Tag Archives: cacao beans

Chocolate, Religion and Hierarchy: Chocolate’s Religious Symbolism in Pre-Columbian Mayan Culture and its Evolution under Colonialism

The widespread availability of chocolate today hardly hints any relation to hierarchical systems. The mass production of it as a confection and how it readily available for consumption at different quality levels reveals little about its rich history. Long before the European settlement in the Americas, chocolate, or rather the fruit it is borne from, symbolized wealth, and social and religious status in Mesoamerica societies. Here, I will briefly discuss how its hierarchical symbolism with respect to religion evolved in Mayan societies before and during colonialism.

The hierarchical symbolism of chocolate in Mayan culture can be traced through an ethnographical study of Mayan celebratory rituals. In his essay “The Language of Chocolate”, David Stuarts writes about how such ethnographical studies from Central Mexico reveal that chocolate was enjoyed by the elites (Stuart 184). Feasting rites among the elite, in particular, in Mayan Yucatan were heavily documented in chocolate vessels, which describe chocolate’s involvement in extravagant gift-giving formalities in its cacao bean form (Reents-Budet 207). This was viewed as a method for forging sociopolitical alliances among the elite (Reents-Budet 209). In its drink form, cacao was consumed during “ceremonies to seal important social contracts and confirm the legitimacy of dynasties” (Martin et al. 39). Moreover, the use of cacao beverages did not only exist in worldly rituals. Mayan glyphs and art show that the Gods also used cacao beverages to honor guests in divine rituals such as seen in figure 1. Thus, it is apparent that the use of cacao in Mayan rituals reflects how chocolate itself was a symbol of extravagance and hierarchy. 

Figure 1: Mayan God L with Hero Twins, servant behind the God pouring a chocolate beverage.

However, cacao beans and chocolate also possessed religious symbolism that contributed to their hierarchical symbolism. Evidence from Mayan vessels reveal in their hieroglyphs that the Maize God is often embodied as a cacao tree (McNeil 155). Gods in the Mayan tradition are portrayed as trees to show a celestial cycle of death. The roots are in the underworld, the trunk in the middle world and the branches in the heavens. The Maize God is highly regarded in that maize is a staple Mayan crop, thus the association between the Maize God and the cacao tree shows a highly esteemed religious connection and divinity that is possessed by cacao. Beyond representation in religious glyphs, the religious symbolism of cacao can be extended to the notion of “court dwarfs” in Mayan culture. Christian Prager writes that dwarf figurines were placed in Mayan courts to symbolize social power and religious authority (Prager 279). This is rooted in the pre-Mayan Olmec belief that four dwarfs were tasked with propping up heaven. Moreover, dwarfs were seen as companions of the Sun and Maize Gods, thus further solidifying their divine symbolism. Hence, these dwarfs were placed in Mayan courts to further this symbolism. However, it is important to note that these dwarfs would sometimes be sculpted as carrying cacao pods, as seen in figure 2. This further displays that cacao possessed divine value and reflected a type of religious symbolism so that it can be manifested in Mayan society as a hierarchical instrument. 

Figure 2: A Mayan figurine of court dwarf bearing a cacao pod.

This religious symbolism of cacao did not end with colonialism but only transformed under it. The initial European interaction with cacao upon their settlement in Mesoamerica was through the introduction of the cacao bean as a form of currency (Martin et al. 40). However, with the spread of Catholicism by the European settlers in Mayan territory, specifically Mexico, cacao beans soon crossed over into the realm of religiosity. The conversion of indigenous Mexicans led them to create offerings to Jesus. These offerings were often in the form of cacao beans, as was done to indigenous God (Aguilar-Moreno 276). A prominent example is the statue of “Christ of the Cacao” in Mexico City as shown in figure 3. While these offerings were not consumed by Christ, but by the priests of the cathedral, they were converted into wealth, such as in the case of seventeenth century friar in Mexico and Guatemala Thomas Gage (Aguilar-Moreno 276). Here, we see that the symbolism of cacao is multifaceted: it showed a relationship to Jesus and also remained a symbol for wealth. 

Figure 3: Christ of the Cacao: A 16th century colonial Mexican sculpture in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City.

However, does the link between colonial Catholicism and symbolism in cacao extend beyond the borders of the colony? In 1577, Dominican friar in Chiapas did write to the Pope asking for some guidance as to whether chocolate could be appropriately consumed on days when oen is fasting. The Pope never offered a written reply but it is told that he simply laughed with his cardinals. The link to Catholicism in Europe extended beyond this lone interaction, the status of chocolate has long been debated by Catholic scholars in the 1620s and 1630s, with reservations appearing on how to incorporate this seemingly pagan product into the Catholic Church. While here there is a recognition of religious value, it is hard to determine whether or not this religious value was accepted by the Catholic Church in Europe. Nevertheless, the role of chocolate and cacao as a status symbol did cross over into the European continent: it is told that Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were prescribed chocolate by their physician to consume daily during breakfast, seemingly due to chocolate’s energizing benefits. The heavy royal consumption of chocolate and its high regard within the royal court deemed it a luxury item, showing that it did remain a status symbol beyond the Mesoamerican realm. 

Nevertheless, it is important to note that beyond colonialism, Mesoamerican cultures still regarded chocolate highly. Their reverence of cacao beans and their products shifted and adapted to the colonial influences that were introduced into their territory. While it failed to have the same religious symbolism in Europe, chocolate did enter the continent as an item symbolizing social hierarchy. Thus, one can say that the evolution of chocolate as a religious symbol remained within Mesoamerica but its hierarchical symbolism was able to cross the Atlantic into the European continent. 

Bibliography

  1. “Dwarf Figurine.” Wikimedia Commons, Baltimore, MD, 25 Mar. 2012, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mayan_-_Dwarf_Figurine_-_Walters_20092036_-_Three_Quarter_Right.jpg.
  2. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck, University of Texas Press, 2017, pp. 72-95.
  3. Anagoria. “ El Señor Del Cacao.” Wikimedia Commons, Mexico City, 22 Dec. 2013, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2013-12-22_El_Señor_del_cacao_anagoria.JPG.
  4. Lacambalam. “Tonsured Maize God and Spotted Hero Twin.” Wikimedia Commons, 25 Sept. 2014, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hero_Twins.JPG.
  5. Manuel, Aguilar-moreno. “The Good and Evil of Chocolate in Colonial Mexico.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 13.
  6. Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37-60., doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.
  7. Martin, Simon. “Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion: First Fruit from the Maize Tree and Other Tales from the Underworld.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 8.
  8. Prager, Christian. “Court Dwarfs – The Companions of Rulers and Envoys of the Underworld.” Maya: Divine Kings of the Rain Forest, by Nikolai Grube, Konemann, 2001, pp. 278–279.
  9. Reents-Budet, Dorie. “The Social Context of Kakaw Drinking Among of the Ancient Maya.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 10.
  10. Robicsek, Francis. “God L with the Hero Twins.” Wikimedia Commons, Princeton, NJ, 31 Oct. 2009, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:God_L_with_the_Hero_Twins.jpg.
  11. Stuart, David. “The Language of Chocolate: References to Cacao on Classic Maya Drinking Vessels.”Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 9.

Chocolate: Dual Identity as a Commodity

A life without chocolate seems impossible to imagine. Yet, chocolate has only been a part of human history since at least 1500 BC after the domestication of cacao by the Olmec empire. Even then, chocolate would not be heavily distributed until its introduction to the old world during the early sixteenth century. Since it’s beginning, chocolate had a dual identity as a transactional entity (cacao beans) as well as a consumable good in the form of a beverage in many mesoamerican civilizations. However, the shift of chocolate into the sugary concoction we know today can be attributed to the interaction of Spain with the Aztecs during the Spanish conquest.

Importance of Cacao in the Aztec Empire

The main ingredient of chocolate is cacao beans. Cacao occupied a special significance in the Aztec empire being attributed a sense of godly aura as it is often referred to as “food from the gods”. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were gifts from the god of wisdom, Quetzalcoatl, who brought the seeds to cultivate in his garden on Earth thus introducing this delicacy to humans (Garcia 10). This mystical attribution to cacao increases the overall value of this crop and helps understand its establishment as a suitable form of currency. In fact, in many mesoamerican civilizations such as the Maya and Aztec, there is evidence that cacao seeds were used as currency. Unlike the Maya, in which chocolate was consumed by both elite and the general population, the Aztec empire only allowed the emperor, elites and warriors to consume cacao brews (Squicciarini 13). The non-elite population was discouraged from consuming cacao solidifying chocolate symbolism as an indication of power and wealth. Aztec warriors were paid with cocoa beans and it was part of their regular military rations indicating the importance of cacao in this society (Squicciarini 13). The mystical aura and exclusivity of cacao increased the acceptance of cacao as a form of currency since it was not readily available to the public.

Codex Fejervary Mayer (famsi) cosmos
Codex Fejervary Mayer shows the divine attribution of godliness to cacao. The tree of the South is depicted as a cacao tree with colorful pods located between Cinteotl, good of maize, and Mictlantecuhtli, god of death.

In addition, the rarity of cacao contributed to its attribution as a valuable commodity. In the fourteenth century, the Aztecs were the dominating empire in the region. However, the Aztecs were not able to grow cacao themselves. Tenochtitlan, central Mexico, did not have the appropriate climate conditions for cacao cultivation due to its location if the highlands of the region (Presilla 17). Cacao is a very difficult crop to cultivate not only because it is labor intensive, but because it requires specific tropical climate conditions. As a result, The Aztecs had to find another way to obtain cacao beans.

Regions were cacao was grown. Note how there is no cacao production around Tenochtitlan (Capital of the Aztec empire). Cacao production is heavily concentrated around the Yucatan peninsula which was occupied by the Maya and the coastal regions.

As a result of the inability to grow cacao themselves, the Aztecs required all areas under the empire that grew cacao to pay the Aztec empire cacao beans as tribute or taxes (Coe & Coe 99). This exchange between the empire and its colonies cemented cacao as a currency. Colonial documents show the exchange rates established and accepted by the empire. Cacao beans were used to make any kind of purchase raging from clothes, food, and even services. For example, a turkey hen costs 100 cacao beans while a turkey egg costs 3 cacao beans (Coe & Coe 99). These records show that cacao had infiltrated every transaction in daily life. Cacao beans as currency was accepted and honored throughout the empire. By the Spanish arrival, cacao was the main medium of transaction in the empire.

This facsimile from the Codex Mendoza (c. 1541) depicts the tribute requirements from the Soconusco region known to grow cacao. Between the jaguar skins, cacao is also required.

Spanish Interaction

Spanish conquistadors quickly realized the importance of cacao beans in the Aztec empire and became interested in cacao for its economic importance rather than for its flavor (Presilla 18). The Spanish did not enjoy the bitter taste of the chocolate beverage. The importance of cacao is exemplified by Ferdinand Columbus (c. 1502):

“For their provisions they had such roots and grains as are eaten in Hispaniola [these would have been maize and manioc], and a sort of wine made out of maize which resembled English beer; and many of those almonds which in New Spain [Mexico] are used for money. They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen.”

(Coe & Coe 109)

The “almonds” refer to cacao beans. The realization of its value came from the great care the Aztecs showed towards the preservation of this crop indicated by “they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen”. As the conquest advanced, the Spanish opted to continue the use of cacao beans as currency in conquered regions and as basis of chocolate beverage as a way to manage the empire more efficiently (Squicciarini 14). To establish their power, the Spanish assumed control of both the production and trade of cacao beans by setting up cacao plantations and taxing both its production and trade (Squicciarini 14). If cacao did not hold an importance place in mesoamerican civilizations, chocolate may have been lost during the Spanish conquest. The currency used could have easily been gold as the Spanish were accustomed to, but the significance of cacao allowed the Spanish to take control of mesoamerica by monopolizing the production of cacao.

Cacao and chocolate were introduced to Spain during the sixteenth century as a consumable good. The cocoa concoctions were first advertised as medicine, but later became liked for its taste and stimulation (Squicciarini 15). Its pairing with sugar (already available in Europe) increased its appetitiveness to the European population. This sweetened drink became a common beverage among Spanish nobility during early seventeenth century. Even through its changing preparation, chocolate retained its symbolism as an indication of power, wealth and luxury in Spain. The shift from elite to commoners occurred after the invention of the steam engine which allowed mass production during the late seventeenth century (Squicciarini 20). As new machines became available allowing for different types of chocolate to emerge, the price of chocolate dropped in the 1890 and 1900s increasing accessibility to the general population(Squicciarini 20). The boom of chocolate in Spain and the rest of Europe cemented chocolate as a consumable commodity erasing the identity as a currency that was attributed to chocolate for many centuries.

Without chocolate’s dual role as both a beverage and currency in the Aztec empire, it’s possible that chocolate as we know it today may have never existed. If cacao beans were not used as a currency, the Spanish conquistadors would have not been enticed to incorporate cacao and chocolate into their civilization thus dooming chocolate to be buried in history.

Works Cited

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

Garcia, Jesus. “Cacao and Marker-Assisted Selection.(Cacao Breeding Begins to Combat Diseases).” Agricultural Research, vol. 49, no. 8, 2001, p. 10.

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

Squicciarini, M., and Johan F. M. Swinnen. The Economics of Chocolate. First ed., Oxford University Press, 2016.

Cacao production map obtained from Carla D. Martin, “Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the ‘food of the gods’” February 5, 2020.

Chocolate Coins?

Imagine a world that uses chocolate as currency. It is safe to say that this world would quickly run into some economic and sanitation problems. Interestingly, chocolate happens to be made of a former, rather successful method of currency, Cacao seeds. Today, cacao seeds are most often cultivated and consumed as a comestible, namely chocolate, which is a preparation of roasted and smashed Cacao seeds. Chocolate has become an extremely popular delicacy of the modern world; however, for the ancient Maya and Aztecs, cacao was rarely consumed as an edible treat because it had more socially pertinent uses. In these two ancient civilizations, cacao production was perhaps the greatest indicator of wealth, which ultimately contributed heavily to the downfall of one of them.

 For thousands of years in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, Cacao was one of the most treasured and versatile goods. In fact, the ancient Maya, one of the oldest recognized civilizations in the Americas, relied so heavily on the production of Cacao vessels that some historians believe the loss of the valued good led to the downfall of the powerful civilization (Learn 1). Cacao seeds were an effective item choice for currency because they are light, portable, durable, and usually are homogeneous in size and color. In fact, one of the first European accounts of cacao praised the usefulness and practicality of utilizing the good as currency (Martin-Sampeck 4).

Cacao beans (brittanica)

Many historians falsely credit the Spaniards with the development of cacao as currency because the ancient civilizations of pre-Columbian mesoamerica implemented cacao seeds as coins in their monetary system not long before contact with Spain. We know this is not true because before the first European accounts of cacao as a comestible, there were records of the cacao as money and as an intrical part of the Mesoamerican monetary system (Martin-Sampeck 4). In another source called “Cacao Money”, Karen Sampeck writes that people objects that work well as money are “durable”, “distinctive”, and are a “convenient size” (Sampeck 1). Cacao seeds fit all of these said conditions, which led some people, like Peter Martyr to declare cacao as a superior form of money to any European coinage. This was a bold claim by Martyr because it contradicts the Eurocentric and often racist view held by many at that time that the Europeans were the most advanced, superior group of people.

Cacao became officially recognized by Europe as a form of currency in 1555, when one spanish real was equated to 140 cacao beans (Maré 1). The Aztecs, who viewed cacao as a gift from their god of wisdom, Quetzalcoatl, never adopted cacao into their monetary system, but cacao was almost comparable to gold in the fact that the accumulation of cacao meant guaranteed wealth and prosperity (Sampeck 1). Although cacao production was a vital part of both the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations, the Aztecs had control over the most prolific cacao growing zones in Mesoamerica (Sampeck 6). Cacao is an exacting plant that needs a perfect combination of shade, rainfall and soil to grow properly, so it is believed that the Maya eventually began to exhaust their limited cacao supply.

Cacao heartlands shaded in dark green (researchgate.net)


As you can see in the map above, the cacao heartlands in the Maya territory were few and relatively small in size. A few bad months of weather had the capability of halting cacao production for the entire civilization, which would cause an economic collapse. The Ancient Maya civilization likely did collapse because of their economic overemphasis on cacao, but the connection between cacao and wealth continues even today. This is because Europeans were enamored by the monetary value of cacao before they fell in love with the taste. After the fall of the Maya civilization, cacao was being exported to every major European nation. Cacao made people rich in ancient times because it was money itself, but cacao’s versatility is continuing to generate wealth in today’s society in the form of cocoa butter products, cocoa powder, cacao bean fertilizer, and of course, chocolate (Singh-Cook 2).

Cacao may not have been the best choice as a form of currency, but there is no doubt that the ancient construct of cacao as an economic necessity in Mesoamerica has a lasting influence today. For example, Belgium relies heavily on their chocolate production to generate wealth for their country through tourism and consumption. Countries like Belgium would not be able to produce cacao products on such a large scale without the emphasis and esteemed value that was placed upon cacao as money by the pre-Columbian Mesoamericans.

Works Cited

Cook, L. Russell, and R. Paul Singh. “Cocoa.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1 Nov. 2018, http://www.britannica.com/topic/cocoa-food.

Learn Jun, Joshua Rapp, et al. “The Maya Civilization Used Chocolate as Money.” Science, 28 June 2018, http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/06/maya-civilization-used-chocolate-money.

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

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

Sampeck, Kathryn. “Cacao Money.” Cacao Money, Mexicolore, 30 Nov. 2015, http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/maya/chocolate/cacao-money.

Schwartzkopf, Stacey, and Kathryn E. Sampeck. Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica. University of Texas Press, 2017.

The Economic Emergence of the Slave Trade and Abolition Resistance of Slavery in Cacao Growing Regions

Centuries after the 350 year long transatlantic slave trade, it is hard to imagine that such a horrific worldwide trade could emerge from one sole underlying purpose: money. As the slave trade continued over time, everything became a price tag from crops to the people, justified on malicious racial grounds fabricated by the elite. I argue that the slave trade emerged as a result of economics that enabled the expansion of the chocolate industry, which resulted in challenges to abolishing slavery in cacao growing regions. Furthermore, I argue that cacao-based slavery is still not abolished to this day. 

Economics of the Slave Trade

Europe had weapons, the Americas had crops, and what did Africa have? People. Europe wanted crops from the Americas, the Americas did not have enough people to support this, and Africa wanted the weapons (and some textiles) from Europe (UNESCO). Thus, a trade emerged. The economics of the trade started with the origin of “African Kingdoms” who”prospered from the slave trade,” but after only a few years, “meeting the European’s massive demand created intense competition” between kingdoms (Hazard). A deep-rooted moral complex soon surfaced: “capturing slaves became a motivation for war rather than it’s result” (Hazard). Kingdoms now needed more weapons from Europe to defend themselves during slave raids.  

The economic prosperity continued in the New World where the slaves were sold. As seen in the images from Flickr below, which detail how humans were priced, slaves were viewed as a price tag and treated as a mere commodity. The entire slave voyage was seen simply as a “financial venture for owners and investors,” which “proved to be greatly profitable” (UNESCO). A slave could be sold multiple times in a lifetime multiplying their economic effect. Trade workers’ ultimate job was to sell the slaves at the highest price possible, meaning they often “disguise[d] the physical bruises and wounds… in order to hide their ailments” further contributing to the unethical economic driven tragedies of the trade (UNESCO). The slave trade altered societies and economies across the continent.

The greater economic impact came not from the increase in economic prosperity of the trade at the time, but rather the long lasting impact the trade placed upon Africa, still permeating society today. As Anthony Hazard explains in his TedEd video, “not only did the continent lose tens of millions of its able-bodied population, but because most of the slaves taken were men, the long term demographic effect was even greater” (Hazard). He continues explaining by the time the Americas and Europe finally outlawed the trade, “the African kingdoms whose economies it had come to dominate collapsed” (Hazard). Because of the slave trade, the future of Africa was devastatingly rewritten forever.

Why does chocolate play such an important role in the slave trade? Chocolate comes from Cacao beans, which date back to Mesoamerican societies, as early as the Olmec Empire (Dr. Martin, Lecture). Cultivating cacao is a labor intensive process that requires a humid tropical climate. For this reason, Europeans could not and did not want to grow cacao. Thus, when the Europeans discovered chocolate from South America—as early as 1591—and demand for cacao continually increased, colonialists forced local indigenous people to supply the cacao that would be transported to Europe (C-Spot). Eventually, this practice proved difficult with not enough people to maintain the expanding cacao fields, and eventually  the slave trade emerged. This simply shows that “one of the stimuli of the… slave trade was Europe’s appetite for not only sugar but chocolate, too” (Duducu). As it was a “brutal, backbreaking job that nobody wanted to do,” it became the “standard job or slaves” (Duducu). The cacao industry now relied, grew, and thrived on the backs of slaves.

Challenges to Abolition in Cacao Growing Regions

Why did challenges to abolition arise specifically in cacao growing regions? Because chocolate had transformed into a good available to everyone, not just for the elite (Dr. Martin, Lecture). By the 18th century, sugar and chocolate was involved in almost every aspect of European life including medicine, religion, socioeconomic class, gender and sexuality, and politics (Dr. Martin, Lecture). It is no coincidence that cacao demand grew even further in the 1820s, as innovations in chocolate production began with Coenraad Johannes van Houten inventing a new process resulting in powdered chocolate that “soon led to the creation of solid chocolate” (Fiegl). This caused a “cascade of further developments” in chocolate production allowing for easier consumption with better taste (Christian). Not only did this cause cacao demand to increase, but it also came at a time when abolition movements were at their peak worldwide encouraging a heightened resistance from slaves as their labor demands increased. Had chocolate not recently transitioned into the realm of daily consumption by Europeans, then there is sufficient evidence to believe that abolition would have taken hold sooner. 

As the market for chocolate expanded, “a number calculated at ‘nearly ten percent of the volume of the whole transatlantic slave trade’ went to work on the cacao plantations in Brazil” (Moss and Badenoch, 30). During this time, Brazil was a colony of Portugal. Although Portugal was one of the forerunners of Europe to abolish slavery within, they did not abolish slavery in Brazil until 1888, nearly 20 years after Portugal abolished slavery in their African Portuguese colonies (Brown Univeristy). This shows just how important chocolate was to Portugal, resisting abolition only in Brazil for an extra two decades with the purpose of maintaining their cacao production. 

Cacao Expansion into Africa

Although slavery was abolished everywhere in the Caribbean chocolate producing colonies by the start of the 18th century, chocolate production in Africa was beginning to boom as a replacement. As formerly mentioned, when the transatlantic slave trade was outlawed, the African economy crumbled and desperately needed a replacement for revenue. The first expansion of cacao from its previously limited production region in the Americas occurred in 1822 (a few years after the end of the slave trade) when it arrived in Africa (Christian). By the end of the century, cacao production would spread across the continent exponentially as seen in the bar graph below. The cacao industry would shift from its homeland in the Americas to Africa at the turn of the century producing over 70% of the world’s cacao today (Winton). 

With 60% of revenue coming from cacao on the Ivory Coast, farmers still earn less than $2 a day (Food Empowerment Project). This forces them to turn to slave and child labor. Most children are aged 12-16 and face dehumanizing workloads and violence inflicted from the farm owners (FEP). African cacao farmers violate almost all of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Laws (FEP). The video below shows how slavery in cacao production truly has not been abolished, only transformed. The current cacao workers are still battling demoralizing working conditions, unpaid labor, minimal food, and no access to education; the only difference between the 17th century and today is that these workers are now children. 

It is impossible to put a numerical dollar value that the slave trade revenued economically due to the incalculably large number of 17 million slaves that were sold and due to the long lasting economic impediment forever placed on the African economy. But it is certain that the slave trade permanently set Africa back economically which inarguably in one of the reasons cacao farmer poverty, and as a byproduct child slave labor, has become so prevalent in present day society, even decades later. Although Africans outside of Africa fought so hard to abolish slavery, it still exists to this day within the continent as a direct result from the exportations of tens of millions those people that would fight to stop it.

Works Cited

“Brazil: Five Centuries of Change.” Brazil Five Centuries of Change, library.brown.edu/create/fivecenturiesofchange/chapters/chapter-3/slavery-and-aboliton/.

Cambridge, St John’s College. “Mr John Broomfield’s ‘Gang of Negroes.’” Flickr, Yahoo!, 30 June 2015, http://www.flickr.com/photos/sjc_cambridge/19294928711/in/photostream/.

“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project, foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/.

Chocolate Child Slaves- CNN. CNN, 16 Jan. 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHDxy04QPqM&list=TLPQMDgwMzIwMjCEN3nmhnAbkw&index=3.

Christian, Mark. “A CONCISE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE.” Spot, http://www.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/.

Duducu, Jem. “The Bloody History of Chocolate.” The History Vault, The History Vault, 16 Nov. 2014, thehistoryvault.co.uk/the-bloody-history-of-chocolate/.

“Economics and Slave Trade.” Slavery and Remembrance, United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), slaveryandremembrance.org/articles/article/?id=A0095.

Fiegl, Amanda. “A Brief History of Chocolate.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Mar. 2008, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/.

Hazard, Anthony, director. The Atlantic Slave Trade: What Too Few Textbooks Told You – Anthony Hazard. TED, TED-Ed, 22 Dec. 2014, ed.ted.com/lessons/the-atlantic-slave-trade-what-your-textbook-never-told-you-anthony-hazard.

“A History of Cocoa – 200 Years in Charts.” Winton, 11 July 2017, http://www.winton.com/longer-view/cocoas-bittersweet-bounty.

Moss, Sarah, and Alexander Badenoch. Chocolate a Global History. Reaktion Books, 2009.

“Slavery and Abolition in the 19th Century.” Brazil Five Centuries of Change, Brown Univeristy, library.brown.edu/create/fivecenturiesofchange/chapters/chapter-3/slavery-and-aboliton/.

“Transatlantic Slave Trade: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.” Transatlantic Slave Trade | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/slave-route/transatlantic-slave-trade/.

Cacao Slave Trade

“CANDY!!!” This is what you hear kids of all ages scream when they find out they are rewarded with a delicious candy bar. In many ways we condition the children of society to behave for these treats. Adults and children alike are at the mercy of said delicacies which have been perfected by candy makers all around the globe and the influence candy does have is evident in the way it is advertised and marketed towards us. Children are bribed with these sweets during holidays, any time they receive high marks in school, and overall for just behaving in general. With that being said, it is almost tragic to think that in another part of the world, candy is one of the only ways a child can reward themselves with another day of life. More specifically the production of Cacao and how its successful manufacturing or lack thereof determines the fate of the children who help produce the candy we identify as Chocolate. In this post I will attempt to highlight the negative impact the slave trade has had on children in third world countries when it pertains to the Cacao slave trade and how the high demand for chocolate in the United States and beyond is a direct cause of these children’s misfortune.

Children working on a Cacao farm

It goes without saying that slavery is one of the most inhumane practices to ever be documented by the human race. To force another individual to produce a resource in high commodity through grueling work processes and unsafe work environments for minimal pay is despicable, and yet this practice is ever so prevalent in society today. In regard to Cacao farming, children in West Africa are taken from their homes at a young age and are sold to cacao farms where they are forced to produce cacao beans from the pods they are sent to collect. These children range anywhere from five to sixteen years of age, and a large majority of them continue this work well after they have matured. They are paid less than five dollars for a days work and are expected to produce a substantial amount of product in a short time frame. Who is to blame for this injustice done upon these children who are simply trying to survive and provide for their families in areas where resources are limited? To avoid asking another rhetorical question let’s get straight to the point and acknowledge the fact that we are the source of the problem. Chocolate or rather Cacao, has become as crucial a resource in America similar to wheat, agriculture, and livestock.  As previously mentioned above, our society has integrated cacao into our everyday lives in such a way that it would be virtually impossible to reverse the ever growing issue that our high demand for cacao has on the children forced into the slave trade in other countries.

Cacao beans

Large corporations that sell chocolate such as Hershey and Nestle to name a few are prime contributors to the continuation of the slave trade as they have yet to stop dealing with the slave traders that take advantage of the children they have producing cacao for them. Due in part to the fact that they are a business making a large profit off of selling chocolate, why would these corporations modify their business strategies if the return on the dealings are more than what they are putting out? Anyone with a brain could see the logistics behind it, but there is a lack of morality in it all that we must acknowledge if we want to prevent future generations from experiencing something similar. The other cause of the never ending cycle that is the slave trade in the Cacao business is the consumer. These corporations pander to the people to ensure a sizeable return from satisfied consumers of their product. We play a sizeable role in the continuation of the diabolical process known as slavery and we must stop turning a blind eye to its prevalence and seek out alternatives that will not come at the expense of children trying to carve out a life for themselves.

 According to a company called Slave Free Chocolate, these larger corporations that produce chocolate, which have become a primary source of happiness in our country and around the world, are doing very little to ensure the wrong doings placed upon these innocent children are addressed and rectified. Hershey and Nestle are two companies that have acknowledged the harsh reality that is child labor and how they will attempt to limit their contributions to these farms that make a profit off of the backs of younglings due to slave labor. However, in the years following these announcements they have done nothing but prove that they are incapable of changing their business practices to a healthier alternative. Both corporations have been taken to court on a number of occasions in an attempt to uncover the truth behind their business dealings, as well as hold them accountable for negligence in regard to who they choose to do business with. Their contributions to the slave labor running rampant in third world countries like Ghana and Côte d’Ivoireare the reason these children are still fighting for their lives.

The salvaging alone for Cacao beans is not a simple process that your average adult could simply begin without the proper tools and some form of guidance. Yet children are being sent into the forest with sharp machetes and large sacks. They climb dangerously tall trees in an attempt to harvest the cacao pods and bring them back to their slavers so that they can begin farming for the cacao beans. They are rushed by their slavers to cut open these Cacao pods to collect the beans found inside, and the only way they can do this effectively is by using the machetes provided to them. Many children are injured during this process as the bean extraction from the plant requires them to hack open the pod with a machete. There is always a risk that skin and appendages could be taken and still these children partake in this dangerous task because they have no other choice. The market calls for a high demand of Cacao and forcing an abundance of children to produce a plethora of cacao is easier to do rather than hiring adults and paying them a set wage.

The question then becomes are we to blame for being complicit, considering the children are in another country and are not our primary concern because they are not citizens of the United States? So long as they continue to contribute to a service that is provided to us, who cares if we turn our heads in the other direction right? Personally, I feel we have failed these individuals simply because as a country we are considered a super power and we control the eb and flow of the overall market. So, while we have the power to course correct these injustices our demand for the same product presents us with a paradox that is almost impossible to rectify. This alone demonstrates how subconsciously we are complicit because we possess the ability to correct these injustices and yet we are the reason they exist. Not all countries have the liberties we possess here in the United States, and eventually we have to acknowledge the fact that the ease of access to resources in the U.S. has created the lives these children currently lead. Subconsciously, we have been groomed in a way that allows us to be comfortable with getting what we want despite the steps taken to get us there. To take it a step further, let us acknowledge how much food is experimented with here and how America’s irregular consumption of the same foods in different forms has had an inverse effect on the slave trade and by extension the children.

Despite popular belief cacao beans are not solely used to make chocolate. While there are a variety of chocolates that are crafted from the plant, it is also the reason we have certain drinks and alcoholic beverages such as Coffee and Brandy. Not to mention cacao powder, liquor, butter, jam, marmalade etc. are all resources produced from this one plant. Coffee which is a huge resource utilized by the American people is right up there with chocolate as a hot commodity item. Corporations like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks have perfected their sales techniques to make coffee an adults signature “sweet treat.” Seasonal drinks like Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Peppermint Mochas drive the masses wild and selling them during the holidays means more work for the children.There are endless examples of how food has its properties modified to be made into something else useful, but for the sake of this post it illustrates why the cacao slave trade continues to make a sizeable profit. We have become codependent on cacao and the many forms it takes and in the end the ones paying the price are the children working to keep up with our demand for more of this popular resource. What is even more tragic is the fact that we do not have to support companies that make their profit off of the backs of innocent children when there are companies out there that have demonstrated a suitable alternative exists.

There are small companies and corporations that are willing to pay foreigners a livable wage in order to produce the same chocolate products that we love, without putting children in harm’s way. Corporations like Tony’s Chocolonely make it their mission to deliver the consumer a product that is manufactured free from slave labor and in doing so take the fight directly towards corporations like Hershey and Nestle who refuse to change their business practices. They are so proud of these accomplishments that they label their products “free of slave labor” to encourage the consumer to purchase their product over their competitors. One of the primary reasons this is done is the hope that this will encourage larger corporations like Nestle and Hershey to stop dealing under the table with those who continue to practice the use of slave trade with children on their farms. Once they begin to lose business perhaps this cruel individuals may change the way they hire and pay their workers to something a bit more legal.

Keeping all of this in mind, what role can we play in fighting the war against slave labor to ensure that the number of children inducted into this terrifyingly inhumane practice are safe from trafficking moving forward? For starters we must stop funding these mega corporations that are only in the business to make a profit, and refuse to purchase from them again until they present substantial evidence that they are no longer doing business with slavers. As difficult as that may seem, considering these chocolate companies are already so ingrained into our everyday lives, and we as a society are subconsciously unaware of our complicities’ that have led to the slave trades continuous growth, we owe it to the children whose livelihoods are being sacrificed for a profit to bring forth positive change. We should focus our efforts and fund businesses like Tony’s Chocolonely as they have presented us with a more viable alternative for foreign workers who help produce cacao. Livable wages, safer work environments and zero slave labor. Furthermore, we owe it to future generations of children who are raised in the United States and beyond to seek out a safer alternative for years to come. If we did not try to undo these wrongs, how can we look our kids in the eyes and gift them with a candy bar that another child halfway around the world sacrificed so much to make? To that end, no matter the cost we have to do better and it starts by holding everyone accountable including ourselves for past discretions. When I become a parent, I would like to look into my child’s eyes one day and imagine I am looking at the eyes of a child halfway around the world whose future does not look as bleak as it originally used to.

Works Cited:

Appiah, L. (2017, June 07). Slave-free chocolate: Not-so-guilty pleasure. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2017/06/02/world/tonys-chocolonely-slavery-free-chocolate/index.html

Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/

International Cocoa Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.icco.org/faq/52-by-products/115-products-that-can-be-made-from-cocoa.html

Lampley, R. L. (2019, February 09). Child slave labor rampant in chocolate supply chain. Retrieved from https://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/article/Child-slave-labor-rampant-in-chocolate-supply-13602395.php

Law Suits. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/doe-vs-nestle

Slave Free Chocolate. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/

Formaggio Kitchen and the Bean-to-Bar Movement

Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA

Throughout the semester we learned about how chocolate is more than just a delicious dessert. Chocolate, or cacao, has a rich history that includes a number of political, social, cultural, and economic factors. People today consume Snickers bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups unconsciously without considering the greater societal implications of their food choices. Many of the large chocolate corporations such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Cadbury produce chocolate as another commodity and typically only focus on profits. However, the cacao they use typically comes from slave labor on the coast of Africa. These companies are more concerned with how to market their product than they are with how their farmers are treated. However, there is a new movement in the chocolate industry known as the craft chocolate revolution. In this effort, local chocolate makers are making a concerted pledge to pursue a “bean-to-bar” philosophy. According to Eric Parkes, a local chocolatier from Somerville, the bean-to-bar movement means that producers are “starting off with the bean” or “making the chocolate from scratch” (WCVB Channel 5 Boston). Instead of mass-producing chocolate in factories, bean-to-bar producers are typically more localized businesses that focus on developing authentic chocolate. In these cases, they take cacao beans from a single origin country. Bean-to-bar manufacturing is labor intensive; however, the producers have control over what ingredients they use (predominantly cocoa and sugar) as well as where they source their beans. The companies are revolutionizing the big chocolate companies that have been a staple in the industry for years now. While companies like CVS typically carry predominantly name brand chocolate, there are some local stores that only sell organic, bean to bar chocolate. Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge is an example of a local food supplier that specializes in the bean-to-bar movement. Their website is very transparent about the chocolate’s country of origin, producer, and taste. They primarily sell bean-to-bar chocolate and have a direct relationship with the local chocolate producers. They refuse to sell any of the big chocolate brands due to the ambiguity regarding their chocolate sourcing. production processes, and ingredients.

https://www.wcvb.com/article/chocolate-the-bean-to-bar-movement/9128519 B

Bean-to-Bar Segment on WCVB Channel 5 Boston (Featuring Professor Martin)

Formaggio Kitchen is a European style market that provides specialty foods from around the world to their customers. They specialize in artisan cheese but also have a wide selection of bean-to-bar chocolates (Our Cambridge Store). Formaggio Kitchen was featured in a segment on the local Channel 5 News show called Chronicle. They were featured in a segment regarding artisan chocolate and a new bean-to-bar movement. One of Formaggio’s general managers is also the head buyer for all chocolate products. She buys a lot of local chocolate from producers in areas like Cambridge and Somerville. Before accepting any chocolate products into her store, she first goes through extensive taste and smell tests (similar to tastings in lecture throughout the semester). The general manager places a high level of importance on origin because “there is so much diversity in flavor profiling” (WCVB Channel 5 Boston). Formaggio specifically sells single origin chocolate. Rogue Chocolate is their most popular brand of single origin chocolate. Some of the biggest similarities between bean-to-bar chocolate companies are their size. Most of these operations include a small handful of people. Often times, artisanal chocolate companies only include one to two employees. The process of bean-to-bar chocolate making takes a significant amount of time and numerous hours of manual labor. However, instead of outsourcing chocolate production to slave laborers, these chocolate companies take on the responsibility themselves in order to produce better-tasting, more ethical chocolate. The founder of Rogue Chocolate, Colin Gasko, works directly with cacao farmers in order to source the best beans from a single origin point. Slave labor has been a persistent issue throughout the history of chocolate making and still occurs today. After the Cadbury investigation into slave labor on the island of Sao Tome and Principe, many of the cocoa farms moved to the Gold Coast or what today is known as Ghana. Child slave labor is one of the biggest issues today facing the chocolate industry. Many of the West African Coast cacao farms where the big chocolate companies source their chocolate exploit this corrupt labor system. In 2000-2001, news coverage from UK journalists uncovered the use of “enslaved young men on a cocoa farm in the Cote d’Ivoire (Berlan, 1089). Bean-to-bar chocolate companies such as Rogue Chocolate are able to combat these unjust labor practices by selectively choosing where they source their cocoa and ensure that the farming practices are ethical. This occurs through direct communication between the bean-to-bar companies and the farmers. Formaggio Kitchen focuses on selling fine chocolate but also ensures that the cocoa farming practices are ethical. They do this by analyzing both the origin country of their chocolate and the chocolate producers themselves. 

Ancienne Chocolat en Poudre

Formaggio’s website is very transparent with the information on the background of the chocolate they sell. They have a separate chocolate section with a headline that describes their mission with their chocolate selection. They emphasize how their chocolate provides “health benefits”, comes from “bean-to-bar producers”, and only contains “cacao and sugar” (Chocolate). The health benefits of chocolate are a highly disputed topic. However, there is evidence to support the health benefits of chocolate. Through laboratory and field research, scientists concluded that chocolate “reduces hypertension, minimizes cardiovascular disease, and even fight diabetes and cancer” (Howe, 43). Formaggio Kitchen not only promotes the health benefits of chocolate, they also provide instructions on how to optimize their chocolate for superior taste. For instance, one of the products that Formaggio sells is a 1kg of roasted cocoa beans called Ancienne Chocolat en Pudre. The website instructs individuals to mix the cocoa, vanilla, and cane sugar with hot milk in order to make “traditional French hot chocolate” (Chocolate). Most big corporations simply list their chocolate items. However, Formaggio provides background information on each item they have in stock including their country of origin, producer, nutritional information, as well as recipes. Formaggio only has a limited supply of French chocolate products. This ties into the Terrio reading on French Chocolatiers. France, as a nation has international recognition as one of the leaders in culinary arts (Terrio, 9). Few people, including French citizens, acknowledged chocolate making as an important part of French history like other foods such as wine and cheese. Most associate French Chocolate with other forms of desserts or pastries. Consumers even struggled differentiating artisanal French chocolate from its mass-produced counterpart (Terrio, 9). I would have expected Formaggio to carry a wide selection of French chocolates. However, with the knowledge of French Chocolate History, it is understandable that there is a limited amount of the French dessert in Formaggio’s inventory. 

Formaggio has a wide array of chocolate from a number of different countries: Belgium (3), Canada (4), France (2), Italy (7), Spain (7), The Netherlands (1), United States (15), and Vietnam (4) (Chocolate). Formaggio is very transparent with the notion that they source chocolate from a single origin country with cacao farms. It is interesting to point out that while Formaggio advertises that they collect chocolate from producers around the world, the majority of their inventory comes from the United States. However, they still maintain a high level of chocolate diversity. While the majority of the companies that Formaggio imports from are based in the United States, these companies still adhere to the bean-to-bar practices. While the country of origin provides important information, Formaggio goes one step further and includes the producers of these chocolates: Confitures a l’Ancienne (1), EH Chocolatier (2), Maglio (4), Pasticcerie Sinatti (1), Poco Dolce (2), Potomac Chocolate (2), Ritual Chocolate (2), Valrhona (1), and Xocolates Aynouse (4) (Chocolate). The general manager in charge of buying the bean-to-bar chocolate only chooses from reputable produces that have ethical labor practices and sustainable farming techniques. For each chocolate item, Formaggio provides an individual description page that includes price, quantity, and information about the chocolate itself. For instance, the Callebaut Chocolate Block – Bittersweet is 60% cacao and $10.95 per pound (Chocolate). This is slightly below the median price range for chocolate at Formaggio. The media price is approximately $15. The least expensive chocolate (Marou Chocolate Ba Ria) is from Vietnam and costs $3.95. The most expensive chocolate (Les Chocolats de Chloe Box of 12 Chocolates) is from Montreal, Canada and costs $36.95. The one downside to bean-to-bar chocolate is that it is more expensive than name brand chocolate. However, these chocolates are more organic and ethical. The bean-to-bar movement follows in line with recent trends towards the surge in organic food popularity. Today, organic food is typically more expensive than unhealthy or non-organic foods. Thus, organic food is predominantly only accessible to the middle and upper class while creating a barrier of entry for the lower class. Organic food or “yuppie chow” is also linked with gentrification in cities throughout America (Guthman, 497). Formaggio Kitchen is located in one of the wealthiest cities in the country: Cambridge, MA. Boston suffers from significant gentrification issues. Organic food markets, like Formaggio, tend to only be accessible within a upper class community and prevent lower class citizens from purchasing their chocolate due to their high prices.

Potomac Chocolate Upala 85%

In addition to price and quantity, the website also provides brief descriptions on the origin country of the chocolate, the producers, and characteristics of the chocolate. For instance, the description page underneath the Potomac Chocolate Upala 85% chocolate bar describes how the cacao is sourced from the Upala district of Costa Rica. It provides information on the producer, Ben Rasmussen, and his small workshop in the Washington DC area. He adheres strictly to bean-to-bar practices and follows all the traditional chocolate making methods. Like other bean-to-bar companies, he uses a minimum amount of ingredients: cacao beans and sugar. This particular chocolate bar is “rich and earthy dark chocolate with notes of raspberry and caramel” (Potomac Chocolate Upala 85%). It is very rare to find such a descriptive flavor description, country of origin identification, and producer information on name brand chocolate bars. Formaggio provides these descriptions under each and every chocolate bar in their inventory. Unlike many big chocolate companies, they do not provide false advertisements on their farming practices and organic quality of their chocolate. Formaggio provides honest information regarding their chocolate and gives their consumers all the tools necessary to make the right purchasing decisions. 

Formaggio’s high level of transparency regarding all facets of their sourced cacao and finished chocolate bars reveals how important ethics are to their overall success. Formaggio’s is a successful local market not only because they embrace cultural diversity and source cacao from trustworthy producers all over the world. They are successful because they do not lie to their customers. All the information one needs to make a smart, well thought-out decision regarding their purchases is at the tip of their fingers. Big chocolate companies, as we learned throughout the semester, are more focused on overall profit than they are about other greater social issues. However, small markets, like Formaggio Kitchen, are more focused on working with responsible producers and providing customers with the highest quality of chocolate possible. The bean-to-bar movement in the chocolate industry is revolutionizing how individuals farm, produce, and sell chocolate. Now, it is up to the consumer to make the smart ethical decision when it comes to their chocolate purchases. While it may be easier to walk into a CVS and purchase a Hershey’s bar for a small price, there are underlying social, political, and economic consequences that affect people throughout the chocolate industry. People rarely consider any other factor besides taste in their food purchases. When it comes to chocolate, the suppliers certainly have a large amount of responsibility when it comes to providing ethically sourced and organic chocolate. However, the consumers are responsible for choosing chocolate from local bean-to-bar producers over big chocolate companies. While it is important to acknowledge that prices are higher for bean-to-bar chocolate, it is even more important to be a conscientious consumer that strongly considers where the greater societal impact of their chocolate selection. 

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on                       Cocoa Production in Ghana”. The Journal of Development Studies. Vol. 49, No. 8, 1088-          1100. 2013

“Chocolate”.Formaggio Kitchenhttps://www.formaggiokitchen.com/cambridge. 2019

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow’”.Food and Culture. Routledge. New York, NY. 2013.

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered”. University of California Press. Vol. 12, No. 1. (Spring 2012). pp. 43-52. 

Terrio, Susan J. “Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate”. University of California Press.Berkley and Los Angeles, California. 2000. 

“Our Cambridge Store”.Formaggio Kitchen. 2019.                                                                                     https://www.formaggiokitchen.com/sweets/chocolate.

“Potomac Chocolate Upala 85%”. Formaggio Kitchen.       https://www.formaggiokitchen.com/potomac-chocolate-upala-85-50g. 2019

WCVB Channel 5 Boston. Chocolate: The Bean to Bar Movement.March 13, 2017. Retrieved                 from https://www.wcvb.com/article/chocolate-the-bean-to-bar-movement/9128519

The Development of Chocolate as an Industrialized Food

Anywhere you go in the world, you can find people enjoying various brands of chocolate with a smile on their face. With chocolate being so widely consumed, nobody ever thinks about how a market was actually born from the universal enjoyment of chocolate. It originated in the Pre-Columbian times as a ritualistic treat for Mesoamericans. Chocolate was not as sweet back then, but they nonetheless added sweeteners to try to improve the taste. Nowadays, much more complex ingredients are used to obtain the sweet, rich, and creamy goodness that is chocolate. Chocolate can be found in grocery stores and homes all over the world; it’s so commonly seen that if you went to a check out line in any store and they weren’t selling chocolate bars, you might actually question the legitimacy of their business. For as long as many of us have been alive, chocolate has been bought and sold abroad but it wasn’t always so widely industrialized.

Chocolate first arrived in Spain in the early 16thcentury. It took some time to become widely accepted, as many Spaniards were initially skeptical of the foreign, bitter drink (Norton 2004). Eventually, acceptance of chocolate became widespread in Spain as the Spanish royal court began to develop a growing taste for it and certified it as an elite delicacy. From then on, all of Europe had a different respect and interest for chocolate.

Until 1828 when a technique was developed to separate cocoa butter from cacao solids, chocolate was something you could only drink. Casparus van Houten created the cocoa press method and his son, a Dutch Chemist by the name of Conraad Johannes van Houten, perfected it. In an attempt to make chocolate more soluble, Houten was able to effectively separate the cacao butter from cacao solids by adding alkaline salt. This would make it so that chocolate could be made in the home fairly easily and therefore would be more accessible to the common man. With the invention of the cocoa press method, chocolate became more than something you could just drink; people were for the first time able to eat it as a snack (Cox 1993). Chocolate as a solid bar caught the attention of the entire continent and eventually became more prevalent than its previously enjoyed liquid form. The chocolate that results from the cocoa press method is now referred to as Dutch-Process cocoa. Dutch-Process cocoa is one of the standard ingredients in most of the chocolate we consume today.

With the European chocolate industry growing rapidly throughout the 19th century, people continued to try to find new ways to optimize the taste of it and make it more marketable. In 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle invented milk chocolate by blending milk with chocolate. Milk chocolate boomed in Europe, but the growing market for chocolate was increasingly more crowded. As more and more people got into the market and tried to develop better chocolate than their competitors, the quality of chocolate inevitably improved. With inventions like the conching machine in 1879 by Rodolphe Lindt, the texture of chocolate became much smoother and was able to be made much faster, pushing further industrialization. In order to attack a new market that had never seen the type of chocolate they specialized in, Peter and Nestle brought their product to America and created Nestle’s Chocolate Company in 1905. From the invention of milk chocolate and the introduction of it to the American market sprung the industry we are most familiar with today. Major chocolate companies today would not be so profitable if it weren’t for Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle.

Since 1905, a few (and I do mean a few) other companies have also gotten in on the mega-market that the sale of chocolate has grown to produce. The top companies that make close to all of the brands of chocolate sold around the world are Nestle (who is till the biggest company), Cadbury, and Mars. These companies drive what has turned into an ever-growing market that we all are guilty of contributing to on a regular basis.

Chocolate has come a long way from the time when it was first consumed on Earth to the much more marketed chocolate we are familiar with today. It went from being a hand made commodity to being produced through a much more mechanized process and from being consumed in one particular part of the world to being consumed worldwide. Chocolate is and will always be a part of our lives, as our love for it seems that it will never fade. Hopefully this Food of the Gods, as it was once regarded (Presilla 2009), will be waiting for us in the afterlife.

Works Cited

Cox, Helen. 1993. “The Deterioration and Conservation of Chocolate from Museum Collections”. Studies in Conservation, vol. 38, no. 4.

Norton, Marcy. 2004. “Conquests of Chocolate”. OAH Magazine of History, vol. 18, no. 3.

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

Cacao as it Exists Today

Cacao Plants hanging from branches

We are a species that seeks to discover all of the wonders of this world so that we may collect and consume them of our own volition. Everyday items that are utilized such as minerals, oil, money, and food are things we collectively yearn for, and there is no limit to what will satisfy our appetite. Among these everyday items exists one that has been a part of our history for as long as we can remember. Cacao plants and what can be created with them have navigated their way into our hearts, minds and influence our appetites daily. Whether it be beans, liquids, or solid chocolate bars, we have become far more engrossed with Cacao than those who originally possessed it long ago. These Ancient civilizations, which consisted of Mesoamerican’s such as the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec’s utilized Cacao in a controlled and market fashion similar to our own. However, we are on a much different playing field than they were back then.

Cacao in Mesoamerica…

As early as 900 AD is when it is believed that the Mayans discovered the Cacao plant. Almost immediately afterwards did the plant and it’s properties become ingrained into every faucet of life during the height of Mesoamerican society. The Olmec, Maya, and Aztec’s each ensured that the Cacao which was produced, was shared with royalty before any other societal class. It is fascinating to think about how the Cacao they were producing quickly became an important part of their lifestyles. Their understanding of it and its significance in regard to their culture during this time period laid the groundwork for how we indulge in the delicacies we have today. Additionally, it was during this era that Cacao began to take different forms that we have simply grown to know as Chocolate. Chocolate beverages were of the most popular amongst rulers that had the power to obtain large portions of Cacao, and they were usually representative of one’s nobility as well as one’s wealth during extravagant parties.

Mesoamerican’s indulging in a Chocolate beverage

Aside from that, there were a number of other uses those with access to Cacao stumbled upon. Considering the scarcity amongst common folk, the beans from the Cacao plant became a form of currency. Slightly more disturbing was it’s use in ceremonies where a selected citizen was sacrificed to the Gods and consumed copious amounts of chocolate before being killed. It is safe to say that the obsession this era had with Cacao is the reason why we cannot get enough of it now. Due to how the Cacao plant was held in such high regard by those in power, as well as the way the common folk idolized it since they lacked an abundance of said delicacy at their disposal during this time period, it comes to no surprise how that influence has undoubtedly played a role in the market we have today.

Cacao Now…

So, with all that being said what does that mean for us today? In what ways were the Mesoamericans influential in the way we produce and consume our Cacao? For one, the chocolate beverage these people were so obsessed with has soared to heights no one could have imagined. Whether it be coffee, milkshakes, or hot chocolate, Cacao has evolved into something everyone craves. Coffee being the most predominant of the chocolate drinks, as it has been commercialized and sold to a market that has fallen in love with the tasty beverage. Starbucks, Hershey, Godiva, the list goes on.

These companies that practice selling Cacao in its newly fashioned state have identified what makes it so special and have capitalized on it. Firstly, the healthy abundance of Chocolate as well as how affordable it is in the United States allows citizens to consume as much of the popular product, more so than that of a noble person during the Mesoamerican era. Coupled with their ability to mass produce chocolate in multiple ways while simultaneously producing new ways to sell it, they have effectively created a system in which they can sell us cacao in any shape or form and we will still purchase it. Although we do not force individuals to consume chocolate before sacrificing one another to the Gods, it is still revered as something that everyone cherishes deeply, almost on a ritualistic level. Valentine’s Day, birthday’s, treats, snacks etc. Whatever your preference may be, chocolate is a delicacy that is near and dear to millions and for some it is considered a blessing to receive it as a gift.

What Cacao could look like in the future…

Now although Cacao (or chocolate) in this instance is an important product in circulation around the globe, some issues do arise with how it is produced and what that may look like for us in the future. As I stated earlier, Cacao has been highly influential in our market. It’s found on every corner in the U.S. as well as thriving sections of the world. Yet we are not truly indulging in a complete Cacao product. A vast majority of the companies making a profit off of chocolate are working with a product that is for the majority, made up of sugar. Compared to our Mesoamerican ancestors, we are consuming far less Cacao than we are sugar whenever we enjoy a delicious Cacao “treat.” Perhaps this is done in part to sustain the Cacao plants for a bit longer. However, the production of processed Cacao is not allowing people to experience it as the Aztecs, Maya and Olmec did. Because of this, we may reach a point in society where Cacao no longer exists in any of the “chocolate” products we consume and a vast majority would be none the wiser.

Works Cited

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

The History of Chocolate: The Mayans and Aztecs, http://www.godivachocolates.co.uk/the-history-of-chocolate-mayans-aztecs.html.

Cartwright, Mark. “Chocolate in Mesoamerica.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 14 Mar. 2019, http://www.ancient.eu/Chocolate_in_Mesoamerica/.

CacaoCoin: Cacao Beans as Currency in Mesoamerica

Motecuhzoma II

Today, people think of chocolate as a delicious dessert. However, in Ancient Mesoamerica, cacao beans had a much greater societal significance. According to Professor Martin, cacao influenced numerous facets of society: religion, culture, art, politics, and the economy. Cacao’s impact on the economy is the primary focus in this blog post. For example, cacao allowed the wealthy to distinguish themselves from the poor. According to anthropologists, the consumption of chocolate “was confined to the Aztec elite – to the royal house, to the lords and nobility, to the long-distance merchants, and to the warriors” (Coe 95). It was commonly served at the end of meal along with tobacco. The ”frothy, stimulating drink” was a common feature at many elite Mesoamerican events such as weddings (Baron 211-212). They also classified it as the “food of the gods”. In addition, the warriors consumed cacao as an energy stimulant before battle to make them feel invincible (Martin 52). Cacao quickly took over alcohol’s spot as the “new marker of social status” (Baron 211). Aztec ruler Motechuzoma II possessed 960,000,000 cacao beans (Martin 72). This incredibly large number of beans cemented his spot as the wealthiest individual in Aztec society. The high value of cacao as a beverage is directly correlated to the value of cacao beans as currency in both the Mayan and Aztec societies.

Most anthropologists acknowledge that cacao beans were one of the most prominent forms of currency in the Aztec World. However, Mayans commonly used cacao in transactions as well. Cacao became a prominent form of currency in the Mayan southern lowlands during the Postclassic period (900-1521 CE) (Baron 211). The flavorful physical properties of cacao certainly increased their value as a commodity. By drying and roasting cacao beans, one can preserve them for months before they are ground up into chocolate. The beans themselves were valued based on their freshness and plumpness. Color was also an important indicator for cacao beans. The ashy colored beans were valued higher than the red colored beans because the ashy colored signified full fermentation. Shriveled, red colored beans were the lowest valued beans. 16th century naturalist Francisco Hernandez also points out that there are four categories of cacao beans: “cuauhcacahuatl (tree cacao), mecacahuatl (string/rope cacao), xochicahuatl (flower cacao), and tlalcahuatl (earth cacao/humble cacao). (Baron 212). The smallest beans (the last few on the list) were most commonly consumed as a beverage and the rest were typically used as currency. Through 7th century murals at Calakmul, archaeologists discovered that cacao beans were commonly exchanged in marketplaces both small and large. The mural depicts individuals from different social classes buying, selling, and exchanging certain goods (maize, tobacco, jewelry, cloth, etc.) One particular image depicts a woman exchanging a bowl of chocolate for a man’s tamale dough. This archaeological excavation reveal the integral role that cacao played in the marketplace as both currency and a tradable good.

Codex Mendoza: Aztec taxes in form of cacao beans

In addition to Mayan society, the Aztec Empire had their own form of currency that relied heavily on cacao. From 1430-1531, Aztecs traded cacao beans and offered them as tribute (tax) to Tenochtitlan (Weatherford 19). Aztecs and Mayan rulers received taxes in the forms of cacao sacs. These sacs included the numerical glyph “pik” which represents 8,000 cacao beans (a typical unit of measurement for cacao tributes) (Baron 214). This unit of measurement comes from the Aztec Xiquipilli. A cacao bean’s high market value is also attributed to its common use as a tribute. This example again shows how cacao beans differentiate the wealthy from the poor. In addition to tributes, cacao beans were most frequently involved in a barter system (Weatherford 19). Traders typically used cacao to even out transactions. While cacao beans could be exchanged directly for a particular good (1 cacao bean = 5 green peppers), they were also added on at the end of trades to even out the transaction. For example, if an “Aztec wanted to exchange an iguana for a load of firewood … and if the good did not have precisely the same value, the traders used cacao to even it out” (Weatherford 19). However, cacao beans provide some of the first examples of counterfeiting practices. Individuals would take the shells of cacao beans and fill them with mud to deceive their exchange partners. Despite this disadvantage of an edible currency, Cacao is unique because it is a commodity that one can consume as well as exchange. The cacao beans can be turned into a frothy beverage or traded for an avocado. Paper money and coins do not have this advantage. This differentiation truly makes cacao beans a unique form of currency.

Example of a typical cacao transaction

In order to truly understand cacao’s value in the marketplace, it is necessary to analyze some typical transactions involving cacao beans in the Aztec Empire. Professor Martin’s lecture from February 6th perfectly outlines some of the most common exchanges. According to the Nahuatl document from 1545: a male turkey is worth 200 cacao beans, a small rabbit is worth 30, one turkey egg is worth 3 cacao beans, an avocado is worth 3 cacao beans, one large tomato is worth one cacao bean, a larval salamander (an Aztec delicacy) is worth 4 cacao beans, and fish wrapped in maize is worth 3 cacao beans (Martin 73). These are all examples of typical marketplace transactions that utilized cacao as currency. Even other non-Mesoamerican societies at the time used cacao beans in transactions. For instance. The Nicarao of Nicaragua in the 16th century exchanged 100 cacao beans for a slave and 8 to 10 cacao beans for a prostitute (Coe 58-59). While traders more frequently used cacao in exchange for other foods, textiles, or accessories; it is important to acknowledge that human services were an integral component of the 1500s marketplace. Cacao was a common commodity in the purchase of those services.

Cacao beans played an integral role in both the Aztec and Mayan societies. It was not only considered an elite beverage; it was a prominent form of currency in the Mesoamerican marketplace. With cacao beans, one could purchase a turkey egg, pay their taxes, or buy a slave. People rarely think of food as a form of currency in the modern era. However, in Mesoamerica, food, such as cacao, carried a much greater societal importance.

Works Cited

Baron, Joanne P. “Making money in Mesoamerica: Currency production and procurement in the Classic Maya financial system”. Economic Anthropology: Society for Economic Anthropology. May 10, 2018.

Coe, Sophie D. & Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson Ltd; 4thed. 2013.

Weatherford, Jack. The History of Money. Crown Business; Reprint edition. March 10, 1998.

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the ‘food of the gods'”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.Lecture. February 13th, 2019

Image Citations

Charles River Editors. The Last Emperor of the Aztecs: The Life and Legacy of Montezuma. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. August 23, 2013.

Mursell, Ian. “Beanz Meanz Money”. Maya at Mexicolore. 1994.

Cornell University: Albert R. Mann Library. “When Money Grew on Trees”. Chocolate: Food of the Gods. 2007.

A Sweet Taste that Inspired a Culture and the Bitter Suffering that Created It

From the Amazon basin to the modern day, chocolate has come a long way to get to us. Chocolate as we know it today, however, is very different from what it used to be in the 16th century. Though we celebrate its sweet taste and how it positively affects our brains, not everything about chocolate is sweet, including its history:

https://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-history-of-chocolate-deanna-pucciarelli

It all started in Latin America

When Europeans arrived in the New World, they found a hundred or more cultigens – the most important beverage source being the cacao tree. The cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, originated in South America, where the Olmec were the first to turn the cacao plant into chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013). Chocolate was consumed during rituals and used as medicine. Centuries later, the Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods.

Chocolate arrives in Spain

In 1528, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés introduced Cacao to Spain (Coe & Coe, 2013). After the addition of sugar, the drink quickly became popular among the rich and wealthy. Chocolate was even loved by Catholic monks who drank it to aid religious practices.

Due to its rising popularity, Spain set up cacao plantations in its West Indies colonies to meet demand. As cacao drinking began to spread across Europe in the late 17th century, French, English, and Dutch plantations were also established in the West Indies and South America. As with other colonial plantations in the New World, the production in these plantations used slaves from West Africa (Mintz, 1986).

When the cocoa press was invented in 1828 by J. van Houten, it enabled the extraction of cacao powder from cacao butter, thus the first chocolate bar was created in the mid-19th century (Coe & Coe, 2013). Those developments resulted in the affordability of chocolate for the mass market, which further increased the demand for cacao.

In Africa, it was only in the late 19th century that production began on any significant scale, with the first large scale production from Portuguese plantations on the island of São Tomé & Príncipe. Despite slavery having been officially abolished in 1875, these plantations became notorious for using workers who were slaves in all but name.

Cacao and Colonialism

Back in the 15th century, when the Portuguese discovered the Azores, Madeiras, Cape Verde Islands, and São Tomé & Príncipe, they were all uninhabited. After discovery, the Portuguese soon began cultivating the islands for sugar; however, the sugar plantations required a large labor force. With the Portuguese population being too small to provide a large number of colonists, it was ultimately the slaves that filled that demand – and so began the African habitation of the islands.

Between 1888 and 1908, over 67,000 people from the African mainland were shipped to the two islands, mostly from Angola. It was the early 1900s, and Portuguese colonizers in the small country were reveling in the fact that they had turned the island into the world’s largest producer of cacao.

Angolan forced laborers working on cacao plantations on São Tomé & Príncipe (Rhodes House archive).

During the coffee boom of the 1850s the Portuguese began cultivating both crops intensely off the back of slave labor. Portuguese colonies abolished slavery in 1858, yet the laborers continued to be exploited. Many were “contracted” from the Portuguese colony of Angola where recruiters followed the old slave routes deep into the interior and the recruiting process was rumored to be forced (Nevinson, 1906). Workers were paid for their work on the islands, but wages were low and the death rates (as much as 20%) were high. Alcoholism was widespread as a result of soulless work, depression, and cheap imported Portuguese wine.

Laborers signed 5-year contracts, which were automatically renewed, and no workers ever returned to their homeland. In the early 1900s, the English challenged Portuguese policy implying that workers were not allowed to leave freely, making them slaves on the islands. Its suspicious labor practices had already made São Tomé & Príncipe one of the world’s biggest producers of cacao.

Cadbury Brothers began importing cacao beans from São Tomé and in 1901, William Cadbury heard that the island’s cacao was produced by slave labor, after coming across an advertisement for the sale of a São Tomé plantation. Included in the sale were the plantation laborers, indicating that the workers themselves were considered property. Cadburry joined with Frys, Rowntrees and the Stollwerck chocolate firm of Cologne, and together sent Dr. Joseph Burtt to investigate conditions on the islands and in Angola (Kiesow, 2017). Burtt reported that Angolan people were taken to the islands “against their will, and often under conditions of great cruelty”, and that it was almost unknown for them to return to their homeland (Higgs, 2013).

The dark and cruel reality of chocolate was, however, soon revealed to the rest of the world. In Harper’s Magazine, Nevinson (1906) described the São Tomé of 1904 as, “a hot-house climate of burning heat and torrents of rain.’ The type of conditions that, ‘kills men and makes the cocoa tree flourish.” Nevinson (2015) later said the death rates were highest among child slaves, with most dying within a few years because, “it was very difficult to convince them to live through the misery and homesickness” (Nevinson, 2015).

As Western consumers reacted with shock and disgust to those news, much of the production moved from São Tomé to the plantations of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which did not make use of slave labor. As Ghana and the Ivory Coast had increased their cacao production to meet demand, many of the plantations were unable to sustain themselves and the once glorious plantations fell into disrepair across the islands.

Independence from Portugal finally came about in 1975, making São Tomé & Príncipe one of the last few African countries to throw off the shackles of colonial rule.

Today

São Tomé & Príncipe remains one of the world’s poorest countries. However, despite the islands’ reputation for quality cacao, one would not find chocolate for sale at the local Mercado Municipal. To associate cacao purely with pleasure would do an injustice to the island’s history. If one were to savor a rich piece of chocolate while reflecting on the trials of slavery and those who once worked on cacao fields, chocolate would surely take on a bitter taste.

The good thing is that the island nation’s cacao industry has moved on from its dark history. Organic cacao farming, today, is a sustainable type of farming, both for farmer’s incomes and for the environment. The growing demand for organic cacao (cacao beans that are not treated with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides) has presented a whole new opportunity to São Tomé & Príncipe.

One interesting fact to note is that none of the primary crops grown by slaves, such as cacao, coffee, sugar, and tobacco, were necessary to sustain human life. Can we therefore argue, that slavery is a very early byproduct of a consumer culture that revolves around the purchase of goods that bring us pleasure but not sustenance?

References

Coe, S. & Coe, M. (2013). The true history of chocolate. London, UK: Thames & Hudson.

Higgs, C. (2013). Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, slavery, and colonialism. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Kiesow, S. (2017). Cocoa culture on São Tomé and Príncipe: The rise and fall of cocoa on the islands in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Agricultural History, 91(1), 55-77.

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and power. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Nevinson, H. (1906, February). The slave-trade of to-day. Conclusion. The islands of doom. Harper’s Magazine, Retrieved from https://harpers.org/archive/1906/02/the-slave-trade-of-to-day-conclusion-the-islands-of-doom/

Nevinson, H. (2015). A modern slavery – Scholar’s choice edition. Wolcott, NY: Scholar’s Choice.