When you think of warfare, you probably think of soldiers, tanks, or guns; you probably do not think of chocolate, however, chocolate played an integral part in World War II. The military in the first half of the 20th century had a problem. Men were fighting on the front lines were in conditions where field kitchens could not be established. Sustenance would have to be shipped in and it would have to be compact and portable. It was to this end that Captain Paul Logan, of the office of the U.S. Army Quartermaster General, turned to chocolate. He met with William Murrie, then president of Hershey Chocolate Corporation, and Sam Hinkle, his chief scientist, in 1937 about developing a chocolate bar emergency ration that could stand up to the rigorous military standards required for field rations. Chocolate was uniquely qualified as a choice for rations as it is not only lightweight and portable but it is also is a stimulant, provides a quick burst of energy and is fairly nutritious. There were, however, some technical issues that need to be dealt with before chocolate was ready for duty on the front lines.
As anyone who has left a chocolate bar in their pocket on a summer’s day knows, chocolate tends to melt in moderately high temperatures. This gives chocolate its wonderful mouthfeel but also makes it a challenge to transport it hot climates. This is due to one of chocolate main ingredients; cocoa butter, which has a melting point of 78 degrees Fahrenheit, turning any chocolate above that mark, whether in your mouth or in your pocket, from a solid bar to a mushy mess.
Furthermore, as it was to be an emergency ration, this chocolate couldn’t be the tempting treat you usually think of when you think chocolate bar. According to Sam Hinkle, chief scientist at Hershey at the time, “Captain Logan said that he wanted it to taste not too good, because, if so, the soldier would eat it before he faced an emergency and have nothing to eat when the emergency came,” Hinkle said. “So he said, ‘Make it taste about like a boiled potato.'”
Hershey scientists and the US Army Quartermaster Corps set out together to engineer a chocolate that could stand up to the military’s exacting standards. As Joel Glenn Brenner states in her book, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, “The result was the famous Field Ration D, nutrition-packed “subsistence” chocolate made from a thick paste of chocolate liquor, sugar, oat flour, powdered milk and vitamins …it could withstand temperatures of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and contained 600 calories in a single serving.” (Brenner 8). That was all well and good but the military needed to make sure that these Ration D bars could stand up to the challenge of the harsh environment of war. According to the Hershey Community Archives, “The first of the Field Ration D bars were used for field tests in the Philippines, Hawaii, Panama, the Texas border, and at various Army posts and depots throughout the United States. These bars also found their way to Antarctica with Admiral Byrd’s last expedition in 1939. The results of the test were satisfactory and Field Ration D was approved for wartime use.”
Once assured of these chocolate bars being up to snuff, the military put them into production. In her book, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, Anastacia Marx de Salcedo describes the packaging process: “The finished bars were sealed in foil and then paper-wrapped in sets of three, for a total of 1,800 calories, enough to sustain a man for a day. (Later, when foil became scarce during World War II and the use of chemical weapons seemed imminent—mustard and chlorine gas had been used frequently in World War I—waterproof cellophane and wax coated boxes were used [to prevent any deadly chemicals from leaching into the soldiers’ food]). By the end of 1945 Hershey was producing 24 million bars a week.
As for what the soldiers thought of them, their thoughts can be seen in the nickname they gave it; “Hitler’s secret weapon”. In his article, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”, Terry W. Burger interviews John Otto, a platoon leader in Company A of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 505th Parachute Regiment, for his experience with the Ration D bars, “They were awful,” “They were big, thick things, and they weren’t any good. I tried ’em, but I had to be awful hungry after I tried them once…. Whatever they put in didn’t make them taste any better.” Nevertheless, the Ration D bars kept the soldiers alive on the battlefield and in other precarious situations. Not only that, because chocolate contains stimulants such as theobromine and caffeine, it kept the soldiers awake and alert, which was vital to their survival and success, especially in hostile territories like Nazi-occupied France. Some of the soldiers dislikes of the bar may have stem from their quick consumption; the instructions clearly stated the bars are to be eaten slowly (in about half an hour the label says), so a soldier on the move who consumed his Ration D bar a little too quickly may have experienced quite a bit of gastronomic distress.
Either way, the Ration D bars served also as a diplomatic tool, turning many starving Europeans into friends of the United States, as described by 82nd Airborne Veteran John Otto, “People wanted them, You’d give them to kids. In some places they were very hungry. And they sure helped relax people about American soldiers.”
Chocolate has been part of the military ever since. In 1943, Hershey created the Tropical Bar, the Ration D’s ever-so-slightly better tasting cousin, for consuming in the hot and humid Pacific. This bar saw action during the Korean War (1950-53) up through the early days of the Vietnam War. In 1990 Hershey created the Desert Bar, which tasted like an original Hershey bar but could withstand temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Not that Hershey was the only game in town; Forrest Mars introduced M&M’s in 1940; just in time for the chocolate candy that “melts in your mouth, not in your hand,” to be added to soldiers rations. Today soldiers receive chocolate in a variety of places, whether it’s in a MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) ration or a care package that boosts their spirit and gives them a little taste of home.
 Terry W. Burger, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”
 Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, page 87
 Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, page 87
 Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 10
 Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 46
 John C. Fisher and Carol Fisher, Food in the American Military, page 183
Marx de Salcedo, Anastacia. Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat. Penguin. 2015.
Brenner, Joel Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey And Mars. Random House, Inc. 1999.
Fisher, John C., and Carol Fisher. Food in the American Military: A History. McFarlan & Company, Inc. 2011.
Burger, Terry W. “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!” America in WWII, Feb. 2007, p. 36+. General OneFile, libraries.state.ma.us/login?gwurl=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GPS&sw=w&u=ntn&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA400957701&asid=4593f3eb2321afb7732288b7e5322620. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.
For those who are interested in the ethnic and historical origins of foods, chocolate and sugar may be two of the most exciting elements of the traditional English diet (see fig. 1). Linked by their indigenous sourcing and early production during the British colonial period, the bitter taste of chocolate and the ground sweetness of sugar grew in demand and influenced the commercialization of one another. Both, used as food condiments or spices, in medical remedies or as a source of energy and calories share a history of conquest, adventure, social evolution and slavery. Thus, when it comes to England and perhaps other European nations, it is fair to believe that today’s spike in sugar consumption –as suggested by Harvard University professor Carla Martin in her “Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food” class is owed in great part to the expansion and ever-growing demands of the chocolate industry.
Long before Colombus arrived to the Americas, sugar was known in Europe thanks to the Crusades and the conquests of the British empire (SKIL – History of Sugar). The European expansion beyond the Caribbean plateau brought the discovery of the cacao tree and chocolate, highly praised by the natives, according to chapters One and Two from The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe. This discovery increased the European interest in the region causing the assimilation of local elements that helped export indigenous recipes, traditions and beliefs to the wealthiest European social groups and consequently, to the British. This is commonly known as “hybridization” and it resulted in the adoption and rapid commercialization of chocolate throughout Europe (see fig. 2).
Chocolate quickly became a sensation among the British bourgeoisie. The enigmatic cocoa powder traditionally obtained by a long process of selecting cacao beans, drying, toasting and hand-grinding them with an hand made “molinillo” (Presilla 26) was an edible bounty for the wealthy. Early colonizers learned from the Mesoamerican aborigines that chocolate was “food of the gods” and such was the official name they gave to it as described in The True History of Chocolate (D. Coe and D. Coe 18). The belief that it had magical and medical properties head its way into England where soon the chocolate drink and the cocoa powder were used in medical recipes, as sources of energy and as mood enhancers.
Around the same period of time, sugar had also medical and multiple other uses in Britain. Sugar was an “everything” type of remedy or food condiment. The influence of sugar in the Anglo-Saxon world was such that as professor Martin denoted in class, it moved beyond the Hollywood era so we can recall popular movies like Mary Poppins carry the reminiscent of it in song lyrics that talk about sugar and sweetness, as for instance Disney’s “A Spoonful of Sugar” shown below.
“A Spoonful of Sugar” from the Mary Poppins film.
In 1847, the English company J.S. Fry & Sons produced a chocolate bar from the mixture of sugar and chocolate powder with cocoa butter, which according to the authors of the research paper Welcome to ChE: Chocolate Engineering “had a grainy texture and lacked the smooth flavor of today’s chocolates” (Patton, Ford and Crunkleton 2). This, in turn, prompted Henry Nestle and Daniel Peters to experiment further by adding milk to the mixture, creating the first milk chocolate bar as early as 1876 (Patton, Ford and Crunkleton 2).
Henceforth, sugar and chocolate crossed a common path: that of the “bitter-sweetness.” This bitter-sweetness is a descriptive metaphor derived from their combination: chocolate is naturally bitter and sugar is the embodiment of sweet. From the history of their discovery, production and consumption the bittersweet blend evokes a distant grief infused with human slavery which was viewed by its wealthy consumers like the “necessary evil” –as professor Martin puts it, to achieve the finest tasting, sweetest chocolate cup or chocolate bar.
Knowing the historical and socio economical factors that made possible a “rendezvous” of chocolate and sugar, it is possible to find correlation between the sugar consumption and the production of chocolate. Professor Martin illustrates this in class with visualizations of the rise in sugar consumption from the colonial times before chocolate was brought to Europe up to the present times. Those graphs shown by professor Martin reveal a dramatic curve of growth. It is then evident that the discovery and commercialization of chocolate influenced the consumption and demand of sugar. The image below illustrates the period of time in which the sugar consumption rose in England, which coincides with the time in which chocolate began to commercialize during the 1800’s, as well as the corresponding price depreciation per pound (fig. 3).
In conclusion, the social contexts of contemporary Britain, the Anglo-Saxon culture and all of Europe keep sugar and chocolate forever bound in tasty combinations. Often is our own “sweet tooth” that helps move chocolates off the shelves because some of us suffer a disease called “chocolate craving.” Yet, one thing is certain: today’s chocolates are generally sweeter than those of yesterday… either because they have thrice the amount of sugar, or because they no longer come from the bitter tears of slavery.
Chocolate House in London (18th Century). Digital image. “The World of Chocolate.” Worldstandards.eu. 2017. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. “The Tree of the Food of the Gods.” The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, Inc., 1996, New York, Print. Feb. 2017.
Fry’s Five Boys Milk Chocolate. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Jarrold & Sons, Ltd., 2 Dec. 2005. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.
One step into Cambridge Naturals, a community natural health store in Cambridge, MA, and the market for organic, fair-trade, vegan, bean-to-bar, local, non-gmo, paleo, environmentally friendly and ethically sourced chocolate products is on full display. A meeting with the store’s manager & grocery lead adds another term to the list of qualities their consumer base is looking for when they step into the store – functional chocolate. This trend shows a probable correlation between what customers are willing to spend on chocolate that makes health claims, based on the way the cacao is processed and additional ingredients added that are promoted to provide nutritional benefits. The functional chocolate trend begs the question – are these health claims regarding various methods of cacao processing and healthful additives substantiated by scientific research, or are they merely a marketing gimmick? This article will analyze recent research on the health benefits of chocolate as a functional food, look at fermentation and processing differences from a nutrient perspective, and consider additional benefits of medicinal additives to chocolate in order to best answer this question.
How are functional foods different from healthy foods?
In a study published in the Academic Food Journal/Akademik (2014) that looked at the development of functional chocolate, the differences between health foods and functional foods were defined as the following:
“Functional foods are a new category of products that promise consumers improvements in targeted physiological functions” (Albak, Fatma, & Tekin, 2014, p. 19).
Whereas, “conventional ‘healthy’ foods are typically presented as types of foods contributing to a healthy diet, e.g. low-fat products, high-fibre products, or vegetables, without emphasizing the role of any single product” (Albak, Fatma, & Tekin, 2014, p. 19).
Functional foods share these characteristics:
Health benefits that can be linked to a specific product
Well-defined physiological effects are directly connected with particular components in the specific product
Scientific evidence about health effects that is used to develop specific functional products
There is novelty for the consumer with the promised benefits
Modern technology is often needed to manufacture the functional foods due to specific components being added, modified or removed (Albak, et al., 2014).
Demand for Functional Foods
The market for functional foods exists in large part due to the rising popularity of healthier products by consumers (Albak, et al., 2014). One contributor to interest in healthy products is their use as a remedy to detrimental lifestyle factors that can contribute to unyielding high levels of inflammation in the body (Jain, Parag, Pandey, & Shukla, 2015). In the book, Inflammation and Lifestyle (2015), the connection between diet and inflammation is emphasized.
“Our diet is one of the leading sources of these chronic illnesses, and changing the diet is the key to prevention and cure. A number of dietary factors, including fiber-rich foods, whole grains, fruits (especially berries), omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins (e.g., C and E), and certain trace minerals (e.g., zinc), have been documented to reduce blood concentrations of inflammatory markers. The best way to correct and eliminate inflammation is to improve comprehensive lifestyle and dietary changes rather than taking pharmaceutical drugs, the latter of which can cause unintended harm in the form of damaging side effects” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 143).
The authors provide this graphic to illustrate what an anti-inflammatory diet pyramid looks like in terms of specific food groups. Note that dark chocolate is positioned on the top of the pyramid.
An introduction to the benefits of superfoods and their role in an anti-inflammatory diet are explained in the publication. “An anti-inflammatory diet is one that is low in processed foods and high in fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, sprouts, nuts and superfoods. Maca, spirulina, purple corn, wheatgrass, coconut butter and raw chocolate are a few of the health promoting superfoods that are gaining international interest” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 144). The inclusion of “raw chocolate” in the category of superfoods versus “chocolate” warrants further examination and will be explored later in this article, but the position remains clear that evidence supports the protective benefits of chocolate as a part of a healthy diet.
Chocolate as a Functional Food
Under the category of functional foods as previously defined, chocolate, as will be further described, fulfills all the requisite characteristics. Even though the term functional food is relatively recent, the practice of consuming chocolate for its specific health benefits is centuries old. “Chocolate has been consumed as confection, aphrodisiac, and folk medicine for many years before science proved its potential health benefiting effects. Main compounds of cocoa and chocolate which contribute to human health are polyphenols that act as antioxidants and have potential anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, antihepatotoxic, antibacterial, antiviral, antiallergenic, and anticarcinogenic properties” (Ackar, Djurdjica, Lendić, Valek,… & Nedić, 2013, p. 1). The studied physiological effects of chocolate include “reported health benefits of cocoa and dark chocolate particularly focus on cardiovascular diseases (but also showing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects), including increased blood flow at the brachial artery and the left descending coronary artery, decreased blood pressure, decreased platelet aggregation and increased HDL cholesterol” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840). Numerous research discoveries have shed light on the complex nature of how these protective benefits of cacao are reduced or encouraged by different methods of sourcing, processing and consuming chocolate (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008).
Polyphenols are found in many food sources including, “vegetables and fruits, green and black tea, red wine, coffee, chocolate, olives, and some herbs and spices, as well as nuts and algae” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). However, “chocolate is one of the most polyphenol-rich foods along with tea and wine” where, “results [have] indicated that dark chocolate exhibited the highest polyphenol content” (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008, p. 2194). In unfermented cacao beans, there are three main groups of polyphenols, “flavan-3-ols or catechins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Differences in cacao genetics or varieties and country of origin show varying levels of polyphenols by up to 4-fold (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008). “Criollo cultivars contained higher levels of procyanidins than Forastero and Trinitario beans. In addition, crop season and country of origin have impact on polyphenols in cocoa beans” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Findings regarding polyphenol level by country of origin are contentious but include, “highest phenolic content was in Malaysian beans followed by Sulawesian, Ghanian and Côte d’Ivore” (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008, p. 2201) and “cocoa beans and processed products from Ecuador showed the highest levels of anthocyanins, followed by Nigeria and Cameroon” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840). Due to additional factors besides country of origin and genetic variation influencing the polyphenols in cacao, inclusion of the effects of processing cacao on flavor and polyphenol content is important to understand health claims made regarding the finished product, chocolate.
Processing cacao beans (namely the stages of fermentation and drying), and roasting in the chocolate making process greatly affect polyphenol content of the finished product (Ackar, et al., 2013; Bordiga, et al., 2015). “Due to these factors, the ratio and types of these components found in cocoa beans are unlikely to be the same as those found in the finished products” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 841). For functional chocolate enthusiasts driving market trends, the balance between healthy and protective benefits of polyphenols and the effects on their levels through processing are of particular interest. “All these processes are needed to develop characteristic cocoa aroma. Polyphenols give astringent and bitter aroma to cocoa and contribute to reduced perception of “cocoa flavour” by sensory panel. However, nowadays processes are conducted in such manner to preserve as much polyphenol as possible with maintaining satisfactory aroma” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). The debate about the purpose of chocolate is hereby noted between the sensory experience – the aroma development, especially in the roasting stages, versus consumption for health effects with less regard to smell, taste and gustatory pleasure.
The search for a sweet spot between these poles is a lucrative area for producers and retail establishments. As described earlier, development of functional food into specific products uses scientific evidence about health effects, where modern technology is often needed to manufacture those products, in order to observe targeted physiological effects or functions (Albak, et al., 2014).
“Generally, as cocoa beans were further processed, the levels of anthocyanins and flavan-3-ols decreased. The largest observed losses of phenolics occurred during roasting. A progressive decreasing trend in polyphenol concentration was observed in the other processed samples as well. Despite the original content of polyphenols in raw cocoa beans, technological processes imply a significant impact on cocoa quality, confirming the need of specific optimisation to obtain high value chocolate” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840).
In order to preserve antioxidant quality through dark-chocolate products with “high flavonoid contents…these chocolates are produced by controlling bean selection, fermentation, and reduced heat and alkalization treatments” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2201). Although one of the most detrimental effects of processing on polyphenol and antioxidant levels is alkalization (or dutching) of cocoa powder (Ackar, et al., 2013; Jalil, et al., 2008), even the fermentation process significantly reduces flavonoid levels by up to 90% (Jalil, et al., 2008). However, in the search for the sweet spot between flavor and health benefits, fermentation presents a way to reduce bitter compounds due to the presence of flavonoids and polyphenols (Jalil, et al., 2008) and enhance flavor before roasting or further processing like alkalization. For example, some “manufacturers tend to remove [flavonoids] in large quantities to enhance taste quality… the manufacturers tend to prefer Ghanian cocoa beans, which are well-fermented and flavorful than that of Dominican or Indonesian beans, which are considered as less fermented and have low quality cocoa flavor” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2203). In Crafack’s study (2013), besides genetic flavor potentials of cacao beans, fermentation is cited as the most important factor influencing cocoa’s flavor potential.
“A properly conducted fermentation process is considered a prerequisite for the production of high quality chocolates since inadequately fermented cocoa beans will fail to produce cocoa specific aroma compounds during subsequent processing” (Crafack, Petersen, Eskildsen, Petersen, Heimdal, & Nielsen, 2013, p. 1).
In a later study by Crafack (2014), microorganism differences between fermentation practices are shown to produce variations in cacao flavor profiles. “Despite the importance of a properly conducted fermentation process, poor post-harvest practices, in combination with the unpredictable spontaneous nature of the fermentations, often results in sub-optimal flavour development…A microbial fermentation process therefore seems essential for developing the full complexity of compounds which characterises cocoa aroma. In conclusion, the results of the present study show that the volatile aroma profile of chocolate can be influenced using starter cultures” (Crafack, 2014, p. 1). Further research that builds on Crafack’s findings was published by Kadow (2015), explaining the role of multiple factors in the country of origin that characterize the fermentation process.
“During this in most cases spontaneous fermentation of the fruit pulp surrounding the seeds, the pulp is degraded by yeasts and bacteria. This degradation results in heat and organic acid formation. Heat effect and tissue acidification are the key parameters guiding flavour precursor formation. Accordingly, not microorganisms themselves but exclusively their metabolites are necessary for successful fermentation” (Kadow, Niemenak, Rohn, and Lieberei, 2015, p. 357).
This study aimed to further the development of standardization and mechanization of cocoa fermentation for the benefit of cacao production quality purposes. On the ranges of heat tested from fermenting heaps of cacao beans, 30 °C to a maximum of 50 °C was obtained after 24 h of fermentation at the inner part of the heap (Jespersen, Nielsen, Hønholt, and Jakobsen, 2005).
Finally, as an interesting note about polyphenol changes in cacao during fermentation, although “unripe and ripe cacao pods contain solely (−)-epicatechin and (+)-catechin. During fermentation, levels of both of these compounds were reduced, but (−)-catechin was formed due to heat-induced epimerization” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). These findings warrant more studies on the changes that happen during cacao fermentation, where although certain protective antioxidant levels decrease, other chemical compounds are formed due to the process of heat due to microorganism metabolites and acidification to the bean tissue.
After fermentation, the beans are dried to reduce water content for safe transport and storage of the cacao before further processing by chocolate manufactures. “During drying, additional loss of polyphenol occurs, mainly due to nonenzymatic browning reactions” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2) where “high temperatures and prolonged processing times will decrease the amount of catechins” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p.2203). The dried cacao is then shipped to the chocolate manufacturer where roasting is often performed. The roasting and generally the further processing of cacao degrades the levels of polyphenols by triggering the oxidation process (Ackar, et al., 2013; Bordiga, et al., 2015).
Conching is a process of agitation of chocolate mass at temperatures above 50 °C that is used to refine both the cocoa solids and sugar crystals to change the taste, smell, flavor, texture (mouthfeel) and viscosity of chocolate (Chocolate Alchemy, 2016; Di Mattia, Martuscelli, Sacchetti, Beheydt, Mastrocola, & Pittia, 2014) Different procedures for conching exist, including Long Time Conching (LTC) and Short Time Conching (STC). A study by Di Mattia (2014) done on these two conching processes and the implications for bioactive compounds and antioxidant activity found interesting results. The publication stressed the importance of time/temperature combinations as process parameters “to modulate and increase the functional properties of some foods” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, pp.367-368). In the study, STC consisted of “a dry step at 90 °C for 6 h and then a wet step at 60°C for 1h,” while LTC involved, “a dry step at 60°C for 6 h and a then wet step at the same conditions (60 °C, 6 h)” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p. 368). The results of the analysis on phenolic content, antioxidant values defined as radical scavenging properties showed, “that the conching process, and the LTC in particular, determined an improvement of the antiradical and reducing properties of chocolate” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p.372). Recommendation for further studies was suggested to “optimize the conching process for the modulation of the functional properties,” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p.372) but the results remain in favor of longer time and lower temperature processing to preserve health benefits in chocolate during the conching phase.
From the perspective of chocolate makers, assessing combinations of ingredients/additives that can either help or hinder protective compounds in chocolate – including polyphenols and bioavailability, is important. Jalil, & Ismail’s review (2008), considered, “both bioavailability and antioxidant status [important] in determining the relationship between cocoa flavonoids and health benefits” (Jalil, et al., 2008, pp. 2194-2195). Studies focused on epicatechin from chocolate found the polyphenols, “rapidly absorbed by humans, with plasma levels detected after 30min of oral digestion, peaking after 2-3 h and returning to baseline after 6–8 h. In addition, cumulative effect in high daily doses was recorded” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Interestingly, an argument for the benefits of chocolate’s sweetened and rich composition – if cocoa butter and some type of sweetener is used in processing – is explained where the “presence of sugars and oils generally increases bioavailability of polyphenols, while proteins, on the other hand, decrease it” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Milk chocolate lovers may be disappointed to find that, “milk proteins reduce bioavailability of epicatechin in chocolate confectionary…[with] reported inhibition of in vivo antioxidant activity of chocolate by addition of milk either during manufacturing process or during ingestion” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2).
Additional health properties of cacao found especially in dark chocolate, apart from polyphenols, may have a role to play in reports of chocolate cravings and their use as functional food. Theses beneficial components include “methylxanthines, namely caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2197) “peptides, and minerals” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2200). “Theobromine is a psychoactive compound without diuretic effects” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2198). “Cocoa is also rich in proteins. Cocoa peptides are generally responsible for the flavour precursor formation” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2199). Lastly, “minerals are one of the important components in cocoa and cocoa products. Cocoa and cocoa products contained relatively higher amount of magnesium compared to black tea, red wine, and apples” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2200).
A well supported rule of thumb for finding high antioxidant capacity functional chocolate is to look for the percentage of non-fat cocoa solids (NFCS) in chocolate products to determine total phenolic content (Jalil, et al., 2008; Vinson, & Motisi, 2015) “Dark chocolates contain the highest NFCS among the different types of chocolates” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2204) However, due to percentages of cocoa solids on on chocolate labels including polyphenol-free cocoa butter, the accuracy of this measure is not always correct and can lead to overestimating polyphenol content in certain types of chocolate (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2204). That said, a recent study by Vinson and Motisi (2015), performed on commercial chocolate bars found “a significant and linear relationship between label % cocoa solids and the antioxidant assays as well as the sum of the monomers.” From which they concluded that, “consumers can thus rationally choose chocolate bars based on % cocoa solids on the label” (Vinson, & Motisi, 2015, p. 526).
Additions to Functional Chocolate
In health food stores like Cambridge Naturals and Deborah’s Natural Gourmet in Concord, MA, the presence of functional chocolate with additional health boosting ingredients is prevalent. The validity of these claims to improve focus, enhance libido and energy, and other desirable improved physiological functions, based on herbs, powders and additional superfoods mixed with cacao, is intriguing. A study by Albak and Tekin (2014), found that mixing aniseed, ginger, and cinnamon into the dark chocolate mix before conching, “increased the total polyphenol content while they decreased the melting properties of dark chocolate after conching” (Albak, et al., 2014, p. 19).
Other resources that further elucidate specific findings on these superfoods, herbs and spices include:
Afolabi Clement Akinmoladun, Mary, Tolulope Olaleye, and Ebenezer Olatunde Farombi. “Cardiotoxicity and Cardioprotective Effects of African Medicinal Plants.” Toxicological Survey of African Medicinal Plants (2014): 395. This publication includes information on gingko, turmeric among other additives to functional chocolate and how protective vascular effects are formed.
Some consideration for the popularity of raw chocolate, which is used as the base of many functional chocolate products, deserves attention. As explained, there are many reasons chocolate can be considered a functional food, especially due to specific health promoting compounds like polyphenols and flavonoids, peptides, theobromine and minerals present in cacao and in chocolate. Unfortunately, overwhelming scientific evidence points to the detrimental effects on these compounds from processing, especially by heat. “Flavanols largely disappear once the cocoa bean is heated, fermented and processed into chocolate. In other words, making chocolate destroys the very ingredient that is supposed to make it healthy” (Crowe, 2015). Raw chocolate, by the standards of raw foodism, means that food is not supposed to be heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit in order to preserve enzymes. This seems tricky to prove especially when chocolate makers receive cocoa beans from various countries of origin where fermenting and drying practices are not under their direct supervision. Some companies remedy this issue with bean-to-bar practices that ensure they have seen and approved the process that cacao beans undergo before shipment to the company’s own processing facilities, where low temperature winnowing, grinding and conching is under their complete control. The bean-to-bar method (See Taza’s Bean-to-Bar and Direct Trade process) also provides assurance that cacao is ethically (sometimes for organic and wild-crafted cacao if so desired) sourced. These initiatives often promote more sustainable and better processed cacao, which means higher quality cacao for both the farmer, manufacturer and consumer. For these reasons, the popularity of raw cacao seems to fit into the development of functional foods where the consumer is able to enjoy a sometimes more bitter, medicinal tasting chocolate in the anticipation of a powerful physiological boost and a clearer conscience due to sourcing methods.
In the case of Yes Cacao, their Karma MellOwl botanical chocolate bar contains 41% cacao butter, and 59% botanicals which results in a deliciously complex, albeit golden colored bar due to the cocoa butter and turmeric content. Non-fat cacao solids which provide the main anti-inflammatory benefits of cacao are missing, but are replaced with other superfoods, spices and adaptogenic herbs like lucuma, maca, yacon, lion’s mane mushrooms, gingko, turmeric, pine pollen, cinnamon, bacopa, and gynostemma. The creators of the bars deem them functional medicine, as they combine cacao solids and sundried cane juice as a base for superfood and medicinal enhancements. In this video, Justin Frank Polgar recommends that Yes Cacao bars are eaten daily as a staple enhancement for ideal human functionality.
Other raw chocolate companies that are focus on functional chocolate using additional superfoods, spices and herbs include:
Trends in functional foods heading in the direction of ‘naturally healthy’
From the perspective of growers, producers and consumers who want a high quality, healthful and good tasting chocolate product, the scientific findings that support the ideal balance between flavor and preservation of health promoting properties of cacao, are significant. The ideal way to conserve protective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits warrants consideration with the changes in polyphenol content during processing of cacao from raw bean, through fermentation to roasting, conching and mixing with other ingredients. Raw chocolate seems a good way to navigate this balance. Meanwhile, mass produced commercial chocolate companies or “big chocolate” continue to move their products in the direction of high quality premium chocolate and adopting new manufacturing processes in order to preserve cacao’s protective effects. The overarching trend uniting premium, natural and healthful ingredients is referred to in the food industry as naturally healthy foods. “This idea of using food to manage health may, in part, help explain growing consumer interest in fresh, natural and organic products”(Gagliardi, 2015). The melding of healthy, natural and functional foods to chocolate production reflects consumer preferences and industry recognition of the role diet plays on health and provides insights into the future of food. For now, medicinally enhanced, raw, naturally healthy, and functional chocolate seems light years ahead of other natural foods on the market today.
Author’s Note: While researching and writing this article the author happily consumed a great deal of functional, raw and medicinal chocolate and can attest to the powerful effects that far surpass conventional and even ‘premium chocolates’.
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Jain, Parag, Ravindra Pandey, and Shiv Shankar Shukla. “Inflammation and Lifestyle.” Inflammation: Natural Resources and Its Applications. Springer India, 2015. 143-152.
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As a cacao-producer, Colombia would be considered a minnow when compared to the cacao-growing giants of West Africa––Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameron, which constitutes approximately 70% of global production. Even closer to home, Colombia is dwarfed by neighboring Brazil, and is outperformed by smaller Ecuador fourfold. As a result, the cacao sector of Colombia receives less attention both within literature and the media than its fellow Latin American producers. That is finally changing, however. For the past several decades, the Colombian cacao-chocolate industry, with the support of its government, has been hard at work in strategically positioning itself within the fine cacao market, specifically by focusing on growing Fino de Aroma cacao. As a result, it has drawn the attention of confectionary giants the likes of Barry Callebaut AG and Ferrero SPA., Colombia’s pursuit of growing high-quality cacao has additionally obtained the support of several international development initiatives, including those of Swisscontact,USAID and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ). Their hope is to foster agro-sustainability and socioeconomic equality that will yield both economic and social upgrading, particularly for the growers. Their goal is to implement much needed improvements throughout Colombia’s cacao-chocolate value chain. As a result, Colombia has alas become one of the most recent entrants to the fine chocolate-making world. In an effort to reduce the knowledge gap in the global map of cacao-chocolate production, I will provide an examination of the current state of Colombia’s cacao-chocolate industry, by focusing on its Fino de Aroma sector and by providing a brief ethnographic summary of one of its newest and most successful fine chocolate brands, Cacao Hunters.
Cacao Hunters in a “Bean-Shell”
Cacao Hunters is the chocolate brand for Cacao de Colombia created by Colombian native Carlos Ignacio Velasco and Mayumi Osaka of Japan. In 2009, Velasco, with his 12 plus-years experience working for the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros (Colombian Coffee Growers Federation), created Cacao de Colombia, branding his chocolate by highlighting the origins and the communities from which the beans were acquired. His strategy was a break from mainstream Colombian chocolate-makers, and it paid off. He saw an untapped market, which allowed him to use his expertise and the collaboration of some of his former colleagues at the Federation, to break into the fine chocolate market, seeing that Colombia is poised to becoming one of the world’s leading fine cacao-growing powerhouses.
Cacao Hunters is part of Cacao de Colombia’s fine bean to bar brand, highlighting the origins and communities from which the cacao are acquired (source: http://www.cacaohunters.com/)
Velasco envisioned a three-pronged strategy: (1) building knowledge; (2) infrastructure; (3) and a business plan that would mutually benefit both buyer and seller. The first and the third were in place. They began transferring their knowledge, by providing classes on technical and sustainable practices on growing and harvesting high-quality cacao to growers throughout the country, incentivizing them toward excellence by offering, in some cases, 50% above market value for quality beans. As for infrastructure, the company needed help, which it successfully obtained from international organizations, such as Swisscontact and USAID; and, won an award for innovation from GIZ, which provided the resources to build a model farm and postharvest plant in the small river town of Aracataca, located nearby the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. In 2015, the company sold $1 million USD worth of fine chocolate, winning awards at international competitions including the Gold at the 2015 World Finals of the International Chocolate Awards in London. And with the support of the Acumen fund at the tune of $1.15 million, Cacao Hunters sales for this year are expected to surpass $3 million. Cacao Hunters’ partnership with Acumen and other international players have initiated an economic and social upgrading throughout the company’s value chain. An impressive feat given that this increase was achieved amid a globally depressed commodities market. Nonetheless, the demand for fine chocolate grows. The below is video of Salon du Chocolat, “the world’s largest event dedicated to chocolate,” is an important part of the fine chocolate world, including boutique brands like Cacao Hunters, who attended the 2016 Tokyo edition.
Indigenous Shareholders are Represented
Cacao Hunters works closely with one of Colombia’s most geographically remote indigenous nations, the Arhuaco. Although Cacao Hunters purchases its cacao from various sectors of the country, they advocate for socio-responsibility and equitable engagement with their growers in the pursuit of fostering mutual economic and social upgrading. And their engagement with the Arhuaco has paid off, for it was Cacao Hunter’s Arhuaco 72% dark chocolate bar that took Gold at the 2015 World Finals in London. It is a significant achievement for the Arhuaco growers, especially given that they are ill supported and underrepresented within the Colombian government. As part of a campaign to promote their products in the ever-growing Japanese market, Cacao Hunters chose Hernan, one of the Arhuaco tribe leaders, to be part of the team to represent the company at the 2016 Salon du Chocolat-Tokyo.
photo, taken from Cacao Hunters’ Facebook page, shows co-founder Mayumi Osaka purchasing bean during one of her “market day with Arhuacos: a several hours’ journey down from the Sierra Nevada mountains.” Far right, is Hernan, of one the Arhuaco leaders who was flown to the 2016 Salon du Chocolat – Tokyo edition. (source: Cacao Hunters’FaceBook).
Hernan on his way to Japan (source: Cacao Hunters’ FaceBook page)
Colombia: A Privileged Ecological Site for Cacao-Growing
Although its neighbors, particularly Venezuela and Ecuador, are known for their fine cacao, Colombia, however, albeit its ecological advantages, is less known. It is only just now coming on line, and for good reasons. The country is ecologically privileged to grow cacao. In fact, Colombia is considered one of the five “megadiverse countries” in the world. With only 0.8% of the world’s land, it hosts close to 15% of the world’s biodiversity, making Colombia, per square kilometer, the most biodiverse country on the planet. This richly endowed nation thus possesses multiple, ideal-growing regions with the capacity to expand exponentially (see figure below).
This comes as no surprise to many cacao-chocolate scholars as there is strong research showing that the genetic cradle and the most diversified genetic materials of Theobroma cacao is found is in South America, specifically, the large bean-shape area of the Upper Amazon, encompassing southern Perú, to the Ecuadorian Amazon, and the border areas between Perú, Brazil and, of course, Colombia (see image below).
Colombia to Become the New Powerhouse in Fino de Aroma Cacao Production
The source of Colombia’s cacao-chocolate heritage and its recent boom onto the world market is the Fino de Aroma cacao. The below video on Fino de Aroma is created by one of Colombia largest exporter of chocolate, Casa Luker. Although this video is part of the company’s promotional materials, it nonetheless provides a good explanation of the high-quality variety.
The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) has classified Colombia as a 95% fine cacao exporter. And, along with Venezuela, Ecuador and Perú, Colombia grows 76% of the world’s Fino de Aroma cacao. Currently, it is Ecuador who leads. But that is about to change. Both Perú and Colombia are poised to leapfrog the Ecuadorians. For Perú’s part, if the current growth rate of its exports continues unhindered, their cacao sector could expand beyond 214,000 mt in 2020, which would easily surpass Ecuador’s current exports of 116,000 mt, according to José Iturrios, director of the Alianza Cacao Perú (Perú Cocoa Alliance.) However, Perú, unlike Colombia, is only classified at 75% Fino de Aroma, which means that a significant portion of their yield will not be premium cacao, thus reducing their share of the market. The Colombian government, however, plans to substantially back its growers by adding up to 80,000 ha of Fino de Aroma plantations, as they wish to capitalize on the growing global demand. Since 2005, Colombian cacao production has been rising. Back then it only cultivated 96,000 ha, yielding approximately 17,000 mt of cacao. Today, Colombia’s yield is roughly 50,000 mt, but, with the addition of the 80,000 ha of Fino de Aroma plantations being replanted in the following departments: Santander, North Santander, Nariño, Tolima, Huila, Antioquia and Meta, they will be able to expand their yields to over 138,450 mt, surpassing both Ecuador and Perú, making Colombia the world’s lead Fino de Aroma producers.
Cacao Hunters Bean to Bar Strategy Breaks from the Colonial Scheme and Disrupts the Asymmetric Buyer-Seller Dynamic
All of this is good news for Colombia’s chocolate-makers, especially Cacao Hunters who only uses 100% Colombian premium in their bars. In using their native beans, the company effectively breaks from the colonizer-colony scheme that persists within many developing countries. This is significant given that historically raw materials of erstwhile territories were sent back to the Europe, a pattern that persists today, with the inclusion of US among the major end-product manufacturers. This is especially true with the cacao-chocolate industry. Cacao is 100% grown in the Global South, yet the lion’s share is sent to Europe and the US, in raw form, who then primarily turn it into sugar-laden, artificially saturated, under 15% bulk chocolate food stuff, while reaping 96% of the profits. As discussed in my April 8th post, “The Real Celebrities Behind Chocolate,” there is additionally gross misreprentation and a highly asymmetric buyer-seller dynamic within the cacao-chocolate global value chain that poorly remunerates growers, while enhancing the coffers of Big Chocolate.
Cacao Hunter’s involvement with their shareholders, which include the aforementioned Arhuaco nation, is premised on mutual sustainable and equitable upgrading for all throughout their value chain. And, by manufacturing their chocolate in their Popayan facility, they successfully break from the asymmetric buyer-seller relationship, and successfully disrupt the north-south paradigm, in which many cacao growers find themselves embedded. There needs to be a transformation of global sourcing, as it has had a negative impact on gender, racial and socioeconomic equality. Lead firms irresponsibly reinforce and drive the prevailing imbalance that further proliferates negative social reproduction within sourced nations. By contrast, the Cacao Hunters’ stratagem highlights the implication of liberalizing global production of cacao at the local level. This is especially important given that cocoa–chocolate global value chains have “significantly consolidated” in recent years. Processors and chocolate companies have merged, leaving a few as lead firms within the industry, severely disadvantaging the market against smaller and localized companies. Cacao Hunters’ engagement with the indigenous and the rural communities proactively seeks to not only disrupt this imbalance but furthermore aims to contribute to their social and economic upgrading.
What Lies ahead for Cacao Hunters
Cacao Hunters joins the ranks of other South American chocolate brands, the likes of Pacari of Ecuador, and Venezuela’s Chocolates El Rey, who themselves are recent phenomena in South America, explains food historian Dr. Maricel Presilla. They “are taking chocolate into their own hands and creating factories that can compete internationally.” They have a good understanding of how to incorporate local ingredients and flavors, creating beautiful creations with ingredients such as guanábana, tamarind and canella, flavors that are unique to Latin America and increasingly becoming more popular in the North American and European mainstreams. The cacao and other ingredients they use to produce their chocolate is directly sourced and locally grown. And Cacao Hunters is a part of it.
Though there is a slow down in world demand and production of bulk cacao, the growth rate and demand for high-quality beans treks firmly upward, and that too is good news for Colombians, including Cacao Hunters. In fact, “there’s real excitement about investment in Colombia” says Dough Hawkins, Managing Director of Hardman Agribusiness., In their 2016 company report on the current state of the world’s cacao production, Colombia is on everyone’s radar, especially given that the government’s peace talks with the FARC is close to conclusion. Moreover, the demand for an expanding Colombian cacao sector is due to a ‘move away’ from West Africa, explains Hardman Agribusiness:
Future cocoa demand will be met by a thriving professionalized sector in Latin America as chocolate makers move away from a “structurally blighted” West African market… Cocoa is a fragmented sector… With the commodity in shortening supply and now being a $12bn plus annually traded segment in the softs market, there is a swell of developing interest in its production and capital flows are increasing to support that production. Our research report lays bare a spiral of decline in Asia and the unpalatable truth about African production whilst shining a spotlight on the exciting developments in Latin America.
It would then behoove all within the Colombian cacao-chocolate sector to continue their pursuit towards producing high-quality beans, not only to satiate the demands of their foreign buyers, but to also support their own native brands. Cacao Hunter not only serves as an excellent model for other native brands to follow, but also for all aspiring bean to bar companies the worldover. They demonstrate good practices, are socially and environmentally responsible, engage growers with dignity, and pursue the mutual upgrading for all within their value chain. And becuase of this, Cacao Hunters has robustly contributed to the sweet taste of Colombian fine chocolate.
 Barry Callebaut is over 150 year old Swiss company, and one of the largest manufacturer of high-quality chocolate and cocoa. See “Barry Callebaut Is a B2B Chocolate & Cocoa Manufacturer,” Chocolate Manufacturers, Barry Callebaut, accessed May 9, 2016, https://www.barry-callebaut.com/.
 Ferrero SpA is an Italian manufacturer of chocolate and confectionery products and is the third largest chocolate-confectionery company in the world. See “Ferrero Corporate,” Chocolate Manufacturers, Ferrero, accessed May 9, 2016, https://www.ferrero.com/.
 USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency that is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid to foreign nations. See “U.S. Agency for International Development,” The United States Agency for International Development, USAID From the American People, accessed May 9, 2016, https://www.usaid.gov/.
 Acumen aims to raise “charitable donations to invest in companies, leaders, and ideas that are changing the way the world tackles poverty.” See “Acumen | Who We Are,” Non-profit global venture organization to address poverty, Acumen, (2016), http://acumen.org/about/.
 “Empresa Colombiana Conquista la Élite del Chocolate.”
 “Empresa Colombiana Conquista la Élite del Chocolate.”
 “Colombia is listed as one of the world’s “megadiverse” countries, hosting close to 10% of the planet’s biodiversity. Worldwide, it ranks first in bird and orchid species diversity and second in plants, butterflies, freshwater fishes and amphibians. With 314 types of ecosystems, Colombia possesses a rich complexity of ecological, climatic, biological and ecosystem components. Colombia was ranked as one of the world’s richest countries in aquatic resources.” See “Colombia – Overview: National Biodiversity,” UN Science Body | Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), UN Convention on Biological Diversity, (2016), https://www.cbd.int/countries/?country=co.
 “Stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, the country covers “only” 0.8% of the world’s land surface, yet, with between 45,000 and 51,000 species, it is home to some 15% of the all plant species in the world. And with1,752 bird species and 583 amphibians, Colombia has a biodiversity of fauna unrivalled by any other country. Moreover, in terms of the number of species of flora that only occur in one specific region, the so-called endemic species, Colombia is also a world leader.” See: “Implementing the Convention on Biodiversity,” Environmental and Biodiversity, Biodiversity Day, (June 9, 2001), http://www.biodiversity-day.info/2001/english/bday-colombia.html.
 For a very thorough and scholarly presentation of the genetic origins of Theobroma Cacao L., see the salient contribution of Evert Thomas et al., “Present Spatial Diversity Patterns of Theobroma Cacao L. in the Neotropics Reflect Genetic Differentiation in Pleistocene Refugia Followed by Human-Influenced Dispersal,” ed. Dorian Q. Fuller, PLoS ONE 7, no. 10 (October 24, 2012): e47676, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047676.
 The ICCO is the international monitoring body of cacao-chocolate production and consumption. See “The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) | Cocoa Producing and Cocoa Consuming Countries,” International Cocoa Organization, ICCO.org, (2016), http://www.icco.org/.
 Pekic, “Colombia Plans to Replant High-Quality Fino de Aroma Cocoa Plantations.”
 Alianza Cacao Perú (ACP) is a USAID initiative assisting Peruvian cacao sector with the intent of providing the rural population an alternative to cultivating coca as a cash crop. See USAID Peru, Alianza Cacao Perú, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpxFaVDhYnU.
 For a candid discussion on the misrepresentation and socioeconomic inequality within Mars’ global value chain, see Ibid.
 Stephanie Barrientos provides a salient scholarly contribution in her analysis of Big Chocolate cocoa–chocolate sourcing, exploring the interplay between commercial value chains and societal norms. See Stephanie Barrientos, “Gendered Global Production Networks: Analysis of Cocoa–Chocolate Sourcing,” Regional Studies 48, no. 5 (May 4, 2014): 791–803, doi:10.1080/00343404.2013.878799.
 Hardman Agribusiness is a lead investment consulting agency for agribusiness enterprises. See “Hardman Agribusiness,” Argibusiness Consultants, Hardman Agribusiness, (2016), http://www.hardmanagribusiness.com/.
“Colombia – Overview: National Biodiversity.” UN Science Body | Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD). UN Convention on Biological Diversity, 2016. https://www.cbd.int/countries/?country=co.
“The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) | Cocoa Producing and Cocoa Consuming Countries.” International Cocoa Organization. ICCO.org, 2016. http://www.icco.org/.
Thomas, Evert, Maarten van Zonneveld, Judy Loo, Toby Hodgkin, Gea Galluzzi, and Jacob van Etten. “Present Spatial Diversity Patterns of Theobroma Cacao L. in the Neotropics Reflect Genetic Differentiation in Pleistocene Refugia Followed by Human-Influenced Dispersal.” Edited by Dorian Q. Fuller. PLoS ONE 7, no. 10 (October 24, 2012): e47676. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047676.
“U.S. Agency for International Development.” The United States Agency for International Development. USAID From the American People. Accessed May 9, 2016. https://www.usaid.gov/.
The country of Brazil is known for many things, including samba, sandy beaches, and of course, beautiful women. True, the country has all of these things in abundance, but beneath the surface there exists many more wonderful attributes. I discovered Brazilian chocolate on my first visit to Brazil, in June of 2007. Newly married, my husband took it upon himself to introduce me to his culture and heritage, and so one of the very first places we went was his neighborhood candy and newspaper shop. I recall the selection being enormous, and I tried many different types of candy, but it was the chocolate that kept me coming back daily for more. My favorites at this time were all made by a company called Garoto, under the parent company Nestle (they own Garoto but operate separately).
Garoto, a bean-to bar company that was established in 1929, is today one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in Brazil, along with Barion and Mondélez. These three companies own nearly 75% of the market share in Brazil. The remaining 25% is shared between several smaller, premium chocolate companies, including Kopenhagen and Cacau Show. It is only in the last ten years or so that premium chocolate has become desirable for the Brazilian market, and only very recently has organic and fair trade chocolate even been introduced to the country. And this is for a country that produces over 350 thousand tons of cocoa per year, is home to more than 50 thousand cocoa farmers,and is in the top four chocolate producers in the world (Brazil Business, 2015).
To get an idea of the role chocolate played in Brazilian culture, I interviewed one of my closest friends in Brazil. Her replies were originally in Portuguese; for the purposes of this post I have translated her replies as accurately as possible.
What chocolates do you remember most from your childhood?
Yes, well, we ate a lot of candy when I was a child! My mother had an account so we could have anything from the little store. My favorite was Baton, which means lipstick in Portuguese…a chocolate in the shape of a lipstick. It was the best thing to have this chocolate on Sundays…we would watch the races on TV, do you know Ayrton Senna, Formula 1? And enjoy Baton, Serenata de Amor, Diamante Negro…and it was family, and tradition. Every time I eat this chocolate now I remember those Sundays.
What chocolates do you and your family enjoy today?
My children will eat many of the same things I have liked…for me now these things have too much sugar, they taste too sweet. I prefer very dark chocolate, maybe 70% cacao or more. My husband also, he really loves 90% cacao but this is very difficult to find, usually only when we travel outside of Brazil to USA we can find this at your supermarkets. Whole Foods has many, many chocolates we love! But my children, they do not like American chocolates…I think the taste is strange for them, unfamiliar.
Several years after my first trip to Brazil, I had the opportunity to return for three months. Progress marches on in all respects, but with regards to the chocolate market I noticed how things had changed…all of my same favorites were there, but there were a couple of new and popular places in the large shopping centers that everyone was recommending. The first one I visited was Kopenhagen, a premium chocolate shop.
It was obvious that they were trying to sell the upscale premium chocolates to a more discerning consumer. The menu included such things as European Hot Cocoa (a very thick melted chocolate drink), handmade truffles, and my personal favorite, a chocolate and marshmallow concoction called Nha Benta.
I also visited a place called Cacau Show, which specialized in many different flavors of bonbons displayed in a tower. Whereas Kopenhagen focused primarily on the consumer, Cacau Show catered more to the gift market, offering a large selection of colorful prepackaged options in every price range.
But why had it taken so long for premium chocolate products to become popular in Brazil? According to Dartmouth History Professor Timothy Walker, it all goes back to the slave labor in Brazil’s past. Up until the early 19th century, nearly all cacao was produced by slaves. After the abolitionist movement, production declined steeply, even exploitative labor proctices were still a widely occuring problem. Chocolate became an expensive commodity at this point and national consumption declined. This began a push towards exportation, and today accounts partly for why approximately 90% of Brazil’s cocoa is exported. (Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil, 2007).
I asked my friend if she knew about this part of chocolate’s history in Brazil; she replied that she knew a little, but not much, and that it wasn’t really something she thought about on a daily basis. She seemed interested in exported and imported chocolates, so I continued the interview.
Have you had chocolate from other countries? If so, how does it compare in your opinion?
Yes, I have had Swiss chocolate, American, and British. The different types have different tastes…Swiss is very creamy while American is too sweet…and the British also. Brazilian chocolate to me tastes very rich and smooth.
Do you give chocolates as gifts? If so, what kind do you buy?
It’s common to do this…we give welcome gifts all the time, usually wine or liquor, with chocolates. For this we go to an expensive place, Kopenhagen or Cacau Show in the shopping mall…sometimes a bakery for special bonbons. It’s an important thing in Brazilian culture, this giving of chocolates. It means friendship and respect…and if you receive chocolates you must offer to share, it’s good manners.
During my most recent trip to Brazil last year, I noticed that in addition to the traditional and premium chocolate offerings, there were several new players in the cocoa game. Amma Chocolate, Nugali, and Harald, just to name a few. Amma specializes in “tree to bar, organic chocolate making” with an emphasis on sustainble farming practices. Their website offers a welcome transparency about their processes.
Nugali and Harald, by comparison, offer single-origin chocolate, mainly for domestic consumption, that has the distict terroir of Brazil. According to Bill Nesto, writing for Gastronomica, terroir is complicated to explain, but easy to taste. Generally speaking it is the particular combination of factors that combine to represent the chocolate’s particular origin (Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate, 2010). Brazilian chocolate, explains a Nugali representative, has an underlying flavor reminiscient of banana, with a tiny hint of citrus (Single Origin Brazilian Chocolate, 2015). I asked my friend if she had any interest in these newer products.
Do you look for products that have organic or fair trade labels on them? What does that mean to you?
I like to buy organic chocolate when I can find it…it is a newer thing here, organic products…and it is much more expensive, maybe triple the price of ordinary products…but I think it’s better for my health. I have seen Fair Trade on some types but I don’t really know what that means. But again, very expensive for many Brazilian people.
Do you consider chocolate to be healthy, as in, do you feel that it offers you some health benefits?
Yes the antioxidants I have read about I feel are good for me…this is partly why I prefer dark chocolate. I have a nutritionist…she says to eat one square of dark chocolate per day. But also, my trainer at the gym says no sweets so I don’t know! I don’t know if there are any other benefits. I believe the commercial chocolates in the supermarket have too much sugar to be healthy. But also, there is a benefit to my mind…chocolate makes me happy, so I like to do what makes me happy. I don’t think a little sweets will hurt me in the long run. I think my trainer is too strict about this, so I don’t mention it!
Dark chocolate has health benefits that go beyond antioxidants, according to recent studies. In particular, consuming chocolate has shown to be beneficial for cardiovascular health, including fighting diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease (Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health, 2012). Furthermore, consumption of theobromine (a main component of chocolate) has shown promising reductions in the risk of preeclampsia, a dangerous medical condition that can affect pregnant women (Chocolate Consuption in Pregnancy, 2008).
Has any of the information I’ve shared with you today changed your views on chocolate, or changed the way you will buy it in the future?
Of course; I am always interested in healthy improvements to my life. I will share this about chocolate with my pregant women friends…that is very good news, and a good reason to eat more chocolate. I would like to learn more about Fair Trade also. If I can I will look for more organic chocolates in the future. And try to get my children to eat more dark chocolate, though that won’t be easy!
In conclusion, the gourmet chocolate market is a new and emerging sector in Brazil, one that I will be interested in watching in the coming years. Hopefully on future visits to the country I will continue to find and explore the many wonderful ways that Brazilians put their particular zest for life into the very chocolate they make.
“Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12.1 (2012): 43-52. Web.
“Chocolate Market in Brazil.” The Brazil Business. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2016.
Nesto, Bill. “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica 10.1 (2010): 131-35. Web.
“Single Origin Brazilian Chocolate to Compete alongside Lindt and Godiva in the U.S.” ConfectioneryNews.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2016.
Triche, Elizabeth W., Laura M. Grosso, Kathleen Belanger, Amy S. Darefsky, Neal L. Benowitz, and Michael B. Bracken. “Chocolate Consumption in Pregnancy and Reduced Likelihood of Preeclampsia.” Epidemiology 19.3 (2008): 459-64. Web.
Walker, Timothy. “Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th–19th Centuries) 1.” Food and Foodways 15.1-2 (2007): 75-106. Web.
Chocolate has fallen from its archaic divinity; as industrial chocolate manufactures, such as Hershey, Ghirardelli, Cadbury, Mars, L.A. Burdick and the multitudes of other small and large confectionary manufactures have strategically subverted religion and evaded the creation of a static definition of what can be classified as health food (Off, 2008). This has been done on a global scale (Allen, 2010). Yet, for all of the exploitation of natural and human labor resources in the mad capitalist race to net exponentially larger profits, methods of chocolate consumption have changed. Chocolate has invaded every home in America and continues to spread into even the most remote regions of the world were chocolate is merely grown as a exported market good (and the farmers have never tasted the finished product) (Leissle, 2012) (Martin 2016) (Stuckey, 2012). Modern chocolate consumption has continuously increased and transformed from a relished delicacy into an addiction, one that has fostered a cultic fanaticism in its omnipresence in American culture (Martin, 2016). Chocolate addiction has been fostered by dynamic consumption practices, various health benefits, ideals of beauty, sexualization of female chocolate consumption, and the reframing of sales advertisements to secularize and/or create holidays revolving around chocolate consumption (Leissle, 2012) (Howe, 2012) (Robertson, 2009) (Martin, 2016). Addiction is an all encompassing cultural mindset which has gone further in the continued liminal state of chocolate’s meaning to contemporary American society (Benton, 2004) (Robertson, 2009). Average American households often are not aware that their chocolate consumption is irrevocably linked to the various external methods of ideological implantation of chocolate as a religious iconographic good. A brief ethnographic analysis of an average New England household, comprising of my future in-laws, engenders a radical deviation from chocolate as a coveted, addictive necessity and furthers chocolate’s ideological transformation by coming full circle to again reify chocolate’s worship as a physical manifestation of divinity.
Cacao, or Kakawa, is a substance similar to maize, corn, in its purveyance in Mesoamerican culture and religious iconography (Coe & Coe, 2013). Cacao is also shown in Mayan iconography to have been conflated with the Maize god, this has rendered archaeological interpretations of cacao as the food of the gods (Coe & Coe, 2013). Ancient associations of cacao with the food of divinity has not been lost in modern methods of advertisement (Leissle, 2012). Even analyses of chocolate advertisements can be interpreted to illustrate that chocolate and divinity are intrinsically linked. Capitalism has not so subtlety transformed and secularized religious holidays by constructing the consumption of chocolate as a ritualized activity, in which participants (consumers) will be glorified and feel euphoria through acts the giving and receiving chocolates (Martin, 2016) (Robertson, 2009). Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and even the forty days of Lent have all become associated with chocolate consumption (Coe & Coe, 2013). Lent is the most indicative of chocolate’s association with divinity, through its construction as a vice (particularly for women) which should be avoided so as to liken oneself to the divinity of Christ’s fast and then temptation by Lucifer in the desert. My fiancée’s (F) family is traditionally Irish-Catholic, like much of the greater Boston area, and has their roots firmly set in the nomenclature of religious etiquette. However, like many religious followers, they merely retain a religiously linked ethnic identity. This is not to say that they do not follow a set of religious rituals that underpin their daily lives, but the god (chocolate) to which they devote both cognitive and subconscious worship, is revealed through the family’s vocalization and ritualization of chocolate consumption. Through almost a year of total emersion into their household I have observed both passively and actively their emphasis on the importance of ritual chocolate consumption. By cooking, and baking, with the father (FD); observing F’s sister’s food habits (FS); and through consensual approval to inquire about their chocolate habits during informally structured interviews, I have captured a snapshot of the ethnographic phenomenon by which chocolate has been re-deified.
Anonymity Disclaimer: all proper names are changed to protect anonymity and personal privacy.
The demographic biological sex ratio in my fiancée’s family, including myself, is three females to two males. I entered their household in June 2015, as it was the most convenient way to save up money for our wedding and attend school. My fiancée and her sister both have severe cases of mental illnesses, and have self-proclaimed themselves vegetarians, which has inhibited their ability to consume a wide variety of food products. Prior to my debut, F’s family cooked for and brought FS any food that FS desired, while FS was unable to leave her bedroom due to severe agoraphobia. During this period and into the first several months of living with the F-in-laws, the father (FD) and mother (FM) brought FS mass quantities of sweets (per her request)- the vast majority of which contained chocolate in some form. These sweets were then incorporated into FS’s daily diet through both home cooked treats and purchased delicacies. So pervasive was chocolate into the kitchen and pantry, I could not open the refrigerator without stumbling upon 8 out of 10 items containing chocolate. Even F considered pancakes unsatisfying is they did not contain chocolate chips, accompanied by chocolate milk, and chocolate croissants, from FD’s crafting or purchased from the local French bakery. Upon my alien perspective into this near total emersion of chocolate into every aspect of nutrition, as I prefer recipe purity without the forced inclusion of chocolate, F’s mother (FM) made it quite clear that the extant to which chocolate was considered medicinal. Even long-standing family recipes, such as their grandmother’s scone recipe, that originally contained fruit changed to substitute chocolate chips; this was celebrated not only by F’s immediate family but the extended relatives as well. F, FD, and FM prefer dark chocolate; FS prefers milk chocolate. Methods of dietary consumption are among the easiest to witness, but also the amount to which F’s family purchases or crafts feminine hygiene products known to contain cocoa butter, and the amount of objects, utensils, and other paraphernalia used in the consumption, production, promotion, or distribution of chocolate.
Saying that their mass consumption of all things chocolate is a product of the historical engendering of chocolate as healthy for dietary consumption limits the extent to which FM’s concept of medicinal use resonates with the subjectivity of healthy consumption (Albritton, 2012) (Watson, Preedy, & Zibadi, 2013). FS suffered tremendous weight gain from overconsumption of carbohydrates and sugars (Albritton, 2012), most in the form of chocolate pastries and confections, but FM continued to supply these “medicinal” chocolates. In accordance with popular conceptions of the medicinal use of chocolate, it historically has been linked to a healthy state of mind and postulated to aid the treatment of mental illnesses such as “hypochondriac melancholy“(Watson, Preedy, & Zibadi, 2013). FM’s utilization of chocolate as a medical ritual to expedite the healing of FS’s mental faculties echoes: the Mesoamerican use of cacao as a restorative of the deities, the early European adoption of cacao as a similar but secularized restorative devoid of divine embodiment, and contemporary literature on chocolate’s ability to illicit pleasure responses from the brain. Contemporary concepts of chocolate’s medicinal use illuminate the chocolate industry’s persistent norms of advertisement and the increase of processed sugar consumption and sugar additives into nearly all forms of processed foodstuffs. Yet FM’s use goes beyond these analyses and parallels the sentiments that “‘chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea, and universal medicine'” (Coe & Coe, 2013: 206). While FM’s use may be a product of the historical connections of chocolate and sugar with pleasure and medicine, through the incorporation of chocolate into the entirety of the family’s diet, chocolate has been ritualized and elevated beyond the simple medicinal binary to that of a religious deity, with whom daily worship will foster inner-peace, health, and happiness in its followers. FM’s deification of chocolate retains striking parallels to the Christian description of a personal daily relationship with God, as advertised by the Bible.
F’s family’s ritual utilization of chocolate’s medicinal benefits are the product of historical polemics concerning the increase of sugar consumption, the socio-economic shift of chocolate from Mesoamerican stable to European luxury to plebian stable, and subliminally engendering advertisements (Coe & Coe, 2013). Sugar has been directly linked to diabetes, obesity, and increasing addictive behaviors, akin to drug addiction, through it’s association with pleasurable reinforcement as a reward (Benton, 2004)(Mintz, 1985). The historical shift in utilizing sugar as a preservative (Goody, 2013) directly led to the chocolate industry’s use of sugar as a stabilizing agent which also happened to increase sweetness aka. desirability, and thus “unintentionally” producing a method of engendering consumer addiction for chocolates at a early stage of industrialization (Brenner, 1999) (D’Antonio, 2006: 107) (Mintz, 1985). By keeping in context the link between sugar and addiction, the increase of sugar in chocolate opened new possibilities of advertising. Not only was chocolate now sweet, it also had been historically constructed as medicinal; it could now be produced in vast quantities previously unavailable until the industrial revolution (Brenner, 1999) (Coe & Coe, 2013). Chocolate could now be produced cheaply, containing adulterated products and sweeteners, masking the purity of the roasted cacao bean’s savory nature, and enabled new advertising strategies, informed by chocolate’s newly found socio-economic versatility (Stuckey, 2012) (Allen, 2010). These advertising campaigns have been able to pander to chocolate’s versatility in its ability to render multiple positive responses from consumers. F’s family utilization of chocolate as a restorative “cure-all” is the product of sugar’s addictive qualities, but their daily, weekly, monthly consumption of chocolate as a dietary necessity (only in the manner to which it produces a mental release of endorphins via the sugar and the Pavlovian association of chocolate with sugar) goes beyond this sweet binary to echo the mental and physical rejuvenation that religious ritual produces (Benton, 2004).
Mars’ Snickers campaign “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry, Snickers Satisfies” illustrates the multi-faceted approach that the Mars company takes in its marketing (Brenner, 1999). Mars’ advertisements embody the concept of satisfaction through one of it’s original marketing strategies to simply make a larger candy bar cost the same as the competition’s small one, through the incorporation of peanuts, caramel, and nougat (the primary ingredient of two of these is sugar)(Brenner, 1999). The campaign simultaneously engenders the concept that the Snickers’ bar will satisfy the physical manifestation of hunger and that the consumption of the candy will elevate the psyche back to normalcy (Benton, 2004). This engenders the ritualization of chocolate consumption as a divine facilitator of both inner (mental) and outer (physical hunger) peace; thus similarly paralleling the act of taking communion at Catholic Mass, this advertisement reifies a foodstuff to miraculously facilitate the divine restoration of the mortal self. F’s family reflects this theological embodiment of chocolate consumption as a canonized ritual, yet this advertisement does not alone explain why the three women are so captivated by chocolate’s allure.
Hershey’s Dove chocolate campaign (above) has a clear agenda engendering a gender stereotype of women being the primary consumers of chocolate (Robertson, 2009). F’s family represents this as the three women (F, FS, and FM) are the primary consumers of chocolate, while FD is the primary facilitator of consumption through his production of meals and snacks that prominently incorporate chocolate. This stereotype of women as chocoholics is rooted in historical contexts and has long been debunked as an “[addiction not] to chocolate but to sugar” (Robertson, 2009) (Coe & Coe, 2013: 260) (Benton, 2004). However, no matter the scientific or psychological realities of sugar addicts (Benton, 2004), this advertisement embodies chocolate’s reconstructed relationship with divinity by directly linking the consumption of Dove chocolate with the Mesoamerican concept of deification of oneself through the consumption of divine foodstuffs: particularly in their artistic conflation of the Maize god with cacao trees (Coe & Coe, 2013: 39), and through Mayan recipes mixing maize and cacao (Tokovinine, 2015). The Maya considered all objects to be of divine embodiment (Tokovinine, 2015), particularly those containing maize, which they believed was the physical embodiment of their physical selves as they were created from sacred Maize, stated in their sacred origin text the Popul Vuh, and were also divinely given the sacred crops of maize and cacao for consumption (Coe & Coe, 2013). By conflating the Maize god with a cacao pod the Mayans set a ritual precedent for the divine consumption of chocolate as enabling humanity to transcend into a divine state of epiphany. The Dove advertisement then conflates this ancient cultic practice with the more modern concept of women as the primary consumers of chocolate. Women, constructed in the advertisement as the downtrodden and oppressed gender (Bourdieu, 2001), can escape this existence through consuming chocolate and experiencing their own “moment” or existential epiphany outside of this oppression (Robertson, 2009). F’s family’s near unilaterally gender-stratified consumption of chocolate represents the religious epiphany of transcendental existence, which also reinforces the earlier discourse concerning chocolate as a parallel of Communion. Chocolate consumption now enables modern humanity to embody divinity.
Hershey furthers this gender binary of chocolate consumption through Dove’s “Only Human” advertisement campaign, which in chocolate consumption provides and escape from being female (Benton, 2004). The women are shown to be weak and “Only Human,” but Dove chocolate then provides a “real” comfort from the harsh realities of femininity (Benton, 2004). Going beyond this advertisement’s sexist engenderment, chocolate can now be associated with another of religion’s coveted abilities: the offerance of sanctuary. Chocolate makes the difficulties of human existence tolerable by offering brief sanctuaries, at the ‘moment’ of consumption, meta-physically separated from the human experience. The sanctuary that chocolate provides in these ‘moments’ parallels the sanctuary offered to praticioners of prayer, which provide a ‘moment’ with divinity meant to rejuvenate and make right the pain of a human existence. F’s family’s incorporation of chocolate into nearly all foodstuffs is now clearly representative of ritual prayers for protection from the evils and difficulties of a modern human, explicitly female, existence.
Other modes of ritual chocolate consumption are woven throughout the family’s daily lives: that of hygienic products. It has been well documented that cocoa butter, made from hydraulically pressing cacao liquor (Coe & Coe, 2013: 255), is highly effective in the treatment and prevention of various skin, and hair ailments. Placement of cocoa butter into hygienic products echoes both Baptism and the Catholic ritual of the Anointment of the Sick. Both of these religious rituals engage in a ritual purification of the body and soul. Chocolate can be religiously vindicated through the purification of the human existence, and divinely heal the physical manifestations of the human condition. Dissenters, who would disagree with this statement, are to be reminded of the Christian Science movement, whose belief in the healing power of prayer is thought to heal all physical ailments (thought to be sins’ physical manifestations), and scientific medical treatments are spurred as sinful disregard of God’s will (Norton, 1899). Thus a conflated argument to be made is that the consumption of chocolate is equal to prayer, regardless of the science behind cocoa butter’s ability to remedy topical ailments of the skin and hair. Even through dissent, contemporary chocolate consumption has reified itself as divine through F’s family’s hygienic self anointment with sacred cocoa butter.
Ritual can be identified easily through archaeological interpretation of material culture- that is to say, the artifacts by which rituals are carried out with. Chocolate manufacturing has built megalithic structures dedicated to the continual production of chocolate, such that entire communities sprung into existence to support its cultic fanatical production. Milton Hershey’s factory communes illustrate this quite succinctly (Brenner, 1999)(D’Antonio, 2006). Even the consumption of chocolate has ritual implements, such as: stylized porcline serveware, chocolatière, and the appropriated Mesoamerican molinillo (Martin, 2016). F’s family does not have all such ritual implements as modern technology’s updated versions of the chocolatière and molinillo (serving kettle and whisks), but they do have stylized ceramic ware for the sole consumption of chocolate, indicated by the imprinted logo of L.A. Burdick (a chocolatier company). F’s house has designated chocolate cabinets for the storage of preserved “instant” chocolate beverages, edible chocolates, and hygenic cocoa products; while this cabinet space is shared with similar items for drink, eating, and hygeine, the totality of chocolate’s combination with these other products merely increases the variety by which chocolate’s ritual artifacts are incorporated into daily life.
Chocolate’s transtitional state speaks to the originial liminal state by which the Mayans contextualized their existence around divinity. Chocolate has come full circle in the historical utilizations and perperonderances by which chocolate consumption has been stereotyped, redefined, and ritualized. Through the analysis of F and her family’s cultic ritual habits of chocolate, they are revealed to be the ultimate by-product of a centuries-long polemic that has created a new world religion focused on the ritualized production and consumption, based on an engendered, constructed faith that chocolate is divinely able to elevate the human condition out of the mire of oppression, through psychological and physical restoration of peace, harmony, happiness, and self-satisfaction.
Albritton, R. (2012). Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry. In Food and Culture: A Reader (3rd ed., pp. 342-352). S.l.: Routledge.
Allen, L. L. (2010). China and Chocolate: East Meets West. In Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers (pp. 7-39). New York: American Management Association.
Allen, L. L. (2010). Going the Distance: China’s 10L Chocolate Race. In Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers (pp. 201-223). New York: American Management Association.
Allen, L. L. (2010). One Country, Three Centuries. In Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers (pp. 1-6). New York: American Management Association.
Presilla, M. E. (2009). The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes (Revised ed.). Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Robertson, E. (2009). Chapter One: ‘A deep physical reason’: Gender, race, and the nation in chocolate consumption. In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (pp. 18-63). Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Robertson, E. (2009). Chapter Three: ‘There is no operation involved with cocoa that I didn’t do’: Women’s experiences of cocoa farming. In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (pp. 91-131). Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Robertson, E. (2009). Chapter Two: ‘The Romance of the Cocoa Bean’: Imperial and colonial histories. In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (pp. 64-90). Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Askinosie Chocolate is actively involved in chocolate production from bean-to-bar. More importantly, it is a model company that is driving change in how the industry treats farmers – the most exploited group in the chocolate industry. Through their business practices, the key players in Askinosie Chocolate’s supply chain practice kujengana – Swahili for “to build each other up.” Askinosie Chocolate founder and CEO, Shawn Askinosie, specializes in craft chocolate, meaning that they are involved in direct trade and the entire supply chain which helps them address social issues like child slavery and farmer exploitation. The company also has a reputation for its social and economic programs that benefit the farming communities and cooperatives. With few exceptions, the company counters racial and gender biases that seem to be pervasive in other big chocolate companies. In an industry that pays farmers very little, ignores child slavery, focuses on profit over quality, and fails to promote economic benefits, Askinosie stands out as a voice of change.
Active Supply Chain Management and Direct Trade. Askinosie Chocolate is an industry leader in promoting Direct Trade and working with the farmers. Shawn Askinosie has stated that “we do not source our beans from any location, unless I’ve been there.” Askinosie meets and conducts direct trade with the farmers, and pays above Fair Trade premiums for the beans which is often times more than double the standard commodity price. They attempt to cut out as many brokers as possible to lower costs. While Askinosie hires a customs brokering firm for exportation/importation of commodities, the company bears the responsibility of navigating through bureaucracy and is responsible for a vast amount of the administrative work moving the beans from the farm to factory.
Figure 1. As an example of their limited ingredients, their “Cortes” Honduras bar consists of: single origin 70% chocolate (67% cocoa liquor, 3% cocoa butter, pressed in their factory) with cocoa beans sourced directly from farmers in Cortes, Honduras, plus 30% organic can sugar. (Askinosie 2016)
Direct trade is critical for a craft chocolate company, giving them some leverage in how they receive the crop. Since their products contain few ingredients, the ingredients must be high quality. In Askinosie’s basic chocolate bars, the ingredients list is limited to cacao liquor, cacao butter, and organic sugar cane. The company does not add extra ingredients (i.e., vanilla) or emulsifiers (i.e., lecithin) into their products, like most companies. In comparison, Hershey’s bars sometimes contain as little as 11-20% cacao, sugar, powdered milk, lecithin, other emulsifiers, vanilla, and artificial flavors. Because their products are low-processed, quality and terroir are important to their business. The terroir plays into how they craft their chocolate using the subtle nuances in the flavors of the beans from different geographic regions. Beyond the flavors of beans themselves, Askinosie offers more than just basic chocolate bars. In some bars, they incorporate fruits, spices, and nuts to give a variety and depth of flavors. While they have not focused on highly elaborate artisanal designs or modern chocolate art, they have incorporated different designs in their products and bars to offer some artisanship.
Askinosie takes an active approach and gets into a deeper level of granularity in regards to farming practices. In a profit-sharing relationship, Askinosie educates and guides farmers in how certain processes will increase quality. By increasing the quality, he highlights the correlation in sales; there is a vested interested in producing and only introducing high quality beans in the shipments to Askinosie Chocolate. For contextualization, the partnership allows him to make suggestions in how he wants beans fermented which has a drastic impact on the flavor of the beans. The practice of organic farming translates to what consumers are wanting. Additionally, he understands terroir and uses that in his product creativity calculus.
“We are so hyper-focused on quality it’s crazy. It’s one of the reason I travel so much, I’m constantly tasting beans and testing beans and looking at the harvest practices so that the quality is better and better.” – Shawn Askinosie (Askinosie 2016)
Taking humanitarian efforts further, he offers business practice advice to locals and to farmers. The firm is also involved in the “Stake in the Outcome” (SITO) program that is a profit-sharing and equity program. In addition to providing profit sharing with his employees, Mr. Askinosie does transparent profit sharing with the farmers. SITO is a novel business concept that really bring people together because they are involved in the trajectory of the business. They have a stake in the business, and are working together for something bigger than just a simple paycheck. The founder of SITO, Jack Stack, describes it as a “vehicle of change.” The adoption of SITO by Askinosie complements his Kujengana efforts.
When a company such as Askinosie forges an unshakable bond with farmers, it also benefits its consumers as it provides a platform for traceability. Traceability is another concept that allows consumers to learn more about where their food comes from and how the process works. This is important for sales because people are becoming increasingly food conscious – about what is in their food and its origins. When consumers have more information about where their food comes from, they seem to feel a connection with producers. Askinosie’s website has a “Learn” section that describes the origins and origins travelogue. In 2009, it had a search function on its site to conduct virtual visits of some of the cacao bean farms in Mexico, Ecuador, and the Philippines. Traceability has practical purposes, not just for altruistic reasons. When there is a food safety problem, traceability helps businesses target the product(s) affected, and assists them in identifying where in the supply chain something may have occurred. By doing so, this limits profits loss and hastens response efforts. Since 2002, even U.S. Congress members have called for studies in traceability to better understand how the US can respond to food safety crises such as salmonella outbreaks.
Giving Back.Going beyond a social responsibility to ensure farmers receive an equitable portion of profits, Askinosie takes it a step further by being involved in their origin communities. Several communities, including Kyela, Tanzania and Davao, Philippines, has implemented a program called “A Product of Change.” In this program, they aim to feed children that have traditionally dealt with malnourishment issues. To accomplish this, Askinosie Chocolate teams with PTAs of local schools to offer school lunches.
The Product of Change program moves beyond their main business of chocolate production to help communities and PTA administration to produce products other than the cacao beans. In Kyela, Tanzania, they produce premium rice. In Davao, Philippines, they produce cacao rounds. This simple business has profound effects. When people buy the Kyela rice or the Tableya cacao rounds, it provides lunch for children that may not have an opportunity to eat throughout the day, with malnutrition or hunger possibly hindering learning. The Product of Change program is sustainable because it is donation free.
Figure 2. The photograph shows food being distributed for school children who would otherwise typically eat just once per day. The nourishment helps them mitigate hunger, ostensibly aiding them in focusing on studies.
“A bag of rice or a block of cocoa might seem insignificant, but through these goods, children have access to reliable, healthy daily school lunch and, ultimately, a better education. The bonus is that they also get to see this business model of sustainability as a solution to social problems.” (Askinosie Product of Change 2016)
To monitor and evaluate Product of Change’s impact, Askinosie monitors the student’s height, weight, and arm circumference. They also collect data on attendance and test scores to correlate the biological data and education statistics. Askinosie claims that since the program’s inception, “90% of Malagos students have gained weight and achievement test scores are up 25%.”
Figure 3. During a guest speaking event at the University of Missouri, Shawn Askinosie shows a presentation slide that highlights the impact of the Tableya sales.Other statistics state on their website state that since the program’s inception, they have helped provide a total of 240,000 meals. Chocolate University. Askinosie Chocolate and Drury University teamed up to provide educational programs for children in Springfield, Missouri, and they named the non-profit, Chocolate University. The program exposes children to all aspects of the chocolate business, from understanding factory machinery, to business plans and concepts, to field trips to Africa and South America at the cacao plantations. Askinosie is the sole founder of Chocolate University. Another reason why education is so important is that it also helps address child slavery and gender equality issues as well.
The groups work can be seen in the below video.
Child Slavery. Despite multi-corporation agreements and international media attention, child slavery still exists today. Some of the big chocolate manufacturers have agreed to 2020 Commitment to eradicate child slavery by 2020; however, those promises have been in place for over a decade and some experts believe that child slavery has only become more prevalent. Recent estimates show there are at least 2.1M child slaves in West Africa alone; this figure is, shockingly, likely under-reported. Askinosie is engaged in being socially conscious and combating slavery by ensuring the farms they conduct business with do not perpetuate child slavery.
“More than one million children some as young as five are estimated to work in Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry, where they carry heavy loads, spray pesticides and fell trees using sharp tools, a report from Tulane University – New Orleans.” – Kieran Guilbert (Guilbert 2016)
Craft chocolate makers have been able to make a difference by introducing quality checks to see if there is child slavery on the farmer’s plantations. However, these constitute only a very small portion of the cacao worldwide compared to the major chocolate makers – Nestle, Mars, Hershey’s, Ferrero Rocher, and Cadbury’s. Nestle corporation netted $9.7B in 2014, compared to Askinosie’s $2M. Overall, it is easier for the craft and direct trade chocolate companies to ensure child slavery is not practiced on the origin farms where they derive their beans.
A late April 2016 New York Times article discusses how the International Cocoa Initiative is aiming to boost education to counter child slavery specifically in Cote d’Ivoire. The non-profit organization signed an agreement with the Ivorian government. The intent is to provide education as a long-term strategy. Education allows children to learn a separate trade besides cacao farming and harvesting or improve conditions to break the cycle of generational poverty. Dominique Ouattara, wife of the president and leading support of the ICI, echo those thoughts with her statement that, “Education is the alternative and the most effective long-term response in the fight against child labor.” (NYT 2016) Cote D’Ivoire’s civil war in 2011 exacerbated child slavery to the point where children involved in the cacao industry rose 51 percent to 1.3M in 2014 from 2008, according to a Tulane University report. (NYT 2016). Askinosie Chocolate has invested a lot of time and effort into educational programs, as well as other programs to improve lives in the communities with the children. Those long-term strategy initiatives work in tandem with the short-term (i.e., Direct Trade) requirements of no child slavery, to mitigate slavery from both angles.
Racism, Sexism, and Gender Equality. Askinosie Chocolate takes a very progressive and genuinely ethical approach to marketing. The wrapping on their chocolate bars show the farmers they conduct business with, not a generic African with exaggerated facial expressions. Their advertisements lack the sexism and refrain from exploiting sexuality and gender bias, as seen in other commercials where women lustfully indulge in chocolate. On the bar wrapping, Askinosie varies their designs. To honor the farmers, some include a photo of the farmer where they source their single-origin beans. Not all the farmers they conduct business with are male, there are female farmers as well. When they have profit-sharing meetings, they insist that both the farmer and the spouse present.
Another way they promote gender equality is through a funding a schooling initiative called the “Empowered Girls,” at Mwaya school in Tanzania. In Tanzania, approximately 53% girls graduate from form 1 to form 2 (~ 14 years of age). The educational stages for secondary level education would be Forms 1-4, and are the equivalent of a U.S. High School education stage. Forms 1 and 2, would then roughly equate to a freshman and sophomore years in the US. The Empowered Girls program also teaches the school girls self-esteem, sex education, and life skills to set them up for success. There are also awareness classes for boys, teaching and encouraging them respect women as well.
The education represents tremendous progress in terms of intangible efforts, but Askinosie also donates in the tangibles as well. Askinosie provides aid through providing text books, where there were none and only a chalk board. Additionally, the company has provided generators to power laptops, projectors, and screens to develop technology skills.
Figure 4. The graphic depicts an “Empowered Girls” session at Mwaya school, where Askinosie funded the program. Conclusion. Askinosie is the embodiment of kujengana. Askinosie Chocolate builds up its own employees, its own Springfield community, the cacao origin communities, and the farmers they do business with. They are selective in who they sell to making sure that their vendors values are aligned with their business practices. Moving from “bean to bar” to “bean to bar to shelf” helps ensure others, even vendors, are building each other up as well. By employing this business methodology, even the consumer can be part of the movement by purchasing their chocolate, and the Product of Change products (Kyela rice and Tableya cacao rounds). Consumers also can be involved through traceability by learning and promoting the practices Askinosie employs. Askinosie Chocolate actively engages with consumers by offering tours and tastings, and through social media via its website, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook page, are all ways to learn more. They achieve the spirit of Kujengana through addressing education, hunger, lack of potable water, exploited workers, countering child slavery, environmental sustainability, and lastly, providing a chocolate product that is consumed and enjoyed globally.
As I ponder the selections of chocolate available in my local Trader Joe’s , it is important to understand a bit of the history of chocolate that is included in The True the History of Chocolate by Coe & Coe .Cacao, Chocolate originated in Meso-America and is referred to as the “Food of the Gods” consumed by the elite and used in sacrifices to please the gods.
Did you know that unlike money cacao really does grow on the pods and barks of trees.The chocolate trees were scientifically named Theobroma cacao in 1753 by the “great Swedish Naturalist” Linnaeus (1707-78).
Raw Cacao beans don’t taste anything like the chocolate bars we consume. After the cacao beans are harvested the cacao and pulp are fermented once fermentation is complete the beans are laid out to dry in the sun. Once dried the beans are then sorted and roasted. After the beans are roasted they are winnowed and finally the cacao nibs that are used to make chocolate reveal themselves. The cacao nibs are naturally bitter therefore sugar and other ingredients are added when making chocolate to reduce the acidity and bitterness and increase the sweetness.
Sidney Mintz in his book Sweetness and Power reminds us that sugar and sweetness is introduced to us at a very young age , “the first non milk food that a baby is likely to receive in North American hospital is a 5% glucose and water solution used to evaluate its postpartum functioning because newborns tolerate glucose better than water.”(Mintz, 1985) The fondness for sugar influences the chocolate that we consume as “most Americans instinctively go for blends with a high West African cacao content – this is a dominant cacao in some mass-produced brands that most American have eaten since childhood that is naturally identified with full chocolate flavor. Americans gravitate towards very light chocolate.” ( The New Taste of Chocolate, p. 136) Sweetness is a preferred taste from a very young age Cacao and sugar go together sort of like peanut butter and jelly. Alone each tastes okay but together they taste wonderful.
Chocolate has always evoked pleasant happy memories for me. From my childhood I can remember the heavenly aroma of chocolate from the Lowney Chocolate Factory wafting through the air as we walked to school, the anticipation of devouring my grocery store chocolate Easter bunny after Mass and the way the chocolate icing on a Honey Dew Donuts éclair melts in your mouth in an explosion of chocolate mixed with Bavarian cream.
As I matured my love of chocolate did not waver and I stayed loyal to brands like Hersey and Nestle and for special occasions Godiva was the go to brand. Then one day in 1987 a local chocolate shop called Puopolo’s Candies opened nearby. As a big believer in supporting local business I felt that it was my duty to check out the new chocolate shop. It was heaven! The aroma and the wide assortment of chocolate confections was astounding. There wasn’t a Snickers, Milky Way or Kit Kat in the place and it didn’t matter because these chocolates didn’t require brand recognition as one could see, smell and anticipate the chocolate truffles melting smoothly on your tongue while the milk chocolate flavors come to life. I never knew exactly why I came to prefer the chocolate sold at Puopolo’s over Hersey, Nestle or even Godiva, until now.
The big chocolate manufactures like Hershey, Nestle and Godiva appeal to the masses for both taste and price of their products. The chocolate is made in huge factories using industrial equipment. Each batch of chocolate is made to taste exactly the same as the other so that there is no variation of taste, color or texture in the thousands of candy bars that are made each day. Chocolate manufactured in this manner is referred to as industrial chocolate.
Shops like Puopolo’s are known as chocolatiers’ that appeal to people who appreciate and will pay for high quality chocolate . Chocolatiers’ produce chocolate creations on a much smaller scale and create confections in small batches by melting large bars of chocolate.
Another player has come on the scene and companies like Taza chocolate are part of a growing movement of small companies that produce bean to bar products.
The bean to bar companies are conscious of the long history of exploitation in the chocolate industry including children being used as forced labor on cacao plantations. (Off, 2006) The bean to bar companies produce an ethical and sustainable product by controlling all stages of their chocolate making including choosing and grinding their own cacao beans.
The advantage of industrial chocolate for the consumer is that whether you purchase a Hershey bar in Alaska or Massachusetts the wrapper texture, color and taste of the chocolate will be the same. Whereas the smaller manufacturers including chocolatiers and bean to bar, aim to produce small unique batches of products. Cacao beans alone are bitter thus sugar and sometimes other flavorings like vanilla and milk are added to cocoa beans to make the chocolate bars more palatable. The more cacao content in a product the more intense the chocolate flavor which to many tastes bitter.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a local chocolatiers nearby so I set out to my local Trader Joe’s to utilize my new-found knowledge and analyze their chocolate section.
Mintz states ” food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions of age, sex, status , culture and even occupation.” (Sweetness and Power). Trader Joe’s is a slighty upscale, funky progressive full service grocery store who cater to their customers food and need to shop at a socially responsible store. Customers that shop here generally care about where and how the ingredients in their food come from . Trader Joe’s listened to their customers and according to the timeline listed on their website in 1997 they “made a commitment to eliminate artificial trans fats from all private label products (along with artificial flavors, artificial preservatives & GMO ingredients… but that’s old news by now).”
Trader Joe’s shoppers are diverse and span the socio economic scale. They want to feel as if they are being socially and environmentally responsible without spending a lot of cash. They will however spend a bit more for a product if it makes them feel like they are achieving the goals of being a responsible consumer. One such chocolate bar checks all those boxes the Fair Trade Organic Belgium Chocolate Bar is included in the wide selection of chocolate products that are displayed throughout the store. These bars were included in the chocolate bar section located at the back of the store at the end of an aisle near the milk. The majority of the chocolate bars were 3.5 ounces with price points between $1.99 for the Fair Trade Organic Belgium Chocolate bars , $2.99 for a Valrhona dark chocolate bar and for $4.99 you could purchase a milk and almond pound plus bar. There were quite a few chocolate products located in the impulse buy zone at the front of the store including dark chocolate peanut butter cups and chocolate covered almonds for $4.99 each.
As I strolled the isles I noticed some chocolate bars above the seafood section that had pretty and exotic looking labels. Upon closer inspection it is revealed that these are dark chocolate bars made with 70% cacao and delicious fillings like coconut caramel and toffee and walnuts. Along side these bars there was a 65% Dark Cacao bar that is made from single origin fairly traded beans from Ecuador. These chocolate bars highlight the cacao content to entice those that believe the claim that chocolate is good for your heart . However, James Howe advises that the claim that chocolate is heart healthy is not scientifically proven that chocolate consumption alone is the primary element in increasing cardiovascular health. ( Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health, 2012) The artwork depicts nature scenes to enhance the natural allure of these chocolate bars that are priced at just $1.89.
In spite From the lovely artwork and detailed descriptions highlighting the cacao content and country of origin of the beans it is clear from the price points of $1.89 that these are mass marketed industrial made chocolate bars covered in cleverly designed Trader Joe’s wrappers. The wrappers contain all the buzz words and images the consumer wants to see so they feel like they are purchasing socially responsible products. When I questioned the store manager about the private label chocolate bars he did not know what company Trader Joe’s bought the chocolate bars from however he assured me that they were made from the finest organic ingredients yet… only a few chocolate bars are labeled organic or Fair Trade.
The Trader Joe’s Chocolate truffles look decadent on the shiny red background of the package. They even provide directions on how to”taste these delicate truffles”. Trader Joe’s selections so far were on target for their consumers, good cacao content, some organic selections. therefore I was very surprised when the first ingredient listed in the Cocoa Truffles was vegetable oil , the second sugar and finally cocoa powder appears as the third ingredient. This was disappointing as it is not as high quality chocolate product as it appears and not consistent with the prior products viewed.
After reviewing the chocolate bar and other chocolate products at Trader Joe’s I’ve concluded that Trader Joe’s should expand their chocolate selections to include more Fair Trade chocolate products and add a few Bean to Bar and local chocolatiers products to the inventory. It would be a clear statement to Trader Joe’s customers and the chocolate industry that Trader Joe’s cares about ethics and is committed to providing their customers with more Fair Trade, organic and local chocolate products. While the typical Trader Joe’s customer appreciates a bargain , many would be willing to pay more for chocolate if they know that their purchase directly benefits the cacao farmer or the small business person. Trader Joe’s has the opportunity to make a difference in the chocolate industry if they go beyond selling private label chocolate bars and include bean to bar and local chocolate makers.
If you want to make an effort to consume Fair Trade organic chocolate the key is read the labels or find your local chocolate shop , either bean to bar or chocolatiers you won’t be disappointed.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
Mintz, S. W. (1986). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
“Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12.1 (2012): 43-52. Web.
The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ed. Maricel E. Presilla. New York: Ten Speed, 2009. 61-94. Print.
Carol Off, Bitter Chocolate: the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet.2006. The New Press. print.
From its origins, chocolate has been linked to notions of class, and, in particular, chocolate has been associated with upper class culture. Elites, from Mesoamerica to Baroque Europe, have been principal consumers of chocolate, devoted to perfecting the preparation and consumption of the commodity. For example, the European nobility built a complex material and social culture around chocolate, crafting specialized objects and recipes to enhance the quality and presentation of chocolate. (Coe and Coe, 125) However, as the historiography contends, from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, with mass production technologies and the rise of companies such as Hershey’s and Mars, chocolate was transformed from an elite privilege to a cheap commodity consumed widely throughout society, and sold at every corner store in America and throughout much of the world.
In my project, I seek to examine the extent to which chocolate remains linked to class, and re-evaluate the narrative that chocolate was transformed from an elite privilege into a universally consumed staple food, and today exists simply as a symbol of our universal sweet tooth. While the industrialization of food enabled chocolate to be consumed by the whole of society, I contend that recent trends in the chocolate industry, specifically the growth in fine chocolate producers and the increasing differentiations between different brands and products, particularly the new emphasis on Fair Trade, organic, single origin, and artisan, have cemented distinctions in food consumption as indicators of class and identity. By further analyzing the contemporary link between chocolate and class, we can learn more about food as a social differentiator, and individual consumption preferences.
The industrialization of food, and particularly the developments of preservation, mechanization, retailing and transportation, were central to democratizing access to food (Goody). Indeed, these innovations and “culinary modernism” generally “has provided…the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford” (Laudan, 40). However, the growing distinctions between different chocolate producers and types of chocolate, as I explored with a tasting and interviews with Harvard students, indicate the extent to which chocolate functions as a differentiator of class and consumers’ preferences for particular chocolates, show social identity.
“Taste has come to play a role in defining social ranking and identity… Taste as an aesthetic has become a sign of privilege” – Julie Guthman, Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow,” p. 497
Pierre Bordieu, French sociologist, anthropologist and author of Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, contended that “cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences” (Bordieu, 7). In this vein of thought, Julie Guthman argues that the growth of the organic industry was driven by “gentrification and the class differentiation that necessarily entailed” (Guthman, 497). The growth of the artisan chocolate industry, including organic chocolate, has been driven by similar factors, as producers recognize the opportunity to earn a devoted customer base by catering to an upper-class clientele who are inclined to consume distinctly “high-end” foods that separate them from, as one survey/tasting participant put it, “the Hershey’s consuming public.” For American producers, the craft business can be lucrative and satisfying, and allow them to compete in the international economy as they turn to gourmet shops, specialty stores, and community gatherings to target the bourgeois market and capitalize on the eagerness of more affluent Americans to buy specialized food (Eber, 155).
As Jim Eber notes in Raising the Bar: the Future of Fine Chocolate, there has been a recent explosion in the number of small manufacturers and chocolatiers (Eber, 144) and at the time of the book’s publication (2012), nearly fifty American fine flavor chocolate brands had been established in the past seven years (Eber, 155). Consumers are buying more fine cacao; premium chocolate accounted for $2.9 billion of the $20 billion in US chocolate sales in 2013, with an expected annual growth of 10% (Eber, 167). Author and philosopher Carolyn Korsmeyer argues in Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy that“the pursuit of taste for pleasure alone…seems a frivolous pursuit permitted only to a leisured few” (Korsmeyer, 1). Bordieu, too, argues that it is uniquely the “upper classes, who are more interested in treating food as an art form” (Korsmeyer, 89). The fine chocolate market is driven by the keenness of the wealthiest consumers to “indulge” in a distinctly gourmet treat, and one that is healthier from its mass-market, chemical-filled alternatives.
“Food has become the premier marker of social distinctions, that is to say — social class” – Adam Drewnowski, What Food Says About Class in America
To look further into this issue of chocolate preferences as related to social class and lifestyle, I conducted individual sampling/tastings with twenty Harvard College students. I selected six chocolate bars, and presented all six to each person that I spoke to, carefully explaining the details of each bar, before asking each student to answer a few questions. I asked the students to consider: 1) Are all of these chocolates appealing to you? 2) Which of these chocolates is most appealing to you and why? 3) Which of these chocolates is least appealing to you and why? 4) When choosing a chocolate to consume, what factors determine your preference? before sampling. Students were given the option to sample all six chocolate, but many declined to taste all. Here is a list of the chocolates I used, and the elements about each that I pointed out or read:
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate
Divine Dark Chocolate with Mint
Mast Goat Milk Chocolate
Dove Dark Chocolate
Taza 70% Dark Stone Ground
Dolfin 38% Cacao
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate: Purchased at CVS, note the large company logo emblazoned across the front.
Divine Dark Chocolate with Mint: Fair Trade label, Purchased at Cardullo’s,“Cocoa, vanilla, and sugar in chocolate: traded in compliance with Fairtrade Standards, total 94% of the product’s ingredients,” “Divine chocolate is made with the finest quality Fairtrade cocoa beans from Kuapa Kokoo, a co-operative of small-holder farmers in Ghana. The cocoa is grown in the shade of the tropical rainforest, and slowly fermented and dried in the sun by the farmers, who take great pride in the chocolate company they co-own.”
Mast Goat Milk Chocolate: Purchased at Cardullo’s,“Goat Milk Chocolate: Made in New York,” “60% Cacao, Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Goat Milk Powder”
Taza 70% Dark Stone Ground Organic Chocolate: Purchased at Cardullo’s,USDA Organic label, Taza Direct Trade Certified Cacao label, Non GMO Project Verified label, Certified Gluten-Free label, Dairy Free, Soy Free, Vegan Label, “Dominican Republic Single Origin,” “Organic,” “We keep the bean in the bar. We make stone ground, organic chocolate, Cacao is so complex in flavor that we want to let it shout loud and proud. That is why we do less to bring you more. We stone grind cacao beans into perfectly unrefined, minimally processed chocolate with bold flavor and texture, unlike anything you have ever tasted.”
Dolfin 38% Cacao: Purchased at Cardullo’s, “Made in Belgium,” “The Art of Blending, Natural & Tasty, Tradition & Quality,”
Dove Dark Chocolate: Purchased at CVS, Rainforest Alliance Certified Cocoa label, “Our special patented and proprietary Cocoapro process helps retain much of the naturally occurring cocoa flavanols.”
Fast food and organic/slow food are posed as class binaries (Guthman, 506). Likewise, as articulated through readings and demonstrated by my tastings and conversations with Harvard students, mass-market chocolates, such as Hershey’s and Dove, are perceived in opposition to “fine chocolate.” While the Harvard students I spoke with were not necessarily clear about the specific differences between different types of chocolate, they unanimously preferred the more expensive Mast, Divine, Dolfin, and Taza bars — I did not disclose exact price to my student subjects, although the different presentations of the bars serve as an indication of price — to the CVS-distributed Hershey’s and Dove varieties. When discussing the difference between these two groups, in relation to the chocolates we tasted, students used descriptors like “organic,” “better quality,” “artisanal,” “healthier,” “better for the environment and the world,” and “fair trade” to articulate why they preferred the above. “I prefer chocolate with a high quality reputation, whatever that means,” one student remarked when asked about his consumption preferences. “If someone offered me Hershey’s for free, like you are doing right now, I would never take it,” another added.
Most students selected their preferred chocolate on the basis of packaging, labeling, and/or percentage of cacao. Commentary included: “Either the Dolfin or Mast chocolate. Cute wrappers,” “I definitely prefer the pink one because it looks the best from the packaging,” and “I think I will like the Mast chocolate because the design is simplistic and modern.”
Angelo Agostoni, President of Italian chocolate producer ICAM, notes a recent “purist trend,” in which consumers have a preference for a “single origin, a bean type or a percentage of cacao” (Eber, 161). Many participants that I spoke to claimed that the main, or only, factor they considered when purchasing or consuming chocolate was the percentage of cacao. “I like to buy dark chocolate, at least 60 percent cacao,” one remarked. Participants did not seem as concerned with the origin of the cacao. “Other than the percentage, I don’t care about specific factors of the chocolate, like what country it comes from,” said another.
Curtis Vreeland of Vreeland & Associates, confectionary industry leader in market research and analysis, notes that premium chocolate is considered to be “chocolate selling for greater than $8.00 a pound… qualitative factors: better quality ingredients, better execution, upscale packaging etc” (Eber, 168). Are these distinctions significant beyond the price differential and their appeal to the high-end consumer? While fine cacao or fine chocolate is indeed sold at a higher price based on perceived quality (Martin, “Popular sweet tooths or scandal”), as we discussed in lecture, Fairtrade, Direct Trade, and organic certifications do not necessarily indicate a higher quality product. During my chocolate tasting, a participant recognized that her partiality for so-called natural or healthier products was likely grounded in rhetorical appeal, rather than objective quality distinction. After expressing her preference for the Taza bar, she noted the effectiveness of the slogan “Stone ground chocolate.” “Stone ground chocolate makes me think that the Taza chocolate is natural and artisanal, even though for all I know, all chocolate could be stone ground, or the stone grinding could have absolutely no effect on the taste of the chocolate,” she admitted.
As the commentary of my sample population of the Harvard student body indicates, the presentation of chocolate, including the retail channel, brand name, package design, information included on the packaging, phrasing of the information, and any included labels signal to the consumer whether or not the chocolate bar is one that they would want to consume, without any awareness of the taste of the actual product, or, in fact, perhaps despite the taste. A participant, who initially expressed her preference for the Divine bar, remarked that although she had not tried the brand before, “I like the Fair Trade aspect and not all the processed junk in it.” Upon sampling the Divine chocolate, she did not like the taste of the mint as much as she expected. However, she still asserted that she would prefer to eat the Divine bar over the Hershey’s bar, despite the fact that she preferred the taste of the Hershey’s. “I don’t want to eat a chocolate that I can’t imagine being sold at Whole Foods, such as Hershey’s. And even if I prefer the taste, I also assume that there are a ton of unhealthy chemicals that I don’t want to put in my body.” One student cited the relative difficulty of reading the list of ingredients in a Hershey’s bar as a concern: “You have to really fold back the flap and open the wrapper to read the list.”
For higher-income, highly educated consumers concerned with the consumption of socially conscious, healthy, or natural products, of which I will classify the population of Harvard students that I sampled as generally falling under, presentation and labeling are paramount. However, according to fine flavor industry experts, “up to 90% of what you read on the average chocolate package is “marketing” (or “lies” or “propaganda”)” (Eber, 169). Additionally, there are several major issues with certification labels specifically: certification is very costly for many farmers (who must bear a significant portion of the costs themselves) to obtain, and furthermore, there is little evidence of impact or higher quality associated with certification (Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”).
Looking to the future, it is important that we recognize the extent to which chocolate preferences, as representative of a larger trend in consumer behavior, are dictated by personal identity, social class, and lifestyle motivations, and the degree to which chocolate, like many other foods, is, often falsely, perceived as existing in dichotomy (e.g. mass market vs. fine). For the consumer who can afford to spend over $8 on a chocolate bar, likely in search of a product that is delicious, high quality, natural, healthier, and artisanal, as supported by research and personal inquiry, the presentation of the good is significant. Producers and consumers alike should evaluate the factors that draw an individual to a particular chocolate product to reflect on the influence of social milieu and the realities of the commodity.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. Print.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 1996. Print.
Goody, Jack. Fast Food/Organic Food: Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 72-88. Print.
Guthman, Julie. Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow”Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 496-509. Print.
Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy. Cornell UP, 2014. Print.
Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food.” Gastroeconomics: the Journal of Food and Culture 1.1 (2001): 36-44. Web.
Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe of Harvard Square has sold quality foodstuffs since 1950, offering both local and imported niche food items. Along with many other dessert foods, Cardullo’s has a significant chocolate inventory. Their chocolate bars range from ultra local Taza and Somerville chocolate, to imported European brands like Neuhaus and Milkboy. According to the owner, the chocolates are organized by brand location—America or Europe—and then largely by type of chocolate and cacao percentage, along with the organics being clustered together. Although the spread does not emphasize any particular brand, or contain much information about the bars other than what is on the wrappers, the owner stated that her customers generally know what they are looking for. As Cardullo’s has a boutique selection, this makes sense. Finally, when questioned on popularity of various brands, the owner concluded that the best sellers were Neuhaus, Godiva, and Taza. The chocolate selection at Cardullo’s captures a dichotomy in the consumption of chocolates—at a given price level, consumers seem to have to choose between haute patisserie and equitably sourced chocolate. In examining the differences between these chocolates, the factors underlying their price emerge from the mission of the brand and the intended audience.
I will spend the discussion on the most expensive chocolate brands, as this is where the most distinct differences between brands reveal themselves. At one of the highest price points of fifteen to twenty dollars, three choice categories emerge, providing a slight wrinkle on the dichotomy previously suggested but not invalidating it. First, there is the option of a small Taza chocolate assortment; second, a bar of Chocolate Bonnat; and third, a box of Godiva assorted chocolates. The Taza chocolate is visibly advertised as “Made in Massachusetts,” organic, and practicing direct trade. The Bonnat chocolate bars are more minimalist—their brand name occupies most of the bar’s cover, along with the silhouette of a cathedral in the background and the origin of the chocolate in smaller letters. The Godiva stands out gold and shimmery, with an oversized ribbon draped across. Thus, at this price point I would distinguish Taza as occupying the role of equitably sourced chocolate whereas Bonnat and Godiva share the spot of haute patisserie. What separates them, however, proves largely to be volume of product, but underlying that—and not immediately visible to the consumer—lies the truth that Chocolate Bonnat truly embodies the role of haute patisserie whereas Godiva does so mainly in appearance.
Taza chocolate commands a high price point because of the extreme care it takes in crafting its product with ethical concerns in mind, paired with a consumer base willing to pay a premium to support fair relationships with farmers and suppliers and to support organic agriculture.
Taza’s flagship program is the Direct Trade Certification. Taza Direct Trade, as outlined in the first page of the above Transparency Report, eliminates middlemen that would even be found in supposedly equitable programs such as Fair Trade. Taza directly purchases from select Certified USDA Organic and non-GMO cacao farmers, who “ensure fair and humane work practices.” Additionally, Taza pays at least $500 above market price for cacao, which equates to a 15-20% premium—much higher than the around 4% premiums given to Fair Trade farmers (Sylla, 2014). It is for this reason, along with Taza’s traditional methods of chocolate production at their Somerville factory, that Taza chocolate bars sell at a high price point. On the other side, however, are the consumers willing to pay for an equitable product. Some argue that companies touting fair trade are benefitting from consumers’ desire to feel good about themselves, and that, as Professor Martin notes, feel that “food as material culture can be consumed as a way to reflect one’s knowledge, worldliness and morality” (Sampeck & Martin, 2015, p.55). This can be problematic: for example, researcher Ndongo Sylla has stated, “Fair Trade is but the most recent example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market” (Sylla, 2014, p. 18). What Sylla argues is that the ‘invisible hand’ of the market indicated to suppliers that demand for equitably sourced product existed. So, certifications such as Fair Trade cropped up and companies changed their marketing strategies. But, Sylla thinks, these certifications and companies have not actually made a tangible change in shifting profit to farmers or bettering the living situations of impoverished suppliers; rather, they simply increase profit to companies. Taza’s Transparency Report proves an exception to this claim.
Although Taza chocolate is undoubtedly high quality, it does not (yet) occupy a niche filled primarily by European chocolatiers, confectioners, and chocolate makers. Though the word “haute patisserie” generally translates to a bakery that sells fancy products, when applied to chocolate, it refers to a product crafted with perfectionist attention to detail, extremely controlled ingredients and process, generally small batches, and a well defined desired effect, such as the notes of taste and smell and visual appeal (Eber & Williams, 2012). One could also instead use the more general designation, “haute cuisine.” Chocolate Bonnat epitomizes these qualities, with a price per bar to reflect it (Sampeck & Martin, 2015).
In fact, Bonnat has been at the forefront of a movement towards high quality, artisanal chocolates—in 1983, Bonnat pioneered the single-origin bar, with bars made from beans from one location only–see above multimedia link. Bonnat’s emphasis on taste provides results: for the past three years, Bonnat has won upwards of 5 gold and silver medals at the International Chocolate Awards (see below multimedia link for specific categories).
What jumps out in comparison between the Bonnat and Taza bars themselves, however, is that Bonnat displays no information about the nature of its cacao sourcing, other than the location. One might find it surprising not to see “USDA Certified Organic” or “Fair Trade Certified” emblazoned upon such an expensive product. This, however, emphasizes the difference between haute patisserie product and an equitably sourced one: Bonnat seeks to sell to a consumer focused on the prime gustatory experience, whereas Taza markets to a consumer who values supporting equitable trade. In investigating Bonnat’s sourcing practices, it appears that they practice some sort of direct trade, sourcing cacao beans from meticulously researched farming outfits. This makes sense, because Bonnat looks expressly for the highest quality product and for specific varieties of cacao bean, and as such is intimately involved in the purchase of their cacao. As Professor Martin notes in a paper on chocolate in Europe, actions of “haute cuisine” artisans “reflected a return to interest in terroir, or the sense of a place, in chocolate” (Sampeck & Martin, 2015, p.53). According to Bonnat’s mission statements in the above multimedia link, Bonnat spends five months a year exploring the world for just the right beans, and seeing as they move their sourcing frequently, perhaps a Fair Trade or Organic certification would not be the right fit. As such, Bonnat avoids to a degree the fetishization of fairly sourced goods talked about in the Taza case, where consumers want to make a statement about their own morality instead of actively caring about societal problems (Sampeck & Martin, 2015). Even though the cacao beans that Bonnat selects are probably farmed with organic techniques, it is important to note that Bonnat does not advertise as such, rather placing their strategy in the consumer’s desire for an intricate and curated product. Such demand has not existed long, however: anthropologist Susan Terrio writes, “In 1988 it would have been difficult to predict that French chocolatiers and their products would become, in the words of one well-informed Parisian observer, ‘un phenomene de societe,’ a societal phenomenon” (Terrio, 2000, p. 3). Since then, chocolate has become one of the high staples of gastronomic art and artisanal exposition, and Bonnat remains one of the paragons of this trend.
Though the artisanal chocolate wave began more recently, Europe—especially Belgium and Switzerland—have long been associated with the best chocolate and confectionary production (Terrio, 2000). As such, older and larger European chocolate companies have benefited from the elevation of chocolate in the international gastronomic stage, even if they do not practice the same meticulous craft as smaller producers. An example of such a company carried by Cardullo’s is Godiva Chocolatier, a Belgian company that has been operating since 1926 that makes both chocolate and confections. Godiva dwarfs both Taza and Bonnat in size, and its revenue numbers in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
At Cardullo’s one can by a box of eight Godiva chocolates for the equivalent of one bar of Chocolate Bonnat or a grouping of Taza disks. Whereas with Taza and Bonnat one can see the reasons underlying high prices—equitable sourcing and artisanal product, respectively, along with the use of fine grade chocolate—determining the pricing for Godiva presents a few more intricacies. As a large company, Godiva likely uses bulk grade chocolate, and while in the above multimedia link the company makes allusion to direct trade practices, without any certifications such claims do not mean much. Most of Godiva’s cost probably comes from the perceived notion of Belgian chocolate as superior and chique, even though its high-volume product does not reflect the values of “haute cuisine” products like Chocolate Bonnat. Godiva does not have any organic or fair trade certifications, which tend to contribute to a higher cost product. Rather, much of Godiva’s product is in the delivery and visuals: the fancy boxes and presentation make Godiva chocolate a good gift. While one cannot be sure as to how Godiva’s actions support unfair labor in cacao producing countries without some sort of transparency report like Taza provides, Godiva does claim to donate money to certain charities. In this way, Godiva indirectly supports sustainable practices, though the extent to which they donate is not shown.
The charities of note in the above multimedia link are the World Cocoa Foundation and the Cocoa Horizons Foundation. Though neither are certifying organizations, they appear to donate towards more sustainable cocoa growing practices and the building of infrastructure in impoverished agricultural areas. What worries me, however, is the fact that the World Cocoa Foundation claims to represent over 80% of cocoa production—as discussed in class, such large organizations are problematic for several reasons (see below link for WCF facts).
First of all, they promote inefficiency in being so large, and siphon significant proportions of the money meant towards charity as middle men operating costs. Second, such large organizations promote unionized or centrally organized farming operations, which hurt single growers. Third, in representing such a significant proportion of the industry, the WCF may end up catering to the wills of its donors, and end up helping large chocolate companies more than the farmers it is intended to aid. Finally, such a broadly defined charity may have trouble targeting the very individual problems affecting cocoa production, namely forced labor in smaller outfits, which a more direct company-producer relationship like Taza has would do more to prevent (Leissle, 2013).
Although price is often thought of an indicator of quality, in the search for the perfect chocolate product at Cardullo’s we see that price reflects a compilation of unique and diverse factors. These factors, in delving deeper into the companies represented, seem to sift out into two categories. In one category, high price results from a product that is equitably sourced, certified organic, supports locals, and is generally socially conscious, like Taza. In the other category, high price results from a status of haute cuisine, either real or implied. In the case of Bonnat, the haute cuisine designation results from an artisanal and small batch product with high production costs and time, verified by awards and pedigree. In the case of Godiva, the haute cuisine designation comes from reputation and mental image of Belgian chocolate being high quality, along with physical presentation of the product.
In exploring the price distinctions further, one could surmise that an element of social conscience is present in both cases. In the first, by purchasing Taza, one is socially conscious regarding the company and producers. In the second, by purchasing Bonnat or Godiva, one is more socially conscious regarding oneself—i.e. desiring the best tasting product or a product that designates oneself as conscious of haute cuisine. Thus, the simple proposition of purchasing a bar of chocolate at Cardullo’s metamorphoses into an introspection on the underlying motive for ones purchase, both individual and social.
Healy, K. (2001). Llamas, weavings, and organic chocolate: Multicultural grassroots development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture,13(3), 22-31.
Martin, C. D., & Sampeck, K. E. (2015). The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe. Socio.hu, (Special issue 3), 37-60. doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37
Sylla, N. S., & Leye, D. C. (2014). The fair trade scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
Terrio, S. J. (2000). Crafting the culture and history of French chocolate. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Whitmore, Alex, et al. (2015). “Taza Transparency Report.”
Williams, P., & Eber, J. (2012). Raising the bar: The future of fine chocolate. Vancouver: Wilmor Pub.