Tag Archives: cacao tree

Plant and Community Disease: Impediments in Small Scale Cacao Farming.

In the summer after my sophomore year of college, I conducted research on sustainable development in Costa Rica and Panama. This was one of the most enriching academic and personal experiences in my life to-date, especially the week that I spent living on a small-scale cacao farm in Mastatal, Costa Rica. That magical week involved working and eating alongside the absolutely lovely family that has owned the land its cacao trees for generations.

Mastatal is a unique agricultural community that lies in the south west region of the San Jose Province. It is a town that has always relied on agriculture, usually on a small scale. It has never industrialized and found a comfortable place in the larger Costa Rica economy, but since the turn of the century it has revived its economy through agricultural tourism, or agritourism.

Wait… what is agritourism?

Agricultural tourism is a subset of the larger trend toward ecotourism, a style of travel that involves leaving a small footprint on the environment, while connecting on a deeper level with it. Agritourism involves staying and working on a farm with the goal of getting closer to the source of the food you eat. This trend is generally being driven by global changes in food and dining, climate and energy conservation, health and wellness, and heritage conservation (Ciglovska, 278). Four farms in Mastatal, all focusing on different products, use agritourism as a source of additional income, hosting visitors, giving tours, making local dishes, and putting the travelers to work. Where I was staying, La Iguana Chocolate, was the main attraction, because everybody loves chocolate.

The group of students that I was a part of worked alongside the family that owned the cacao operation, while conducting field research on the budding agritourism industry in the small town as a whole. The work was hard but rewarding and gave me closer insight into the process of harvesting cacao and making chocolate, as well as the struggles of a small scale producer. Chocolate is made from the beans inside a fruit that grows from a tree, something that I was unaware of before my time on the farm. Upon arriving we were given a full tasting, one of the services that is offered to travelers each day. The couple that operates the farm greeted us with an interesting looking fruit that reminded me of a squash, and when they broke it open it was filled with small white fuzzy pods. They encouraged us to take one of the pods and eat the white fuzzy material off of it, and that was the moment that I found my favorite fruit. Yes, cacao is my favorite fruit. It sounds crazy… most people have no idea where the cocoa powder and butter that makes their favorite treat comes from, or that the raw fruity product could be so delicious. For those of you struggling to believe me, I have attached a video of a tasting. That first sight of the cacao pods was only the beginning of my time spent with them over the course of my time at La Iguana.

The most rewarding part of the whole week was the time spent in the fields harvesting the cacao pods. The work is eye-opening in its difficulty. We started our day with a quick breakfast at around seven o’clock in the morning before packing lunch and all the necessary tools onto the back of a single horse. We then set off through the back of the immediate property, down a dirt, and then mud, road for about a mile until we came to a river. Shoes were removed and the river was crossed, the small dog accompanying us was carried, of course. After we scaled a large hill we finally reached the edge of a forest, situated in higher altitude than we were previously. The walk alone was enough to exhaust the group, but it is highly necessary that the cacao trees are in the perfect environment to grow effectively. Cacao trees need to be in an area with high moisture but good draining, usually shaded by other trees and surrounded by a heavy underbrush of leaves. This is knowledge that has been passed down for generations, since the first cacao tree was brought to Mastatal. These very particular conditions were perfect in this hillside forest, and the journey to reach the trees is absolutely worth it when the trees are highly productive. This is especially true when your livelihood depends on it.

Once we got to the vast area of cacao trees there was important training that needed to take place. There were several strains of cacao growing in the field. This meant that the ideal color and shape of the pods that were ready for harvest could differ from tree to tree. Green pods turn a deep yellow, but yellow pods turn a bright red. Clearly there is room for confusion. Beyond that, any pod that has black spots on it must be taken down despite its level of ripeness. The black spots are a disease that can ruin an entire harvest, Moniliophthora roreri, but more on that later. We also had to learn how to properly use the sharp tools to cut the pods from the trunks of the cacao trees. It seemed like at every step in the process of growing and harvesting cacao there was only one very specific way of doing things. While we may have been a bit unprepared, we were set off into the forest, machete and large hemp bag in hand.

Aside from the cliff of mud and rushing river that had to be passed to reach the crop, the work itself was awfully dangerous as well. Costa Rica is home to the Fer-de-Lance, an incredibly venomous viper who likes to live in underbrush… underbrush much like that required to grow cacao. Some of the pods are also out of reach, making climbing a tree with a machete in hand necessary. Once our bags were full with pods, we hauled them to the center of the forest and all dumped them out to extract the beans. While working on the pods, we chatted with the family about how they got started in cacao, and what the biggest challenges have been in making a living from the crop.

Pile of cacao pods from our harvest. Black pods have the Monilio disease and may not be useable.

While roughly two thirds of the worlds cacao production happens in West Africa, the plant is indigenous to Central and South America, an area that produces only five percent of the worlds cacao today (Leissle, 16). This is due to the colonial exportation of the production means to an area that was understood as having cheap and abundant labor that could support the booming chocolate industry. La Iguana is one of the few farms still producing cacao in the Mastatal area. We were told that cacao trees were brought to the area in the middle of the twentieth century because the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture saw it as an opportunity to breathe life into the economy of the area. In essence, small scale subsistence and fruit farmers were forced to change their production techniques and land use to cater to cacao. Encouraging shaded agro-ecosystems like cacao also “provide a promising means of addressing the challenges of creating a forest‐like habitat for tropical biodiversity in a rapidly deforested landscape, while simultaneously providing a lucrative crop for local agricultural communities” (Phillips‐Mora et al.).

However, many of the farmers that were planting cacao in Mastatal had to stop in the mid-90s when Monilio, the fungal disease discussed above, was spread through the area. We were told that there was no concrete understanding of how the disease came to the area, perhaps on the clothes of a traveler studying cacao. It was clear that this disease could cause hardship that seemed unsurmountable. It was well known that Monilio could be destroy long-term economic viability if even one yield was infected (Evans et al.). After the disease initially hit the La Iguana farm, they could not get enough pure cacao pods and had to revert to selling only fruit from their smaller fruit farm for a living. A highlight is that even in pods with black spots covering most of the fruit, it is possible that the fungus has not yet reached the beans on the inside, and the cacao is still useable.

A drawing I did for the farm as a parting gift. It reads “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” in reference to Monilia on cacao.

While La Iguana has implemented a few techniques to diminish the impact of the Monilia on their crop that has allowed them to maintain good harvests, there have been other struggles for the small farm in establishing a sustainable business model. The largest struggle for them, as well as the other farms shifting towards an agritourism model, was attracting the right crowds of people. The research that I ultimately produced from my time there looked at the marketing techniques of each of these farms, and how they are perceived by the surrounding community. I found that the initial launch of these farms as tourist destinations brought the wrong kind of people to the town, creating a tension between the farms and other locals. Jarkko Saarinen is a scholar who has done extensive research in the field, and he made a similar generalization that “high development goals of rural tourism may separate rural communities and tourism actors, which can cause economic and social conflicts, insecurity and locally unwanted changes in rural landscapes.” However, once La Iguana was able to control the crowds they were attracting, and their ability to bring new people to the area started having a positive impact on the greater community, they reached a new level of stability and social sustainability.

However, both the control of tourists coming to eat chocolate from the source, and the control of Monilio are ongoing battles for La Iguana Chocolate as well as other small scale cacao farmers in the region. I am infinitely grateful for the time I was able to spend there, and the friends I made in Mastatal. The knowledge that I gained from living and working in a small agricultural town going through a beautiful economic transformation will allow me to better navigate these communities in the future and work with them on their long term development and sustainability: environmental, economic, and social.

Works Cited:

Evans, Harry C., et al. “What’s in a Name: Crinipellis, the Final Resting Place for the Frosty Pod Rot Pathogen of Cocoa?” Mycologist, vol. 16, no. 4, Nov. 2002, pp. 148–52. Cambridge Core, doi:10.1017/S0269915X02004093.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity, 2018.

Phillips‐Mora, W., et al. “Biodiversity and Biogeography of the Cacao (Theobroma Cacao) Pathogen Moniliophthora Roreri in Tropical America.” Plant Pathology, vol. 56, no. 6, 2007, pp. 911–22. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1365-3059.2007.01646.x.

Saarinen, Jarkko. “Traditions of Sustainability in Tourism Studies.” Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 33, no. 4, Oct. 2006, pp. 1121–40. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.annals.2006.06.007.

All photos were taken by Taylor Gates.

From ‘Tree to Bar’: The Hawaiian Crown Chocolate Company

I was recently visiting family in Hilo, Hawaii where I found a bean to bar chocolate company mere minutes from where I was staying. As luck would have it, they also provided complete farm, production and store tours. I was able to take a wonderful tour, see every step of the process, interview Tom Menezes who is the owner, and take some wonderful photos which they have graciously allowed me to use for this paper. Below is a photo of Tom speaking with me about the cacao growing process. The trees in the photo are small cacao trees that have just started sprouting buds.

tom and me

Tom was very passionate about the cacao growing process. You could see just by speaking with him that he wanted his business to be a success, not just for his benefit, but for the benefit of the local agriculture community, and the locals in general. His workers just as equally passionate about growing and producing cacao as he is. During our tour of the farm and production center, I learned a lot about the process they use to make the chocolate I was able to taste in their store. They consider themselves a ‘tree to bar’ chocolate company, as they state on their company website. During the tours they had complete transparency about the process and answered all questions that arose from myself and others in my group. They were extremely educated about cacao and the process of creating chocolate.

Cacao Production Process:

We first started on the cacao farm where we saw cacao trees and learned how the pods were harvested from the tree.

cacao pod

It is one thing to know that a cacao pod grows off the trunks and branches, but it was another to actually see it, as pictured above.

Each cacao pod is harvested, then broken open to extract the cacao beans by farm workers. The beans are then fermented in large coolers, as shown below.


This part was very interesting, as they do not clean the coolers out in between harvests. They compared the coolers to cast iron skillets, you want the beans to ferment in the cooler and season it essentially.

Then the beans are cleaned and dried on their drying racks. Next, they are roasted, as pictured below, then separated from the nibs, ground down, and processed. The entire process from growing and harvesting, to grinding and processing, was displayed in the tour.


The chocolate bars and drinks sold in their store, in Hilo, is just minutes away from the farm where they harvest the cacao. The store front also includes the production area for the cacao. They sell their chocolate on multiple islands in Hawaii and in various other stores as well.

History of Hawaiian Crown Chocolate:

The Hawaiian Crown Chocolate Company has a diverse work environment, and interesting history. Hawaiian Crown Chocolate has nearly 1,000 cacao trees on a 110-acre farm in Hilo. Their farm consists of cacao trees spaced in between banana trees in order to give shade to the cacao trees and aid in their growth and production. They have been planting cacao there for over 15 years, and the entire process is completed directly in Hilo (Hawaiian Crown, 2017). Nothing is outsourced. The owner of Hawaiian Crown Chocolate, Tom Menezes, has been farming cacao for over 40 years. Hawaiian Crown started off as purely a pineapple growing company, but eventually expanded into cacao as well. “Hawaii, as it turns out, is the only state where cacao can be grown commercially. Hawaiian Crown was one of the first certified organic cacao farms in the United States” (Walters, 2016). Tom has a lot of experience breeding and producing not only cacao, but also pineapple and taro. He has degrees in Tropical Agriculture and Plant Pathology from the University of Hawaii that have aided in his knowledge and success in the field of Hawaiian farming.

As it states on the Hawaiian Crown Chocolate Website, “Hawaiian Crown uses traditional plant selection and breeding methods to develop plants” (About Us, n.d.). They use sustainable farming techniques and few chemicals. One of the company’s main goals is to grow the local agriculture business in absence of sugar plantations that used to be in Hawaii. Sugar plantations used to be one of the largest agricultural businesses in Hawaii, and when they started to pull out of the region, generational farmers took an economic hit (Mintz, 1986). Cacao was first introduced on the islands in the 1830’s, but the 1980’s are when a Hershey conglomerate decided to plant a large amount of cacao trees in Hawaii. In fact, Tom Menezes worked with Hershey on those cacao trees at the beginning of his career, before he went off on his own to open his own company that would further benefit the local economy and agriculture (Billock, 2018).

Hawaii is the “coldest place in the world where cacao can be grown” (Billock, 2018), and not native to the region. It is also the only place in the United States where cacao can be grown. Cacao typically grows in South America which is warmer and more humid than Hawaii. However, the cooler temperatures in Hawaii are actually a good thing in some cases for growing cacao. Hawaii tends to have less pests than other areas with a warmer climate. The downside, however, is it takes longer to ferment in the colder climate. The University of Hawaii actually did some studies starting in 2006 on which cacao breeds produced the best yields and taste. It was funded by the department of Agriculture in Hawaii, and different areas of the islands were chosen based on different climates. It is currently being studied to decide where is best to plant cacao, how the harvest tastes, and what breed thrives the best (Miner, 2015, p. 404).

An Ethical Company:

Tom Menezes courteously answered my questions about his workers on the farm. He let me know that they contract out the workers from another farmer who “has a LLC and uses independent farmers where they are working for him and getting way better than minimum wages.  Also, he is helping people who got out of jail and otherwise who have a hard time finding a job.  So, all local workers who are unskilled but will be trained” (personal communication, April 30, 2019). Tom said that switching to local contract farmers improved pay and moral. He also works with other farmers in Hawaii to help them switch to local and contract workers to help improve the local agricultural community.

One of the things about the Hawaiian Crown Chocolate company that makes it so ethical in the chocolate industry is its transparency. This company is completely transparent about its supply chain, sourcing, and hired farm help. One of the biggest flaws in the chocolate industry right now is its lack of transparency. We especially see this with larger companies like Hershey and Cadbury. It is very hard to know exactly where a bar of the chocolate you buy in a store in America comes from, who helped farm the cacao beans that made the bar, and who processed those beans. I believe more companies should make their supply chains more transparent. This will increase not only awareness, but also force the companies to show how they are getting their chocolate and how the farmers are being treated and paid. This may increase the price of chocolate; nevertheless, wouldn’t it be worth a few extra dollars. Hawaiian Crown chocolate bars were a bit pricier than the ones in the supermarket. Each bar costs about $8, but you also know exactly where the cacao was picked, who picked it, and the entire process of production. “An increasingly aware chocolate-loving public would be willing to pay extra for a more ‘ethically correct’ product” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 263). People are also searching for better quality chocolate, that larger companies are not offering, and will pay more for that quality.

“Every actor in this industry must convey that every step of the process, from planting a tree to selling a bar of chocolate, is inherently valuable” (Leissle, 2018, p.188). Tom Menezes and the Hawaiian Crown Chocolate company strive for this. They emphasize transparency in the entire process, and fair treatment and wages for their workers. The tours they give show the importance of each part of the ‘tree to bar’ process. This is exactly what many people are searching for in their chocolate, that it be both ethical and tasty. A wonderful combination.

Note: For more information about tours and items sold please view the Hawaiian Crown Chocolate Facebook


Works Cited:

About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://hawaiiancrown.com/about-us/

Billock, J. (2018, February 14). How Hawaii Became the North Pole of Cacao. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/hawaii-north-pole-cacao-chocolate-tours-180967951/

Coe, S., & Coe M. (2013). The true history of chocolate (3rd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson.

Hawaiian Crown Plantation & Chocolate Factory. (2017, March 31). Hawaiian Crown Plantation & Chocolate Factory Testimony before the Committee on Ways and Means [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2018/testimony/HB1327_HD1_TESTIMONY_WAM_03-31-17_Late.PDF

Kifer, C. (2016, January 11). From Tree To Bar on the Big Island: Visiting a Chocolate Farm in Hawaii. Retrieved from http://everintransit.com/big-island-chocolate-farm-hawaii/amp/

Leissle, K. (2018). Cocoa. Newark: Polity Press.

Miner, M. (2015). Genetics informs Hawaiian chocolate industry. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 13(8), 404-404.

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and power : The place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin Books.

Walters, M. (2016, April 16). Sweet Coronation for Hawaiian Crown Plantation. Retrieved from http://bigislandnow.com/2016/04/16/sweet-coronation-for-hawaiian-crown-plantation/

Cacao and its Varieties

Cacao products come in many varieties, some of which begin with the beans themselves. While not always immediately distinct, the seeds and the trees from which they are obtained both display considerable diversity. This diversity is of considerable importance both in study of the tree and to the industry surrounding its products. Generally, a few major variants of cacao are commercially recognized. This text aims to provide an overview of the major varieties of Theobroma cacao, of their significance to the groups involved in their utilization, and on how these groups are themselves important in defining these varieties. The different varieties of cacao are often presented as definite categories, even as specific cultivars to consumers. However, the definitions of these varieties tend to be rather inexact, and often do not correspond closely if at all to botanical knowledge. Indeed, much of the categorization of cacao instead has historical, geographical and recently, economical origins. Nevertheless, differences between trees and trends in these do exist even if their naming may be inaccurate. Further, genetic diversity; whether displayed by varieties or otherwise, of cacao trees is of particular importance to cacao producers, since the diversity in a given cacao population may greatly affect the productivity and health of that population.

The cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao is an undergrowth tree which requires rather specific conditions for successful cultivation. The tree requires locations that provide it with moisture and an environment with what might be describes as rich, or messy environment, the better to accommodate the midges which pollinate the tree. Of particular note is that the cacao tree is susceptible to many afflictions, such as blights, fungi, pod rots and other pests and diseases. Thus, the cacao tree is a remarkably fickle plant, the cultivation of which presents many difficulties. As shall be further investigated below, different varieties of the plant may exhibit different degrees of resistance however; while genetic variety, more specifically, is of special importance. (Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 19 – 21)

Cacao cultivars and terroir in marketing. Image credit: Own work.

According to recent analysis, the genus Theobroma may be subdivided into 22 distinct species, most of which grow mainly in the Amazon basin. Theobroma cacao also seems to have originated in this area, but has, at least in part due to human activity migrated north into Mesoamerica. (S & M Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 24 – 25). Theobroma cacao is commonly divided into three or four main varieties, each with various subdivisions. Many of these varieties are contentious however, subject both to varying definitions and levels of recognition. Many varieties are defined by historic usage and location rather than strictly botanically, and perhaps their most important utility is as a marketing tool. (Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, p.163)

The ancient spatial separation between South American and Mesoamerican cacao trees itself defines the main, perhaps most definite cacao varieties: the criollo variety (Theobroma cacao ssp. cacao), defined by long, heavily ridged pods is native to Mesoamerica. Criollo, or “local” variety commonly counts as the most prized and was commonly grown by the Aztecs and Mayans. While this variety is often considered to be of superior quality, it is also particularly vulnerable to disease and pests. Remarkably, this cultivar is also perhaps the only one supported by actual genetic evidence (Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, p.165)

Forastero cacao (Theobroma cacao ssp. sphaerocarpum), defined by its round pods is native to South America. The forastero, or “foreign” variety is, though less prized, the most widely produced cacao; making for most of world production. Though its taste may be considered inferior, this variety is considered sturdier and more resistant than Criollo. Though the distinction between these varieties is one of the most common and arguably most definite, it already demonstrates how cacao is commonly labelled for political, economic or geographical, rather than botanical purposes. As hinted at by their very names, the distinction between the two originated after the conquest of Mesoamerica, when the Criollo, or local populations, which had declined along with the native inhabitants were supplemented with forastero, that is, foreign stock brought in from south America. (Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, p.163)

Three varieties of cacao. From the left: Forastero, Trinitario, Criollo. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Insofar as they may be considered useful botanical categories, the closeness of these particular varieties is demonstrated by their having retained the ability to produce fertile hybrids: they are also commonly considered ancestral to most other varieties. A third major variety is Trinitario, which is already somewhat poorly defined as any hybrid between criollo and forastero. (S & M Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 26). These major varieties of cacao together make for most worldwide cacao production, with the forastero being most prominent, providing around 80 % of all cacao. In addition to these three, various other varieties of cacao may be identified, notably the nacional variety. Each of these major varieties also contains various more or less obscure sub-varieties, such as (West African) Amelonado, which are often defined mainly, even exclusively by growing locality.

Global distribution of the main cacao varieties. Blue: Criollos, Green: Forasteros, Red: Trinitarios. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Despite their limited utility for biological purposes, the actual variety in cacao is of considerable importance to the cacao industry. To the consumer, these varieties provide some insight into the origins and terroir of cacao.  Meanwhile, to the grower, these varieties are of material significance, since diversity, or lack thereof, may greatly affect the profitability of a cacao plantation. This fact is especially obvious in places where the cacao tree is not native but introduced. The cacao tree, as aforementioned, is rather susceptible to various diseases, and the lack of genetic variety commonly found in introduced populations may exacerbate such issues. This may be observed, for example, in Amelonado cacao in Ghana, introduced there from Brazil. These trees necessarily have rather less genetic variety than traditional cultivars due to the loss of genetic diversity that occurs when a new population is established from a limited selection of a parent population. The difference in genetic diversity may be readily established through comparison with older, traditional populations. This issue is particularly prominent in some parts of Ghana due to poor infrastructure and the repeated use of seeds from the same plantations. The result is unhealthy and hence unproductive trees with low yields: undesirable to any grower. (Motamayor, p. 83 – 84)

Thus, the designations of most cacao varieties are less useful as botanical categories than one might expect based on how these names tend to be used. However, while the relevance of these categories to the biologist may be limited, their wider utility as cultural and economical concepts is considerable. while the designations of cacao varieties are not generally reliable indicators of botanical properties, they are still important both as more general indicators of diversity and as a cultural and economic phenomenon.

Works Cited:

Leissle, Kristy, Cocoa, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2018

Coe, Sophie & Michael, The True History of Chocolate, Thames & Hudson, London, 2013

Motamayor, Lanaud: Molecular Analysis of the Origin and Domestication of Theobroma cacao L. Managing Plant Genetic Diversity. IPGRI 2002, https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/download/14003/PDF (Retrieved 07-03-19)

Multimedia Sources:

Tamorlan, Tres variedades de cacao; Creative Commons 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tres_variedades_de_cacao.jpg

Sémhur, Main cacao species – World distribution map – blank, Creative Commons 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Main_cacao_species_-World_distribution_map-_blank.svg

Moving to Mars: Climate Change and Cacao’s Undying Lov

Two hours. That is the amount of time I spent scouring databases and newspaper articles attempting to find scientific (or non-scientific) evidence that would demonstrate the importance chocolate has in our world today. More specifically, I was looking for something titled Chocolate: The Most Significant Food in History. The best I could find was a TIME.com article titled “9 Weirdest Uses for Chocolate.” It was very insightful. However, when considering the amount of chocolate that is produced and consumed in the world each year, the picture of importance starts to become more clear. For businesses and consumers, chocolate and cacao is a great product, and in high demand. For producers and farmers, it is an important cash crop and essential to survival.

Figure 1.

Producing and Consuming

Source: http://www.oecd.org/swac/publications/39596493.pdf

The relevance and importance chocolate and cacao cultivation have on the world economy cannot be understated. According to the International Cacao Organization (ICCO,) the world’s top ten chocolate producing companies did $80 billion USD in sales in 2017. (https://www.icco.org/about-cocoa/chocolate-industry.html) Even beyond the money and global markets, there is a great deal of cultural significance that could never be quantified. The World Cocoa Foundation estimates that Cacao directly affects the livelihoods of approximately 50 million people (http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/our-work/programs/). For chocolate lovers, the news that climate change could significantly impact our access to chocolate was devastating. Major players such as MARS Inc. have made significant investments for this eventuality, and are looking to be prepared for changes in the cacao marketplace. This will undoubtedly have significant impacts on the producers of cacao and encourages a deeper look at methods to adapt the farming and production practices.

Chocolate might go away?

Despite the fear-mongering on the internet, this is not totally accurate. It is important to point out that cacao will not be going extinct anytime soon. It will, however, face a potentially sharp and significant decline in production. This means that by 2050, you may have less access too chocolate than you do at this very moment. My advice is to stock up.

Cacao trees really depend on very specific criteria to be met in order for them to grow, thrive, and produce fruit (Lecture). Cacao can essentially only be grown when the right conditions are met. Those conditions apply to which areas in the world cacao can grow in, the temperature it prefers, and the surrounding plants that shield and shade it. The picky nature of Theobroma cannot be understated.

The challenge that the world’s cacao producers are facing is climate change. Those very specific conditions are projected to be harder to meet in the very near future. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA,) West African countries will experience an increase in evapotranspiration (Smith, 2016). Essentially, the amount of water plants will be able to retain will decrease due to higher temperatures. This will have an impact on what areas will later be suitable to grow cacao. Figure 2 highlights the estimated change in temperature in Africa’s top cacao producing regions according to research done by Peter Läderach and his team.

Figure 2.

Temp change

Source: Atlas on Regional Integration in West Africa

With 70% of the world’s chocolate finding its origin in western African countries like Cote d’Ivoire, a decrease in production from West Africa would have a worldwide impact. (http://www.oecd.org/swac/publications/39596493.pdf) For several countries that fall within the West African cacao belt, Cacao is the number one agricultural export. Any decline could potentially result in major economic impacts for those countries (Läderach, Martinez-Valle, Schroth, & Castro, 2013; Schroth, Läderach, Martinez-Valle, Bunn, & Jassogne, 2016). It would also result in consequences for the natural habitats and cacao growing regions of these states. The research that has been done in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire has indicated that by 2050, almost 90% of the current farmland would be unsuitable to grow cacao, with only a 10% increase in suitability. This is alarming as the vast majority of cacao production in Africa, and worldwide, stems from this region.

Figure 3

cacao production

Source: Lecture slides

Additionally, this new farmland comes at a cost. That is to say, in order to capitalize on other areas that will be suitable to grow cacao, countries facing this challenge will have to sacrifice environmental conservation (Läderach et al., 2013). This still would not make up for the amount of farmland lost to the temperature increases, while contributing to the factors that influence climate change.

While a decrease in African production would have global consequences, it is unlikely that climate change will eliminate chocolate and cacao production. As cacao grows around the globe, we can expect it will continue to be around. One of the concerns currently is that it is very likely that other regions around the world will have to pick up the slack. And that is a lot of slack! With the top cacao producing countries losing close to 90% of suitable cacao growing areas, it is unclear at this point where it is possible to make up for this loss. Without an answer in the next 20-30 years, chocolate will likely be much less of a household item than it was the last 100 years.

Let’s move to Mar’s…Inc.

According to the Candy Industry’s 2017 Global Top 100 list, Mar’s Inc. is the world’s top-grossing candy company. In 2017, their net sales topped $18 billion USD! (https://www.candyindustry.com/2017-Global-Top-100-Part-4) With earnings like that, it is not difficult to understand the level of investment and commitment the company would have to the preservation of chocolate production.


Source: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/794479

Mars Inc. has put their money where their mouth is…or rather, where the chocolate is. They have invested in a project run by the Innovative Genomics Institute, in an effort to ensure future production of cacao. So far they have pledged $1 billion USD to creating sustainability and reducing their footprint, and this includes the CRISPR project. The goal of the project is not to specifically save cacao production, but rather to combat diseases in humans and plants (IGI 2018). Lucky for us, Theobroma Cacao is a plant. Winning! Well, maybe. The CRISPR technology is aimed at altering the genes of plants in order to make them resistant to disease. So this might not really help West African farmers who will lose cacao growing areas. By investing in this technology, Mars Inc. hopes to expand the possible areas cacao can be grown in.

As it stands today, different diseases and insects make in very difficult to grow and produce cacao. It is estimated that about 40% of the crops in the Americas are lost to fungal infections like witches’ broom (Shapiro & Shapiro, 2015). By increasing the natural resistance of the fruit-bearing trees, the average yield would increase 3 fold. This means that places that have been traditionally very difficult to produce cacao in could now become production centers. This would effectively reduce the impacts on chocolate manufacturers if the climate predictions do create impediments to cacao production in West Africa.

In a recent story done on the use of CRISPR technology, scientists working with IGI explained the advancements they have made in changing the genes of many crops that are prone to disease. They explain that they have already used the technology to create a solution for the swollen shoot virus that plagues cacao trees. (Schlender, 2018)

Source: https://www.voanews.com/embed/player/0/4332190.html?type=video

The technology works so quickly that IGI can have plants develop the desired traits within one generation! This is very good news for chocolate lovers. Assuming everything works out. The plants that have and will undergo this process will need to be researched extensively before they can be consumed by the public. This will ensure that people eating these modified crops do not grow an extra set of toes afterward.

This past year, Mars Inc. also made a significant investment in addressing climate change, planning to cut its own carbon emissions by two-thirds. A big part of this investment will be assisting farmers in improving their yields while simultaneously reducing pressures underlying deforestation. The idea is that the more a farmer can produce from their crops, the less land they will need to do it (Madson, 2017). This investment totals $1 billion USD and has been proposed to be completed by 2050.

Other chocolate giants such as Cadbury and Mondelez have also become a part of developing solutions for creating sustainability in cacao farming. Mondelez International’s non-profit arm, Cocoa Life, is focused on improving the lives of farmers in cacao-growing regions around the world. (https://www.cocoalife.org/the-program/approach) With increased commitment from large organizations with vast resources, it is possible to combat the potential effects of climate change.

What about the little guy/gal?

While it appears that Mars Inc. has likely stumbled upon a viable solution to their future issue of supply, what about the small-holders. The potential to move cacao production elsewhere is not great news for all parties involved. It is possible that genetic modification could potentially change under what conditions cacao trees thrive. However, it is unclear if this route could help the trees overcome evapotranspiration in the projected West African environments. It is very probable that this cash crop could find a new capital in other region or regions in other parts of the world. For the millions of farmers who are vulnerable to this threat, this is a challenge they will be forced to adapt to.

There are organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance who are working toward preparing farmers, equipping them with new strategies to protect their crops. The strategy being used is called Climate-Smart Agriculture, and in principal focuses on the specific needs of the specific farm (de Groot, 2017). Cacao farmers using this tactic would conduct a needs assessment of their farm, and create a plan that directly corresponds to the challenges that are unique to them. Some of the strategies include planting shade trees, as well as developing water retaining systems to prepare for droughts. While these will improve overall yield from these farms, it is unclear at this point how these tactics will far against climate change.

The tactic of planting shade trees is, however, a recommended strategy for those who fall in the Western African cacao belt. Currently, the farming trend has been to reduce the shade on cacao farms, however, this may no longer be an option. By increasing the shade of the cacao trees, the temperatures of its leaves could drop up to 4 °C (Läderach et al., 2013). Not only could this help protect cacao cultivation in Western Africa, it also helps to increase crop diversification. If done correctly, this would make cacao farmers less vulnerable to changing temperatures and less frequent rainfall. A downside to this recommendation is the limitation on the amount of water available during the dry season. The increase in plant life means less water to satisfy the needs of the cacao trees, and potentially losing the entire crop.


Chocolate is important. It directly impacts the lives of people around the world, in ways that transcend taste. For some, it is a highly desired treat, and for others, it is a means of opportunity. The effects of climate change have given all sides of the cacao industry a wake-up call to the importance of sustainable farming and improving our carbon footprint. Large organizations have begun to change the way they operate in the world, by reducing their emissions and helping to improve farming practices. Climate change could result in significant impacts on the cacao industry the world over. Reducing the amount of product available for purchase, and decreasing the available wages that can be earned in regions that are the most affected. Scientists, chocolate companies, and cacao farmers are starting to come together in an attempt to better the practices in this very important industry. Each has a role to play to play in this improvement, as well as the preparation for effects climate change will play in cacao and other vital crops.



de Groot, H. (2017). Preparing Cocoa Farmers for Climate Change. Retrieved May 9, 2018, from https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/article/preparing-cocoa-farmers-for-climate-change

Läderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A., Schroth, G., & Castro, N. (2013). Predicting the future climatic suitability for cocoa farming of the world’s leading producer countries, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Climatic Change, 119(3–4), 841–854. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0774-8

Madson. (2017, October 27). Climate change could hurt chocolate production » Yale Climate Connections. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2017/10/climate-change-could-hurt-chocolate-production/

Schlender, S. (2018). New Gene Editing Tool May Yield Bigger Harvests. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from https://www.voanews.com/a/crispr-for-bread-chocolate/4330647.html

Schroth, G., Läderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A. I., Bunn, C., & Jassogne, L. (2016). Vulnerability to climate change of cocoa in West Africa: Patterns, opportunities and limits to adaptation. Science of The Total Environment, 556, 231–241. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.024

Shapiro, H. S., Howard-Yana, & Shapiro, H. S., Howard-Yana. (2015). The Race to Save Chocolate. https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamericanfood0615-28

Smith, M. (2016). Climate & Chocolate | NOAA Climate.gov. Retrieved May 9, 2018, from https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-chocolate


Meet Theo

Theo Bromine. He’s bitter, but sometimes he can cheer you up if you’re having a bad day at work. Others call him an alkaloid. His real name is Theo Bromine. Those in the cacao industry know him as one word – theobromine. Traces of theobromine can be found in cacao. Cacao is the raw product, it takes ten stages before it becomes chocolate. The effect of consuming cacao is similar to caffeine, it gives you that instant boost of energy. The origin of Theobroma cacao trees can be found in the Brazilian Amazon where cacao is a big part of Brazil’s economic and cultural history.

Cacao trees are pretty finicky. They need warm climate, hot, but not too hot. Most of the production of cacao is in West Africa – 72%, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana to be exact. Because of climate change, there are elevating temperatures and a possibility that the cacao crops could be eliminated. If you’ve avoided the conversation around climate change, scrolled down when you saw the crying polar bears on social media, grimaced when you heard your neighbor bought a Prius,  and slept through a class showing of An Inconvenient Truth, now is the time to pay attention to climate change. Why? Because your chocolate consumption could be seriously affected.

cacao tree
Cacao Tree

Factors affecting the cacao industry:

Many factors, not just climate change, affect the cacao industry: droughts, floods, infestation, demand, and evapotranspiration. Rising temperatures alone will not impact cacao production, evapotranspiration (loss of moisture because of the high temperature) does. With the higher temperatures expected by the year 2050 precipitation/rainfall isn’t a guarantee. Brazil was once ranked second as the largest cacao producer, today they rank sixth. The decline in cacao production is due to the fungus that causes witch’s broom. In order for a cacao farmer to have a successful crop, trees have to be disease resistant. Hershey’s and Mars, Inc. have already classified the cacao genome which could improve the resiliency of cacao trees.

The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization/NGO that assists farmers with sustainable lifestyles. Its mission is to work with the smallholder cacao farmers to help with these issues. Some cacao farmers have already taken the suggestions to switch to alternative crops, lucrative ones such as rubber and/or palm oil. What if all farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana switched at the same pace? The world could face the possibility of a million ton cacao shortage by 2020, this according to The Earth Security Group, a sustainability consulting firm registered in the United Kingdom.

Global demand for chocolate is another factor because of their interest in confectionery. The chocolate market has been trending towards higher prices over the last 10 years with the market increasing by 13% between 2010-2015, farmers’ share has decreased during this time. It is estimated that by the year 2030, chocolate will be a delicacy, like caviar, and your average Joe, or Jane, won’t be able to purchase it. Heavy marketing leads to heavy demand. How do we equate the 13% to a dollar value, try $100 billion, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm.

Unfortunately, cacao trees cannot keep up with the rapid demands of consumers, it takes three to five years at best to produce cacao beans, the end result of this long, strenuous process is chocolate. The amount we consume (11+ pounds of chocolate is consumed annually by individuals in Europe and the United States) far outweighs the amount that is produced, leading to a shortage of chocolate. In the news lately, Necco, the company that manufactures Necco Wafers, Sky Bar, Mary Jane, and Sweethearts is filing for bankruptcy. If we are heading towards chocolate becoming a delicacy I must warn you: start hoarding all of your candy because it will cost you a pretty penny in the not-so-distant future. Call me Ms. Gloomanddoom, but remember the recent avocado crisis in Mexico, we may have a chocolate crisis next.

Global warming and climate change have been topics widely discussed for years. In a recent TED Talk with Mark Bittman, he commented that global warming is real and dangerous and reminds us that we should stop eating things thoughtlessly. This includes chocolate. Greenhouse gas, methane gas, water shortages, oh my!

How’d we get here? Well, it all started with British commodities: sugar, tea, and tobacco. These were popular due to the transatlantic movement, transporting these commodities by African slaves. Chocolate began in Mesoamerica and dates back to 350 BC. It was consumed as a hot beverage served in ghourds and as time progressed in fancy porcelain cups by the most affluent during the Baroque Age. The British didn’t like the bitter taste of the chocolate so they re-created the taste by adding sugar to it. 

Early entrepreneurs:

I would have loved to interview the early entrepreneurs like Dorothy Jones who was granted a license to operate a coffee house in Boston in 1670. Women wouldn’t be caught dead in a coffee house and she got a license. Slay girl slay. Despite my research at the Massachusetts Historical Society I was not able to locate the actual license or the coffee house, but I did find one reference to it in the Record Commissioners City of Boston records from 1660 to1701. It may be that Dorothy Jones was a vendor and did not actually have a storefront. If there was a storefront, I would have to guess that it was located in the area of what’s now known as Downtown Crossing in Boston. Newspaper Row was in that area during 1670 and it makes sense that the coffee house would be close by. To be continued.

Dorothy Jones, 1670


The role of chocolate:

Liquid consumption of chocolate morphed into candy consumption and as time went on the global market consumed it. Pun intended. Chocolate consumes us and plays a variety of roles in our lives. Part of my research included interviews with three females, all of whom are my closest friends spanning four decades, who gave me permission to share their stories. Names have been changed. Three questions were asked of each woman: what is their relationship with chocolate, what role it played in their life, and how chocolate’s significance has changed or stayed the same over time. Analysis of the social and historical issues were revealed during these interviews. 

I begin my interview with Pepper, 40-something. We’ve been friends for 15 years, so when she said “you’ll be disappointed, I don’t have a relationship with chocolate, at all. I can take it or leave it”. I thought, um what? Was I dreaming that she ate the special occasion, Halloween,Valentine’s Day, Christmas, because-it’s-Friday chocolate our coworkers brought in and placed in that fancy bowl they bought at the dollar store. When I asked her to elaborate on her statement I mentioned the documented ties to slavery, child labor and human trafficking, and the YouTube video The Dark Side of Chocolate, she said she “had no idea chocolate was involved in so much trauma and political unrest”.

Pepper went on, “I do eat it, but I don’t crave it. I like it sometimes; hot chocolate, candy bars with other things mixed in, the very occasional Dove piece, alone, but only when it happens to be laying there… I just don’t crave it. If I have any cravings, it would be the occasional hot chocolate, but only because it comforts me and makes me feel like autumn and of course, I am addicted to mochas which are chocolate and coffee together. So in that, I suppose it does play a role. But I still drink regular coffee too”.

“I always think the cultural references to chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm are ridiculous. I’ve always thought to myself what’s the big deal, it’s just chocolate. It’s probably because I hate being stereotyped and the chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm stereotype that society and commercials seem to paint just piss me off because I like to feel like I’m more dimensional than that. It makes women seem weak and easy to manipulate and shallow”.

“If you’re telling me that the chocolate trade perpetuates and supports slavery then I’m quitting it. My husband says I now have chocolate angst, or chocolate rage”.


I was curious as to why Pepper immediately responded with “craving” when I asked about chocolate. I love how she mentioned hot chocolate and frothy drinks and her addiction to mochas. There’s some truth to why we love frothy drinks. In ancient times, drinks were put in vessels and buried with loved ones who have since passed on. It was said that the froth went with the deceased to the afterlife.

Frothy cacao drink

Culture also played a role in Pepper’s response when she said she ate chocolate “alone”, as did her anger when she felt the stereotype which reminded me of the article I read by Kristy Leissle, Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements. Ghanaian women were photographed, not your typical glamour-shot, but were depicted as strong powerful business leaders, not in binary terms. These pictures reflect the necessary change in the narrative. Viewers are able to look beyond the exploitative market and view these women as they should be viewed, strong and powerful leaders in a transnational community. Many of the ads you see in the United States show women eating chocolate, alone, sinfully displayed like in the movie Chocolat, and almost always with some sort of sexual undertone throughout the ad. The ancient Aztecs believed chocolate was an aphrodisiac, science wasn’t quite onboard with that theory. Advertisers still link romance with chocolate.

Key words: comfort, craving, frothy drinks, stereotypes

My second interview was with Sunny, 60-something. Sunny said that she “definitely has had a relationship with chocolate throughout her childhood and adulthood and as a mom. Chocolate has been present in celebratory events, holidays & vacations. For holidays, chocolate snowmen & coins were placed in her children’s Christmas stockings, at Easter, chocolate eggs & bunnies were found on Easter egg hunts, and on Valentine’s Day chocolate hearts were given out as gifts. I have such happy Halloween memories as a kid trading candy bars” Sunny said with a beaming smile; kid’s birthday gift bags full of candy, & candy store visits while on vacation. And Hershey kisses, just because! Chocolate is present at happy events, there to cheer up, decrease stress and soothe a foul mood. At this point in my life I have less consumption/purchase of chocolate, children have grown and they are more health conscious and do not consume. I currently eat it more out of stress reduction and comfort while at work”.

“In chatting, this makes me take pause reflecting on the important role chocolate has played in my life. I think of my all-time favorite candy bar….”Sky Bar”! Sadly, I hadn’t chatted with Sunny about the recent Necco bankruptcy. She better stock up on Sky Bars or they will be a literal memory.

For Sunny, chocolate was a staple in her life until recently. It explains why she can’t pass up a Hershey’s Kiss. These sweet kisses are known as a “cradle-to-grave brand loyalty”. Once you consume them you pretty much do so for your entire life. Great marketing, for a kiss that contains only 11% cacao.

Sunny mentioned that chocolate was used a reward for good behavior with her children. More importantly she eats it when stressed and that it provides her comfort. Sunny has fond memories of chocolate, her visits to candy shops while on vacation and the role candy plays during holidays. I could see the melancholy in her eyes when she described her favorite candy bar. I think the melancholy was also related to her children growing up and that the fun role of chocolate was outweighed by her stressful days at work. Chocolate has been known to have therapeutic properties dating back to ancient times.

Key words: comfort, childhood, vacations, holidays

Raspberry Rose, 20-something was my last interview. “So I’ve never been a HUGE chocolate person. I’ve always preferred sweet candy over chocolate, but I definitely indulge when I’m craving it! Chocolate tends to play the role of a comfort food…there’s always that time of the month where all I want is some chocolate caramels and a glass of wine 🙂 it also has some memories tied to it – for example I remember when I was growing up, my mom and I loved to eat 3 Musketeers bars and none of my friends liked those so on Halloween I would take them from all my friends to give to my mom 🙂 My relationship with chocolate has stayed the same!  I definitely eat less of it than I did when I was younger, but that’s the only change”!

My thoughts after chatting with Raspberry Rose was wow, she too used the words craving and comfort and had similar feelings and fond memories of chocolate while growing up.

Key words: craving, comfort, childhood memories, halloween

Statistically, women do crave chocolate more than men. While it’s not the chocolate per se, it’s the ingredients like magnesium and antioxidants you may be lacking that make you crave it. The calming qualities that come from consuming chocolate is because of the increased levels of serotonin #instanthappiness. Culture plays a factor in cravings, it’s a trend here in the United States and frequently talked about that women crave chocolate, one major reason chocolate companies target women.

According to the article Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain by Ashtrid Nehlig, there was one chapter by David Benton devoted to The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving. While many people associate themselves with being a chocaholic, there is no scientific evidence to show that chocolate is addictive. It has “drug-like” qualities though and can cheer you up if you’re sad or had a bad day at the office.

All of my friends were shocked that chocolate had ties to slavery, child labor, and human trafficking and were unaware of the cacao process. I am happy to report that  they are very interested in learning more. I  realized that I  need to spread the word about the cacao industry and this inspired me to create a podcast which should be on iTunes very soon. It’s about my three favs, Coffee, Chocolate & Cats.

Key words correlate with the research that I found. I do hope that one day the cacao farmers are paid at a more equitable rate, that we help the environment and know more about the bean to bar process, and that we can enjoy our chocolate, complicit-free.

Works cited

Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139

Emma Robertson (2009): Chocolate, women and empire. A social and cultural history. Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York.

Norton, M. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review, vol. 111, no. 3, 2006, pp. 660–691., doi:10.1086/ahr.111.3.660.

Hudson, Bradford. “The Cradle of American Hospitality » Boston Hospitality Review | Blog Archive | Boston University.” Boston Hospitality Review RSS, 2012, www.bu.edu/bhr/2012/09/01/the-cradle-of-american-hospitality/

Bittman, Mark. “What’s Wrong with What We Eat.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, Dec. 2007, www.ted.com/talks/mark_bittman_on_what_s_wrong_with_what_we_eat.

“Scientists Say Climate Change May Make Chocolate Extinct By 2050.” YouTube, 2 Jan. 2018, youtu.be/sm9kQdKOnKE.

City of Boston (1881). A Report of the Record Commissioners of the

City of Boston, Containing the Boston Records from 1660 to 1701.

Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, Page 58

(Mass.)., Boston. “A Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston Containing the Boston Records from 1660 to 1701.” HathiTrust, 2018, babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=bc.ark%3A%2F13960%2Ft3514s13f%3Bview.

Nehlig, Astrid. Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. CRC Press, 2004.

“Challenges.” Challenges | World Cocoa Foundation, 2018, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/about-cocoa/challenges/.

CNBC’s Katy Barnato and Luke Graham. “Future of the Chocolate Industry Looks Sticky.” CNBC, CNBC, 24 Mar. 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/24/future-of-the-chocolate-industry-looks-sticky.html.

“Chocolate Makers Warn That the World Is Running out of Chocolate.” Fox News, FOX News Network, 17 Nov. 2014, http://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/2014/11/17/chocolate-makers-warn-that-world-is-running-out-chocolate.html.

“Cocoa Bean Production” , Cargill, 2018, http://www.cargill.com/sustainability/cocoa/the-changing-world-of-cocoa

“The Dark Side of Chocolate – Child Slavery.” The Dark Side of Chocolate – Child Slavery, Brethen Voices, 2012, youtu.be/p8j2l-3TxTg.


Lets talk about chocolate sauce


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 


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.


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

The Chocolate Lens of Religion

Depicted in various Mayan artifacts, cacao along with its various forms were interwoven into Mayan society. From rituals to everyday life, cacao seemed to have an immortal presence in Mayan society, so much so that it found its way into Mayan religious paintings that depicted cacao beans or cacao trees intertwined with the Gods. In the picture below, the Maize God, a central deity in the Mayan religion, is seen shaping himself as a cacao tree, and pointing at what seems to be a vessel holding liquid cacao: “His limbs are studded with ripe cacao pods, and his skin is marked with wavy ‘wood’ motifs. Clearly, an anthropomorphic cacao tree is at hand” (Simon Martin 155).

The Maize God, a central deity in the Mayan religion, depicted as a cacao tree on an ancient Mayan bowl.

Along with the Maize God, cacao seems to also play a central role in other Godly tales, but why? Why did cacao play such an important part in Mayan theology? The answers lie in the very same picture above. This artifact highlights how the Mayans used the story of the Gods to explain the world around them, and ultimately, how, and why, the Mayans decided to incorporate cacao into their theology.

First, let’s establish the magnitude of how holy the cacao tree is according to the Popol Vuh, “a colonial document from records of Franciscan friar, believed to be the oldest Maya myth documented in its entirety” (Carla Martin 35). According to the Popol Vuh, a central Mayan God, the Maize God, was sacrificed during harvest time in Xibalba, the Underworld, by the Death Gods. He was later buried and somehow was reincarnated as a cacao tree, albeit quite an anthropomorphic one. The picture below depicts how the Maize God supposedly looked after he was slain and reborn as a cacao tree.

A cacao tree with the Maize God’s head as a fruit. There are several instances in Mayan Bowls and Vases that depicts various gods and people as anthropomorphic cacao trees.

The Maize God, as a tree, impregnated an Underworld goddess, who subsequently gave birth to the Hero twins, Xbalanque and Hunahpu. Eventually, the Hero Twins “go on to defeat Xibalba and its ghastly denizens” (Coe and Coe 39). They then “resurrect their slain father, the Maize God…[and] rise to the sky in glory as the sun and the moon” (Coe and Coe 39).

Within this story alone, it’s undeniable that the cacao tree represents the Gods. It has a God-like quality, and is intrinsically connected to the Mayan idea of holiness. The cacao is not only deeply connected to the integrity of the Maize God, but to many others as described in the Dresden Codex, “Pre-Columbian Maya books written in hieroglyphics” (Carla Martin 34). In the Dresden, “seated gods can be seen holding cacao pods, or dishes heaped with cacao beans” (Coe and Coe 42). Cacao is also frequently seen “being consumed by Gods in ritual activities” (Carla Martin 34). Depicted in a section of the Dresden regarding new year celebrations, the Opossum God is seen carrying the Rain God on his back, with caption being “cacao is his food [kakaw u hanal]” (Carla Martin 34).

The Opossum god carrying the Rain God on his back, with cacao apparently sustaining the entire journey. There are several instances, including this one, that describe cacao as foods of the Gods.

Whether through the cacao tree or beans, cacao has an incredibly important role in the Mayan religion, as shown by its extensive portrayal in the Popol Vuh and the Dresden. In addition to Gods being portrayed with cacao in some way, the cacao tree is explicitly referred to as the World Tree, which “connects the vertical realms of Sky, Earth, and the Underworld” (Carla Martin 44). This is consistent with how the Maize God was murdered in Xibalba (the Underworld), how he impregnated a woman who escaped into the world’s surface (the Earth), and how the Hero Twins avenged the Maize God’s death and became the sun and the moon (the Sky). The cacao tree is present in nearly all forms of activities of the Gods and of the cycle of nature, of life and death. From the epic of the Maize God to the tales of other Gods, it is obvious that cacao is deeply connected to the Gods.

With all this reverence given to the cacao tree, it’s only natural to ask why did the Mayans choose to akin cacao to the Gods?

Firstly, the Mayans used their religion as a tool to explain the world around them. Having “had an abiding and intimate relationship with the natural world,” (Simon Martin 154) the Mayans wanted to explain why and how the world around them grows the way it does, so it’s only natural for them to create these mythical stories to do just that.

Secondly, because cacao was so integral to the lives of the Mayan and so deeply connected to their way of life, it only makes sense that they so closely kinned the very nature of the cacao to the Gods. Looking closely at the Maize God’s epic death and rebirth, it is clear that the entire story was created to simply explain how their sacred cacao was created, and how it ultimately grows.

The act of the Maize God’s dead body giving rise to trees and edible fruits and seeds (enough to impregnate an Underworld goddess) symbolizes germination in nature: “Cacao, the most coveted product of the mortal orchard, was emblematic of all prized and sustaining vegetal growth—with the exception of maize—and the myth served to explain how it and other foodstuffs came into being” (Simon Martin 178). In other words, “the story, then, basically deals in symbolic form with the burial (that is, the planting of the seed), growth, and fruition of maize [and cacao], the Maya-and Mesoamerican-staff of life” (Coe and Coe 39). Essentially, the Mayans used the Gods to explain how and why the nature around the grows (especially their precious cacao), which was used to ultimately explain the phenomenon of life and death.

While the Mayans certainly had other reasons in creating their religious tales, there is no doubt that a number of myths, including the Popol Vuh, incorporated cacao to help the Mayans understand the world around them. After all, chocolate was, and is considered divine, so why wouldn’t the Mayans place their cacao in the hands of the Gods in their tales?


Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie, and Coe, Michael. “The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard College: Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2018. Class Lecture. (Images also used from this Lecture as well)

Martin, Simon. “Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion: First Fruit from the Maize Tree and Other Tales from the Underworld.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009.

Sacred Cenotes: Cacao in the Yucatán

There is no doubt that cacao was highly valued in Mayan culture, intertwined with economics, culture, religion, and ritual.  Cacao was abundant and valuable, and the numerous cacao-producing regions on the coast were hubs for trade.  The Yucatán, on the other hand, does not have an environment suitable for cacao trees.  Yet despite this, the Yucatec Maya revered cacao so much that they found a way to overcome their climate’s cacao-growing challenges and cultivate it in sinkholes called cenotes (Coe and Coe 46).   These sinkholes could sustain a small number of trees, but not nearly as many as the large plantations to the south, which suggests that profit was not a motivating factor.  The motivation for cultivation of cacao in cenotes in the Yucatán stems from prestige and status as well as the sacred importance of cacao.

There were a number of rich cacao growing region in the pre-Conquest era, including the Chontalpa, the Pacific coastal plain of Chiapas and Guatemala, and Boca Costa (Coe and Coe 45).  The regions had sufficient rainfall and nutrient rich soil, enabling them to sustain significant cacao plantations.  The Yucatán, on the other hand, has a dry climate and rocky soils, and as a limestone plain with virtually no rivers, it has typically not been deemed suitable for cacao cultivation (Gomez-Pompa 250).  However, scattered in this region are humid cenotes which the Maya put to their chocolate-growing benefit.  Cenotes are sinkholes filled with water and soil, which create a humid ecosystem where cacao can grow naturally.  Because they are saturated, the typical challenges of the lack of rainfall and the dry season can be overcome (Gomez-Pompa 250-251).  Though these cenotes had the right environment, they were not on the size scale to run plantations.  To put things in perspective, a Kuyul sinkhole where cacao was found has a depth of 40m and a diameter of 240m, which can be visualized in the image below (Gomez-Pompa 251-252).  According to Spanish sources, they were the private property of wealthy lineages (Coe and Coe 46).  Cultivation of these small groves of cacao only produced a little fruit, unlike large plantations, so monetary gain was likely not the motivating factor for this small-scale cultivation.

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 12.14.13 AM

The cultivation of cacao in cenotes was motivated by the its representation as a status symbol for the wealthy class.  Cacao had a long history of ties to economics and high social status, given its use as a currency, a noble drink, and a ritualistic offering.  Cacao has been discovered in the tombs of prominent rulers, accompanying other luxurious items in funerary tradition (Coe and Coe 35).  The cacao tree was also used to depict a Mayan ruler’s mother, Lady Zac-Kuk, at the ruler’s burial site, associating the royal lineage with the cacao tree (Lecture 2/1).  Given this history, it makes sense that cacao itself was an important indicator of wealth and power for the Maya.  For the families that owned the cenotes, the cultivation of cacao in their groves represented their upper socioeconomic status.  The prestige that is associated with cacao justifies its use in the cenotes of the Yucatán.

Lady Zac-Kuk depicted with a tree with cacao pods (Lecture 2/1)

Beyond being a status symbol, cultivation of cacao in cenotes also evidences the spiritual importance of cacao.  A painted capstone from the Temple of the Owls in Chichen Itza, which is shown below, depicts the spiritual significance of cacao and the cenote.  In this artifact, the Maya god Kauil, who is the lord of sustenance and of royal descent (Coe and Coe 46), stands on the mouth of a serpent while carrying a plate with offerings.  The presence of the god Kauil, given his connection to royal descent, points to the association between the cacao and cenote and the noble and powerful lineages (Gomez-Pompa 253), supporting the notion that the cenotes were a symbol of wealth and power.  In the capstone, as Simon Martin describes, Kauil emerges from the underworld, which is depicted as a cenote, in pursuit of the heavens above (174).  Cacao pods hang as if naturally growing from both the heavens and the underworld.  The god’s expression of “rescuing” the seeds from the cenote and their “gifting to heaven and earth” in this scene depict the significance of the spiritual value of cacao (Martin 175).  Beyond being a status symbol, cultivation of cacao in cenotes also indicates the spiritual importance of cacao, which is demonstrated by the capstone from the Temple of the Owls.

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The motivation for cultivation of cacao in cenotes in the Yucatán stems from prestige and status as well as the sacred importance of cacao.  Cacao is deeply intertwined with wealth and social status in Maya culture, and the use of cenotes is no exception.  Despite the dry and rocky conditions in the Yucatán, the Maya discovered and practiced a cultivation of cacao in cenotes to demonstrate their wealth and to uphold the sacred importance of cacao.  The effects of these practices are still with us today, as wild cacao trees continue to grow in cenotes, and chocolate beverages are consumed during contemporary celebrations.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe, and Ryan J. Huxtable. The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Gómez-Pompa, Arturo, José Salvador Flores, and Mario Aliphat Fernández. “The sacred cacao groves of the Maya.” Latin american antiquity (1990): 247-257.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 2/1: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 1 February 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Simon. “Cacao in ancient Maya religion: first fruit from the maize tree and other tales from the underworld.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica: a cultural history of cacao (2006): 154-183.

Religion and Cacao: their interconnection in regards to meaning in Ancient Mayan Culture

In Sweetness and Power, Audrey Richards, anthropology’s best students of food and ingestion once said, “food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions in the wider sphere of human society it determines, more largely than any other physiological function, the nature of social groupings, and the form their activities take” (Mintz 3-4). Richard’s statement becomes more authentic when taking note of the impact of religious beliefs in terms of the cacao tree. Religious beliefs and meaning are intertwined with each other when focusing on the sacred. Taking notice that the cacao tree was the World Tree in cacao-growing regions (Martin), the tree itself, along with its produce can reveal meaning in a religious context by its association with various indicators of the life cycle of indigenous peoples, by its use with rituals, in religion and at death.

While the term “meaning” can be a subjective term, it can be defined in many different ways, including “as a process where one increases his or her understanding in a way that allows one to regain a sense of purpose” (Park 3). Therefore, meaning can be everywhere if one’s imagination created such a realm much like the beliefs of the Maya where the cacao tree was part of the creation myth and thus the start of life, a central theme of an interconnection with the divine.


As the belief of the Maya and Aztec believed that man was created from cacao, maize, and other good plant foods, their beliefs intertwine with the way they saw the world as being multi-tiered (Martin). Seeing the world as multi-tiered in this context means, “consisting of the Above Realm of the heavens; the middle Earthly Realm, the home of living humanity; and the watery Beneath Realm of the dead and thus of the ancestors”(Reilly). The image above gives this example as the tree connects the vertical realms of Sky, Earth and Underworld for travel between worlds (Martin). Here, one can then see the significance of the cacao tree, and the spectrum of how the tree takes part in religion. This also signifies the interconnection between man vs cacao, and cacao vs man. However, the Popol Vuh, lacks a sense of interconnection between man vs cacao to a certain degree.


Maize God suspended in a cacao tree.

An interpretation of an uncompleted version of the Popol Vuh claims that cacao, along with other good plant foods, was part of the creation myth and thus the start of life. As cacao was revered in a class among other good food, being disdained as an elite food, cacao appeared to be a revered substance from what it was supposed to be (Coe and Coe 39-40). While the authors suggest that because cacao is part of this “market basket,” it was “not the revered substance it was to become”, this suggestion not only becomes ambiguous, but also lacks credibility as we do not have access to the full epic at least known to Classic Maya as in one post-Conquest source, one of the Hero Twins (Hanahpu) invented the processing of cacao (Coe and Coe 39-40). That being said, cacao appears in the image above with the Maize God suspended in a cacao tree, in vessels at burial sites (picture below), and in many other superfluous ways, deeming cacao to be a supernatural food rather than part of the typical “market basket” food.


 Pottery jar from a tomb at Rio Azul, Guatemala

Among the many empowering artifacts that cacao took presence in, and still does, the essence of cacao in vessels such as the pottery above amplifies a sacred meaning in a religious context. While investigating a tomb of a middle-aged ruler at some time during the last half of 5th century AD located at Rio Azul, Guatemala, the tomb appeared to be full of the paraphernalia of chocolate consumption. One of the paraphernalia (presented in the image above) was a stirrup-handled pot with two hieroglyphs that read, “cacao.” Under further investigation, David Stuart and Stephen Houston came to the conclusion that the hieroglyph’s full message was that, “the dead lord began his voyage through the underworld with sustaining portions of what were probably several different chocolate drinks by his side”( Coe and Coe 46). This signifies that chocolate soothed a person of significance upon the nearby arrival of death in a sense of transition. As the Mayas saw the world as multi-tiered, one could analyze that cacao provided a smoother transition from the earthy realm, to perhaps, the “Above Realm” or the “Beneath realm”, or consumption of cacao upon death could be a sign of regrowth for their World Tree if not both.

In terms of the Maya, “meaning” is stemmed from their belief of a multi-tiered world in relevance of their world tree. While the “Popul Vuh” may not have given cacao its prestigious identity that it deserves, with lack of access to the full epic, one cannot make qualifying claims. Further exploration on this topic would be to focus on ritual burning in terms of the Mayas, as “its overall significance centered on the king and his special role as one who could renew time and its perpetuity.”(Scarborough) Through this context, “meaning” broadens to a whole new sphere.

Work Cited:

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. “The True History of Chocolate.” Third Edition. Thames & Hudson Ltd: London, 2013. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 03 Feb. 2016. Class Lecture.

Mintz, S. (1985). “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History”. New York: Penguin Books. Print.

Park, Crystal L. “Religion and Meaning.” Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Eds. Raymond F. Paloutzian and Crystal L. Park. New York: The Guilford Press, 2005.

Reilly, F. Kent III. “Mesoamerican Religious Beliefs: The Practices and Practitioners.” The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology. Web.

Scarborough, L. Vernon. “A Catalyst of Ideas: Anthropological Archaeology and the Legacy of Douglas W. Schwartz. pp. 257-286. The School of American Research Press, Santa Fe. 2005.

The European Cacao Encounter

The European Cacao Encounter

Chokola’j (verb) /cho-koh-lahj/
To drink chocolate together. (Quiché Mayan)


It’s possible that one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments is the production of chocolate. I know, I know, that’s probably an overstatement. But chocolate is up there, along with pizza, Peruvian chicken, and mashed potatoes. It’s something that you crave after first taste. It’s something that is so pervasive it reigns over the taste buds of millions of people across cultures. It is something that has been so normalized that we rarely stop to think about its story. Where did it come from? How did the world come to appreciate chocolate? Why is chocolate such a major part of our lives and economies? Through the cacao tree, the genius of American Indigenous peoples, and European enchantment and oppression, we have (drumroll, please) today’s chocolate!


Chocolate is the combination of cacao seeds and additives such as vanilla, flowers, cinnamon, sugar, honey, chiles, allspice, or milk. Depending on the chocolate maker’s mission, the additives vary greatly in order to achieve a particular taste. The Maya would add vanilla, achiote, ground ear flower, pepper, and other spices. The Aztec were known to add maize, chiles, huitztecolli-flower, and ground ceiba seed, among other things. (Coe & Coe Kindle Locations 866, 905, 1244, 1252) When Europeans entered into the chocolate game, they added sugar, milk, alkalized the cacao powder, and found different ways to froth chocolate drinks. (Coe & Coe) The bottom line here is that none of these mouth-watering combinations and preparations are possible without cacao.


As I mentioned earlier, cacao comes from the cacao tree. This tree grows green pods on its trunk and branches. Inside the pods are jelly slash leechy slash gooey pulp that surround seeds. Those seeds are it. The cacao tree’s pods are cut open, the pulp removed, and the seeds are shed of pulp. They are then fermented, roasted and ground into powder, to be mixed with whatever flavors the chocolate maker desires. Researchers trace the cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao, to the Amazon basin. By way of travel and trade, the tree made its way to Mesoamerica, where civilizations as early as the Olmecs (1500-400 BC) began to process the cacao into powders, drinks, and foods. By the time Europeans arrived in the Americas, Indigenous peoples had long drunk, eaten, and traded with cacao and chocolate—it was highly valued and highly integrated into society.

In 1502, Christopher Columbus and his crew found themselves in Guanaja, an island in the Caribbean. During one of their encounters with the Indigenous in August of that year, Ferdinand observed:

“They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen.” Ferdinand Columbus (Coe & Coe 109)

And that’s where it ended for Columbus. Neither of the Columbus men would come to recognize the power of these “almonds” until the Spanish conquistadors spent time in Mesoamerica—exploring, plundering, living, becoming enchanted, and detailing their journey into Mesoamerica. Spanish exploration became Spanish subjugation, and that included a religious domination. Dominican friars were among these early European religious figures in the Americas. These friars were markedly different in their approach to the Indigenous, as they often took time to get to the know people and observe their every day lives. In Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, friars led by Bartolomé de las Casa were able to form a relationship with the Kekchi Maya and they would soon agree to accompany the friars back to Spain. In 1544, this delegation of Kekchi Mayas brought with them many goods, including plumes, clay gourds, plants, foods, and beaten chocolate. (Coe & Coe Kindle Location 1835) Chocolate arrived in Europe.


Europeans became hooked. Overtime, they would destroy the homes and livelihoods of the Indigenous people that showed them how to live in the Americas, that gave them new foods and medicines, and their precious chocolate. By the 1500s, Indigenous slavery for the production of chocolate was well underway. The Spanish added African slave power to their chocolate enterprise, and the industry boomed. By the 17th century, this slavery-powered business pumped European courts, homes, and businesses with as much chocolate as they could get their hands on. It is important to note that the cacao tree does not bear fruit outside of 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the Equator. (Coe & Coe Kindle Location 221) There was nowhere else they could build this empire but on the back of the people from this equatorial band in which cacao was born. So when we eat chocolate today, we should remember that this delectable treat that we crave during get-togethers, the holidays, after break ups, on cold days, or really, any day of the year, was made possible by Indigenous genius and Indigenous and African exploitation.

On the backs

Coe, Sophie D.; Coe, Michael D. (2013-06-28). The True History of Chocolate (Kindle Location 1667). Thames & Hudson. Kindle Edition.

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