Across time and space, from the Aztec Empire to Baroque Europe, chocolate has been associated with upper class culture. While chocolate was first introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century as a medicine with strong curative powers, it evolved into an elite drink during the grandiose Baroque Age. Chocolate was popularized throughout Europe and came to occupy a distinctive place within upper class society because of the complex material and social culture that the aristocracy and nobility created around it.
“It was during the Baroque Age that the beverage [chocolate] made its major journeys, and it was in the Baroque palaces and mansions of the wealthy and powerful that it was elaborated and consumed.” – The True History of Chocolate (Coe and Coe 125)
Europeans crafted specialized objects to enhance the quality and presentation of chocolate. By creating intricate paraphernalia and drinking processes, they elevated the consumption of chocolate to elite ritual ceremony. The development of objects including chocolate pots, cups, and saucers for the preparation and serving of chocolate in Baroque Europe indicate the extent to which the consumption of chocolate was a show of extravagance. The Spanish, Italians, and French developed their own varieties of specialty chocolate-pots in copper, gold, and silver, such as the one in the image below, (Coe and Coe 156) for the stirring, frothing, and serving of chocolate.
Chocolatiére (1774), made of silver and amarath wood
Particularly in France, these chocolatièreswere prized by the nobility, and the Dauphin Louis XIV himself received chocolatières as gifts from foreign guests, such as the King Narai of Siam in 1686. A body of literature surrounding the correct usage of chocolatières and other objects involved in the chocolate consumption process emerged, and the French debated chocolatière design in cookbooks and culinary treatises. For example, an issue of contention was whether there should be a hole in the chocolatière lid, to allow for the passing of the handle of the moulinet, used to stir the liquid chocolate, or if the lid should not be pierced, as with a caffetière, to avoid the “cumbersome” opening and closing of the pot with a moulinet passing through it (Grivetti and Shapiro 91).
With an elaborate material culture surrounding it, chocolate emerged as a fundamental element of royal and high society across countries including Italy, France, England, and Spain. Chocolate was served at public functions and levees at royal courts across Europe, such as Versailles (Coe and Coe 156).
Social gatherings offered individuals the opportunity to display their collection of objects relating to chocolate as well as their innovative methods of chocolate preparation. Esteemed recipes came to be associated with particular places, such as Francesco Redi’s jasmine chocolate at the Tuscan Court (Coe and Coe 143). These recipes were time-consuming and complex, requiring ingredients unavailable to most individuals. Redi’s chocolate, for example, required ten days to prepare and 250 jasmine flowers per kilogram of cocoa nibs a day for each of these ten days.
The Family of the Duke of Penthievre or The Cup of Chocolate (1768) shows a noble family drinking chocolate in a salon, illustrating the type of individuals who consumed chocolate in Baroque Europe.
The upper bourgeoisie class also consumed chocolate in increasing amounts. In England, chocolate was served in traditional coffee-houses, which functioned as important social institutions within English society, by the mid seventeenth century (Coe and Coe, 167).
Chocolate consumption flourished in Baroque Europe because of the extensive material and social culture that developed around it. The luxury item grew in popularity not simply because of its taste or perceived medicinal qualities, but because it offered the European upper class an opportunity to construct a set of customs and social practices around its consumption. Indeed, chocolate became a symbol of wealth, and a vehicle by which one could exhibit his or her privilege. Chocolate was expensive to begin with, and the construction of an extravagant world around chocolate made it even more inaccessible to the lower classes.
Ultimately, mass production technologies transformed chocolate from an elite privilege into a European staple food. However, even today, chocolate remains linked to notions of opulence and luxury.
Charpentier, Jean Baptiste. The Penthievre Family or The Cup of Chocolate, 1768. Digital image. PBS Learning Media. Web.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Grivetti, Louis, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009. Print.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.
Van Cauwenbergh, Joseph-Théodore. Chocolate Pot. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Mar. 2012. Web.
Many would agree that chocolate plays an integral role in our lives today, but how did chocolate evolve into such a loved treat in the modern world? The history of chocolate is rich and unique in its kind and being able to understand how cacao was introduced, spread and hybridized in Europe, may ultimately enhance our appreciation of the godly good.
The Genesis of Chocolate
The Olmec are believed to be the first Mesoamerican group to cultivate cacao. Writings and artifacts also suggest that the cacao had a major ritual and ceremonial significance in the Maya society (Martin). The cacao was further consumed and traded among elite individuals, traders and soldiers in the Aztec society. The cacao was primarily consumed as a beverage, carefully prepared with maize, chili peppers, and other domestic spices (Martin). More information and Mesoamerican recipes of chocolate beverages can be found here!
The First European Encounter
Christopher Columbus encountered cacao beans during one of his early voyages but he did not realize the value of these “almonds” nor did he taste them (Coe and Coe, 109). It was not until in 1544 that chocolate made its way across the Atlantic to Europe when a group of Maya nobles brought it as a gift for the Spanish court (Coe and Coe, 130-131). Chocolate became particularly popular during the Baroque Age and spread quickly among royalties and aristocratic families in Europe (Coe and Coe 125; Priscilla, 24). Chocolate houses were eventually introduced in Britain and became natural meeting places for affluent males who enjoyed discussing politics (Martin).
The cacao was initially considered a luxury good and was solely consumed by elite individuals in Europe, similarly to the Aztec society. The spiritual meaning of the cacao however was almost entirely stripped down and the cacao was first introduced for medicinal use in Europe (Coe and Coe, 126). Europeans adopted the tradition of consuming the cacao as a beverage but sweetened the
drink with sugar and substituted spices such as chili pepper and ear flower with commonly used spices such as vanilla and cinnamon (Coe and Coe, 146). Moreover, the Europeans also adopted the tradition of foaming the chocolate. Instead of pouring the drinks back and forth between vessels, they used molinillo whisks (Coe and Coe, 156-157). The French later introduced the Chocolatière among many other posh dining ware that facilitated consumption of cacao beverages among the aristocracy in Europe (Coe and Coe, 156-157). Similar frothers and dining ware were found in other parts of Europe during the Baroque Age and this marks an interesting point of material culture.
The Europeans initially adopted somewhat similar methods of consumption of chocolate as the Mesoamericans. They initially consumed it as a frothed beverage and added spices. The hybridization of the original drink was vital to facilitate the dissemination and appreciation of cacao. Similarly, to Aztec society, cacao was considered a luxury good and it was not until later that industrial progress and mechanization enabled chocolate to became available to members of all social classes. These industrial progresses facilitated the emergence of bulk chocolate and it seems worthwhile to reflect on how the chocolate that we consume today greatly differs from the chocolate that was initially consumed by the Mesoamericans.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.
Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”.” Harvard University. Cambridge, MA. 3 Feb. 2016. Lecture.
Presilla, Marciel, E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.
Charpentier le Vieux, Jean-Baptiste. La Famille du duc de Penthièvre en 1768 ou La Tasse de Chocolat. 1768. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2014. Web. 19 Feb 2016. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALa_famille_du_Duc_de_Penthi%C3%A8vre_dit_la_tasse_de_chocolat.jpg
It is a splendid possibility to imagine that we could consume one of our favorite treats guilt free. The fantasy of chocolate as not only delicious but also as miraculously healthy, has captured the western imagination since its introduction. In fact, it was under the guise of medicine that chocolate was able to successfully infiltrate the nobility in Europe and then spread to the masses. Upon “discovering” cacao and its uses in Mesoamerican culture, the Europeans immediately tried to fit the substance into their Galenic system of medicine (3). This system, which seems barabaric and completely ridiculous in light of modern knowledge, was the foundational truth of health in Barocque Europe. It created four categories that related to four substances in the body with good health dependent on a balance between them (3). The categories were ‘Hot’, ‘Cold’, ‘Wet’, ‘Dry’ (3). Chocolate and cacao were controversial for the early Europeans who subscribed to this humoral system. Royal Physician to Philip II of Spain, Francisco Hernandez determined that cacao was ‘cold’ and ‘wet’ and most of Europe tended to fall into agreement (3). A central tenant of this western idea, however, was that the balance happens within the body, requiring that chocolate must be ingested. As a consequence, the medicinal recipes in early Europe are mostly just recipes for simple forms of what we now consider to be hot chocolate. For example: William Hughes writing in 1672 details a medicinal chocolate recipe to “strengthen the stomach” that combines cinnamon, nutmeg, almonds, sugar and optionally pepper and cloves (4). In our modern culture, this actually sounds tasty!
Even today, as we yearn to find medicinal value in chocolate, we stick to the requirement that it must be ingested. In 2006 an NPR broadcast discussed a study done at John’s Hopkins University that found consumption of small amounts of chocolate to have similar beneficial effects as that of aspirin on heart patients (NPR). This conclusion was made after several participants broke the ‘no chocolate’ rule during the aspirin trial (NPR). They were disqualified, but studied nonetheless (NPR). What the scientists found was that the casual chocolate consumers saw effects similar to that of aspirin (listen to the full story here). These results are by no means conclusive proof that chocolate is a miracle cure for heart disease or any other ailments; but it does show how deeply ingrained the fascination with chocolate’s medicinal value is in our culture. As well it shows that we center these supposed health benefits around the process of ingesting chocolate.
Cacao as an herb
But what if the European explorers missed the most valuable essence of chocolate’s healing powers? To find its true power we may need to restructure how we view chocolate and refocus ourselves from sugary (but delicious) beverages to the cacao plant itself. The oldest piece of evidence can be found in the oldest text on Aztec culture from a European perspective: the Badianus Manuscript (4). Written in 1552 (before Sahagun’s famous Florentine Codex documenting the making of cacao beverages) this text documents the use of herbal remedies by Aztec healers or physicians (4). One of the defining characteristics of this codex is its vibrant renditions of the regional flora (2). On the picture above we can see in the middle of the top row, the ever familiar cacao tree with its bright pods. Cacao makes appearances in many of the recipes, curing everything from dental problems to fatigue (4). One particularly interesting use of cacao found in this manuscript comes from the entry on curing “injury of the feet.” (2) Using “the flowers of cacuaxochitl [cacao flower]” this complicated recipe comes together as a sort of bath for the feet, applied topically and not ingested (2). No doubt this would have been essential for a people whose primary mode of transportation was their feet (2).
Below is the translated recipe (2):
“For injured feet grind together these herbs:tlalhecapahtli[“earth wind medicine”],coyoxiuitl[“rose colored bell plant”],yztauhyatl[“salty water plant”],tepechian[“mountain chia”],achilli[flexible, reddish water plant],xiuehcapahtli[“plant wind medicine”],quauhyyauhtli[“wild incense”],quetzalxoxouhcaphtli[“precious blue medicine”],tzotzotlani[“glistening plant”], The flowers of cacuaxochitl [cacao flower], and alsopiltzintecouhxochitl[“noble lord flower”], and foliage ofhecapahtli[“wind medicine”] andytzcuinpahtli[“dog medicine”], the stonetlahcalhuatzin[bezoar stone of huatzin, a native bird],eztetl[“bloodstone”—a type of jasper] andtetlahuitl[red ochre stone], pale-colored earth…
Put some in a little tub over embers or a fire to heat it in water; and when the liquid has become hot, put the feet into the tub. And some part of it is to be inspissated by fire, and is to be applied to the feet; and so that it will not run off, the feet are to be wrapped in a cloth. Next day our unguent xochiocotzotl[“flower pine resin”] and white incense are to be thrown on a fire so that the feet may become healthy from the odor and heat. Besides the seed of the herb calledxexihuitlis to be ground, and when it has been pulverized in hot water it is to be put on the feet. Thirdly, apply the herbtolohuaxiuitl[“datura plant”] and briars ground in hot water.”
This recipe is a striking departure from that of the early Europeans in two important ways. The first is its extensive use of exotic herbs. The second is it’s consideration of cacao as an herb. In western society it would take a great deal of imagination to see our precious chocolate treats as an herb. Historians have proven that the Aztecs had an incredible knowledge of plants as medicine, a knowledge that far outstripped any of the Galenic principles in Barocque Europe (3). Given this, it is no longer hard to imagine that even in modern day society our vision of chocolate is clouded by cultural norms, and that perhaps chocolate’s real power lies not in a sugary brown drink but in a leafy green plant.
1. Badianus Illustration [Photograph]. (2012, February 14). Badianus Manuscript, Nixon Medical Historical Library. Found through the UT Health Science Center
Most people are unaware where the chocolate they eat everyday comes from or where chocolate began in the first place. When asked where the finest chocolate comes from in the world, several point to Europe’s diverse sets of chocolatiers, but chocolate was not always a European cuisine. Chocolate finds its humble beginnings with the cacao tree in Central and South America. It was here where the idea of chocolate began and it was here where the Europeans discovered the irresistible delicacy they now know as chocolate, though today, Europe’s chocolate is vastly different from its original beginnings in Mesoamerica.
Introduction of Cacao to Europe
Christopher Columbus was the reason Europeans first set eyes on cacao beans when he found them in Guanaja (Honduras) in 1502 (Coe 107). Little did he know that these beans were the “New World’s most esteemed beverage” because at first early conquistadors were baffled and repelled by cacao as a drink (Coe 109). Columbus also threw away the first beans he found, not knowing how valued they were to the natives. (Coe 109). The way Mesoamericans prepared and delighted in their cacao beverages would be transformed to adhere to European tastes in Europe. Several year later, chocolate beverages became an elite drink during the Baroque Age of Europe. Chocolate beverages found there way into Baroque palaces and mansions consumed by Europe’s elite and powerful (Coe 125). Chocolate was a new and exciting cuisine that Europeans began to become very accustomed to even though they had debates on several aspects of it, such as whether it was a beverage or a food. This new treat in Europe quickly spread and became a stable for many in their meals.
By the mid-1600s, chocolate houses had begun to sprout in Europe (Wheatherford). These places were quite more expensive than coffee houses, so they became the social clubs for the elites of Europe (Wheaterford). Chocolate drinks were being made by grinding the whole bean and then adding sugar and hot water (Wheaterford). This preparation was close to the Aztec recipe and therefore a little too rich for European tastes (Wheaterford). In 1828, the Dutch developed a press to force out the fat of cacao which produced the cacao powder that Europeans would add milk to in order to create a chocolate beverage more to their liking (Wheaterford). From here Europeans had added their own unique ingredients to cacao production and formed a beverage more accustomed to their taste buds and they had discovered the cacao butter byproduct that would lead to the production of chocolate bars.
What began in Mesoamerica as a cold beverage for the elites, cacao beans were then brought to Europe to be adapted to European palates and transformed into their own unique recipes and own forms of the delicacy. The arguments for who in Europe started the chocolate and cacao storm are numerous and varied, but what is known for sure is that chocolate and cacao swept through Europe fast as an exciting new beverage and later solid food (Wheaterford). What began as a tree in Central America, cacao became one of the biggest delights in Europe and still maintains this reputation today.
*Pictures from Media Library in WordPress
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. Print.
Weatherford, Jack. “All about Chocolate — History.” All about Chocolate — History. N.p., n.d. Web.
At its creation chocolate was deemed a choice food item for the elect of Mesoamerica. It was held in such high esteem in cultures across Mesoamerica over other foods that it was effectively imbued with power and attributed divine. Moreover, after the introduction of chocolate to Europe from hands of New World explorers, chocolate became a specialty food and was found almost exclusively in royal courts and homes of the rich. This type of elitist chocolate consumption steadily ceased to be the case with the Industrial Revolution as chocolate transitioned from a specialty product to a commodity due to the innovation and mechanization of chocolate processing and dissemination. Nevertheless, in this 21st century the human desire for elitism and hierarchical structure has paved an avenue for artisanal chocolate production to reinstate chocolate as both a divine and elite experience as a dominant manifestation by which people interact with chocolate.
In Mesoamerica, chocolate was a premium food item amongst the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica including the Mayans and Aztecs. The Mayan and Aztec people esteemed especially the cacao tree, which bears fruits that is the primary constituent of chocolate. The cacao tree was believed to be a portal, or gateway, to the divine realms. Swedish scientist Carl von Linné even named this tree Theobroma cacao—“food of the gods”— which alludes to its sanctity and divinity. Thus, being derived from the cacao tree, chocolate has maintained the essence of divinity attributed to the cacao tree (Presilla, 5). Indeed, chocolate in its most luxurious form as a beverage with a frothy top was an elite item reserved in ancient cultures either as a libation for a sacred offering or as a table food for the governing elites (Presilla, 9,13).
It is known that, over a long course of repeated interactions with the native peoples, European explorers to the New World with the authority of their respective nation stripped the natives of their treasure, resources, and way of life. Chocolate was one treasure that these explorers “discovered” and promptly introduced to Europe in the early 16th century as an item observed to be held in high esteem by the natives of the New World. However, it was not until the 17th and 18th centuries of the Baroque Age that chocolate gained high popularity and subsequently spread throughout Europe as an elite item such that culinary invention and innovations such as the French chocolatière were generated to boost or accentuate the chocolate consumption experience.
Coe interestingly illustrates it this way: “[I]t was in Baroque palaces and mansions of the wealthy and powerful that [chocolate] was elaborated and consumed. It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Coe, 125). Despite its transatlantic voyage and its transmission throughout the European continent, chocolate maintained and perhaps increased its status as an elite food that was utilized as a marker for prestige of the consumer.
The Industrial Revolution, which was most active from the mid-18th to mid-19th centuries, marked the transitional period of chocolate transforming from a costly beverage for the elite and rich, which it had been for over 2000 years prior, to a cheap solid food; and by the 19th century, chocolate had become a commodity available for all (Coe, 232). Specifically, the innovations produced by Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten like the hydraulic press of 1828 was the catalyst that caused the abrupt transition from chocolate as a foamy beverage to chocolate as a scalable item for mass consumption in both powdered and solid form.
Building from these starting point after the Industrial Revolution, chocolate has made sweeping gains that have contributed to its mass accessibility and consumption in the 19th and 20th century. According to Goody, the globalization of chocolate can be attributed developments in product preservation, mechanization, retailing, and transport (Goody, 72). Previous to this, in Mesoamerica chocolate was reserved for special honorific occasions of sacrifice and celebration with nobles, and in Europe during the Baroque Age chocolate was consumed as a fine sign or indicator of one’s elite status. Now, however, a return to an elitist perception of chocolate is returning. This is seen most clearly in the production of what is being called artisan chocolate. The Fine Chocolate Industry Association offers the following definition for artisan chocolate: “This term refers to chocolate produced by small chocolate makers–artisans–who understand their craft intimately. Artisan chocolate must be made under the care and supervision of a knowledgeable chocolate maker who could be defined as an artisan.” Goody through his work would suggest that food industrialization including that of chocolate would be of sweeping and lasting popularity. The paradigm of the 20th century is that foods that were produced via mechanization attain the public’s stamp of approval as a product that can be assured of a high, repeatable, and standardized quality. This paradigm has not pervaded very far into the 21st century but has counterintuitively shifted in the opposite direction such that, in the public opinion, food items that are created via industrialized processes are not seen as necessarily bearing an acceptable standardized quality but instead are seen as being a neglected, imperfect item composed of untraceable and potentially harmful ingredients. Therefore, a desirable solution at least in the case of chocolate is the consumption of artisan chocolate, that is the consumption of skillfully crafted chocolate not produced by industrialized processes but instead by minimally invasive machining supervised by a skillful human knowledgeable in the art of chocolate making.
Mindo Chocolate Makers: artisan chocolate makers ensure premium quality of chocolate bars that are up to 21st century consumers’ standards
As demand increases for a more manually ensured quality of chocolate, which in comparison to industrialized chocolate is of low supply, economic dictates that the price of this product will be high, greater than standard industrialized chocolate. As the desire for artisan chocolate continues to rise, what will be created is a hierarchy of chocolate products with the finest, purest artisan chocolates at the apex of the hierarchy and price scale. The resultant stratification based on value determined by wealth is just the reemergence of elitism as seen in Mesoamerica and Baroque Europe but now just in a 21st capitalist society. An interesting question to consider is why it is that this hierarchy would exist. It would be based upon class: only those with the resources to purchase more expensive artisan chocolate can indulge while those without must make standard bars suffice. Social dominance theory could shed light upon the dynamics displayed here. Social dominance theory, generally speaking, explains how and why dominant groups stratify their resident population such that the dominant group is at the pinnacle of the hierarchy to experience and receive the most and best resources. One may choose to believe that the history of chocolate was established upon the fact that chocolate in all of its forms was and continues to be an elite food solely based on itself as a product. However, a poignant consideration to make is that man is the author of chocolate’s history, and as is done to other items or foods, chocolate was lauded and aggrandized by the rich for the express purpose of using chocolate as a centerpiece around which to construct a classist hierarchy.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards The Development Of A World Cuisine.” Food and Culture : A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. 72- 90. Print.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print. Revised.
Food consumption has long been part of the social human experience. When discussing the industrialization of food, anthropologist Jack Goody focuses on how changes in preserving, mechanization, retailing, and transport impacted today’s food supply (Goody 72). According to this theory, the aforementioned technological improvements worked to shape the post-Industrial Revolution chocolate experience and fostered the rise of industrialized chocolate. However, contrary to what Goody might have expected, there has been a recent growth in artisanal chocolate. Thus, I argue that Goody overlooks how the sociality of consumption also affects the culinary landscape. The shift from group to solitary chocolate eating in the West after the nineteenth century enabled the popularity of industrialized convenience chocolate, and the resurgence of fine chocolate today reflects the reintroduction of sociality to chocolate eating.
Tracing historical patterns of chocolate consumption in the West, I find that group consumption is intricately linked to fine chocolate’s elite status in Baroque Europe. In the European courts and salons, chocolate eating was a social practice that allowed men of a higher class to mingle. For example, at upper class Spanish social gatherings, known as refrescos, guests were treated to “cups of chocolate, confitures, biscuits…” (Coe 209). According to Coe, gentlemen and nobles would attend these gatherings, even if they despised the taste of chocolate in order to present themselves in a favorable social light (Coe 208). Similarly, in England, chocolate houses were popular in the seventeenth century as sites for meeting and discussing politics. Chocolate was intricately prepared in the European courts, often with opulent instruments. For example, Louis XIV was gifted with “equipment in gold and silver for producing and consuming the chocolate drink” (Coe 157), exemplifying how chocolate was consumed lavishly. Since chocolate was a status symbol to be flaunted among peers, it is hard to imagine someone in Baroque Europe casually eating chocolate alone in his bedroom as we often see today. Thus, I argue that the pomp and exclusivity in Baroque European chocolate consumption shaped the demand for fine chocolate in this era.
During the Industrial Revolution, mass-production made chocolate accessible to the masses and gradually altered how Westerners ate chocolate. Van Houten’s hydraulic press enabled “easily prepared, more easily digestible cocoa…and made possible the large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses” (Coe 235). In the early 1900s, Milton Hershey pioneered the bite-sized candy trend, producing “huge quantities of a few varieties and prices none higher than a nickel” (D’Antonio 121). As the accessibility of chocolate lowered is social significance, chocolate shifted out of refrescos and into part of the regular Western diet. Chocolate could be found in areas as banal and unceremonious as the rations of soldiers on WWII frontlines. Chocolate bars were created in convenient sizes to refuel the everyman and no longer needed to be exclusively consumed in extravagant group gatherings.
Therefore, the accessibility and convenience of chocolate products enabled a shift in chocolate eating patterns: solitary consumption. Whereas Westerners still culturally eat meals or drink fine wine in groups, there is no longer a social mandate to eat chocolate together. This change in chocolate consumption can be seen both in advertising and modern practice. Chocolate marketing generated a new image of chocolate consumption where an individual is enveloped in a private chocolate eating experience. For instance, the following commercial utilizes the stereotype of a lone woman eating chocolate, which has become a recurring theme in chocolate advertising. Because chocolate consumption is portrayed as an individual experience, chocolate transformed from elaborate artisanal fare into something more appropriate for solitary enjoyment.
These chocolate consumption habits influenced by new consumer priorities justify the popularity of industrialized convenience chocolate after the Industrial Revolution. If Baroque Europeans ate chocolate in groups to symbolically proclaim their social status, modern Americans consume chocolate in light of psychological benefits. In times of stress or heartache, Americans often turn to eating chocolate in private as consolation, as seen in this clip from the Legally Blonde movie. In an anonymous survey of 33 Harvard students, I also found that this sample mainly ate chocolate as a “comfort food,” which contrasts with the socialized, Baroque perception of chocolate as a status symbol. Although the sample is not likely representative of all American consumers, this survey supports the fact that many consumers eat chocolate alone and seek convenience chocolate. Because these customers frequently seek chocolate for comfort, they reach for whatever chocolate substances are most accessible and convenient, resulting in demand for affordable and industrially produced brands. Thus, the idea that chocolate is often eaten alone is compounded by the perception that chocolate consumption is associated with comfort.
To investigate modern eating habits further, I examined the relationship between chocolate and dining habits at Greenhouse Café, a popular and centrally located café at Harvard University. Here, chocolate items were readily accessible by the checkout counter and the snack areas of the café. There is limited social interaction in the café because food is often purchased and eaten on-the-go as students sneak a bite between classes or while they cram for exams. To fit this manner of consumption, the café only carried bulk chocolate, such as Reese’s and M&Ms, and even their more expensive options, such as the Odwalla chocolate protein shake, were also mass-produced and conveniently packaged. Bulk chocolate producers enjoy enormous market share, not only in Harvard cafés but also the American chocolate landscape more broadly. Therefore, the pattern of unsociable consumption corresponds with the success of the industrial chocolate.
Thus far, the sociality of chocolate seems to provide the same conclusion of industrialized food that Goody proposes. Goody claims the developments in production and retailing allowed for “homogenization of food consumption,” so “differences in income, class, and status have to manifest themselves in other ways” (Goody 85). However, there has been a recent growth in artisanal chocolate’s popularity that appears contradictory to Goody’s perspective of world food industrailization. Goody’s argument that improvements in food preservation, mechanization, retailing, and transportation shape the food landscape falls short in explaining the contemporary popularity of non-industrial foods. Can trends in the sociality of consumption better justify why both industrial and artisanal chocolate are popular in 2015?
Firstly, as sharing one’s food experiences online becomes a growing trend, eating has become social again. Because these social media platforms have become “a barometer for popularity, friendship status, and self-worth” (Simmons), using these channels to simulate interactive food consumption has generated a modern intersection between class, socialization, and eating. The use of social media apps demonstrates a highly class-based practice through the possession of smart phones and stable data or Internet access. On Instagram, photos filed under “#chocolate” demonstrate how consumers have incorporated social media into food consumption habits to reestablish artisanal chocolate’s social importance. Eating fine chocolate links a consumer to a higher class due to the pricey nature of the food, the more sophisticated palate associated with enjoying the taste, and the requisite knowledge of chocolate. Thus, manifested distinctions in income, class, and status can be conferred through apps like Instagram in today’s chocolate landscape. The majority of chocolate photos on Instagram (when I previewed the hashtag) featured artisanal chocolate (e.g., boxed truffles from expensive stores) demonstrating how people used social media to share moments of chocolate luxury; unsurprisingly, virtually nobody shared photos of bulk chocolate. Similar to attending eighteenth century refrescos, posting photos of one’s expensive chocolate appears to promote a more social consumption experience that differentiates an elite consumer from the masses.
Similarly, popular apps like Yelp allow people to share their eating excursions through writing public reviews, checking in, or sharing pictures. Even when chocolate is eaten alone, the act of consuming fine chocolate (i.e., chocolate worthy of social media sharing) can be flaunted to people who are not in attendance. Class has become engrained in Yelp’s social dynamics; accumulating a certain number of “check-ins” can make a user a “Duke”, “Baron”, or “King,” and those who are most active on the site annually are deemed “Yelp Elite.” Thus, it is important for users to convey a certain class status through the foods that they review, paving the way for increased interest in artisanal chocolate. For example, the 821 reviews, 264 photographs, and countless check-ins on Yelp for the L.A. Burdick Chocolate location in Harvard Square underscore how consumers are deeply engaged in broadcasting their presence at fine chocolate establishments. Contemporary social media usage counters the post-Industrial Revolution concept that chocolate consumption is unsocial and classless, and these social practices to justify the return of craft chocolate’s popularity.
Secondly, chocolate manufacturers are finding ways to make consumption more interactive. Manufacturers are building success through “targeting their local communities at markets, events, and their own retail locations and combining that with a factory tour and tasting experience” (Williams and Eber 156). By purposely including social interaction with chocolate eating, this strategy allows craft chocolate to shift away from the solitary eating experience associated with mass-produced convenience chocolate. As craft chocolate companies promote these interactive tours and tastings, the connection between sociality and artisanal chocolate consumption is strengthened. Generating a social culture around craft chocolate consumption mirrors the interaction in chocolate houses and refrescos that foster an in-crowd of chocolate “foodies” who attend these events. Hence, these strategies harken back to Old World interactive eating customs and enable artisanal chocolate to regain its social importance.
My experience at Taza Chocolate, a craft chocolate manufacturer in Somerville, MA, encompasses both these trends related to contemporary chocolate customs. On the chocolate tasting tour, people discussed what they liked and did not like about the flavors and their thoughts on chocolate generally—a social experience that contrasted with the unconscious, everyday consumption of bulk chocolate. In addition, I noticed many people using Instagram and Facebook to share photos of their experience. Thus, the prevalence of these newly introduced social customs justifies why more consumers are now interested in artisanal chocolate. By focusing on the technological developments of food in preserving, mechanization, retailing, and transport, without the sociality of consumption, Goody’s argument can only provide a stagnant picture of the food landscape. However, if we include discussions about the social, or unsocial, nature of food consumption, we can better understand how the food supply is perpetually in flux.
When discussing the development of food, scholars would be remiss if they ignored how changes in the population’s consumption habits also transform the experience of food. As these patterns can provide insights on the social implications of food, tracing trends of consumption enables a better understanding of how the food landscape shifts. Although fine chocolate was once the food of elite Baroque European gatherings, mass consumption and the need for comfort and convenience led to a boom in bulk chocolate. Nevertheless, modern use of social media as well as new interactive marketing tactics by chocolate manufacturers have re-established the sociality of chocolate consumption and thus help to explain the recent resurgence of artisanal chocolate.
Many modern-day chocolate enthusiasts are surprised to learn that when the Spaniards first encountered Mesoamerica they were repulsed by the cacao-beverage of the native Aztecs. Due to its gritty texture and bitter taste, some even said it was more of a drink for pigs than humans and even barbaric, due to the sight of Aztecs with red-stained mouths as if they had been drinking blood due to their achiote-laced chocolate. Spanish aversion to drinking cacao eventually dissipated, partly due to the filling, nonalcoholic nature of the beverage and out of necessity. Having palates familiar with Old World flavors, the new settlers imported livestock such as cows and sheep as well as crops such as wheat, sugar cane, and peaches. The Maya and Aztecs used honey as a sweetener but had nothing close to the sweet tooth cravings of the Europeans. Not surprisingly, hybridization began to occur between the two cultures. An entire generation of Spanish Creoles born, and this was the context in which chocolate was eventually transplanted to Old Spain and the rest of Europe, which led to the introduction of chocolate to the European colonies in North America, the Caribbean, and around the world through trade. If the original Mesoamerican cacao beverage had not undergone extensive hybridization with European customs such as taste modification and linguistic changes, then chocolate as we know it probably would have never existed.
Imaginary scene of Aztecs creating chocolate, from John Ogillby’s America, of 1671. The artist has misunderstood the use of the metate, and has incorrectly included the post-Conquest molinillo. (Coe 113).
There is much debate concerning the origins of the word “chocolate”. In many old documents and letters chocolate is referred to as “cacahuatl”, (“cacao water”). One compelling reason for the linguistic switch among its white consumers is the reality that words and word roots in one language can become awkward and even offensive once transferred to a foreign cultural and linguistic setting. In most Roman languages, the word “caca” is a vulgar term for feces. (The term cacafuego—“shitfire” even appears in an early 18th century Spanish-English dictionary.) It is understandable why Spaniards would be uncomfortable with a word beginning with “caca” to describe a thick, brown drink they wanted to introduce to Europeans back home. One popular theory of where “chocolate” came from is the Maya word “chocol” and the Aztec word for water “atl”. It is safe to say if this name change had not happened, then the drink would have probably never become popular back in Europe, and without introducing the new methods of preparing and serving the drink, (i.e. the introduction of sugar), then chocolate would have remained a local delicacy of Central and South America among the native elites, not eventually a global phenomenon consumed by all social classes.
The chocolate drink was originally served as a cold, bitter, unsweetened beverage, probably in part due to the warm climate of Central America. The Spanish insisted on drinking their chocolate hot and regularly sweetening it with cane sugar, as well as replacing spices such as “ear flower” and the foreign chili pepper with more familiar flavors such as cinnamon, anise seed, and black pepper. Europeans also needed to figure out a way that they could transport chocolate across the ocean on long voyages back to Spain; chocolate was too perishable. The Spaniards manufactured the finished beverage from a dried wafer or tablet of ground cacao that just needed hot water and sugar added to it. Guatemalan nuns may have invented this method, but Aztec warriors were also issued similar “instant chocolate” for sustenance during military campaigns. The Spaniards used these wafers as a convenient way to store and ship the cacao as a dried product, not unlike the instant hot cocoa we continue to drink today.
Image from nationwidecandy.com (2015)
And finally, the last change required in order for chocolate to become popular in Europe was its marketing. Unlike the sacredness and spirituality of chocolate in the Aztec context, in Europe it was marketed as medicine beneficial for all humoral temperaments (a desirable trait in the Baroque medical terminology of the time). Similar to other common drugs of the time (i.e. tea and coffee) the medicine became recreational, not unlike the Coca Cola phenomenon in the Americna South. All of these drinks engendered a craving for them by those who drank them, (due to their stimulant nature) and chocolate became a mainstream component of the European diet.
The Family of the Duke of Penthievre or The Cup of Chocolate by Jean-Baptiste Chapentier. (mystudios.com)
Ultimately, at the time Europe had the most widespread access to the majority of the globe through colonization. In order for the Europeans to have spread chocolate to their territories, they would have to had developed a craving for the beverage, which would not have happened if hybridization of the Mesoamerican beverage had not occurred through taste, language, and initial branding as a health food.
Coe, Sophia D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson. 2007. Print. Chapter 4: Encounters and Transformation, Chapter 5: Chocolate Encounter Europe, pp.106-176.
Chapentier, Jean-Baptiste. The Family of the Duke of Penthievre (The Cup of Chocolate). 1768. http://www.mystudios.com 20 Feb 2015
Dakin, Karen and Wichmann, Soren. Ancient Mesoamerica. Vol 11 Issue 1. Jan 2000, pp. 55-75. http://dx.doi.org 08 September 2000. WEb. 20 Feb 2015. Abstract.
Ogillby, John. America. 1671. Engraving. The True History of Chocolate. Coe, Sophie D., Coe, Michael D. 2nd ed. 2007. 113. Print.
Cacao – a Greek word meaning the “food of the gods” (Coe & Coe, 1996, pg. 18). The man responsible for giving the chocolate tree this name, Linneaus, may not have known whose gods he was referring to, but the naming of this tree illustrates the significant relationship between religion and the fruit this tree bears, chocolate (Coe & Coe). Chocolate had such a significant role in the Mayan & Aztec civilizations that it permeated every aspect of life – their writings, myths, rituals, politics, economics, customs, and beliefs. Although cacao was sacred among those in Mesoamerica, it didn’t have the same religious significance in Baroque Europe. In fact, they often seemed confused as to how it fit in with their current religious practices. Cacao was important in the daily practices and customs of those in Mesoamerican societies because of their sacred significance in their origins stories, but this relationship between chocolate and religion diverged when brought back to Baroque Europe because the presence of preexisting religious beliefs made chocolate difficult to fit into their customs.
In order to fully understand the relationship between chocolate and religion, it is important to first understand what all constitutes religion. Charles Long, a historian of religion, explains that “religion of any people is more than a structure of thought; it is experience, expression, motivations, intentions, behaviors, styles, and rhythms” (Long, 1985, pg. 7). This means that religion doesn’t necessarily just mean beliefs about god, but also the customs and practices people employ that relate to these beliefs.
Cacao was such a significant part of Mayan religion because they believed cacao to be the food of the gods, which can be seen in their writings, rites of death and myths about fertility, marriage and their civilization’s origin. One such writing from colonial times, the Popol Vuh, was written by a Franciscan friar, but is the oldest document to contain a full Mayan myth in its entirety. This document makes multiple references to cacao and its sacred value to the Mayans including a myth about their origin in which god uses foods including cacao to form the human bodies and thus beginning the Mayan civilization (Coe & Coe).
Cacao can also be seen throughout Mayan hieroglyphics being consumed by gods in ritual activities related to fertility, marriage and death.The image above is the Mayan hieroglyph for cacao that appears throughout many of their writings. The image below illustrates one such marriage ritual known as tac haa, roughly translated as “to serve chocolate” or “to invite the father of a girl whom one’s son wants to marry to discuss the marriage and serve him drink” (Martin, 2015). Cacao was used in this ritual in which they asked for their hand in marriage, but because cacao was also used by the Mayans as currency, it was also used to pay marriage dowries. Mayan hieroglyphics also depicted cacao in funerals and rites of death, another important religious ritual. Because of the stimulant effects of cacao, it was believed to energize and ease the soul’s journey to the underworld (Martin). Because the Mayan’s believed that cacao was a critical element in god forming their society, it became an integral part of their customs and beliefs.
Whereas the cacao fruit was sacred to the Mayan’s, the Aztecs saw the cacao trees as sacred because they believed it to be the World tree. A belief among multiple religions, the World Tree or First tree is seen as the center of the universe and the source of all life (Martin, 2015). The Aztecs believed there were four world trees, one for each of the cardinal directions as seen in the image to the right. According to the Aztecs, the cacao tree was the world tree of the South. This motif had so much religious significance that in the image above, the cacao tree can be seen next to the Aztec maize god as well as the Aztec god of death. Because of the significant role the cacao tree played in their religious beliefs, it was utilized in many of their customs and practices. Like the Mayans, cacao was used by the Aztecs in many rituals including offerings to deities as well as healing rituals. They believed illnesses were given to the people from gods, so they used cacao as a way to heal all sorts of illnesses. Because the Aztecs saw cacao trees as a World Tree and a central theme in their religious beliefs, cacao became in important part of their daily practices.
Cacao and religion had significant relationship in Mesoamerican societies, but when taken back to Europe, a similar relationship did not exist. According to historian Marcy Norton explained that for indigenous peoples, cacao was understood as “essential to their physical, social and spiritual well-being.” (Norton, 2008, pg. 1). As explained earlier, cacao was part of Mayan origin myths and seen by the Aztecs as a World Tree. Because cacao played a significant role in the foundation of their religious beliefs, it was a part of their daily customs and traditions. Baroque Europe already had established beliefs from the Catholic Church when cacao was brought back from the New World. Even scholars weren’t sure how to incorporate it into their existing practices– could chocolate be consumed on fasting days? Because Baroque Europe had such strong ties to the Catholic church and cacao was not a part of its origins and beliefs, chocolate became a commodity rather than remaining an significant and sacred part of their customs and daily traditions.
Coe, S., & Coe, M. (1996). The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.
Long, C. (1985). Significations. New York: Seabury Press.
Martin, C. (Director) (2015, February 2). Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”. AAAS 119x Lecture 3. Lecture conducted from Harvard University, Cambridge.
Norton, M. (2008). Sacred gifts, profane pleasures: A history of tobacco and chocolate in the Atlantic world. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Are some foods more than just a way to find sustenance? Even before the Classic Maya era, cacao was viewed as one of the most important goods a person could obtain, due to its deeply held social, religious, and economic value in society. It became a staple in the Mesoamerican world, and eventually, after European explorers began to realize its strong significance to the people of the “New World”, they began to bring it back to Europe with them on their return voyages, where it gained popularity mostly among the upper class, except in England, where it was easily accessible to all people. While both the Mesoamerican and Baroque European societies enjoyed cacao, they did have a number of differences in its use and significance to the society as a whole.
The earliest traces of cacao use date back to almost 1400 BC in present-day Honduras, according to Hillary Christopher’s Cacao’s Relationship with Mesoamerican Society. The system used to trade cacao was very extensive, and in some cases, shaped the economy of a community. Cacao was farmed in the rural areas of a society, where it would be harvested and brought to the urban centers, either for trade for goods not easily accessible in the distant regions, or as a tribute to the ruler. Cacao beans were very valuable and were used as currency, as noted in a Nahuatl document we viewed in class, which described the approximate worth of cacao beans in comparison to other commodities. While very important to the economies of Mesoamerican societies, cacao was equally, if not more so, important for its use in religious and social contexts. In the Codex Féjérvary-Mayer, it shows that the Mayans believed that the cacao tree played a role in creation stories and interactions with their gods. Another social role cacao played was its role in general socialization rituals. One such ritual, called tac haa, involved a courter serving a chocolate drink to the father of a woman he wished to marry. Chocolate was usually served at fancy meals and feasts for the upper classes of society.
In Baroque Europe, only the social aspect of the chocolate carried over to general society. In countries like Spain and France, chocolate was only consumed by the upper class, who had access to other goods like sugar and spices to sweeten and adjust the taste to their liking. It was a status symbol for the wealthy. In England, before tea and coffee became mainstream, accessible products, chocolate was served in “chocolate houses”, where the citizenry would gather to discuss politics and other relevant topics. These chocolate houses became important staples in the English social scene. When it first arrived, these houses promoted this new chocolate drink for its many benefits. “Within the next decade, a slew of pamphlets appeared proclaiming the miraculous, panacean qualities of the new drink, which would boost fertility, cure consumption, alleviate indigestion and reverse ageing”, said an article documenting the history of British chocolate houses in the Telegraph, a British newspaper. This led to the explosion of popularity of chocolate in England.
While the people who first discovered the use of cacao in Mesoamerica had a plethora of uses for it, which included monetary, religious, and social purposes, both the Mesoamerican civilizations and Baroque Europe used chocolate as a tool for socialization and gathering with peers.
If one were to walk into any convenience store or supermarket, one might expect to find an entire aisle filled with chocolate products of different flavors and constituents. However, chocolate’s introduction (chocolate being indigenous to the New World) into Baroque European life in the 16th and 17th century was drastically different. Firstly, it was solely consumed as a hot beverage, which was emulated from the customs of the Mesoamerican peoples that the Europeans had encountered. Furthermore, in Spanish and French society, chocolate was reserved only for the monarch’s court and highest-ranking nobility. (Green 1) On the other hand, the integration of chocolate into British society allowed the product to become more widely consumed as well as to begin to resemble the delicacy we associate it to be today.
The first major development that promulgated the popularity of chocolate in Britain in the 17th century was the introduction of chocolate houses. Although chocolate was initially contained to only Spain and France, it was first introduced in Britain in the 1650s. Almost immediately, the first chocolate house sprung up in 1657. (The Story of Chocolate 1) Modeled after existing London coffee houses, these establishments offered food as well as their special beverages. The all-male patrons engaged in card playing, gambling and discussed politics and business. Although reserved mainly for the upper class (due to chocolate’s expensive price), the houses were often chaotic environments. In fact, White’s, one of the premier chocolate houses in London, was described as ‘the most fashionable hell in London.” (Green 1)
The nature of the chocolate houses helped change the perception and associated use of chocolate in Baroque Europe. The Spanish considered chocolate to be useful due to its perceived medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities. It was consumed by the most elite members of society and treated as a ritualistic drink. In contrast, the chocolate houses in Britain made the drink more casual and commonplace. Drinking chocolate became a social event, and an activity done daily. Consumption became more about enjoyment and indulgence than the perceived benefits of chocolate. It is important to note that the consumption of chocolate was still only confined to the elite male population and it would be centuries before the product became available to the whole population as it now is.
Britain was also the site of the first consumption of chocolate as a cold beverage. Both the Mesoamerican cultures, that first produced chocolate, and the Spanish prepared and drank chocolate as a hot beverage. Historians recently uncovered a recipe to produce an iced chocolate beverage. The recipe states,
“Prepare the chocolatti [to make a drink]… and then putt the vessell that hath the chocolatti in it, into a jaraffa [i.e. a carafe] of snow stirred together with some salt, & shaike the snow together sometyme & it will putt the chocolatti into tender curdled ice & soe eate it with spoons.” (Doucleff 1)
This recipe, written by the Earl of Sandwich, deviated greatly from the established norm of preparing chocolate. Many people worried about the effects of consuming cold chocolate due to its “unwholesome nature.” Even the author of the recipe recommends that one should drink a hot chocolate after to counteract the negative effects. The health concerns notwithstanding, this iced chocolate recipe represents an early attempt to change the associated preparation of chocolate into forms that are widely consumed today.
The integration of chocolate into 17th-century British society changed the consumption of the drink. The chocolate houses allowed chocolate to be perceived as more of a treat than a ritualistic beverage. Additionally, developments, such as the iced chocolate recipe, introduced other ways to prepare and consume chocolate. The effects of these changes to the role of chocolate helped transform it into the premier delicacy of our current society.
Doucleff, Michaeleen. “Earl Of Sandwich Blended Frappes Long Before Starbucks.” NPR. NPR, 11 Sept. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
“Europeans.” – The Story of Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
Green, Matthew. “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
“London’s Chocolate Houses.” Herb Museum, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
“Scientist Finds Manuscript with First English Recipes for Iced Chocolate Desserts.” SciNews.com, 4 Sept. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.