Tag Archives: cacao beans

Interview With A Chocolate Lover

 This interview is being conducted for the purpose of chocolate research, and to gain a deeper understanding of how chocolate affects people’s lives.  Many people enjoy the delicious, sweet substance, yet not all are aware of the history.  The interviewee will be asked a series of questions about how chocolate affects her life.  She enjoys chocolate on a daily basis, and so this interview will be beneficial to everyone. First, she will be asked about her favorite kind of chocolate, and why she chose it.  Secondly, how chocolate has affected her life, either health wise, or pleasure.  Lastly, we will discuss how chocolate has progressed, or stayed the same over the years. For example, does chocolate taste the same now, as it did hundreds of years ago?  Is chocolate as healthy now as it was in the time of the Mayans or Aztecs? The interview will give everyone a new perspective on almost every aspect of chocolate.  Without further ado, let’s begin our interview with a chocolate lover.

The interviewee was born and bred in Southeast Michigan, and is now twenty-one years old.  Her obsession with chocolate began when she was very young.  She recalls, “eating chocolate as young as two years old when my father would feed me spoonful’s of chocolate ice cream.” I laughed, responding, “Yes, chocolate ice cream is very good.  Do you still enjoy chocolate ice cream?” She replied, “Of course! Only, now I eat organic, dairy free chocolate ice cream.” At this point, it was a perfect time to move the interview toward our first question.  Obviously the interviewee has enjoyed chocolate her whole life, and it would be interesting to know what is her favorite kind of chocolate.

She replied, “My favorite chocolate comes the Endangered Speciesbrand, and my favorite flavor is Dark Chocolate, With Forest Mint.” It sounded delicious. I asked, “Why is that your favorite brand of chocolate?” Interviewee: “Well, the ingredients are healthier than something you would find in a Nestle brand for example.  This brand is a NON GMO product, Kosher, certified gluten free, and certified vegan. It also contains around 70% cocoa.”  It was refreshing to know that the interviewee had a respect for healthy, organic chocolate.  I was able to research the product, and gathered the ingredient information.  It contains, “BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE (CHOCOLATE LIQUOR, CANE SUGAR, COCOA BUTTER, SOY LECITHIN, VANILLA), NATURAL MINT FLAVOR” (Chocolatebar.com).  It also contains 5g’s of fiber, 12 g’s of sugar, and 3 g’s of protein.  The total calories per bar is 210.  The fact that the interviewee was aware of the health benefits of cacao surprised me.  Cacao is the purest form of chocolate, and to give the reader some perspective, we will explore its origins.

The following information has been qouted from my last blog post, Eat More Organic Chocolate!: “Christopher Columbus was said to have brought some back with him, after his fourth trip to the New World, but Europe was not quite ready to acknowledge its significance.  Actually, “It was his fellow explorer, the Spanish Conquistador Don Hernán Cortés, who first realized their commercial value. He brought cocoa beans back to Spain in 1528 and very gradually, the custom of drinking the chocolate spread across Europe, reaching England in the 1650s” (Cadbury).  Cacao, the ancient chocolate of the world, had just started its long journey to modern popularity.” (Wydo)

In fact, “By 1682, a British report detailed cocoa exports from Jamaica to Boston. By inference, cocoa exports into the colonies can be assumed to be used for local chocolate production, marking the beginning of chocolate production in the American colonies” (History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American ColoniesSnyder).  It became so popular in North America, that even John Adams and his wife would have some with their morning breakfast.  Snyder records, ‘“John and Abigail Adams were very fond of chocolate. In 1779, John Adams, while in Spain, wrote, “Ladies drink chocolate in the Spanish fashion. Each lady took a cup of hot chocolate and drank it, and then cakes and bread and butter were served; then each lady took another cup of cold water, and here ended the repast.” Abigail Adams, writing to John Quincy Adams in 1785, described drinking chocolate for breakfast while in London.””

Cacao has a deep and rich history.  The interviewee was read the information to give a better perspective.  In response, she said, “Wow, I thought I knew a lot about Cacao, but apparently not.  I did not know that Abigail Adams drank chocolate for breakfast in London. That is very interesting.  It seems like chocolate was a delicacy in those days.  People of high class consumed it.  They made it popular.”  Next, I wanted to move the interview towards my next question. I asked, “How has chocolate affected your life in all areas? Do you consume it for health, pleasure, or perhaps both?

The interviewee replied, “I love chocolate for many different reasons. Chocolate is not just something I eat or drink for pleasure, but something I consume for my health as well. There are many ways to consume chocolate.  You can eat it from a chocolate bar, drink it hot chocolate, enjoy some chocolate ice cream, sprinkle it on desserts, and so much more.  Chocolate is just fun to prepare. You can enjoy it so many different ways.  As I mentioned before, I only eat organic chocolate that has a high percentage of Cacao in it.  The reason for that is because cacao has numerous health benefits.  Raw cacao contains, magnesium, Iron, Flavonoids, and PEA.”

Luke: “Where did you get this information from?” Interviewee: “From a Women’s Health article. I’ll go ahead and read you some of the article now. The article reads, ‘“Raw cacao is one of the best food sources of magnesium – a mineral that many of you lack from your diet. Magnesium is essential for energy production, for a healthy brain and nervous system, for our muscles and for strong bones and teeth. Magnesium may also support a healthy blood pressure. Cacao is a source of iron, which builds the blood and helps to transport oxygen around our body, as well as potassium, copper, zinc, manganese and selenium. Cacao can also be high in flavonoids, which have antioxidant activity. Raw cacao and flavonoid-rich chocolate have been linked with heart health benefits including increasing the good form of cholesterol (HDL) in our blood, lowering blood pressure and even improving vascular function in patients with congestive heart failure. These effects are thought to be primarily due to the antioxidants contained in the cacao.In addition, cacao contains a compound called phenylethylamine (PEA for short!). PEA is thought to elevate mood and support energy, and is said to be one of the reasons that many people love chocolate! Raw cacao is also very low in sugar, and of course does not contain any milk, so is suitable for those who are milk-sensitive or following a low-sugar diet”’ (Menato).  Luke: “Yes, chocolate is very good for you! I did not know all of that information.  I actually wrote a blog post for this class, and I quoted an article written by James Howe.  I’ll read you part of the article. It reads, ‘In the mid-1990s, with funding from the Mars Company, Hollenberg set out to prove that what protected the Kuna from heart disease was chocolate. As the research has progressed since then, he and other researchers have zeroed in on a “flavanol” in chocolate called epicatechin, which, he says, may protect against diabetes and cancer as well as high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks.”’ Interviewee: “I’m glad I eat and drink plenty of chocolate! That research really makes me grateful for Cacao.  It truly does impact your health in a positive way.”

At his point in the interview, it was my intention to steer the conversation towards social issues surrounding chocolate, and it’s production.  The interviewee has a history of being very passionate about human rights, so this topic was perfect for our conversation.  First, I wanted to gauge her familiarity with the subject.  After doing research, I was astounded from what I found.

In America chocolate isn’t given a second thought. Everywhere you turn there is chocolate. From candy to desserts there is no shortage. Most often, Americans do not give a second thought to were products we use and eat come from and the effects those products have on other societies in order to produce it for our enjoyment.  Luke:“Do you mind if at this point in the interview, we discuss the effects chocolate has on society?” Interviewee: “Of course not! I love being able to talk about these things because it brings awareness to the subject.” Luke: “Let me start off by reading from an interesting news posting from the BBC. It quotes, ‘African cocoa farms are still employing hundreds of thousands of children, the BBC has discovered, 10 years after the world’s leading chocolate companies promised to tackle child labor. Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest cocoa producer with as many as 800,000 children working in the industry, often in dangerous jobs’ Humphrey Hawksley reports from Ivory Coast. Most Americans today do not know this. It’s so important that people today are educated’” (BBC News).

Luke: “Another interesting article I found from Fortune.com reads, “Child labor in West African cocoa farming first became a cause célèbre around the turn of the century when a number of pieces of investigative journalism focused the world’s attention on the plight of children who had been trafficked to Ivory Coast to farm cocoa, often from other former French colonies such as Mali and Burkina Faso, and held as slave laborers. In a documentary that aired on the BBC, filmmakers interviewed young boys in Ivory Coast who said they’d been beaten and forced to work long hours without pay. One who said he’d been working on a cocoa farm for five years was asked what he thought about people enjoying chocolate in other parts of the world. “They are enjoying something that I suffered to make,” the boy answered. “They are eating my flesh.”” (Fortune.com).”

Interviewee: “Wow.  I knew that chocolate production has posed these kinds of risk’s to kids in Africa, but I was not aware of all these facts.  It honestly breaks my heart.” Luke: “It breaks my heart too because there’s not much we can do except boycott these companies who buy their chocolate from West Africa.  However, almost everyone buys their chocolate from there.  According to the same article, around 70 percent of the worlds cacao is grown there.  This means that they produce around 60 percent of the global market in chocolate.”

Luke: “Another source reports, “Holding a single large pod in one hand, each child has to strike the pod with a machete and pry it open with the tip of the blade to expose the cocoa beans. Every strike of the machete has the potential to slice a child’s flesh. The majority of children have scars on their hands, arms, legs or shoulders from the machetes. In addition to the hazards of using machetes, children are also exposed to agricultural chemicals on cocoa farms in Western Africa. Tropical regions such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast consistently deal with prolific insect populations and choose to spray the pods with large amounts of industrial chemicals. In Ghana, children as young as 10 spray the pods with these toxins without wearing protective clothing (foodispower).” Interviewee: “That is devastating.  It really makes me rethink who I will be buying my chocolate from!”

Luke: “I hope I haven’t turned you off from chocolate altogether! The reason I bring up these issues is because we as Americans need to be more aware.  It is all about bringing awareness to the issues at hand, and doing everything we can do to help.  For example, when you go to buy your chocolate, buy brands that are committed to eco-friendly production.  This way, you know that no child is suffering in an effort to produce it.  Another thing you can do is not buy from brands that are known for importing from West Africa.  Choose another brand.  It’s all about taking small steps toward a better tomorrow.  Anyway, I was so glad you accepted my invitation for this interview. You have really brought a fun atmosphere.  I have enjoyed getting to know you and your favorite chocolate better!” Interviewee: “Thank you so much Luke.  I had fun as well. Let’s raise our chocolate bars to a great interview!”

 

Works Cited

 

  1. http://www.chocolatebar.com/products/dark-chocolate-with-forest-mint/
  2. History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American Colonies.” History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American Colonies: The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site,
  3. Menato, Francesca. “Cacao Powder Benefits | Why It’s Better Than Chocolate.” Women’s Health UK, womenshealthmag.co.uk/weight-loss/healthy-eating/2736/health-benefits-of-raw-cacao-over-chocolate/.
  4. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, pp. 43–52., doi:10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.43.
  5. “Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem.” Fortune, Fortune, fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor/.
  6. “Ivory Coast Cacao Farms Child Labour: Little Change.” Http://Www.bbc.com/News/World-Africa-15681986.

Cacao and Climate Change: Implications and Recommendations

At some point in our lives, we all hear Forrest Gump’s famous quote: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Climate change is no different. Mother Nature is currently harnessed by an increasingly volatile system that continues to alter our earth each and every day, and by failing to change our destructive ways, humans are allowing this force to perpetuate. According to NASA, average global temperature has increased by 1.7 percent since the late nineteenth century, and 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 (MacLennan). Additionally, carbon dioxide levels in the air are at the highest they have been in 650,000 years (MacLennan). Because all agricultural systems are sensitive to these changes, cacao and therefore chocolate are equally subject to adversity. Between the monstrous chocolate industry and diligent cacao farmers, countless constituents are at stake in this sensitive predicament. Given the escalating atmospheric constraints on cacao-growing regions due to the intensification of climate change, cacao farmers must carefully adapt while simultaneously seeking out responsible, innovative ways to keep the beloved cacao crop from becoming obsolete in the coming decades. 

Geographically, cacao can only grow within 20 degrees latitude both north and south of the equator, as illustrated by Figure 1 (Scott). As we learned from a course book, cacao trees flourish under strict conditions including high humidity, abundant rain, uniform temperatures, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from the wind (Presilla 95). In short, cacao trees thrive in tropical rainforests. The vast majority of the world’s cacao is produced by smallholders, meaning those owning less than five acres of land (de Groot). Currently, there exist about two million smallholder farmers in West Africa alone, all of whom depend on cacao for their livelihoods (Schroth et al 231). Their vulnerability to climate change derives from the fact that they are predominately located in the tropics, but I strongly believe we should remain equally concerned by the various demographic, socioeconomic, and policy trends we discussed in class that hinder their capacity to adapt to change. The world’s leading producers are Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia, and research highlighted in a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that, under a “business as usual” scenario, those countries will experience a 3.8°F increase in temperature by 2050, which I suspect would connote a marked reduction in suitable cultivation area (Scott). 

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Figure 1. A geographical representation of the cacao belt, which spans across the equator.

Cacao will face a distinct challenge from the changing climate compared to that of many other crops. Coffee, for example, suffers direct harm from rising temperatures, but this paradigm alone won’t necessarily hinder cacao production (Jaramillo et al). Cacao cultivation areas in Malaysia, for instance, already endure a warmer climate than West Africa without any obvious negative effects (Scott). Upon briefly conversing with one of our guest lecturers after a guided tasting this semester, I learned that one of the greatest dangers to cacao arising from climate change is the increase in evapotranspiration, particularly given that higher temperatures projected for West Africa by 2050 are unlikely to be accompanied by an increase in rainfall (Scott). Evapotranspiration is the process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere through both soil evaporation and plant transpiration (Handley). In other words, as higher temperatures coax more water from soil and plants, rainfall likely will not increase enough to offset the moisture loss. In order to avoid generalizing, one should note that this situation will not necessarily represent that of all cacao-growing regions; a study on a Nigerian research farm, for example, found that a combination of optimal temperature (84°F) and minimal rainfall (900 to 1000mm)—both less than the current yearly averages—would result in the best yields (Ojo et al 353). This mélange in the effects and remedies of climate change is a fantastic example of why farmers must adopt such a dynamic attitude moving forward.

As we approach 2050, rising temperatures will push the suitable cacao cultivation areas uphill. The optimal altitude for cacao cultivation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, for example, is expected to rise from 350-800 feet to 1,500-1,600 feet above sea level (Scott). Generally, areas anticipated to show improved cultivation conditions look to be rugged, hilly terrain. But herein lies the problem: Ghana’s Atewa Range, for example, is a forest preserve where cultivation isn’t permitted, so inhabitants are left with the difficult choice of illegally gutting the forest to grow cacao in the name of global demand or preserving the natural habitat in which they live and losing their only source of income. Given that our class dedicated a substantial amount of time to discussing the already turbulent livelihoods of cacao farmers, I am troubled to see that they may soon face such an unfair quandary. One study examined nearly 300 locations in the world’s primary cacao-growing regions and found that only 10.5% showed increasing suitability for cacao production by 2050, while the remaining 89.5% showed the opposite (Scott). Figure 2 shows current suitability and projections for future conditions under a changing climate (Schroth et al 233):

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Figure 2. Maximum temperature of the warmest month under current and projected 2050 climate conditions in the West African cacao belt. The dotted area shows the extent of current cacao production as used for model calibration. The red lines show areas of cacao production.

The area depicted above is known as the West African cacao belt. Once entirely covered by the Nigerian lowland forests in the east and the Guinean lowland forests in the west, much of the area has now been converted to agriculture (Schroth et al 235). The world’s cacao industry depends largely on this belt for raw material due to the sheer volume of cacao produced as well as the abundance of high-quality bulk cacao that cannot be readily replaced by other cacao origins. As we learned in lecture, blended cacao typically goes to large industrial producers (unlike exclusive-derivation cacao, which exemplifies the traits of terroir through individual nuances), so this region is undeniably crucial to the future success of the large chocolate industry. Climate change aside, production in this region faces a wide variety of challenges, all of which we addressed in lecture: most trees are over-aged and therefore unproductive in the already small farms; low prices—until the recent price inflation—and variability make it difficult for farmers to afford costly inputs such as fertilizers; absence or insufficiency of technical assistance in most countries make maintenance difficult (Schroth et al 236). Perhaps while addressing climate change, whether internally or through foreign aid, actors should undertake these challenges alongside those directly associated with climate change itself.

Due in part to the aforementioned adversities, cacao farming has been a major driver of deforestation in West Africa, most notably in Côte d’Ivoire. Historically, cacao has been a “pioneer crop” grown after forest clearing, meaning that rather than replanting aging plantations, farmers have typically opted to migrate to the forest frontiers to establish new cacao farms. During the second half of the twentieth century, the cacao frontier moved from the drier east to the wetter southwest of the country, a migration fueled by massive immigration of prospective cacao farmers from the savannah (Ruf et al 101). From my perspective, it appears that the climate gradient was a major driver of these east-west migrations and that, by replacing forest with farmland over vast areas, cacao farmers contributed to the further drying of the climate in what appears to be a positive feedback loop. This is precisely the type of damage we as a civilization must avoid in the coming decades. In order to help facilitate a greater awareness of sustainability, governments and supply chain actors should discourage forest frontier dynamics by helping farmers adapt to environmental change through more intensive and diversified farming practices.

The question of whether water availability or maximum temperatures during the dry season will be more limiting to the survival, growth, and yield of cacao trees in a future climate is of particular importance when considering the design of climate resilient production systems. One highly efficient—and, in my opinion, the only practical—method of protecting cacao trees from high temperatures is through overhead shade from appropriately selected, spaced, and managed companion trees such as banana and plantain as seen in Figure 3 (Colina). This practice can reduce cacao leaf temperatures by up to 40°F, sequester carbon that would otherwise be lost from the soil, make cacao trees less vulnerable to pests, and provide nutrient-rich leaf litter as well as protection from wind and soil erosion (Rajab et al). With that said, adequate ventilation is also important as a complementary measure, as it helps to reduce the prevalence of fungal disease in cacao (Schroth et al 240). The general takeaway here is that farmers need to be properly trained such that they can correctly execute these methods.

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Figure 3. Young cacao plants in a nursery under shade trees in Mindanao, Philippines.

When considering shadow crops such as those pictured above, we must recognize that an expectation of severe water limitation during the dry season may complicate things. Under such conditions, there could eventually not be enough water available for both cacao and shade trees during the dry season, thereby stressing the trees and leaving farmers in a tough position. Although I feel this is an unlikely extreme, we should prepare for all possibilities. Temperature struggles aside, another mitigation strategy could be to provide cacao growers with selectively bred seeds that have superior drought resistance. Farmers could, however, be skeptical of genetically modified seeds given the stereotypically low trust between farmers and large agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto. While I am not sure how feasible this final point is given my unfamiliarity with the growing techniques behind these commodities, it may be beneficial for cacao farmers to raise animals or cultivate honey in order to spread climate risk (de Groot). In general, climate-smart agriculture—an approach that combines various sustainable methods under a climate-change umbrella—that assesses climate change-related risks and requirements of a farm and subsequently tackles those challenges using practices crafted for that particular situation is key to success in the coming decades.

In our class, we discussed industrial chocolate production as well as consumption, both practices that are generally decoupled from on-farm production. Fortunately, industrial chocolate corporations have a large incentive to help with damage control and mitigation. MARS is a fantastic example of corporate initiative: the company plans to slash carbon pollution from its products by 67 percent come mid-century (Simon). This includes reducing emissions from land use changes and agriculture, and the company has even gone a step further by offering resources to help farmers increase yields, though they don’t disclose any specifics (Simon). The five global titans of chocolate—Ferrero, Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle, and Mars—should work together with consumers and defy the ugly “Big Sugar” stereotype considering we all share a common enemy: climate change. In terms of consumers themselves, our research from class suggests that people should seek out responsible, sustainable companies that give fair treatment to farmers. Whole Foods and other specialty stores, for example, boast a great selection of fair trade and organic bars such as Taza, Chuao, and Endangered Species. Consumers who have already caught wind of the possible “cacao crisis” are understandably uneasy, but they’ll be happy to know that research suggests climate change will not have an effect on the taste of cacao—that is, assuming the crop isn’t wiped out entirely (Sukha et al 255). For further information, videos such as the following can help to spell things out in a more informative and empowering way:

Realistically, we simply have no way of accurately predicting what the future climate will look like. With that said, the cacao belt appears to have a strong differentiation of climate vulnerability across its latitudinal axis, with the most susceptible areas near the forest-savanna transition in eastern Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria, and the least vulnerable areas in the southern parts of Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Cameroon. Farmers will face the challenging task of controlling as many factors as possible in a progressively erratic world, so I recommend they look towards specialized companies such as The Climate Corporation—a digital agriculture company that examines weather, soil, and field data to help farmers determine potential yield-limiting factors on their fields—while employing the many protective measures mentioned above. Moving forward will require a team effort that ranges across the chocolate production and consumption chains, but because most changes in climatic suitability are predicted to take place over a time period of nearly 40 years, we have a full generation of cacao trees and farmers to adapt.

So, who will win the fight: climate or chocolate? Let’s not leave it to chance.

 

Works Cited: 

Anga, Jean-Marc. “International Cacao Organization.” The International Cacao Organization; Cacao Producing and Cacao Consuming Countries, ICCO, May 2018.

Bunn, Christian, and Mark Lundy. “Bittersweet Chocolate: The Climate Change Impacts on Cacao Production in Ghana.” CGIAR Research Program, 2015.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., vol. 1, Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Colina, Antonio. “Cacao Developemnt in Davao Region.” Davao Integrated Development Program, 2014.

de Groot, Han. “Preparing Cacao Farmers for Climate Change.” Rainforest Alliance, EarthShare, 20 Sept. 2017.

Handley, Liam. “The Effects of Climate Change on the Reproductive Development of Theobroma Cacao.” ProQuest, vol. 1, no. 1, 2016.

Jaramillo, Juliana, and Eric Muchugu. “Some Like It Hot: The Influence and Implications of Climate Change on Coffee Berry Borer (Hypothenemus Hampei) and Coffee Production in East Africa.” PLoS ONE, vol. 6, no. 9, 14 Sept. 2011.

MacLennan, David W. “Our Changing Climate.” Our Changing Climate: Supporting Farmers to be Resilient in the Face of Changing Weather Patterns, Cargill, 2018.

Morton, J. F. “The Impact of Climate Change on Smallholder and Subsistence Agriculture.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 50, 11 Dec. 2007, pp. 19680–19685.

Ojo, A.D., and I. Sadiq. “Effect of Climate Change on Cacao Yield: a Case of Cacao Research Institute (CRIN) Farm, Oluyole Local Government Ibadan Oyo State.” CABI , vol. 12, no. 1, 2010, pp. 350–358. CAB Direct.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate. 2nd ed., vol. 1, Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Rajab, Yasmin Abou, and Christoph Leuschner. “Cacao Cultivation under Diverse Shade Tree Cover Allows High Carbon Storage and Sequestration without Yield Losses.” PLoS ONE, vol. 11, no. 2, 29 Feb. 2016.

Ruf, François, et al. “Climate Change, Cacao Migrations and Deforestation in West Africa: What Does the Past Tell us about the Future?” Sustainability Science, vol. 10, no. 1, 18 Nov. 2014, pp. 101–111.

Schroth, Götz, and Christian Bunn. “Vulnerability to Climate Change of Cacao in West Africa: Patterns, Opportunities and Limits to Adaptation.” Science of The Total Environment, vol. 556, 15 June 2016, pp. 231–241. ELSEVIER.

Scott, Michon. “Climate and Chocolate .” Climate.gov, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 10 Feb. 2016.

Simon, Rosie. “Climate Change Could Hurt Chocolate Production.” Yale Climate Connections, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 19 Oct. 2017.

Stroman, Lee. “Rethinking the Cacao Supply Chain.” AgThentic, Medium Corporation, 16 July 2017.

Sukha, D.a., and D.r. Butler. “The Impact Of Processing Location And Growing Environment On Flavor In Cacao (Theobroma Cacao L.); Implications For ‘Terroir’ and Certification.” Acta Horticulture, no. 1047, 2014, pp. 255–262. ISHS.

Lets talk about chocolate sauce

 

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CHOCOLATE SAUCE- Picture was taken by me

 

A few months back my aunt Bazat Saifiyyah made a chocolate sauce that everyone in my family went completely crazy over. We would eat it at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With many different foods such as ice-cream, strawberries when they were in season, spread over toast or just eaten plain.

For my blog post I want to explore within the context of my aunt’s recipe, the ingredients that go into it, where does the chocolate come from, the historical backing and also the perception of chocolate and its health benefits.

The recipe 

 

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A picture taken by me to show the ingredients that go into the chocolate sauce. 

 

 

The ingredients that go into the chocolate sauce are butter, dark chocolate compound, Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa, Hershey’s caramel syrup, icing sugar, milk and fresh cream.

The chocolate sauce is made by melting butter over a low heat flame, then add the dark chocolate compound broken up into many pieces. Then after this has melted the milk and fresh cream are added and then whisked until fully mixed. Then after this, the Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa powder is added with the icing sugar. After this, the caramel syrup is added. Then the whole mixture is to be whisked over a low flame for two minutes, then it is ready to be eaten.

This is a short video that I have taken during the making of the chocolate sauce.

 

What is the history behind the recipe?

Cacao first came to be cultivated agriculturally by the Olmecs in the lowlands of the Mexican Gulf Coast ( C ) It was picked up by the Mayans and then from them the Aztecs. In this time the way that they processed the cacao bean was very different then how it is processed today. The cacao pod would be harvested and then its beans would be dried, roasted, shelled and then ground on a metate to make a paste, this paste could have other flavoring additions to it depending on the culture that it was made in. This paste was then made into balls from which a hot foamy chocolate drink was made, this seems to have been the primary way in which the Mesoamericans consumed their cacao. However, there are mentions of it being used in other food items. ( C )

This is a video that demonstrates the Mesoamerican chocolate making practices.

This cacao consumption was picked up by the Spanish during their colonization period. It became an extremely important part of their culture and practices. Then it was picked up by the European colonizers and it became joined with sugar that was also being produced in the colonies. Then came the inventions that changed how chocolate was produced such as conching by Rudolph Lindt in Switzerland, this made the chocolate smooth by breaking down the large particles in a machine. ( P ) Also, the addition of dairy products like milk and cream to chocolate changed drastically how chocolate was enjoyed by many people.

Where does the cacao come from? 

The two chocolate products that go into making this compound are Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa and Mordes dark compound chocolate ( CD D16 ). Both these ingredients are processed differently to reach the state that they are in.

Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa- 

The processing of cacao to reach cocoa powder was invented by Coenerad Van Houten in the Netherlands. He developed a technique which processed cacao beans in such a way that they separated into two compounds, cacao butter, and a solid cake.  ( P ) The cacao butter was the more prized of the two compounds and often it was sold by companies and not used with the solids of the beans that it came from.  The solid cocoa cake that was made was then ground up into a fine powder and it is used in chocolate drinks and baking. Another process that also goes behind the cocoa powder made today is the dutch processing technique which is a treatment done by adding alkaline salts to neutralize the bitter taste and also to have a darker colored chocolate. ( P )

There is no mention of the product about where the cacao that goes into this process comes from. This makes the cacao completely anonymous.

This anonymity of chocolate shows a shift in the attitudes of people towards cacao beans and their sourcing. In the past centuries, before the manufacturing of chocolate became so connected to the industrialized process, the sourcing of the cacao bean was of utmost importance. The criollo pods were counted as the best type of cacao, it has the sweetest flavor and the richest taste ( P), the finding of this pod is extremely rare nowadays and many expert chocolatiers try with great difficulty to get a hold of this criollo pod to make their chocolate. This pod was mainly used by the Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs and then it was transported to Hispanic plantations such as Venezuela during their period of colonization. ( P ) The most common type of cacao in use today is the forastero variety, this is purple and of a darker color then the criollo variety, it is also extremely bitter however the multiple industrial processes that cacao beans go through these days balance out the bitterness. Then there is also the Trinitario variety, this is a cross breed between the criollo and forastero, it was developed in Trinidad, this is the most resilient variety and it has a more pleasant taste than the foraestro. ( P )

The other factor that matters a lot in the sourcing of cacao is where is it grown, this contains the Terrior of the landscape and also carries a lot of history and chocolate traditions and culture with it. Chocolate has a dark history intertwined with the slave trade and abuse of peoples in plantations. In the modern day, the roots of colonization, the booming cacao trade, and European chocolate culture has led to established cacao farming in many parts of the world that were colonized such as Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Ecuador and West Africa. Today West Africa produces 75% of the worlds cacao and most of this cacao is exported for production abroad, only 4% of the worlds chocolate is consumed by its people. West Africa collectively produces 3 million metric tonnes of cacao in a year( L 8)

There is a lot that goes into the cacao bean and if it is made so anonymous its history is wiped away and its variety and subtleties are emitted out of the chocolate making process as nobody knows where it originates from.

Mordes dark compound chocolate ( CD D16 ) 

This chocolate is also another example of the anonymity of the cacao bean today. The ingredients that go into making this bar are as follows, Sugar, Edible Vegetable fats, Cocoa Solids and Emulsifiers ( 492, 322 ) CONTAINS ADDED NATURAL (VANILLA) FLAVOURING SUBSTANCES, Hydrogenated Vegetable Fat Used- Contains Trans Fats.

This bar does not have a cacao percentage in it however it has cocoa solids, so it does not have cacao butter in it.

This is a video that demonstrates how chocolate bars are made today.

 

 

A look into Hershey’s

Hershey’s was founded in 1903 by Milton S. Hershey, it came to be known as Americans most iconic chocolate. It had a great influence on American business and taste. ( L 11 )

The two struggles that this company faced and managed to overcome were, one, the struggle to develop milk chocolate, so they made their own dairy farms and sourced their milk from there. Two, the struggle to control the sugar supply chain. Sugar used to come from Cuba and during the period of 1916-46 there was a highly volatile situation and this affected the sugar supply chain. To face this problem Hershey brought land in Cuba where he established his own sugar plantations, for the transportation of this sugar he also built some connecting railways.  ( L 12 )

This is a video that demonstrates the history and founding of Hershey’s chocolates.

Health effects

The potential health risks in consuming chocolate are environmental factors of polluted soil and water, problems in other ingredients such as milk, sugar, soy lecithin, inclusions, manufacturing issues, allergy or sensitivity to certain ingredients mixed with the cacao or to the caffeine, and a very high sugar and saturated fat content and a very high calorie content. ( L 12 )

There has also been a lot of contemporary research on the health benefits of chocolate. These are Antioxidant, Cardioprotective, Psychoactive, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-allergy and Anti-tumoral properties ( L 12 )

After knowing some of the history behind chocolate and everything that has gone into making it, one can eat the chocolate sauce with more understanding of what actually goes on in the making of it.

References

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013 – ( C)

Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009. – ( P )

Chocolate class lectures, Carla Martin, Harvard Extension School, Spring 2018 – ( L )

History of Hershey’s chocolate, Charles Dean Archive, Published on Jan 9, 2014 on Youtube

Milk Chocolate from Scratch How it is made, Science Channel, Published on Oct 30, 2016 on Youtube

Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate Making, National Geographic, Published on Oct 13, 2017 on Youtube

A New Cacao History? A Differing Narrative of Cacao Beverages in Pre-Colombian America

While chocolate for most people in the United States gathers images of candy bars, delicious desserts, or even hot cocoa, many are also aware of the more traditional style of cacao beverage produced traditionally in Mesoamerica. These early chocolate beverages made from the traditional process of fermenting the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree, drying these fermented seeds, grinding them, and finally adding water to the ground seeds to form a thick beverage are almost omnipresent in Mesoamerican cultures (McNeil 2009).

Modern equivalent to a traditional cacao beverage, with cacao beans around the mug and a cacao pod in the background.

The earliest discovered vessels containing chemical residue of cacao date back to 600-400 B.C.E. from Belize (Dreiss and Greenhill 2008). Traditionally, academics assumed that Theobroma cacao tree was initially cultivated by humans in order to create the type of beverage described above which involves the lengthy process of fermenting, grinding, and mixing the cacao seeds with water.

cacao tree
Theobroma Cacao with cacao pods

Prominent chocolate scholars Sophie and Michael Coe employ this argument to support the hypothesis that Theobroma cacao was first cultivated in Mesoamerica, rather than South America, as the chocolate beverage described above was highly prominent in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, while in Pre-Columbian South America, this drink was absent (Coe and Coe 1996). However, when examining other traditional Mesoamerican and South American uses of comestibles of the Theobroma Cacao tree, a new theory for the initial cultivation of Theobroma Cacao may emerge (Joyce and Henderson 2006).

 

(Video demonstration of the cacao grinding process into a modern cacao drink below)

While the traditional processed chocolate drink described above may have been prominent in Mesoamerica, other traditional beverages using products from Theobroma cacao were extremely common across both Mesoamerica and South America as well. Although many different types of foods and beverages were produced, one that may shed light on the origins of the multi-step traditional chocolate beverage creation process and the initial cultivation of Theobroma cacao is an alcoholic beverage derived from the fermentation of the pulp and seeds found inside cacao pods referred to as “chicha” (Joyce and Henderson 2006). While this alcoholic drink is typically associated with pre-Columbian cultures in South America, and the nonalcoholic processed chocolate beverage discussed initially is associated with pre-Columbian cultures in Mesoamerica, there is evidence to suggest that alcoholic drinks made from fermenting the pulp of cacao pods were produced in pre-Columbian Mayan and Aztec Mesoamerica as well (Joyce and Henderson 2006).

(Video demonstrating the cacao pulp fermentation process)

As such, the discovery of the production of chicha may paint a new picture for the initial cultivation of Theobroma cacao. It does not make intuitive sense to reason that Theobroma cacao was initially cultivated to make the non-alcoholic chocolate beverage, as it is complex lengthy multistep process without clear initial benefits. It makes more sense to hypothesize that the traditional ground nonalcoholic beverage may have arisen out of the byproducts of brewing chicha, as chicha is a necessary byproduct of creating the nonalcoholic traditional chocolate beverage (Joyce and Henderson 2006). This narrative points to the initial cultivation of Theobroma cacao in order to make chicha. The benefits of the fermentation of the seeds would have then become discovered as a byproduct of the fermentation process to make chicha. In fact, the fermented cacao seeds may have then been eaten as a source of dietary fat, similar to how palm seeds were eaten in Mesoamerica for their rich fat content (Joyce and Henderson 2006). Additionally, cacao seeds would have been impossible to separate from the pulp prior to fermentation due to the gluey texture of the cacao pulp.

AtlasHistory-SanLorezoVessels
Early Olmec pottery cacao vessels found at San Lorenzo

 

This new narrative of the non-alcoholic chocolate drink arising out of the chicha fermentation process possesses further implications for the history of cacao in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. There is widespread evidence of the ritualized nature of serving cacao as a means of social performance (Dreiss and Greenhill 2008). The serving of the traditional cacao beverage utilized special serving and preparing vessels across Mesoamerica. Later pottery vessels from the post classic period (1000-1521 C.E.) are designed with a flared neck in order to facilitate frothing when pouring into cups, a necessary step for the traditional cacao drink to suspend the ground seeds in water in order to acquire the correct consistency (Joyce and Henderson 2006). Older pottery vessels tend to have narrow taller necks, which are not as suited to this frothing technique.

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 22.42.50
A Mexican woman frothing cacao in the traditional manner by pouring it from a vessel into cups. This is an early colonial drawing. 

The new flared neck bottle form develops around 900-700 B.C.E. In the social ceremonies in which cacao was served, the hosting party would create social debt to honor guests through the serving a feast prepared specifically for the guests (McNeil 2009). However, a fermented drink such as chicha would have already been in production due to the lengthy fermentation process. Fermented drinks would not have been given the same credit as the specifically prepared feasts for ceremonial occasions. Creating a performance out of serving the beverage would then circumvent this issue (Joyce and Henderson 2006).  These types of drink serving performances were commonplace with traditional non-alcoholic cacao beverages in later Mesoamerican society, with the hosting party adding other ingredients such as flowers or ground seeds at the time of serving (Dreiss and Greenhill 2008).  The process of grinding cacao seeds into a fine meal, may have originated as a method to increase the amount of social debt and honor to guests as the ground seeds were added to fermented cacao beverages at the time of serving. As such, these grounds had to be frothed into the drink at the time of serving creating a performance aspect to the drink. Therefore, this necessary performance aspect of the fermented drink may be the origins of the non-alcoholic varieties made from ground seeds and water which became universal across Mesoamerica (Joyce and Henderson 2006).

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Passing of a vessel containing frothed cacao during a ritual ceremony.

Through examination of the use of fermented cacao beverages, we reanalyzed the narrative of the origin of the cultivation of Theobroma cacao and discovered a potential new and enlightening prelude to the traditional origin story of modern cacao products. Cacao may have been first used in order to create the alcoholic “chicha” beverage which then gave rise to the traditional multistep nonalcoholic cacao beverage as a byproduct of complex serving performances of the alcoholic one during social ceremonies to honor guests.

Works Cited:

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

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

Dreiss, Meredith L., and Greenhill, Sharon. Chocolate : Pathway to the Gods. University ofArizona Press, 2008.

George, Andy. “Fermenting & Roasting | How to Make Everything: Chocolate Bar.” YouTube,How to Make Everything, 11 Feb. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUJ0heMcE-g.

Gross, Robin. “How to Make Authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate (Chocolate Caliente).” The Spruce, 30 Aug. 2017, http://www.thespruce.com/authentic-mexican-hot-chocolate-4148366.

Joyce, Rosemary A, and Henderson, John S. “The Development of Cacao Beverages in Formative Mesoamerica.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2006.

McNeil, C. L..Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao. Gainesville: UniversityPress of Florida, 2009. Project MUSE,

Oneil, Megan E. “Chocolate, Food of the Gods, in Maya Art.” Unframed, LACMA, 27 Oct. 2016, unframed.lacma.org/2016/10/27/chocolate-food-gods-maya-art.

wilmo55. “Preparing Drinking Chocolate near Oaxaca, Mexico.” YouTube, YouTube, 25 Apr.2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlAg7zIR57k.

Cacao From Hands to the Machine

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.

Maya Vase

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.

Maya Princeton Vase

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.
.

Conrad Johanes Van Houten

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.

Image from page 148 of "Cocoa and chocolate : their history from plantation to consumer" (1920)

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.

Footnotes

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.

Chocolate in Modern Day Ecuador

IMG_9888Throughout 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.

IMG_9054 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 IMG_7953surprisingly 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. 

Works Cited
Caselli, Irene. “Is Ecuador Home to the World’s Best Chocolate?” BBC News, BBC, 6 June 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-22733002.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: a Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.
“This Couple Aims to Make Ecuador the Cradle of Fine Chocolate Making.” NBC News, NBCUniversal News Group, 7 Jan. 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/couple-aims-make-ecuador-cradle-fine-chocolate-making-n474366.

 

 

Chocolate in Mesoamerican and Western traditions: A Social and Ceremonial Treat

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.

klgarrett@aol.com
Maya rise and Fall; Princeton Museum; Ancient Cultures; Maya; Mayan; ; Princeton Vase; Cacao

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.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 1.58.48 PM

Bibliography

 Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

“Princeton Vase, from Nakbe Region.” Princeton Vase, from Nakbe Region.

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

Marshall Brain & Shanna Freeman “How Chocolate Works” 1 April 2000.
HowStuffWorks.com. <https://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/chocolate.htm&gt; 8 March

McNeil, Cameron L. Chocolate in Mesoamerica : a Cultural History of Cacao. University Press of Florida, 2006. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate : a Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st rev. ed., Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

From Bean to Boom: The Development of Chocolate as an Industrialized Food 


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. 

anubisinmexico_01_olmecmap
“Olmec Heartland”

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. 

moctezuma_ii_cortes

Discovery and Commercialization of Cocoa (16th century) In 1528 Hernando 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.

mv-7716_006
Hot Chocolate in Versailles

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. 

chocolate-maid2

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. 

Cacao-pur-gif

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.

 

 

treasure_image_image_file_162_745

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.

imagesWithin 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. 

 

 

 

Works Cited

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.

Media

“Olmec Heartland”
http://www.vampiresaragossa.com/02_anubis_mexico.html

Hernando Cortez with Montezuma II
https://www.biografiasyvidas.com/biografia/m/moctezuma_ii.htm

Hot Chocolate in Versailles
http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/hot-chocolate-versailles

Chocolate Maid, Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1744
https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/hot-chocolate-18th-19th-century-style/

Van Houten “Chocolats”
http://lapassionauboutdesdoigts.fr/recettesdessertschocolat/moelleux-chocolat-mascarpone-aux-poires/

Fry’s Chocolate
http://www.oakhamtreasures.co.uk/treasure-of-the-week/?year_week=2016_46

Hershey’s
http://www.artworkoriginals.com/EB5SB8XJ.htm

 

 

 

The Devolution of My Favorite Chocolate

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.

savoy
Image One

           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.

Toronto
Image Two

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OugG5n6jC9g

          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 highway   savoy billboard

                                 (a)                                                                            (b)

    Image Three

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!

 

 

 

Works Cited

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.

 

 

 

Multimedia Sources

Bulmer-Thomas, Victor. 2013, March 6. Analysis: How Hugo Chavez changed Venezuela. Retrieved from

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-15240081

“Chávez Proclama Cacao “Producto Estratégico” Para Venezuela” 1-11-2010. Retrieved from

https://mundo.sputniknews.com/economia/20101101147829658/

Dreier H., and Marquez V. 2015, April 29. Venezuela produces some of the world’s best chocolate. But profiting from it is another story. Retrieving from

https://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2015/04/29/export-freeze-sows-bitterness-in-venezuela-chocolate-trade

Magual, Ileana. 2015, May 19. Venezuelan cocoa, the best in the world. Retrieved from

http://www.eluniversal.com/aniversario/anniversary/150519/venezuelan-cocoa-the-best-in-the-world

Image # 1  Carré Savoy. Retrieved from https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/9d/13/4a/9d134af30b854da562d9ba74314b3802.jpg

Image # 2   Toronto Savoy. Retrieved from http://www.cuandoerachamo.com/wp-content/uploads/historia-del-toronto.jpg

 

Image # 3  Savoy billboard

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/logopedia/images/3/3e/Sede-caracas-2000s.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20160213204241

There is No Pleasure in Guilty Chocolate!

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.

  1. What is Chocolate?

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.

  1. 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.

Amazon Basin
Amazon basin (based on Wikipedia, Amazon basin article, by Kmusser, using Digital Chart of the Word and GTOPO data)

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).

2000px-Ghana_Côte_d'Ivoire_Locator.svg
West Africa, Ivory Coast depicted in orange and Ghana  depicted in green (based on Wikipedia, Ghana-Ivory Coast Relations article)
  1. 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.

Works Cited

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.

Cocoa Barometer 2015 report, USA Ed. Cocoabarometer.org. http://www.cocoabarometer.org/International_files/Cocoa%20Barometer%202015%20USA.pdf

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

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.

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

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.

Satioquia-Tan, Janine. Americans East How Much Chocolate? CNBC.com, 23 Jul. 2015, 7:41 PM ET.  http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

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.

World Cocoa Foundation, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/category/program-region/africa.