 25 June 2015, http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_history_of_american_slavery/2015/06/animated_interactive_of_the_history_of_the_atlantic_slave_trade.html. Accessed 7 Mar. 2018.
  5. Macias, Amanda. “10 Facts Reveal the Absurdity of Pablo Escobar’s Wealth.” The Independent, 29 Dec. 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/pablo-escobar-worth-wealth-money-how-much-a8133141.html. Accessed 17 Mar. 2018.
  6. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.” docs.google.com/presentation/d/1KJFs2ZF_a-yamF8vy-75BrE3itqNR0t1eVIYRO8mgGo. Accessed 7 Feb. 2018.
  7. Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” docs.google.com/presentation/d/1XF-lM9Z9iks0cVhUFRJ1QWBokKTRrdvZISwAJVSe_Ag. Accessed 31 Jan. 2018.
  8. Spillane, Joseph F. “Making a Modern Drug: The Manufacture, Sale, and Control of Cocaine in the United States, 1880-1920 .” In Cocaine: Global Histories, edited by Paul Gootenberg, Routledge, London, 2006, pp. 21.
  9. “The Tree of the Food of The Gods.” in The True History of Chocolate, by Michael D. Coe, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2013, pp. 31–58.
  10. Ullah, Rahman, et al. “Nutritional and Therapeutic Perspectives of Chia (Salvia Hispanica L.): a Review.” Journal of Food Science and Technology, Apr. 2016, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4926888/. Accessed 12 Mar. 2018.
  11. “Watch Chia Seed Expanding in Time Lapse.” 16 Oct. 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyjK3nOxzjs&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 13 Mar. 2018.

The Myth of Separation

The Aztec culture is notorious for their often bloody rituals, which are now widely thought to be egregiously barbaric. We look upon Aztec sacrificial practices as evidence of a sadistic and morally bankrupt culture, of a people who are terrible in ways we could never be; but assuming this inherent separation keeps us from exploring the breadth of human connection and commonality.

In The true history of chocolate Coe & Coe explain that the view of Aztec society as barbaric is handed down to us by the Spanish conquistadores as an excuse for their terrible treatment of the Aztecs (Coe, 65). While the Spanish had their own motivations to portray the Aztecs as barbarians, it’s easy to imagine that they might have also felt genuine shock at Aztec practices which included ritual human sacrifice.

An example of one such ritual, which was carried out yearly, proceeded as follows: A slave was chosen to be dressed and treated as the god Quetzalcoatl for 40 days, after which he was told that he would be killed the following day. He was then required to dance with perfect happiness, as a sorrowful response was thought to be a bad omen. If he was not able to remain cheerful he would be given a drink of chocolate which was mixed with bloody water from the washing of sacrificial knives. This drink, known as itzpacalatl, was said to bewitch him and bring about renewed happiness and dancing (Coe, 103). One fascinating element of this ritual is the importance placed on the sacrifice’s happiness (or at least the display of it). Another fascinating element; the function of nourishment and fortification from the chocolate having a transformative role in the experience of being sacrificed.

It is important to note that bloody Aztec rituals were not done merely for sadistic entertainment. In “The Aztec Ritual Sacrifices,” Izeki explains that sacrifice was integral to Aztec religion and considered necessary for maintaining order in the universe. It was believed that humans were created to give their lives to the gods in order to maintain creation. Izeki notes, too, that death was not thought to be permanent but rather cyclical— the Aztecs believed “that sacrificial victims became divine beings after being slain, that the dead lived an afterlife, and that each part of a soul went back to its provenance”(Izeki).

Solely looking voyeuristically at Aztec rituals as evidence of barbarism allows us to foster a comforting sense of moral superiority. However, this sense of superiority and separations may be a misconception. When we study the history of chocolate we uncover a deep historical connection with the Aztecs. This connection can be seen first through the consumption and ritualization of cacao.

800px-valentines_chocolates1Like the Aztecs, we love chocolate, and like the Aztecs, we imbue it with symbolism. The Aztecs sometimes used cacao pods to ritualistically symbolize the human heart— we sometimes gift heart-shaped boxes of chocolate to symbolize love (Coe 103).

Might there be a connection even in the dark specifics of the discussed ritual to aspects of our culture today? In her thesis Revulsion and Palatability, Angie Wheaton explores the topic of rituals surrounding the death penalty, with a special focus on the ritual of giving the condemned a choice of last meals. This ritual has been the subject of several art projects, like the one shown in the below image.

5430175617_6328bbd2d7_z-1Wheaton explains that this ritual of providing nourishment and comfort to those we put to death in the form of favorite foods has a longstanding tradition, and is still common practice in most places (one notable exception being Texas) (Wheaton, 6). This tradition has much in common with the Aztec ritual of providing sacrifices with the culturally favored form of nourishment, cacao. Wheaton argues that in the context of the death penalty, “rituality has helped cushion the revulsion that is inherently present when taking the life of a human being” (Wheaton, v). Might this effect also be one explanation for the specifics of Aztec rituals?

The use of chocolate as an intoxicant in the discussed Aztec ritual is somewhat perplexing. Though cacao beans do contain caffeine and theobromine which cause a stimulant effect, this effect is moderate and insufficient to cause extreme euphoria. Despite this, there are also people today who consume chocolate in ritualistic settings for the purpose of intoxication.


In the Business Insider article “San Franciscans are obsessed with ‘cacao ceremonies,’ where they claim to get high on chocolate,” author Melia Robinson details currently trendy rituals where people gather to drink concentrated cacao drinks. Participants report “a wide range of reactions, from feelings of connectedness and ecstasy to hallucinations” (Robinson).

The common concept of superiority and separation between people today and the Aztecs is a myth. Through the lens of chocolate, food, and ritual, we can uncover striking similarities between these cultures. These common threads of practice and perception between the people of today and the Aztecs may serve to remind us that however different we might like to think ourselves from those that commit atrocities, we are more alike than we are different. We are all human and capable of both great things and terrible ones.


Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Wheaton, Angie. Revulsion and Palatability: The Staying Power of Death Penalty Rituals – Last Meals and Beyond, Eastern Kentucky University, Ann Arbor, 2013, ProQuest, http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1433293088?accountid=11311.

Robinson, Melia. “San Franciscans are obsessed with ‘cacao ceremonies,’ where they claim to get high on chocolate.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 19 May 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/cacao-ceremony-san-francisco-2017-5.

Izeki, Mutsumi (2014) The Aztec Ritual Sacrifices, Performance Research, 3:3, 25-32, DOI: 10.1080/13528165.1998.10871623

Last Meal Photo credit John Dalton on Flikr, Creative Commons license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Cacao Drink Photo credit Julie Gibbons on Flikr, Creative Commons license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Other images in public domain