The sourcing and production of chocolate had a direct effect on its place in the social hierarchy in different societies and cultures across time. It is possible to see this by going in depth into three chronological time periods in different places in the world where the allure of cacao had spread. By an early exploration of Mayan chocolate production to Venezuelan plantations ending at the discovery of the Cocoa press in the Netherlands.
Mayan Chocolate Making
Mayans revered chocolate, it played an essential role in their stories of origin and cosmology. It was used in burial rites and great ceremonies. Cacao was grown agriculturally by the Mayans 1.
One of the only direct evidence discovered about how Mayans made their chocolate is found in this vessel on the right-hand side which shows a lady pouring chocolate drink from a height into another cup. This was to create the foam that was extremely prized in the Mayan culture; it was thought to be the breath of the Gods.
This Maya Princeton Vase is evidence for the heavy usage and importance of cacao in the Mayan culture. It has engraved hieroglyphics for the word cacao coupled with cosmological depictions.
The Maya had many ways of using Cacao to make food.
Chacau haa – This is hot chocolate drink.
Tzune – This is a mix of cacao, maize and sapote seeds.
Saca– A gruel made from cooked maize, water, and cacao.
The flavoring that was commonly used was vanilla and ‘ear flower’2. These different ways of cooking show a creative and vibrant diversity in the usage of the cacao pod. It is highly developed and adaptable. It shows cacao to be an essential part of the Mayan culture and diet.
The remnants of traditional Mayan way of making chocolate drink are still alive today in certain parts of Mexico among the Mayan communities. This video highlights and explains the traditional ways women make the chocolate drink in these Mayan communities.
This video shows us how labor intensive and time consuming it was to make chocolate drink in the Mayan style. The cacao beans have to shelled, roasted, dried in the sun, ground and after this long process mixed with water ready to be consumed.
Venezuelan Cacao Boom
The high-quality strain of Criollo cacao is native to Venezuela. It started being produced agriculturally at the turn of the seventeenth century. The first recorded shipment is in 1607 from La Guaira to Spain 3. This was under the influence of Hispanic colonization, those working on these plantations were slaves and laborers 4.
Here the cacao was so abundantly grown it was consumed on a regular basis by everybody, from slaves to lords. There were three different styles in consuming the cacao 5.
Cerrero– ( rough and ready, bitter ) This was just plain cacao dissolved in water with no added flavorings or sweeteners. It was widely drunk by people in the interiors.
Chorote– Made by creating solid chocolate balls which are dissolved in water, added to this is muscovado sugar. The chocolate balls were created by boiling ground cacao to separate the fats and solids. This was drunk by people in the cities as well as given to slaves and laborers for lunch and dinner.
Chocolate– Made by mixing balls of ground chocolate mixed with sugar or honey, toasted corn, seasonings such as cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. This was consumed by the Spanish elite at morning and noon meals.
The mass production led to cacao being available for everybody to consume. However what marks the social classes is by what process they made their cacao and what was added to it. Also the number of cacao beans used in the food and the time and effort of making it.
Development of industrial techniques of cacao processing
Conrad Johanes Van Houten discovered, along with his father the Cocoa press and Dutch process chocolate 6.
This created a fast and easy chocolate producing technique. It was adopted by big industries to use in their ways of chocolate production. This created a speedy and cheaper way of making good tasting chocolate.
Another process invented was the conching of chocolate. This was invented by Rudolfhe Lindt in Switzerland 7.
. It created smoother chocolate and covered the origins and original flavors and textures of the cacao bean, hence a bean sourced from anywhere of any strain could be used. The image below portrays the process of creating smoother chocolate.
These invented process allowed for the anonymity of cacao in the chocolate drink and bar. It became possible to mass produce chocolate without knowing of the origins and sourcing of the cacao bean that went into the chocolate. This created a lot of distance between the agriculture of growing cacao, strains and qualities of the pod and the consumer of the chocolate.
Mass Chocolate Production Today
This kind of mechanized industrialized mass production allows for a lot of chocolate to be produced. When chocolate production moved to such a mechanized way of being made, it became widely available for the average consumer. In today’s world chocolate is a regular household good with a large gap between knowledge of the sourcing and production of chocolate and the regular consumers of chocolate. The intensive agricultural development of cacao with the support of slave exploitation and the inventions of chocolate processing in Europe led to chocolate as is known today.
1- Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.
2- Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.
3- Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.
4- Romero, Simon. “In Venezuela, plantations of cocoa stir bitterness.” The New York Times (2009): A04.
5- Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.
6- Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.
7- Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.
Throughout our time in chocolate class so far I have wondered what the modern-day chocolate industry looks like outside of the United States. During my recent travels through Ecuador, I visited several markets, pictured left. Indoor and outdoor, the tables and surrounding floors of these markets were piled high with products: produce, grains and meats, some more familiar than others. These markets were, for the most part, similar to ones I’ve seen during travels through European countries. A lifelong lover and now student of gastronomy, one of the reasons I enjoy exploring markets in different countries is to see and understand the different products the local people consume on a daily basis. Being my first time traveling to a South American country, I had never seen the wide variety of cacao products many of the vendors were selling before. These products are, of course, remarkably unprocessed in comparison to the chocolate products that line the shelves of the baking and candy aisles in grocery stores here in America. Seeing, smelling, feeling, and tasting these raw, minimally processed products gave me a new appreciation for the abundance of this rich, historic product and the various ways it is sold and marketed in Ecuador today. I was happy to see that the cacao products offered in the markets were undisturbed by modernization to some degree.
In contrast to the cacao products found in the market, I also visited several high-end chocolate retail shops, all using a unique approach to marketing their chocolate as the best of the best. Amedeo Chocolate, located in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador seems to be on the rise in terms of luxury, single-origin chocolates. Having stopped into their shop several times while in Cuenca, I became well oriented to their company and products. They offer several different kinds of chocolate, each bar indicating on it where the cacao beans were sourced from. A favorite of mine and others I was with was their dark milk chocolate using cacao from Los Rios, Ecuador. At 53%, this chocolate bar was very appealing to me, a milk chocolate lover, while still managing to be appealing to others who favor dark chocolate more highly. There truly is a large difference in the quality of the single-origin chocolate found in Ecuador in regards to flavor; mass produced, multiple-sourced chocolate bars truly do not come close in regards to overall quality.
We were lucky enough to be able to meet the owner as well as the chef at Amedeo to learn even more about their chocolate production. I was curious about how a modern company approached production in a place rich with cacao history. Our conversation began with a tasting of the white, fluffy edible fruit that surrounds the bean. It tasted surprisingly like a mix of papaya and kiwi. I was equally surprised to learn that when the bean is broken in half, it is a deep purple color. Amedeo receives their beans after they have been fermented and dried. Chef Ruth Mahoney sources only rare, heirloom-certified beans from three cacao plantations in coastal Ecuador and from one other plantation in Tumbres, Peru. The cacao sourced from the coast of Ecuador is considered Forastero, one of the major branches of origin for cacao. The others being Criollo as well as a hybrid of the two known as Trinitarios (Presilla 2009). After the beans arrive at the Amedeo factory they are hand sorted and then roasted. Following this first step, they grind the beans and separate out the dried husks. Next they crush the beans into broken pieces, what are widely known as ‘nibs’, and refined until they reach 10 microns. Mahoney explains that this releases and blends the acidic chemicals while creating an amazing sensory experience. Finally, the chocolate undergoes constant stirring which smooths the molecules. Mahoney explained, “We treat our chocolate like fine wine. We let it age for up to 60 days, allowing all of the chemical flavors and crystals to blend and bind together.” From there, products are poured into molds and shaped into bars. Amedeo prides themselves on their goal to reduce waste as much as possible and as such offer several other interesting products like cacao tea made from the dried husks as well as cacao powder, drinking chocolate, and cocoa butter hand lotion. In addition to their bars, which sell for between $10 and $16 USD, they also offer several different kinds of truffles as well as a new product: cacao beans hand-rubbed and coated with liquefied chocolate and then hand rolled in cocoa powder. Despite their success in developing connections within the United States to distribute and sell their chocolate, they are very limited in terms of the amount of production they can do. For example, the beans used in their dark milk chocolate bar have become increasingly popular and because of this, more beans will not become available until 2019, we were told.
While cacao seems to be alive and well, this hasn’t always been the case. “Ecuador’s cacoa industry has been collapsing throughout the twentieth century. Its prized Arriba, already in serious trouble, received what may have been the coup de grace from the 1982 to 1983 and the 1997 to 1998 climate disruptions of El Nino” (Presilla 2009 p. 49). Despite this, there are a few individuals leading the way in trying to create a thriving market for Ecuadorian Cacao. “Latin America has been sitting on a gold mine of cacao that has historically been sold to other countries,” said Maricel Presilla, U.S. based chef, food historian and member of the International Chocolate Awards, “but now is the time to reclaim that resource” (NBC News 2016) See how they do it at Pacari Chocolate , one of Ecuador’s most thriving chocolate companies.
In our American culture, there is no sweet flavor that enjoys the popularity of chocolate. From its use in cakes to ice cream, the sweet and creamy nature of chocolate has become a massive cultural and entrepreneurial phenomenon that is central to our eating habits and socialization. However, the origins of chocolate date back to thousands of years in the Amazonian rainforest where the Cacao plant was first domesticated. Most people are accustomed to its sweet flavor and mildly roasted aftertaste, however, for the Maya and Aztecs, chocolate encompassed a variety of drinks with different flavors that were enjoyed by everyone from commoners to elite rulers like Aztec emperor Moctezuma, who was said to consume more than ten cups of chocolate a day (How Chocolate Works, 25:21). The perception around chocolate in pre-Columbian times included religious, social and medicinal elements that survive to this day in our modern times.
Our obsession with chocolate (Cacao) can be said to be quite extreme, however, for ancient Mesoamerican civilization it encompassed a much broader category of food and rituals. For the Aztecs and Maya, chocolate became central for their relationship with others and fulfilled a religious purpose within its mythology: “ […]the ethnohistorical sources from Central Mexico make clear that many types of chocolate drinks were enjoyed by elites of the Highlands. The Florentine Codex describes the rich variety of chocolate offered to Mexica Aztec rulers, including “green cacao-pods, honeyed chocolate, flowered chocolate, flavored with green vanilla, bright red chocolate, huitztecolli-flavored chocolate, flower-colored chocolate, black chocolate, white chocolate” (McNeil, 184). Chocolate, or its original fruit name Cacao, was treated not only as a comfort sweet drink as we perceive it in our society; they also attributed medicinal, aphrodisiac and even ceremonial purposes to the fruit itself which has a citrus-like flavor.
Initially, South American tribes created a variety of fermented drinks with the Cacao pulp or “chicha” which later evolved into including its bitter seeds or “almendras”. Such drinks became central for socialization and are still enjoyed by most adults in celebratory and everyday settings (depending on the drink). For example, non-alcoholic recipes: “ [they] are made by fermenting the cacao seeds, drying them, optionally toasting them, grinding them, and mixing them with water in a thick, bitter suspension” (McNeil, 140). This drink can be considered the equivalent of our current understanding of coffee; it is often described as refreshing, gives you energy and does not inebriate. The slightly roasted and bitter flavor of chocolate we are accustomed to came to be after years of experimentation with the fruit. Archeological evidence shows that the Maya applied roasting and drying techniques to peppers, squashes and achiote, and such practice was later applied to cacao seeds that eventually developed the roasted and bitter flavor of chocolate as we know it today. “[…] the Classic Maya took their chocolate very seriously and that it was a drink of pleasure as well as political and social importance” (McNeil, 201). Scientists were are able to find the alkaloids Theobromine and Feine which are found cacao products. Such presence in ancient vessels along Maya writings describing “Kakaw” made it possible to infer that Mesoamerican civilizations attributed significant importance to cacao-made drinks and even attributed aphrodisiac properties (Sophie & Michael D. Coe, 31). In addition, ceremonial varieties were also used by the Maya who even had a cacao deity. In her book, The New Taste of Chocolate, Maricel Presilla writes: “We know that chocolate colored with Achiote had the symbolic meaning of a sacrificial victim’s blood, the sacred fluid that was the fuel of the Maya ritual universe” (Presilla, 13). As cacao was sacredly mentioned in the creation story of the Popol Vuh, in which the cacao god ascends from the underworld, it was given sacred properties and therefore used in religious ceremonies.
In modern western tradition, chocolate is socialized slightly different than its Mesoamerican counterparts: chocolate is treated as a comfort food (or a treat) of a rewarding nature without ceremonial purposes. As a result, aggressive marketing campaigns are developed in which chocolate becomes a commodity to show affection or endearment such as Valentine’s Day. In this way, chocolate still plays a role in developing a highly social interaction between members of such societies around the food. In the western world, cacao seeds are usually roasted, milk is added, and sweetened with sugar and the byproduct is not alcoholic. Some Europeans chocolate producers like the Belgian company Godiva Chocolatier make high profits by marketing all varieties of chocolate products (from milk and dark chocolate bars to smoothies and seasonal strawberries that are covered in melted chocolate). Sweet chocolate has become an accessible delicacy that is enjoyed by most members of our society and shows no sigs of slowing down. The cacao plant has become so influential in our society that it has been adapted all over the world to suit each market’s needs. For example, in Mexico, some varieties of spicy chocolate still exist, and in South America, some varieties of sweet chocolate make use of the pulp to add some flavor.
Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
“Princeton Vase, from Nakbe Region.” Princeton Vase, from Nakbe Region.
From its journey to Europe from the New World at the beginning of the sixteenth century all the way to its modern-day iteration, chocolate has become an important staple for people all over the world. Provided here is a brief history of its long and fruitful evolution through time – from Europeans first encounter with the substance through its development into an industrialized food.
The Olmecs (1500-400 BC) were almost certainly the first humans to consume chocolate. They would crush the cocoa beans, mix them with water and add spices, chillies and herbs – thus first creating, “the nectar of the Gods!”
Over time, the Mayans (600 BC) and Aztecs (400 AD) developed their own successful methods for cultivating cocoa. For these civilizations, cocoa was a symbol of privilege and abundance. It was used in religious rituals dedicated to Quetzalcoatl (the Aztec god responsible for bringing the cocoa tree to man) to Chak ek Chuah (the Mayan patron saint of cocoa) and as an offering at the funerals of noblemen.
Discovery and Commercialization of Cocoa (16th century) In 1528Hernando Cortez drank cacao with the Aztec emperor Montezuma and brought it back to Spain.
The Spanish court soon fell in love with this exotic elixir and adapted it to their tastes, adding cane sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and pepper.
In 1585, the first cargo of cocoa beans arrived on the Iberian Peninsula from New Spain, launching the trade in cocoa, resulting in the establishment of the first chocolate shops and a rapidly growing demand for this mysterious nectar from the new world.
The expansion of cocoa in Europe (17th – 19th centuries) During the 17th century, cocoa began arriving in other ports throughout Europe, effortlessly conquering every region’s palate. Chocolate beverages were first embraced by the French court following the royal marriage of King Louis XIII to the Spanish Princess Anne of Austria in 1615.
In 1650 chocolate beverages first appeared in England coinciding with the arrival of tea from China and coffee from the Middle East. For many years it remained a treat reserved for the upper classes.
In 1659 the first chocolate-confection maker opened in Paris.
In 1720, Italian chocolate-makers received prizes in recognition of the quality of their products. Then in 1765, North America finally discovered the virtues of cocoa.
Cocoa During the Industrial Era Industrialization has had a marked democratizing effect on chocolate, transforming it from a rare delicacy reserved for royals, to a widely available and readily affordable treat for the masses.
In 1828, Dutch Chemist Coenraad van Houten invented a process for extracting cocoa butter, allowing for the extraction of cocoa powder. This made chocolate more homogenous and less costly to produce. From this moment on, the history of cacao changed drastically.
In 1847, English chocolate maker J.S. Fry & Sons produced the first chocolate bar. The use of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks easier, but also made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar to create a solid bar.
In 1830-1879 Switzerland, chocolate flavored with hazelnuts was developed by Daniel Peteris followed by milk chocolate developed by Henri Nestlé.
In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine. This new machine made the process of making chocolate a lot faster, and also helped make chocolate smoother and creamier.
Within the United States in 1893, confectionist Milton Hershey found chocolate making equipment at the Worlds Fair in Chicago and began production at a factory in Pennsylvania.
Chocolate followed the French and American infantry into the trenches of the First World War, and effectively all US chocolate production was requisitioned for the military during the Second World War. In France, chocolate sweets appeared between the wars, and French pralines were considered the most fashionable. This further inspired chocolate producers to experiment with new and exciting flavors.
Converting cacao seeds into chocolate has now evolved into a complex, mechanized process. At the factory the cacao blended, roasted, cracked, winnowed, ground, pressed, mixed, conched, refined and tempered into candy bars. A few icons of the early 1900s still survive today, like Hershey, Cadbury and Nestlé. Either hand-made or as a fast food, it is now an established part of the world’s vocabulary and diet. Famous French gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin poetically summed up our universal love affair with chocolate, “What is health? It is chocolate!”
In these videos from Bon Apetit! you can see cocoa’s long and laborious journey from bean to bar.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Goody, Jack. Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. In Counihan, Carole. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.
Chocolate is the extraordinary and laborious product from cacao, processed into a gem for indulgence to all who enjoy eating it! As I reminisced about the early years of my life living in my beloved Venezuela, I thought fondly about the piece of chocolate that every Venezuelan loves to have: the medium-sized, lustrous ball of rich milk chocolate with a hazelnut inside that is an icon to Venezuela’s history of chocolate and culture – Toronto, made by Savoy. Sadly, the Toronto is no longer as exquisite as it used to be; its quality started decreasing in the 90s. Savoy is an established chocolate company in Venezuela. In this country, the quality of the chocolate industry has gradually declined when the political and economic faces of the country started to change more notoriously and up to this day, they are still carrying severe consequences. How is it possible that for Venezuela, a country that produces the best cacao in the world, the quality of manufacturing chocolate is decreasing?
I believe that this is a political issue and to understand it, it is important to refer to the political history of Venezuela in the last twenty years. There has always been corruption in the Venezuelan government. However, Venezuelans have endured very radical challenges in the political, social and economic areas since the late president Hugo Chavez took office in 1998 who was followed by his successor Nicolas Maduro. It has been with this duo and their political and economic policies that have broken the foundation, the base, the pillars and the structure that sustain the country and its citizens. Many of the main issues that are seen today are caused by the dramatic massive inflation rates that soar every day, aggravated by the devaluation of the Venezuelan currency, el bolivar (1B). The threat of a steadily devaluating currency brought fears of massive capital fight and flight to quality (BBC2013). In theory, the government offered businesses the purchase of the “preferential dollar”, which in other words is American dollars at a much lower and fixed rate than what is sold in the black market. However, when businesses submitted the requirements to obtain the currency to import materials and goods, the actual truth came out: there is no such preferential dollar. This policy was built on lies so that business owners were forced to purchase dollars in the black market so that they could supposedly import the goods as well as purchase materials and ingredients for production.
Although Venezuela’s oil revenue was so lucrative during the Chavez administration and his predecessor’s administration, Carlos Andres Perez, Chavez proclaimed cacao as a very strategic national product in 2010 (Sputnick 2010). Yet, the economies of these two products are incomparable because of their quantity production, time and revenues. Venezuela is known as the country with the best cacao of the world and owning the most precious and the most sought of all: the criollo. Maricel Prescilla, author of The New Taste of Chocolate, states “it is one of the most harmonious and symphonic cacaos. Even the lowliest cacao in Venezuela is fine cacao” (2015). The criollo cacao is cultivated mainly in the town of Chuao which is comprised of a small village of fishermen and it is reachable only by boat from the coastal shores of Choroni. In the class Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food at Harvard Extension School, Dr. Carla Martin lectures students about the unique experience of this farm where the process of criollo cacao is still processed as it was done in the 1500s and 1600s, all through manual work. It is important to know that Venezuela has various regions of cacao farms and not all these farms are equally the same. They vary in climate, geography, care, irrigation, geology and soil conditions that interact with the plant’s genetics. This concept is called Terroir; different terroir, different flavors in chocolate (spring 2017).
I recently spoke with Mr. Victor Guama, a cocoa worker in one of Chuao’s cacao farms. During the phone conversation, he informed me about the process used on this cacao, which is mainly done by women. It is also very important to note that Chuao has many cacao farms where the employees have been and continue to be comprised of generations of families. It seems that they are born to carry on the tradition! He happily says that his mother worked in the cacao fields for forty-four years and his aunt has been working there for thirty-three years. I can sense the pride in his voice when he said that they “are so proud to work for the best and finest cacao in the world, especially when it is produced in our hometown of Chuao, Venezuela. It is very hard work, and we care about it.” In the farm, there are approximately 124 women who harvest the cacao pods, extract the seeds and pulp, begin the fermentation cycle, put them to dry in the sun, and sort and bag the beans so that they can be transported by the 10 men who do the heavy lifting in the farm. Sophie and Michael Coe, authors of The True History of Chocolate write “through fermentation and drying , the cacao’s pulp-surrounded seeds are converted into nibs ready for roasting and grinding into chocolate liquor (105)” Interestingly, Victor also informed me that 75% of the cacao production is sold by contracts to Europe, especially in France and 25% stays in Chuao to make artisanal chocolate. Victor proudly talks about the excellent quality of the criollo cacao harvested in this area, pointing out that the key of its fine quality and distinctive flavor is due to the irrigation system done with the water coming down from the river. Surprisingly, he also said that as cacao workers, the previous administrations before president Chavez never provided job security and benefits to the workers, but Chavez did. Sadly, Chavez’s successor, president Nicolas Maduro eliminated them. These cacao workers are uncared for and underprivileged because the income they receive does not compensate the amount of work and hours they put into the process of the best cacao in the world, especially during the current regimen and difficult time that Venezuela is going through.
Whether or not Savoy produces its own cacao is unknown, however, since 2012 they offer Plan-Cacao Nestle as an integral support program to cacao producers that encircles the producer, family and community as it is shown in its website. Although it presents a list of objectives, it projects vague information. Savoy claims in its website that they make their chocolates with the best cacao in the world, but this claim leads to unanswered questions such as where the cacao comes from.
I would look at Savoy’s history. Savoy opened its doors in Caracas, Venezuela in 1941 by three Swiss brothers. In 1988, Nestlé, a transnational corporation, acquired Savoy and substituted the original crown logo above the name of Savoy for the Nestlé logo on all the packaging. The Savoy company is considered a Venezuelan patrimony and is the primary chocolate company. Even with the decline in quality in recent decades, Savoy chocolates continue to be loved by consumers. Although there is a significant difference between the chocolates that were manufactured more than twenty years ago versus those that are manufactured today, I believe that the problem is not the cacao itself, but more so the quality of the manufacturing process of the various products. It is here where the politics of food plays a very important role in the production and quality control of Savoy manufacturing because the true ingredients are not available. Regardless, there are very noticeable characteristics in the chocolate that a fine Venezuelan chocolate bar should not have which are shown in the image below such as white marks and a bland brown color.
Through the years of the industrialization of chocolate, Savoy is well known for the following products: Cri-Cri, made of crispy rice covered with chocolate, Bolero, a crunchy corn covered with chocolate, and Ping-Pong, the classic crunchy peanut covered in chocolate. Yet, the most popular of all the products is Toronto. It is the one that most Venezuelans, especially those living out of the country, remember with excitement and nostalgia. It is the one that brings memories of relationships between family, friends, school and communities to our lives. It is the one that is always well-received as a gift from relatives and friends coming from Venezuela. I clearly remember the original Toronto as a very rich, fine milk chocolate bombón with a very smooth texture and an impressive satin look that had a deep brown colored hazelnut inside. It melted in my mouth as I ate it, leaving a very pleasant and savoring flavor in my mouth. It was my favorite chocolate! Sadly, this was then. The new Toronto made today from the 90s is tasteless, dry on the outside, and greasy on the inside. It has a boring, bland brown color, breaks into pieces when in my mouth, and its size continues to shrink. Again, a fine piece of Venezuelan chocolate should not have traces of white marks inside as shown in the image below- it almost seems as if the chocolate is old.
There is a large difference between the two eras of Savoy’s chocolate making. My daughter’s generation enjoy and love the new Toronto! When I narrate to them the Toronto of my time, which I used to eat with so much pleasure, they cannot make a connection because they have never tried it and most likely never will. A Savoy retail store located in what used to be a very popular commercial and residential area of Caracas called Boulevard Sabana Grande, used to sell bags of “recortes de chocolate” or “chunks of chocolate.” They were sold by the kilo in clear cellophane bags wrapped in a bow at the top. My job’s office was on the same street side where this Savoy store was and I never failed to buy several bags every quincena or 15 days. Savoy has a long-lived trajectory of a great market and loyal customers who are very proud of these chocolates. Savoy’s trademark, “Con Sabor Venezolano” or “With Venezuelan Flavor” still lays under the oversized Savoy billboard above a building that overlooks the main highway in Caracas, Venezuela. This Savoy sign is equivalent to what the Citgo sign means to Boston!
Savoy remains the chocolate choice of the Venezuelans. They are proud to have an industry that has continuously worked for 75 years, especially since Hugo Chavez expropriated thousands of international investments and production companies in the country, including our own oil companies.
The journalist Ileana Magual from El Universal newspaper writes “One of the icons and jewel in the crown of Venezuelan gastronomy is the cacao, known to be the best in the world. Talking about Venezuela is talking about our unbeatable cacao, our gold vegetable. It used to be shipped, turned into a beverage, and used as an offering and currency by our first settlers who called it ‘the money that grows on trees’” (2015). I hope that the future of the Venezuelan cacao will never vanish because it is a heritage of the land with fertile soil and infinite roots in the trees. As Marisel Presilla writes “where there is cacao, there is life. No tree has more to teach us than cacao, when we take the trouble to see it in its own environmental and biological context (7).” Cacao is the gross domestic product that makes the economy of cacao communities and their generations work for the love of cacao. Based on my research, I do not believe that Savoy uses Venezuelan cacao made in places such as Chuao, however, it could be possible that their chocolates would improve in quality if they did. I wish that my daughter’s generation and the generations to come will someday experience the delightful pleasure of eating the real Toronto just as I dream of Venezuela returning back to the versatile and stable country it once was. Until then, I will continue searching for the chocolate that reminds me of all the fond memories from my childhood in Venezuela!
S.D., Coe, 2013; M. D., Coe, 2013. The True History of Chocolate. London, Thames & Hudson, Ltd
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. New York: Teen Speed Press, 2009. pg., 7
Prof. Carla Martin. Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Personal Communication. Harvard Extension School. Spring 2017.
Victor Guama. Telephone interview. May 6, 2017.
Bulmer-Thomas, Victor. 2013, March 6. Analysis: How Hugo Chavez changed Venezuela. Retrieved from
Why do you love chocolate? Because it is good! It tastes good and makes you happy. It is all that is good in the world wrapped in a beautiful candy bar. What if you learned that your delicious candy bar is a by-product of something bad, the output of someone else’s suffering? A child’s suffering? Would you enjoy it just the same? Eating is not just a means to satisfy hunger; it is also an emotional and psychological experience. We like to eat, and we like to eat good food without any negative connotations. Chocolate does not taste as good when it is served with a side of guilt. Chocolate tastes better when you wholeheartedly know that it came from a good place and produced in an ethical and social responsible manner.
Did you know that the global chocolate industry is nearly $100 billion dollars a year? The United States alone spends a little over 18 billion dollars in chocolate (2015), and that the average American consumes approximately 4.3 kilograms / 9.5 pounds of chocolate a year (2015). In comparison, beating the Americans at chocolate consumption are the Swiss who consume approximately a little over 9 kilograms / 20 pounds per person, then tied for second place are the Germans and the Austrians who approximately consume 3.6 kilograms / 7.4 pounds per person (Satioquia-Tan). Chocolate can be found anywhere around the world and is affordable to the masses especially to those who live in the developed world. Chocolate can be found in candy bars, truffles, fudge, cakes, muffins, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pancakes, health bars, sauces, drinks, in your café mocha, and anywhere you can sprinkle chocolate syrup. You can buy it in a specialty shop, supermarket, mini-market, drugstore, or any corner street gas station.
The majority of chocolate eaters are rather naïve in knowing the history and the current nature of the chocolate-making business. They simply eat it because they love chocolate without really knowing what it is, where it comes from, who makes and how; or any related social issues. For those consumers who are more aware of the social and economic impacts of the chocolate industry are a little more selective in choosing and enjoying their chocolate. To fully appreciate food is to experience it through all the possible senses, the physiological and psychological (Stuckey 13). Only twenty percent of what we physiologically taste happens in our mouths, the rest of the tasting experience happens through our remaining senses of sight, smell, touch, and sound. We, also, want to psychologically feel good about what we are eating. We want to know about the origins, the farming practices, and the ethics of what we are tasting (Stuckey 14). We want to know the context, the beautiful story, of what we are eating so we can enjoy it fully. The other option is to choose to remain a little ignorant of the subject as not to sour our chocolate taste, however this pleasure would be more superficial and would not represent the fullest appreciation of what we are eating. To fully appreciate today’s chocolate, we will have to fully experience it with the body and mind in full awareness of its origins, present journey and social impacts.
What is Chocolate?
cacao beans (based on Wikimedia Commons, by Supermanu, CC BY-SA 2.5)
cacao pods sprouting directly from tree trunks (based on WikiMediaCommons, by Luisovalles, CC BY 3.0)
cacao seeds in pod, surrounded by a fruity, pulp placenta. (based on WikiMediaCommons, by Genet, CC-BY-3.0)
Cocoa is the main ingredient for all chocolate recipes. Cocoa derives from cacao seeds, or more commonly referred to as cacao beans, which grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree. Cacao trees are finicky trees that can only bear fruit in hot and humid tropical climates,twenty degrees from the equator at a specific altitude. These trees are highly dependent on midges, an insect, for its flowers to pollinate and bear fruit (Coe and Coe 19-21, 27). Cacao beans grow inside a fruity, pulp filled pod, approximately 30-40 beans grow inside one pod. Unlike most trees, where fruit grow dangling down from branches, cacao pods sprout directly from the tree trunk. In raw form, cacao beans constitute half its size in fat, cocoa butter. When cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean, what remains is the cocoa (or cocoa powder), the main ingredient of all chocolate (Coe and Coe 27). Before cacao beans turn into chocolate, cacao fruit is first farmed. Upon harvest, fruit pods are removed from trees and cracked open to extract its beans with machetes. Cacao beans are then fermented, dried, sorted, roasted, transported, winnowed (deshelled), ground to a liquor, pressed (to remove the cacao butter), conched, and then what remains is added to chocolate-making recipes. Chocolate is the result of a labor intensive and highly processed food.
Where Does Cacao Come From?
Cacao is native to the New World, the South American’s amazon basin region (Coe and Coe 25), and the Mesoamerican native cultures of the Mayans and Aztecs and predecessors were the first peoples to ever make chocolate dating back as far as 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe 33). Cacao was precious and a sacred food reserved for the elite, special occasions, and sacred rituals. Mayan and Aztecs Gods often appear alongside or in the form of cacao trees in their native hieroglyphs and surviving art (Coe and Coe 42). So precious, cacao beans were even used as a means of monetary currency. In 1545, documented is the commodity price of a tamale: one tamale equals one cacao bean (Coe and Coe 98-99). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish conquistadors were the first Europeans to discover and spread the taste of chocolate to Europe starting in the 1500’s (Coe and Coe 108). At the beginning of the chocolate history in Europe, chocolate was rare, expensive, and for the upper class. Then as time passed and soon after the industrial revolution, chocolate became relatively common and affordable to the masses.
After the end of the American colonial period, in the late 1800’s, the Spanish and the Portuguese introduced cacao to West Africa. Due to favorable climate conditions, cacao flourished in West Africa. Today, approximately seventy percent of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa (Wessel and Quist-Wessel 1). The Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two major countries that supply cacao. There are 2 million, small (3 hectares acres in size), independent farms (Ryan 52) in West Africa that supply three million metric tons of cacao per year (World Cocoa Foundation).
What Are the Social Issues Involving the Chocolate Industry?
Since the first Europeans, the Spanish conquistadors, landed in the New World, the cacao industry has been tainted with slavery and forced labor since 1650’s (Berlan 1092). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish forced the natives to pay tribute in labor and cacao to their new Spanish Crown. After millions of natives died of diseases, the Spanish, like other colonists in the Americas, resorted to using chattel slavery from Africa to extract New World resources (Presilla 24, 33). Chattel slavery officially ended in 1884, however it continued in disguise in Portuguese West Africa well into the 1900’s in the cacao industry and some reports state that it persisted until 1962 (Berlan 1092).
Today, cacao farmer incomes are very volatile for it depends on operating profits, and since cacao is a commodity, the market price. Farmers need to sell their cacao at a high enough price in order to pay off their operation expenses which includes labor, a major expense, just like most businesses. Unexpected operating expenses and / or a fall in market price can be devastating on farmer revenues/incomes. Cacao farmers, per capita, constantly live without the security of a reliable living wage. In 2015, cacao farmers earned 50 to 84 cents on the American dollar a day (Cocoabarometer). As it is, cacao farmers barely break even, and there is little economic incentive for them to stay in the cacao farming business. Due to local poverty and lack of other options, farmers continue to grow cacao under pressure to lower operating costs and often resort to desperate means to make a profit, break even, or just enough to pay for rice and cooking oil (Off 5).
In more recent history in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, a wave of newspaper stories and documentary films exposed the existence of child labor, trafficking, and slaves in West African cacao farms which caused much consumer outrage. The media graphically showed the world the extreme poverty and hard lives of cacao farmers in West Africa and the desperate measures farmers take to lower operating costs by using child slave labor (Berlan 1089).
The documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000), especially shocked viewers by showing how easy it was to find child slaves working on cacao farms and how the local people seem to accept the practice as a way of life. On camera, journalists were able, with relative ease, to overtly interview real child slaves and get first-hand testimony about their hardships, a farm owner who openly admitted to having slaves and in how to get them, and a local official who confirmed as matter of fact that at least 90% of the Ivory Coast farms use child slave labor. Ninety percent implies the existence of hundreds of thousands of slaves (Ryan 118). A 2000 US State Department report estimated that 15,000 Malian children worked on Ivory Coast cacao farms and that many of were under 12 years old and sold into indentured service (Off 133). Two of the local documentary crew even demonstrated how easy it was to buy slaves, posing as buyers, they went to the marketplace and were able to purchase two boys for the total of forty British pounds (approximately $40) within thirty minutes. Economics, low cacao market price, was credited as being the main reason why these farmers resorted to using slavery. With such low cacao market prices, farmers cannot afford to pay employee wages and still make a profit, and they have no other income options. In contrast, in a free and mature economy, if a business is not profitable it goes out of business, and one can start a new business or find a new job, this is not the case for the West African cacao farmers.
Since the West African child labor scandals, there has an increased awareness and legislation attempts to eradicate forced and most hazardous child labor. Child labor in general is so embedded into the West African culture, not all children who work on farms are slaves or working with hazards. Most children work as part of the family on their family farms. It was deemed impossible and impractical to create a law that would abolish all form of child labor, however a voluntary agreement, The Harking-Engel Protocol, was signed among the Ivory Coast and the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry in accordance with the International Labor Organization to end the worst forms of child labor in 2001 (Ryan 44, 47). Because of extreme poverty and lack of options, there are children who are better off working for they will at least have access to some food. Today, consumers are more aware, corporations have put efforts in demonstrating social responsibility in self-certifications, and nonprofit/advocacy organizations, have emerged and increased advocacy. There is still much poverty among cacao farmers, and many children are still working on farms and some are still suspected of being forced to work against their will. The child labor problems still exist today. We, the world, hoped for that the state of child labor in West Africa would be better, however it could be worse.
It is natural that corporations would seek to do business with a poorer and less mature economies so to benefit from cheaper labor costs, but there should be limits when business practices violate human rights and the ability for workers to make a livable wage. It is evident that cacao farmers need more money so can they afford to hire farm workers to help cultivate their labor intensive cacao farms. In the least, the cacao market price needs to go up. It may mean that consumers would have to pay a little more for their chocolate treats. Would you be willing to pay a little more for your candy bar if it would end child and forced labor?
I realize that blindly throwing more money at the problem will not necessarily fix it if local corrupt governments and other stakeholders are still there to scheme away the extra money intended for the cacao farmers. This is a complex issue which requires multi-approach solution. We, the consumers, the governments, NGOs, the corporations, the media (or lack of media), the farmers, are all part of the problem, and we could also all be part of the solution. West African farmers and their children need special consideration for they are the most powerless demographic group in the chocolate food chain. The ones with the most power in the chocolate food chain by default have the most ability, and therefore the greater responsibility, to effect change. Wealthy companies and consumers are in the best position to invest and apply influence in the solution. We, the consumers, should expect that our chocolate companies to conduct business in an ethical and social responsible manner or make better consumer choices if they do not.
Here, in the first world, we would not accept the practice of child labor or slavery in our backyard, and we should not accept it elsewhere and in the products that we use and the foods we eat. The West African modern-day slave issue is especially heartbreaking for it involves children in producing sweets that we all so enjoy so much. If we all knew that children were being kidnapped and forced to cultivate cacao, we would all enjoy the taste of our chocolate a little less. As consumers, we need to be more conscious about what we eat and learn as much as possible so we can make better consumer choices, maybe write a customer complaint to your chocolate provider or your congressman to influence change in law. There is no better tasting chocolate than the one that is free from social guilt. In the end, we should all have the right to enjoy good and good-tasting chocolate.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088-1100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2013.78004.
Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You Are Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. Free Press, 2012.
Slavery: A Global Investigation. Produced and directed by Brian Woods and Kate Blanchet. A True Vision Production in Association with HBO, 2000. TopDocumentaryFilms, topdocumentaryfilms.com/slavery-a-global-investigation.
Wessel, Marius, and Foluke Quist-Wessel. Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences., vol. 74-74, pp. 1-7, 12-2015. doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.
I recently spoke with my uncle, Ronald D. Waugh Jr., who served as Vice President of Business Development for W.R. Grace Cocoa and later Archer Daniels Midland from the years 1993 to 1999. W.R. Grace Cocoa had factories in Amsterdam and Wisconsin, and he worked in both locations over the course of his career. In our conversation, he spoke about the intricacies of supplying cocoa products to large clients like Nabisco and Unilever, as well as his experience visiting their business partners in the Côte d’Ivoire (pictured below). When he left in 1999, he estimates that the company was processing roughly twenty-five percent of the world’s cacao. Although his company took corporate social responsibility seriously and was regarded as a progressive employer by many of its workers at the time, he acknowledges that these terms have taken new meaning in modern times. This new level of social awareness is especially evident in Portland, Oregon, the city he now calls home.
Courtesy of Ronald D. Waugh — he is on the right (circa 1999)
W.R. Grace Cocoa’s European headquarters in Amsterdam specialized in the processing of cacao beans and chocolate products including liqueur, cocoa butter, cocoa cakes, and cocoa powder. For sourcing, Grace turned towards cacao growing regions in countries throughout West Africa such as Ghana, Cameroon, and Côte d’Ivoire, as well as East Asian countries like Indonesia. At its height, Grace Cocoa sold more than $700 million in industrial cocoa and chocolate products around the world annually (New York Times 1996). Grace was able to do so because of the diversity of their clients’ products. Their needs differed based on the intended use of the cocoa, and my uncle facilitated many of these corporate relationships.
One of the first distinctions he made in our conversation was that between actual chocolate, and what is considered “chocolate flavor.” Chocolate liqueur, which is made from the pressing and grinding of cacao beans, is divided into two main substances: cocoa and cocoa butter. In order for a product to legally labeled as containing chocolate in the United States, cocoa butter must still be present. Otherwise, the product must be denoted as “chocolate flavored.” Fat-content impacts the flavor of the products, and more legal standards of identity determine these ratios. Low-fat content chocolate must contain between ten and twelve percent cocoa butter, while high-fat content chocolate must contain between sixteen and eighteen percent cocoa butter (Waugh 2017). Because cocoa butter is the more expensive ingredient of chocolate, Grace Cocoa was able to generate savings for their clients when they could optimize the fat content. Sometimes, this also required the blending of cocoa from different batches, the processes of which also had to be developed in their labs. According to Waugh, they would aim for 10 percent fat-content in their low-fat chocolate products, and sixteen percent in the high-fat chocolate products, as to fulfill fat-content standards, and minimize input costs for their clients (2017).
Common substitutes for cocoa butter are forms of vegetable fats and oils. These substitutes can be made for reasons of cost, as cited above, but also desired physical properties of the final product, such as melting point or mouthfeel. True cocoa butter melts at the temperature of the human body, eighty-six degrees fahrenheit, while compound chocolate has a higher melting point (Muir 2015). The higher melting point of these coatings make them ideal for use on ice cream products, compared to a candy which the consumer will eat right away. Appropriately, Grace Cocoa was contracted to supply the chocolate coatings for Unilever’s Magnum ice cream bars, which were made from Grace’s variety of chocolate flavorings. Other attributes of cocoa also came to be important to Grace Cocoa’s clients.
Unilever’s Magnum ice cream bars (left) and Nabisco’s Oreos (right)
Other factors clients cared about included grittiness, viscosity, and color. Adjustments in these could save or cost their customers money over time. One example he cited, was if the chocolate was intended to go on top of oatmeal cookies, the smoothness of their chocolate did not matter as much. The oatmeal would mask any grittiness in the chocolate, and they could save money in the production process, which Grace Cocoa would pass onto their customers. Viscosity of the chocolate Grace sold was also important, as it would come into direct contact with the customer’s machinery. A chocolate liqueur that had too much viscosity could potentially clog up a client’s machines, leaving them unable to produce their final products. Finally, the color consistency of the cocoa powder was of utmost importance. Grace Cocoa was one of the only companies that had the resources to consistently produce black cocoa powder — as result, they developed an exclusive relationship with Nabisco to provide the cocoa for their iconic Oreo cookies. The popularity of these international brands puts pressure on companies like Grace Cocoa in order to satisfy the world’s demand.
Demand for chocolate is relatively inelastic. In my uncle’s experience at Grace, their predictions for the growth of demand in a particular country would roughly mirror population growth (Waugh 2017). If the population was expected to grow by one percent, they could also expect a one percent growth in the demand for chocolate products. The only exception to this rule being Asian countries, where chocolate only caught on through the cultural practices of gift-giving. As result, marketing strategies are different in Asia. Authors of the book, The Economics of Chocolate explain, “foreign chocolate makers devote much in advertising and packaging efforts to promote chocolate as a gift that symbolizes love and friendship” (Squicciarini and Swinnen 2016). Waugh says that he and his colleagues used to joke, that if they could get every person in China to eat one chocolate bar per year, they would all be able to retire. With demand being predictable and constant, any challenges that those in the cocoa industry would face almost always came on the supply side.
Managing the supply of cacao was paramount to Grace Cocoa’s success. Cacao is a notoriously difficult crop to grow, and its successful growth is subject to various environmental factors. The author of Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet, explains the variables likely to impact worldwide cacao supply:
“The quality of beans, the capricious rains, the unpredictable harvests, the cost of pesticides, the threat of witch’s broom (a disease of the Theobroma tree), the see-saw prices and the exorbitant government taxes. These farmers know everything about the difficulties of growing cocoa in this region” (Off 2008).
Cacao rose to prominence as a cash crop in West and Central Africa due to the regions’ favorable growing climates. In these areas, politics have become greatly intertwined with the cultivation of cacao, and consequently many hurdles and question marks exist for the villages who make their livelihood farming cacao. Companies that must meet the world’s demand for cacao, like Grace Cocoa, are forced to mitigate the risk of fluctuations in supply by sourcing their beans from African business groups with ties across their countries, instead of the farmers themselves. My uncle worked directly with these people, and even visited Côte d’Ivoire periodically throughout his time working in the industry.
In his visits to the Côte d’Ivoire, Waugh and his colleagues frequently interacted with figures like Pierre Billon, father of the current Ivorian Minister of Commerce, Jean-Louis Billon. Pierre Billon, who has since passed away, is described as, “a tycoon and close confidant of Côte d’Ivoire’s founding father, Félix Houphouët-Boigny” (Abidjan 2013). Navigating these relationships was challenging, because unlike in Western countries, these were the types of men which influenced everything within the country, even on a governmental level. On one of his trips, my uncle was awarded an officer medal from Côte d’Ivoire’s Ordre de Mérite Agricole, or the Order of Agricultural Merit. Admittedly, he said this was fun to receive, but he also acknowledges this gesture may have been an attempt to warm up to him. He was able to visit several farms and see the harshness of the wilderness, but he never expected the modern revelations that more sinister practices were taking place.
Waugh describes the cacao production he saw within the Côte d’Ivoire as much more “artisan” than plantations he’d seen in other parts of the world like Indonesia (2017). Plantations didn’t exist in Côte d’Ivoire, or at least he wasn’t shown them. It was explained to Waugh that primarily Lebanese men called pisteurs, would travel the treacherous terrain to the farms around the country in order to collect the cacao beans. Carol Off explains her experience navigating Côte d’Ivoire’s bush country, “Tangled vines and shrubbery encroach on both sides of our vehicle while we push through what resembles a dark, leafy tunnel. Constant precipitation — a perpetual cycle from warm mist to torrential thundershowers to steam — seems to stimulate the new jungle growth before my eyes” (Off 2001). The density of the unforgiving wilderness seemed to distract from the idea that forced labor could exist in the area.
Another circumstance which may have covered up the forced labor practices to visitors like my uncle, was the small size of the cacao farms within the country. Duguma, Gockowski and Bakala explain, “In the humid west and central Africa, cacao (Theobroma cacao Linn.) is one of the most important cash crops and it is grown largely (> 80%) by the small-scale farmers” (2001). The average farm size is only 2.5 hectares, or just over 6 acres (see table below). Waugh explained that the farms he saw were also home to animals like pigs and chickens. Although it never crossed his mind that inhumane conditions could’ve existed, he does admit that he feels somewhat complicit in the things that were happening (2017). Looking at the larger picture of the cocoa processing operations, both Grace Cocoa and Archer tried to spread out production means, in turn helping several regions throughout the world.
Source: Federation of Cocoa Commerce (FCC)
Waugh says that production operations were based out of Amsterdam, because the Netherlands had readily available means of processing the cacao beans. The technology that they relied to do so was ancient, and it was the windmill. Grace Cocoa used the means of production that was convenient, and because much of the world’s cacao was entering Europe through Amsterdam, it simply made sense to station their operations here. Waugh says he was often asked why Grace or Archer Daniels did not build processing plants in Africa — and his response? They did. In 1997, following the acquisition of Grace Cocoa, ADM became a shareholder and later the outright owner of Union Ivoirienne de Traitement de Cacao (Unicao). Unicao, a local cocoa trader and processor owned a plant in the city of Abidjan (Squicciarini and Swinnen 2016). Photos of the factory can be seen below. Having these operations within the country certainly cut some of their overhead costs of shipping unprocessed beans, but it also limited their supply to Ivorian cacao. The company was forced to blend their cocoa cakes in this factory, and Waugh says this worked for some applications, but not all.
Photos courtesy of Ronald D. Waugh (circa 1999)
Conditions in communities throughout Côte d’Ivoire are still rough today, but Grace and later Archer, did what they could to help out at the time. Carol Off writes, “The community’s livelihood comes from growing “the food of the gods,” but this is a long way from paradise. None of the children here go to school, and there are no services — no electricity, no phones, no clinics or hospitals” (2008). Waugh explained that both Grace and Archer were regarded as progressive employers in the Côte d’Ivoire. In the city where their processing plant was located, they built several schools and a medical clinic. They also provided housing for the African managers of their factory. Community members believed that they were a fair employer and as result, both parties felt better off because of the balance of loyalty.
In the era of the internet, corporate responsibility has gained a lot of prominence. Perhaps, it is because heightened transparency has increased the accountability of corporations. One brand that brings that close to home (literally and figuratively) for my uncle is called Tony’s Chocolonely. With locations in Portland, Oregon, and Amsterdam, the brand directly sources their cocoa from farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. The reason? They want to ensure that the cacao is not grown, harvested, or processed by slave labor in any way, shape, or form (see link below). At one point not too long ago in history, corporate responsibility simply entailed treating employees, communities, consumers and the environment with respect. Building housing, schools and clinics would’ve been considered going above and beyond one’s obligations. In today’s globalized world, that may not be enough. I don’t think that means any firm in particular was in the right or in the wrong, but future generations have a responsibility to learn and grow from history. I’m grateful that through this project, I was able to learn more about the complexities chocolate production through my uncle’s expertise and experiences.
Abidjan, A. R. “A Rising Star.” Blog Post. The Economist. The Economist, 3 May 2013. Web. 5 May 2017.
“Archer in $430 Million Deal to Buy W.R. Grace Cocoa Unit.” New York Times, Dec. 24, 1996. pp. 1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times.
Duguma, B. Gockowski, J. & Bakala, J. “Smallholder Cacao (Theobroma Cacao Linn.) Cultivation in Agroforestry Systems of West and Central Africa: Challenges and Opportunities.” Agroforestry Systems 51 (2001): 177-88. Springer Link. Web. 5 May 2017.
Muir, April. “Candy Making: Facts about Chocolate Compound Coating.” Sephra. Sephra, 03 Oct. 2015. Web. 05 May 2017.
Squicciarini, Mara P., and Swinnen, Johan. “Chocolate Brands and Preferences of Chinese Consumers.” The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford: Oxford Univ, 2016. N. pag. Oxford Scholarship [Oxford UP]. Web. 5 May 2017.
Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. pp. 1-8, 119-161
Waugh, Ronald D., Jr. Telephone interview. 3 May 2017.
Chocolate is a favorite treat for many in modern times, but it was also a favorite for the people in ancient Mesoamerica. Today, in the U.S.A., we can easily purchase chocolate from establishments ranging from grocery stores to gas stations, and chocolate is a popular ingredient in foods such as candy and many beverages. We are able to easily purchase our chocolate treats, in all forms, without ever seeing, touching, processing, or preparing our treats from the plant itself. In ancient times the fruit of Theobroma spp. was collected and processed by the inhabitants of many ancient civilizations. When scholars investigate the origins of the use of Theobroma spp. many questions arise such as, “How was this plant used by ancient cultures?” and “Which parts of the plant were consumed?” These questions are answered through the use of many scientific facets such as analyses of ancient writings and the examination of ancient artifacts through chemical analyses. Through these efforts, scientists are able to piece together a timeline detailing the earliest known use of this plant by ancient societies. This post will examine how the discovery of ancient pottery demonstrated that ancient civilizations used the fruits of Theobroma spp. to produce alcoholic beverages, and how this discovery allowed for the incorporation of chocolate into a modern day beer “Theobroma” developed and produced by the company Dogfish Head.
What is Theobroma spp? The genus Theobroma is located in the family Malvaceae and contains ~20 species (“Theobroma” n.d.). The most familiar species within the genus is Theobroma cacao which translates to “food of the gods”. The seeds from this plant are used to make chocolate. This evergreen, shade grown, amazing tree is unique in that the flowers and fruit grow directly on the trunk (cauliflory). The fruit, once ripe, contains the prized seeds which are used for the modern day production of chocolate. It is truly a beautiful plant which has had a tremendous impact on human culture as described by many researchers who have searched for, recorded, and shared their finding detailing the use of this plant ancient times.
When researchers uncovered shards of pottery at the northern Honduran site of Puerto Escondido they were about to redefine the history of chocolate and inspire the creation of a “new to the modern world” chocolate drink. Archeologist identified these vessel shards at the site as having a “long neck” (think “long neck” beer bottles). The presence of the “neck” was an indicator that foam was not a component of the liquid stored within this container (Henderson 3). The process of pouring the cacao mixture between two containers to create foam was previously believed to be the way in which cacao drinks were first consumed (Henderson 3). The sample of a spouted (“long neck”) vessel (4DK-136 – Type name: Barraca Brown), based on radiocarbon dating, showed that the process of consumption involved fermentation to produce an alcoholic beverage (beer). This would now be the earliest known use of cacao from anywhere in the world, and via radiocarbon dating, scientists could now date this vessel to the Ocotillo phase (1400-1100 B.C.) (Henderson 2). Further chemical analysis of this vessel, using chromatographic and mass spectrometric analyses showed the presence if theobromine and caffeine (Henderson 3). These two compounds are found in Theobroma spp. and proved that these vessels once held a drink made from the plant Theobroma. The research conducted by John S. Henderson, Rosemary A. Joyce, Gretchen R. Hall, W. Jeffrey Hurst, and Patrick McGovern not only shifted the date for first cacao consumption (by humans) back 500 years, but they also established that, in all likelihood, that the method for the consumption of cacao began with the fermentation of the pulp to create an alcoholic beverage, and that the use of the cacao seeds, and the method for producing “foam”, did not occur until hundreds of years later.
The invention of a new “ancient beer” could not have happened without the collaboration between Dr. Patrick McGovern (the Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, where he is also an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology) and the folks from Dogfish Head Brewery. Dr. McGovern is not only an incredible archeologist, but he is also reproducing drinks of the past for modern day consumption. The collaboration between Dr. McGovern and the brewers from Dogfish Head demonstrates how science and intuition, blended together, can have amazing results.
“Since it proved impossible to transport the fresh fruit without spoilage from Honduras, we did the next best thing. We were able to obtain chocolate nibs and powder from the premier area of Aztec chocolate production, Soconusco, the first such dark chocolate to be imported into the States in centuries (Askinosie Chocolate in Missouri). As you drink this luscious beverage–almost like a fine Scotch or Port–you will pick up the aroma of the cacao and hints of the ancho chili in the aftertaste. Any bitterness of the chocolate is offset by the honey and corn. Achiote colors it red. It was fermented with an American ale yeast.” (Dr. Patrick E. McGovern, “Theobroma”).
Do we now have in our possession the ancient recipe used to brew beer with cacao? The recipe used to create “Theobroma” beer uses the wealth of knowledge gained by understanding and studying ancient artifacts, writings, and through chemical analyses conducted on the pottery uncovered during archeological excavations and historical studies, but even with this wealth of knowledge, we will never know for sure how the drinks prepared by the ancients tasted or the precise measurements and ingredients used to create them. However, with the use of science and craftsmanship we can certainly come close to tasting these “ancient brews”.
Theobroma was a limited release from Dogfish Head, but please enjoy the following video in which Dogfish Head brewer Sam Calagione describes how lovely this ancient brew tastes.
Video 1: Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione on the brewery’s Ancient Ale Theobroma.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
Henderson, John S., et al. “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Acad Sciences, 16 Nov. 2007 http://www.pnas.org/content/104/48/18937 Accessed on 8 March 2017
The indulgence that we know as chocolate has its roots in a South American tree that can not exist without a symbiotic partner. Originating in the upper Amazonian River basin, as an understory tree of the rainforest, Theobroma cacao is a fascinating plant. Pollinated by a single type of insect, colorful melon like pods are full of sweet pulp and bitter seeds–which we refer to today as “beans.” These hefty pods have to attract the assistance of a hungry monkey, Toucan, or human to release the beans and the next generation of trees. Monkeys and birds like the sweet pulp, but when it comes to humans, we became addicted to the bean.
T.cacao migrated northward along the Pacific coast to take hold in a place that is now Central America. Although the details of the journey between continents is a mystery, the first evidence in the historical record that cacao was used as a food source is found in the Rio Ceniza Valley of modern El Salvador. (Martin)
Chemical analysis of pottery shows the Olmec culture made cacao pulp into an intoxicating beer-type drink at least 1000 years before the current era. Eventually the cacao bean byproduct fermented into its own food source and began to resemble chocolate–at least in its crudest liquid form. (Henderson) In the rural communities of the region today you can still find sweet pulpy drinks as well as meal-replacing beverages made from ground cacao beans and maize. These traditional ground bean beverages are bitter, filling, and stimulating enough to provide a morning or afternoon energy boost which keeps the drink popular despite being labor intensive to prepare. The stimulating caffeine and theobromine compounds that the Olmec people unlocked from the cacao bean became a driving force for the political relations and trade between nations until Cortez arrives in the modern era–usurping the entire region and economy for the Spanish crown.
The Classic Maya Civilization (250-900 CE) raised the imbibing of the rustic, gritty, cacao bean drink to a godly level. The artwork they left behind tells the story of how cacao was literally considered to be the food of their pantheon and used in rituals for pivotal moments in society and life. In The New Taste of Chocolate, Presilla points out that “from both the glyphs and actual pictured scenes on Maya posts we have been able to learn that chocolate made using particular recipes was drunk by kings and nobles. There is also evidence that it was used by people of all classes, particularly during rites of passage…” (12)
The gourds that most people used for drinking have not withstood the impacts of time but some ceramic vessels of the wealthy remain intact. These colorful jewels of Western Hemisphere art document the details about ritual life by describing events, attendees, and even the ingredients. Many of these vessels can be seen in art collections today; the Mayan drinking vase on display in the permanent collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is a fine example of storytelling. Slightly larger than a modern quart jar, the drinking vase has a wrap-around visual narrative that details a ritual, specifically noting out that kakaw (cacao) was one of the stimulating substances used in this event.
Although the Mayan people still live in the same region today, they mysteriously abandoned their cities around 900 CE and were eventually conquered by the Aztec civilization. Cacao beans not only survived the invasion from the north, they could well have been the cause. The Aztecs so valued the stimulating substance that they used dried beans as coinage to exchange for produce, meat, and other locally available consumables.
Unfortunately for the Aztecs, though their money grew on trees, those trees did not grow on the arid plateau that was the center of their empire. They solved this dilemma by strategically conquering trade routes into regions where cacao was cultivated. The wealth of these conquered regions was then extracted by political tribute–much of which was paid in the form of fermented cacao beans. This cacao wealth was then added into the Aztec economy both by putting it onto the consumable market and by stockpiling it as currency in treasuries. Used throughout their empire as form of payment and a beverage of celebration, cacao was also milled into portable nuggets to use as traveling rations for instant energy. The earliest documents of the Spanish settlers refer to how the native culture prepared cacao with maize into a cold frothy beverage that was used as a meal replacement in the extreme heat of the subtropical afternoons. (Presilla 17-24) Cacao literally fueled both the people of the working class and the general economy well into the Spanish colonial period.
Recently have we discovered the literal lengths that native peoples went to in acquiring this stimulating beverage. Modern gas chromatography analysis on Native American pottery has increased our understanding of which cultures had access to the only source of theobromine in the hemisphere. Testing of North American artifacts has shown that long before the Aztecs usurped the market on cacao, the trade routes of the Mayans had extended northward to the Anasazi nation of modern New Mexico. This 1200-mile path between where the vessels were found (in the Pueblo Bonito of Chaco Canyon) and the nearest source of cacao would have required 600 hours of backpacking through rough country and sweltering heat. As one researcher phrased it “That’s a long way to go for something that you don’t need for survival”, [something] that’s more of a delicacy…” Whether the Anasazi acquired this cacao through dedicated treks south–which would have taken weeks–or their pueblo was the endpoint of an even slower hand-to-hand, village-to-village trade route, acquiring the ingredients for a cacao beverage came at great cost. (Mozdy) Such an expenditure indicates how intensely desired this addictive substance was.
The historical record may not tell us how the first cacao trees made their way to a new continent, but we do know that once here, it helped fuel people, economies and trade for centuries. The stimulant properties that the seed contains spurred the native cultures of a continent to covet, acquire, distribute and control access to the plant itself. By affecting and connecting with humans in this way, the plant forged a symbiotic partnership with the indigenous peoples which ensured its survival and success throughout pre-Columbian era.
Henderson, John S., et al. “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Acad Sciences, 16 Nov. 2007, www.pnas.org/content/104/48/18937.full. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Revised ed., Berkeley, NY, Ten Speed Press, 2009.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.” 8 Feb. 2017, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.
Theobroma Cacao is the botanical name for the Cacao tree and cocoa tree. The genus TheobromaCacao was named by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, famed for formalizing the binomial nomenclature, in 1753. The Theobroma genus is native to the tropics of Central and South America, going as far North as the lower regions of Mexico. Theobroma encompasses 22 different cocoa species, and typically range from 4 to 8 meters in height. Interestingly, Theobroma are actually classified as evergreens, being related to the Malvaceae family, or mallows.
Cacao producing regions of Colonial Mesoamerica
The most important part of the Cacao tree is Cacao or cocoa. We can distinguish:
Cacao pods – the large colorful fruits of the Cacao These pods vary by type and origin. Cacao pods tend to change colors between stages of development; usually starting in deep hues of red, purple, or green, before maturing into shades of orange or yellow.
Cacao beans – the seeds of the Cacao pod.
Cacao and cocoa are both commonly used to describe the raw material from Cacao tree. The origin of the word Cacao comes from Central and South America. The cocoa is an Anglicization of the Spanish form – cacao. The Olmec (1500 BCE- 400 BCE ), predecessors to the Maya and first major civilization in Central America, are the first farmers of the Cacao pods, and the first plantations for the Cacao appeared in Guatemala and Southern Mexico around 400B.C.
Theobroma means Food of the Gods in the Mayan language. Of their myths, Mayans believed that the Plumed Serpent gave Cacao to them, after people were created from maize by the divine grandparent deity Xmucane. The Mayans to this time celebrate Cacao because they think that this is a gift from the God. The Aztecs also believe that the Plumed Serpent– Quetzalcoatl – discovered cacao.
In 250 AD the Mayans started to painting Cacao in hieroglyphic. In Dresden and Madrid Mayan wrote the codex in hieroglyphics, but since this time saved only 15 texts. In these images, Cacao was presented like food or drink consumed by the Gods. Mayans also named Cacao on the hieroglyphics Kakaw.
The Mayan and Aztec people used to prepare Cacao in many different ways as a food or drink. One such use was to turn Cacao into drinks for celebrations, and was imbibed by both the civilizations during the marriage ceremonies or religious rituals.
One important sacred document for the Maya is Popol Vuh or, “Book of Counsel”. Within this story of the creation of the universe, the Cacao is mentioned few times like a godly plant worthy of reverence. People believed that Cacao – as well as tobacco – is an essential to their social, spiritual and physical prosperity. Cacao also was presented in rites of death. Part of their beliefs was that the seeds could help the soul in travel to the underworld.
Cacao tree was also perceived like a connection between earth, underworld and sky, royal bloodline. Mayans thought that plant is integral to keeping cycles of death, life, and rebirth. Cacao was thought to boost energy and made the imbiber stronger.
Cacao for Mayan and Aztec population was something what they could exchange for the goods. For example fish wrapped in maize husks was worth 3 Cacao beans.
The Mayans and Aztecs used to make some Cacao or chocolate beverages which were stored in ceramic vessel. Archeologists found vessels dating to between 1900-900 BC. Vessels were labor-intensive arts & crafts; among the most important valuables a Mesoamerican owned, stamped with their personal insignia. The chocolate contained in this way used to be served like a liquid and mixed with spices or wine. A commonly held belief was that this drink could work like an aphrodisiac. Today, this beverage is known as Chilate.
Christopher Columbus in 1502 was the first person from Europe who came into contact with Cacao during his journey to Guanaja. He sent the Cacao to the King Ferdinand. While cocoa was rare for some time, around 20 years after Columbus’ first sample, Prince Philip of Spain received the cocoa drink from a Dominican friar. The reception to this was so positive that France and Portugal didn’t trade cocoa to the rest of Europe for 1000 years.
Cocoa consists of around 700 compounds. Apart from the taste, the most important benefit are antioxidants who helps us to avoid diseases, reduce cholesterol, lower the blood pressure, and is even believed to be a preventative of cancer. Cacao is rich in protein, fat, fiber, iron, magnesium and calcium. Mayan and Aztecs were treating Cacao like a good medicine. They believed that this is a gift from the god who helps them to stay healthy. They also treated Cacao as currency because very often they got something in exchange of cacao. As we can see, Cacao has been known for centuries. Cacao and chocolates are famous on the all world. We can eat and drink it. I think for people this product can be a connection of something really tasty and healthy. It’s good for our heart, mind and mood.
Gockowski & S. Oduwole (2003). Labor practices in the cocoa sector of southwest Nigeria with a focus on the role of children. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. pp. 11–15. ISBN 978-131-215-7
Olivia Abenyega & James Gockowski (2003). Labor practices in the cocoa sector of Ghana with a special focus on the role of children. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-131-218-1
Terry G. Powis; W. Jeffrey Hurst; María del Carmen Rodríguez; Ponciano Ortíz C.; Michael Blake; David Cheetham; Michael D. Coe; John G. Hodgson (December 2007). “Oldest chocolate in the New World”. 81 (314). ISSN 0003-598X. Retrieved 2011-02-15.
Watson, Traci (22 January 2013). “Earliest E SPONGEBOBca”. Science. Retrieved 3 March 2014.