Tag Archives: chocolate consumption

Chocolate in Society and in Context

For many Americans, chocolate and chocolate products are a staple of any sweet dishes, and a marker of luxury. Consumers appreciate the versatility of chocolate, as it can be found in pastries, breakfast foods, desserts, and eaten on its own. Despite the course’s exploration on the definitions of fine chocolate products, for many, chocolate does not need to be of high quality to be seen as a luxury. Even the most basic and common chocolate products never feel common. The role of chocolate in our lives is greatly influenced by and intertwined with the history of the chocolate industry. The efforts made to shape the public’s perception and consumption of chocolate has controlled its role in the lives of consumers. Chocolate’s taste and ability to move the consumer out of a negative emotional state aided its acceptance into traditions and customs. Common misconceptions about the health benefits of chocolate encouraged the consumption of chocolate as a dessert with heath benefits.  Specific marketing practices for chocolate, its ability to cheer up the consumer and the suggestion that chocolate is good for you helped furnish the public’s fascination with chocolate and its role in society today.

Speaking with one regular chocolate consumer revealed how individuals relate to chocolate and how they consume it. When asked about their relationship with chocolate, the interviewee stated that chocolate comforts them, and always feels like a special treat. They believe that they’ve associated chocolate with celebration and relaxation. The role of chocolate in their life is to help relax them. It is the perfect treat for the end of a stressful day or week, and it goes hand in hand with celebration. This celebration can be for an achievement, a milestone, or a holiday. The use of chocolate for celebration takes many forms, but often conveys love. Chocolate can represent romantic love; the love between a parent and child in the form of a stocking stuffer, Halloween candy, or spontaneous brownies; it can be self love in the form of an end of day treat; and it can be platonic love in the form a chocolate birthday cake for a friend. Each of these uses for chocolate create a feeling of comfort and security. In this sense, chocolate is undeniably a comfort food.

For the interviewee, chocolate has changed in their life both in its significance, and also in the manner of consumption. As a child, the interviewee felt that chocolate was meant to go with nearly everything. Chocolate should be consumed as much as possible in a variety of forms. At this stage in their life, chocolate was a form of external validation for the interviewee. It was given by parents or relatives as a reward for good behavior, or as a birthday or holiday celebration. Chocolate played a strong role in shaping the behavior of the interviewee, and likely the behavior of many other children, as a source of positive reinforcement. For example, parents often use Halloween candy as a bargaining chip with their children. Part of the reason chocolate plays such a role for many children is likely because young children cannot easily gain access to chocolate on their own, and thus needs the supervision or permission of adults to purchase or retrieve chocolate.

As children age, they grow into being able to buy or retrieve their own chocolate treats. To the interviewee, this change caused a shift in the way they related to chocolate and how they consumed it. Once they had access to more chocolate, they became more selective about its use. Chocolate desserts were no longer the only options, and they learned that chocolate could actually smother more subtle flavors in certain dishes. Once they were an adult and could access as much chocolate as they wanted, they learned to appreciate other flavors separate from, or in tandem, with chocolate. This change in consumption also introduced the interviewee to dark chocolate and cacao based foods like mole. Changing consumption also affected the significance of chocolate in their life. Chocolate became a means of conveying love or celebration as stated by the previous discussion on the significance and role of chocolate. Due to chocolate’s role as a symbol of love and celebration, it also became a food that was craved when the interviewee was in a bad mood or tired. A constant in the interviewee’s life has been that chocolate acts as a comfort food: it reassures children that they are behaving properly, and it helps adults feel loved and appreciated.

The feelings and ideas expressed by the interviewee are not at all uncommon, and it would be a reasonable statement to say that they are common among most Americans. Americans have had a taste for chocolate for a long time, and our love of chocolate has been a part of popular culture for a long time. In the 1952 episode of I Love Lucy titled “Job Switching”, the plot of the episode centers on Lucy and Ethel working in a candy factory while Ricky and Fred do housework (I Love Lucy, 1952). While working at the candy factory, Lucy and Ethel cannot resist eating the candies that they are supposed to be packaging (I Love Lucy, 1952). Lucy and Ethel’s inability to control themselves clearly demonstrates how deeply a love for chocolate is embedded in the American psyche. However the importance of chocolate in American culture did not come naturally, and in fact it was manufactured. The connection between chocolate and romantic love is most easily examined through the relationship between Valentine’s Day and chocolate. Although both chocolate and Valentine’s Day have separately been part of European and American cultures for centuries, the association of chocolate and Valentine’s Day began in 1861 according to Amy Henderson’s 2015 article in Smithsonian Magazine (Henderson, “How Chocolate and Valentine’s Day Mated for Life”, 2015). According to Henderson, Richard Cadbury began to manufacture “eating chocolates” that were packaged in decorated, heart-shaped boxes as a way to sell the pure cocoa butter extracted in Cadbury’s chocolate making process (Henderson, 2015). This practice became very popular in England, and spread to the United States of America in the early 20th century (Henderson, 2015). In 1907, Milton Hershey began marketing mass produced Hershey’s Kisses, and eventually Russell Stover became an important maker of Valentine’s Day chocolates as well (Henderson, 2015). Chocolate’s role as a symbol of romance in the United States and England was created by chocolate makers who saw Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to sell more chocolates, and used marketing and packaging to boost their sales and completely alter the way that the world views chocolate.

Valentine’s Day and romantic love are not the only ways that corporations have influenced how society views chocolate. Halloween is also an important holiday for purchasing candies, but these purchases are intended for children rather than adults. In Samira Kawash’s 2010 article in The Atlantic, “How Candy and Halloween Became Best Friends”, she explains that the tradition of dressing up on October 31st became widespread in the late 1940s (Kawash, “How Candy and Halloween Became Best Friends”, 2010). However, at that time, candy was not handed out to trick-or-treaters; trick-or-treaters usually received cookies, fruits, nuts and other non-candy treats as often as candy (Kawash, 2010). It wasn’t until the 1970s that candy and chocolates became the only item to be given to trick-or-treaters (Kawash, 2010). Due to fears of poisoned food, consumers saw commercially wrapped candy as a much safer choice compared to homemade candies, and this fear aided the growth of candy and chocolate on Halloween (Kawash, 2010). As chocolate companies secured Halloween as a day for children to receive candy, they cemented children’s love of chocolate. The 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, reflects how strongly that our society believes children love chocolate. Similar to the scene in I Love Lucy, where Lucy and Ethel cannot control themselves around chocolate, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory demonstrates how children cannot control themselves around chocolate:

Wilder, Gene, Jack Albertson, Mel Stuart, and Roald Dahl. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Online Video. Directed by Mel Stuart. Los Angeles: Paramount Pictures, 1971. Posted on Youtube.com. Posted by Movieclips. December 29th, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EF1zYFHbus.

Just as chocolate makers manufactured the association between romantic love and chocolate, they also created a connection between children and chocolate. Marketing chocolate towards children helped them grow to love it, and cemented the role of chocolate as a marker of celebrations and holidays.

Although the role of chocolate in our society was manufactured by chocolate makers, our love and craving of chocolate was not. As the interviewee stated, chocolate can act as a comfort food. It helps the consumer feel relieved and rewarded, and these feelings contribute to its popularity and the successes of the campaigns to associate chocolate with childhood fun and romantic love. In David Benton’s 2004 article, “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving”, he examines why people enjoy eating chocolate. Chocolate is a very chemically complex substance, and contains many potentially psychotropic compounds (Benton, 2004). Benton provides an in-depth examination and review of studies that have investigated the effects of compounds found in chocolate, such as phenylethylamine, caffeine, and theobromine, on the brain (Benton, 2004). Empirical studies of each of these compounds demonstrates that although they can have measurable effects on human and animal brains, chocolate would need to have significantly higher levels of these compounds to cause any effect that would provide a biological reason for why we enjoy chocolate so much (Benton, 2004). Studies found that when consumers were in a negative emotional state they were more likely to consume chocolate, and this chocolate consumption can be considered comfort and/or emotional eating (Benton, 2004). In the absence of observable biological effects of chocolate, the article suggests that the taste, mouthfeel and optimal fat and sweetness combination make chocolate so desirable (Benton, 2004). Benton’s findings demonstrate the psychological effects of chocolate as a comfort food, and reinforce the interviewee’s assertion that consumers seek out chocolate when upset, and it helps consumers feel relaxed. Chocolate’s acceptance into society results from its comforting taste and mouthfeel which can help move consumers out of negative emotional states.

Examining the components that make up chocolate helps further explain why chocolate holds such significance in our society. Benton points out that part of the taste appeal of chocolate is that it holds nearly the optimal sweetness to fat combination (Benton, 2004). Chocolate, and milk chocolate in particular, contains a great deal of sugar. This sugar is added to help balance out the natural bitterness of the cacao (Benton, 2004), and the sugar and its sweetness contribute to chocolate’s popularity. In Robert Albritton’s 2012 essay, “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”, he points out that American consumption of added sugar has grown significantly since the beginning of the 20th century (Albritton, 2012). He asserts that the increase in sugar consumption has contributed to the increase in childhood obesity in the United States (Albritton, 2012). It is also likely that the previously discussed growing importance of candy and chocolate to holidays like Valentine’s Day and Halloween have contributed to greater sugar consumption in the United States. Albritton points out that part of the reason that sugar consumption has grown so much is because sweetness is the most desired taste, and that there is evidence that sugar itself might be addictive (Albritton, 2012). Understanding people’s desire for sugar aids in understanding the popularity of sweet chocolates. The presence of sugar in sweet chocolate likely helps drive people’s desire for it. As Benton asserted, chocolate has a nearly ideal combination of sweetness and fat, and while this combination helps make chocolate unique and desirable, human craving for sugar helps motivate consumers to eat sweet chocolates.

Chocolate is unique among other sweet foods, as it has a history of being considered healthy for the consumer, and these views impact how consumers separate chocolate from other similarly sweet foods.  As pointed out in several lecture discussions, since cacao was brought back to europe from Mesoamerica, there have been many assertions that cacao had various health benefits. These benefits usually had to do with digestive or cardiovascular health, and these perceived benefits lingered in our society and helped consumers purchase chocolate without as much fear of the negative health consequences often associated with other sweet foods. More recently, researchers felt that cacao and chocolate were the key to improving cardiovascular health (Howe, 2012). In Jame Howe’s 2012 article in Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered”, Howe examines the findings of Dr. Norman Hollenberg. Hollenberg found that an indigenous population called the Kuna had few cardiovascular problems and low blood pressure, and he determined that their improved cardiovascular health was due to environmental factors (Howe, 2012). Hollenberg attributed the health of the Kuna to their prolific consumption of chocolate beverages, and believed that the flavanol epicatechin was the compound responsible for the health benefits of chocolate (Howe, 2012).

Despite the fact that many researchers accept Hollenberg’s assertions as fact, Howe casts significant doubt on Hollenberg’s claims (Howe, 2012). He points out that the Kuna consume a variety of beverages along with chocolate, and also that there are other indigenous groups who do not consume chocolate and have cardiovascular health similar to the Kuna (Howe, 2012). Howe’s points indicate that a different factor contributes to the Kuna’s health, and that chocolate is not the superfood that Hollenberg believes it to be (Howe, 2012). While there have been other findings that point out the health benefits of cacao and chocolate, these findings suggest the consumption of dark chocolate in moderation (Steinberg et al., 2003) rather than the extremely large amounts that Hollenberg believed had health benefits for the Kuna. Past beliefs about the health benefits of chocolate and cacao helped shape the modern public’s perception that chocolate and cacao have significant health benefits. This perception is evidenced by the fact that Dr. Hollenberg attributed the Kuna’s cardiovascular health to the chocolate that they consumed rather than a more probable environmental factor. While cacao does have health benefits (Steinberg et al., 2003), Hollenberg demonstrates the eagerness of our society to attribute incredible health benefits to cacao. This eagerness likely arises from our desire to justify consuming more chocolate, and the possibility of yet undiscovered benefits to chocolate enables our society to fall further in love with chocolate and cacao. Hopefulness for the healthiness of chocolate aids to the feeling of comfort in consuming it, and helps alleviate the guilt that comes after its consumption.

Through an interview with an avid chocolate consumer, we see one person’s point of view on the significance and role of chocolate in our society. The interviewee pointed out chocolate’s importance as an expression for multiple forms of love and celebration, and through several sources, we saw how chocolate’s role in Valentine’s Day and Halloween was manufactured by chocolate makers in order to sell more chocolate (Henderson, 2015)(Kawash, 2010). Despite the relatively recent introduction of chocolate into these traditions by chocolate manufacturers, they are firmly cemented into our culture. Although chocolate was introduced by chocolate making companies, it was able to take hold because of its appeal. Many consider chocolate to be comforting, versatile and a treat to consume, and although there is no biological explanation for people’s affinity for chocolate, studies support the claim that chocolate acts as a comfort food (Benton, 2004). People’s desire for the taste of sweet foods, along with its function as a comfort food, bolster the appeal of chocolate (Albritton, 2012).  Consumers are further enabled to indulge with chocolate by suggestions that chocolate is healthy, and while some of these suggestions are supported by research, others might be widely accepted but unproven. The point of view of one avid chocolate consumer provided several observations that properly represent the significance of chocolate in society, but these observations must be taken in context to fully understand why chocolate is so popular.

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik, 356-66. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” In Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, edited by Astrid Nehlig, 205-18. 1st ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2004

Henderson, Amy. “How Chocolate and Valentine’s Day Mated for Life.” Smithsonian Magazine. February 12th, 2015. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-chocolate-and-valentines-day-mated-life-180954228/

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12, no. 1 (2012): 43-52. http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/GFC.2012.12.1.43

I Love Lucy. “Job Switching.” Episode 36. Directed by William Asher. Written by Jess Oppenhemier, Madelyn Pugh, and Bob Carroll Jr. CBS, September 15th, 1952.

Kawash, Samira. “How Candy and Halloween Became Best Friends.” The Atlantic. October 21st, 2010. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/10/how-candy-and-halloween-became-best-friends/64895/

Steinberg, Francene M, Monica M Bearden, and Carl L Keen. “Cocoa and Chocolate Flavonoids: Implications for Cardiovascular Health.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 103, no. 2 (2003): 215-23. https://doi-org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/10.1053/jada.2003.50028

Wilder, Gene, Jack Albertson, Mel Stuart, and Roald Dahl. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Online Video. Directed by Mel Stuart. Los Angeles: Paramount Pictures, 1971. Posted on Youtube.com. Posted by Movieclips. December 29th, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EF1zYFHbus.

Chocolate Practices During the Enlightenment Era from Europe to the Colonies

Today, coffee shops are a modern staple. While everyone goes to them to buy an assortment of teas and coffees, they also go for the ambiance. They go to study, to catch up with friends, and to do business. What we know today as the modern coffee shop – whether that be national chains like Starbucks or local neighborhood joints – has its origins in the Enlightenment period.

In fact, the modern coffee shop is closely associated with, surprisingly, the history of the social practices that developed out of the “Age of Reason’s” economics and social understandings of chocolate. This age saw rapid rises in both consumerism and critiques of social norms, and although it spawned more well-known events like the American and French Revolutions, this time period also drastically changed how Europe and the British colonies engaged with chocolate, coffee, and tea.

Each region’s interaction with these drinks depended on a series of economic and cultural factors. On the surface it might appear as if economic factors were solely responsible for dictating how and why chocolate was consumed in different regions. However, cultural and social understandings were also crucial for influencing the ways that countries engaged with chocolate, coffee, and tea.

Northern Europe               

In Northern Europe, the consumption of chocolate – which at the time was a beverage – grew alongside the region’s consumption of coffee and tea. All of these drinks were served in the first coffeeshops, which were called coffeehouses. These places became popular due to rising demand for spaces where the middle class and gentry could come together to discuss social issues, politics, and develop critical opinions of the established social norms.

Coffeehouses were boisterous places of debate as Dr. Matthew Green reminisces in his TED talk, and these spaces contributed to literary, philosophical and radical innovations (McComb, White). The first coffeehouse was opened in Britain in 1655 by a Turkish merchant, and from there, the institution grew rapidly (Mintz, 111). Coffeehouses became places where people could get both their news and their cheap, quick fix for the day.

“You have all Manner of News there: You have a good Fire, which you may sit by as long as you please : You have a Dish of Coffee ; you meet your friends for the Transaction of Business, and all for a Penny, if you don’t care to spend more”

– Late 17th Century French Traveler (Mintz, 111)

In English coffeehouses, chocolate was consumed at a significantly lower rates than coffee and tea. In 1680, coffee was consumed at about 224,000 pounds a year as chocolate was only consumed at about 6,000 pounds a year. At first chocolate competed with coffee, but by 1750, it was served alongside coffee and not in competition to the drink (McComb). There were two prominent reasons why chocolate was not consumed at as high of rates.

First, it was more expensive than coffee and tea. The transportation costs of getting cacao to Europe from the Americas were expensive, and high tariffs also radically increased the price of the good (Gay). However, while the price made chocolate less desirable, this is not the whole story; the social associations that Northern Europeans had with chocolate also decreased the amount it was consumed.

Chocolate was heavily associated with the Catholic clergy, so many philosophes in coffeehouses avoided chocolate beverages out of principle. They understood coffee to be a sobering stimulant that led to productivity, while in contrast, chocolate was associated with leisure and the aristocracy (Coe). Moreover, in England, nobility was not the same as it was in Spain: only the eldest sons could inherit land and titles and the rest became commoners. Because of this, there was less incentive to maintain chocolate as an aristocratic privilege, as it was mostly a drink only for the elite in most countries because of its price. Men in coffeehouses preferred egalitarian environments for diverse debates, so coffeehouses became places where people of all ranks sat alongside each other. Hence, chocolate lost its aristocratic allure in England as men let go of class distinctions and flaunting wealth in coffeehouses (White).

Southern Europe

In Southern Europe, chocolate was heavily consumed. Throughout Europe, Spain – the nation of chocolate drinkers – was known for producing the best chocolate. Chocolate was the preferred drink of the church hierarchy, and it was only reserved for the upper and middle classes. At breakfast, they ate it with cold water, and at night, they consumed it before their evening siestas (Coe).

Because Spain did not have a popular movement of philosophes building coffeehouses, coffee was in short supply in Spain until the latter half of 18th century. When coffee-houses finally sprung up in Madrid, only men were allowed inside, while women had to stay in their coaches and have cold drinks brought to them (Coe). This was a common practice in coffeehouses because of the common belief that women were not able to reason.

As chocolate became with royal and papal absolutism, which were “inimical” to the Enlightenment, Spain eventually popularized tea and coffee. Spain wanted to hold a dignified position among modern nations, but chocolate beverages did not lose their cultural popularity among the elite. As coffee and tea came to symbolize civilization and liberty, the Spanish still partook in social gatherings that centered around their traditional chocolate consumption. These traditions were characterized by foreigners as “tedious and boring” (Coe).

The Americas

In general, British colonists consumed more chocolate than those in Britain even though they were isolated from the phenomenon of British coffeehouses and mostly took their chocolate drinks at home (Coe, Gay). They consumed more because chocolate was cheaper in the Americas. They did not have to pay importation duties or the steep costs of shipping cacao across the Atlantic Ocean. However, chocolate consumption varied between the Northern and Southern colonies.

The Northern and Mid-Atlantic colonies became large-scale chocolate manufacturers, and in the 18th century, the colonists knew a lot about the chocolate they were eating. They would refer to chocolate by its port of origin, and they knew much more about where their chocolate was coming from than could even be possible to trace in the present day. However, while they produced a lot of chocolate, they exported over 70% of the chocolate they produced to Europe. Instead of consuming chocolate in exorbitant amounts like the aristocratic elite in southern Europe, they looked to coffee as a stimulant to increase their productivity like Northern Europeans (Gay).

The Southern colonies, on the other hand, were mainly consumers of chocolate: they modeled the posh customs of the aristocracy in Spain. Chocolate was a sign of wealth in social circles, However, southern colonists adapted recipes to meet the needs of their own cultural tastes. Because many did not like the fattiness of traditional chocolate drinks, southern colonists steeped cocoa shells in hot water, which created an infusion similar in flavor and color to coffee. This was not seen as a “lower” sort of drink for those who could not afford chocolate, but instead, was a product of the wealthy. Southern colonists also ate cocoa in puddings, creams, and ice creams, and developed chocolate almonds which became a staple recipe in many households (Gay).

As these three examples demonstrated, economics played a role in how, where, and by whom chocolate was consumed. However, cultural and social associations did as well. Some chose to consume chocolate to raise their social status in their communities while others rejected it to support the egalitarian and “productive” communities around them. While these traditions birthed the coffeeshop (albeit it looks much different today), it also might still influence our understandings of coffee and chocolate. Most people drink coffee to stay awake and be productive, while chocolate is seen as an indulging activity that we consume when we are sad or wanting to be unproductive.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.

Gay, James F. Chocolate Production and Uses in 17th and 18th Century North America. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009, https://americanhistory.si.edu/sites/default/files/Gay_Chocolate Productio.pdf

McComb, Sophie. Fostering Enlightenment Coffeehouse Culture in the Present. The University of Texas at Austin , May 2015, www.cns.utexas.edu/images/CNS/Sofie_McComb-Enlightenment_Coffeehouse_Culture.pdf

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking, 1985.

White, Matthew. Newspapers, Gossip and Coffee-House Culture. The British Library, 11 Apr. 2018, www.bl.uk/restoration-18th-century-literature/articles/newspapers-gossip-and-coffee-house-culture#.

Visual media



The Biology and Morality of Chocolate and Sugar Consumption

In the words of Sidney Mintz, “…Sugar is sweet, and human beings like sweetness” (1986). But what about this liking for sugar made chocolate bars one of our most symbolic pieces of food, taking over holidays like Valentine’s Day and Easter? How do we approach the problems of fair working conditions for the farmers who cultivate the cacao and sugar cane? In this blog post I will explore the biological reasoning for why sugar made chocolate such a hot commodity in so many parts of the world. I also offer that this biological predisposition to love the taste of sweetness is, in part, what has given chocolate such a high place in the food industry and our society, despite the moral wrongs associated with chocolate production. To resolve the moral dilemma of chocolate consumption, we must fight against the behind-the-scenes production story, which threatens the basic rights of millions of farmers. 

Sugar and the Brain

Let us begin by exploring why taking a sweet bite of anything gives us so much pleasure. It is important to remember that sugars are a part of a large family of carbohydrates, which is one of the main energy sources for our bodies. So, it makes sense that sweetness on the tongue, which signals to our brains that we are consuming carbohydrates, causes a pleasurable response (Reed & McDaniel, 2006). Moreover, following this evolutionary perspective is the reasoning that poisonous foods are not usually sweet-tasting, so our bodies have more justification for why we meet sweet-tasting foods with a positive reaction (Reed & McDaniel, 2006). The short video below describes the science behind sugar consumption; in other words, how sugar affects your brain and body. 

Video 1. How sugar affects the brain, by Nicole Avna. Source: TedEd.

It is not surprising, then, that using sugar as a sweetener for chocolate made us go crazy for it. The cacao that chocolate is derived from was once “food of the gods” served as a bitter drink in Mayan civilizations. However, the sweet candy we know now became popular in the 19th and 20th centuries upon the revolutionary cocoa press, invented in 1828 by Coenraad Johannes van Houten (Klein, 2018). And now we are at the present day, where “the average American consumes 12 lbs. of chocolate each year, and more than $75 billion worldwide is spent on chocolate annually” (Klein, 2018).

The Moral Dilemma

This human quasi-addiction to sugar begins to answer the question, why do we allow the violation of human rights for millions of people just so that we can have our cacao and sugar cane grown? This question, which definitely implicates much more research and perspective, is one that I will only be able to graze the surface of. Nonetheless, I do believe that a biological perspective does hold some merit here, as we find ourselves in a moral dilemma as we enjoy pieces of sweetened chocolate which were produced through the back-breaking and inhumane labor of other human beings, including children. The farmers, not the distributors in the high-income countries, are the ones who are hit the hardest when the market prices fluctuate – For instance, farmers on the Ivory Coast see their cocoa income decrease “by as much as 30-40% from one year to the next” (Fountain & Huetz-Adams, 2018). This is on top of the fact that millions of these farmers are children, and they are making about 31% of a living wage (Fountain & Huetz-Adams, 2018). 

Figure 1. Map of the Top 10 Cocoa Producing Countries. Source: Chocolate Phayanak.

What Can We Do?

So, while we are evolutionarily inclined to enjoy this chocolate, cycles of slavery and cruel treatment to farmers all over the world would tell us not to indulge. While there is no straightforward answer here, I suggest that what we should push for is more Fairtrade schemes, which need to be more heavily supported by the governments of rich countries, since these products would be more expensive than non-Fairtrade products. As explained by Peter Singer and Jim Mason, these schemes support the farmers by generating “hundreds of millions of additional dollars for small products in developing countries” and the schemes also protect the farmers rights, including “freedom of association and protection from sexual harassment” (Singer & Mason, 2007).  

Figure 2. Nestle Kit Kat Bard with Fairtrade symbol. This symbol is visible on food items of companies with Fairtrade certification. Source: Campaign.

Additionally, the farmers from these low-income countries need to be making a living wage, and they need more subsidies to protect them from immediate income fluctuation in response to market price changes. They need to be protected from this price volatility and the disproportionate risk that they bear in this supply chain. This is only possible with major support from the governments involved as well as international actors. This also requires consumer awareness – that is, all of us being invested in the dialogue around and action against this structural oppression and poverty.

In conclusion, the harm does not come from our inherent love for all things sweet; rather from our indifference towards the means to get that sweet chocolate bar in our hands. Until we fight against the oppressive labor conditions of the farmers who make it possible for chocolate to be such a symbol in our societies, we will be faced with this very bitter moral dilemma.


Fountain, A., Huetz-Adams, F. (2018). Cacao Barometer 2018. N.p.

Klein, Christopher (2018). The Sweet History of Chocolate. Retrieved 25 March 2020 from <https://www.history.com/news/the-sweet-history-of-chocolate>

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

Reed, D., McDaniel, A. (2006). The Human Sweet Tooth. BMC Oral Health 6(Suppl 1): S17.

Singer, P., Mason, J. (2007). The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. Pennsylvania: Rodale Books.

Figure 1. Chocolate Phayanak (2017). Top 10 Cocoa Producing Countries. [map]. Retrieved from <https://chocolatephayanak.com/unkategorisiert/where-is-cocoa-grown-around-the-world/>

Figure 2. Charles, Gemma (2010). Kit Kat: Nestle Brand. [photo]. Retrieved from <https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/nestle-launches-biggest-ever-cross-category-push/1015362>

Video 1. Avena, Nicole (2014). How Sugar Affects the Brain. . Retrieved from YouTube (TedEd) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=lEXBxijQREo&feature=emb_title>

Chocolate Estranged; Mesoamerica and Mars, Inc.


Being allergic to chocolate is more socially isolating than one would immediately assume. So many birthday cake slices go uneaten, Valentine’s Day candies shamefully chucked into the trashcan when no one is looking, so much time spent wistfully staring at the chocolate-lined shelves of Walgreens and CVS check-out line. Being excluded from such a significant aspect of consumption and food culture affects one’s life in small, unexpected, and sometimes frustrating ways, such as discovering your chocolate allergy at a birthday party and going home with hives. I was four when that happened. That was not, however, the last time I ate chocolate. I have braved the storm of hives induced by my allergies more than a few times simply because I really wanted to partake in the experience of eating chocolate and trying out different brands, such as Twix or Mars Bars. And that is the power of marketing. The question of how European companies, such as Cadbury, Lindt, and Hershey, became the guiding hand in framing chocolate as a product in the west involves historical questions of ownership, appropriation, and colonization. By controlling the historical narrative of chocolate and redefining food culture, the mass-marketing practices of industrial-era European companies continue to influence how chocolate is perceived and consumed today. 

History of Cocoa

Cacao trees produce pods, and those pods contain small almond-shaped seeds that go on to be processed into what we recognize as chocolate. Cacao trees are native to the Amazon basin and they were first domesticated and commodified by Central American natives, namely the Mayans and Aztecs as early as 900 AD. In Mesoamerican culture, chocolate was the frothy beverage of the gods, embodying strength, divinity, and denoting wealth. In other words, if you were not a priest, an elite, or a warrior, you were not getting your hands on any sacred “xocolatl”, one of the many words for chocolate in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs (Coe and Coe 96). The seeds encased in cacao pods were not only the drink of the gods and their few human favorites, they also functioned as currency and demarcated sites of intense geopolitical warfare in the competition for control over fertile cacao-producing lands, such as the Soconusco in present-day Mexico, amongst native Mesoamerican populations (Coe and Coe 97). Whether obtained through means of trading, conflict, or planting, cacao seeds inevitably went into the stockpile of royals and the elite or the production of chocolate.

How Chocolate is Made

Mesoamerican xocolatl— the original chocolate– was produced through a lengthy process that transformed harvested cacao pods into a foamy drink. Cacao seeds were dried, roasted, removed from their shells, and ground into a paste (Coe and 25). A metate stone, a tool that functions as a giant mortar and pestle, was used to grind the beans into a paste. The resulting bitter-tasting paste, which looked like melted chocolate, was often flavored with spicy chili peppers, vanilla, and other natural flavors found in the region (Coe and Coe 90). The chocolate paste resulting from grinding cacao beans on the metate stone, however, was not the end goal. Drinkable chocolate, or xocolatl, meaning ”bitter water” in Mayan, was what many Mesoamerican natives made.

A video detailing the chocolate-making process used by Mayans and other Mesoamericans

Making xocolatl involved the additional step of pouring a mixture of cacao bean paste and water back and forth between two jars to produce the chocolatey foam that was so prized by the Maya, Aztecs, and other Mesoamerican groups. Little has changed in the process of chocolate-making since 900 AD, but the face of chocolate was forever changed by colonization. 

Takalik Abaj metate 1.jpg
Traditional metate stone used to grind cacao beans into paste by Mesoamericans

Chocolate Colonized

When European colonization began in Central and South America in the 1500s, everything was swept up into the current of goods being stolen and extracted from the New World and sold in Europe. Under this economic climate, indigenous Mesoamericans were enslaved and the artifacts of their world and culture erased and rewritten. A pillar in the architecture of European colonialism was the demonization of indigenous identity and customs. Oftentimes, such demonization was achieved by positioning indigeneity as monstrous and anti-Christian. Thus, it is unsurprising that 16th-century conquistadors, colonists, and priests opposed chocolate in the Spanish colonies of Central and South America. Voyager Girolmo Benzoni, for example, claimed that chocolate “seemed more a drink for pigs” (Coe and Coe 109). Such demonization of Mesoamerican cultures was common throughout European colonial rule and presence in the region. Whether classified as a food, drink, or medicine, the xocolatl brought to Europe by conquistadors quickly gained popularity throughout the continent, giving way to a new industry. Despite their enthusiastic conquest of foreign lands and populations, the European attitude towards the products brought from these regions was ironically cautious and skeptical. 

Many European elites who were among the first to receive items from the New World, scrutinized those very goods because of their proximity to indigeneity. European attitudes towards the New World goods “supplanting more familiar items” were not immediately welcoming despite the excitement surrounding their novelty (Mintz 151). Pseudoscientific theories cautioning against chocolate were widespread. For instance, Doctor Giovanni Batista Felici, physician to the Tuscan court, held that chocolate caused “palpitations, thickened blood, lack of appetite, and so on” (Coe and Coe 209). Convincing Europe’s elite to embrace cacao as a delicacy and, later, a staple and medical phenomenon was key to establishing chocolate as an industry in Europe. Spanish colonists’ usage of quick-dissolving tablets to make instant hot chocolate “mixed with spices” in the 1600s, for example, reveals the early chocolate craze that swept Europe’s colonial elite and nobles (Coe and Coe 184). The chocolate-drinking craze which later began to “spread through all classes” of Baroque Europe further demonstrates how the delicacy of the aristocracy became a socioeconomic phenomenon that crossed class lines (Coe and Coe 181). Ultimately, the technological advances and increased production rates of the Industrial era allowed chocolate to become a household staple. In other words, the repackaging of Mesoamerican cacao into a sweet, everyday dessert and medicinal commodity amongst the elite helped set the stage for an expanded market that would eventually reach the general public– the larger and more reliable engine of industry.

How Chocolate was Changed by European Enterprise

The startups of the Industrial period are the tycoons of today, and their marketing influence is historically rooted in the industrial revolution and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. While chocolate had been primarily consumed as a beverage or dessert for the elite, the 1800s industrial boom saw chocolate become accessible to the general public (Coe and Coe 211). Chocolate-making companies, such as Cadbury, Lindt, and Hershey, were launched during the industrial revolution of the 1800s. Continuing the precedents set by Europe’s elite consumers, such as Cosimo III de Medici, these companies departed from the original Mesoamerican chocolate recipes (Coe and Coe 145). Chili peppers were replaced with sugar, vanilla replaced with milk and cream (Coe and Coe 115). Joël Glenn Brenner’s observation notes the westernization of chocolate-making in “The Emperors of Chocolate”:

“Each process produced it’s own unique chocolate flavor, and over time, these differences translated into distinct national tastes. The British, for example, prefer their milk chocolate very sweet and caramel-like, while Americans identify with the harsher, grittier flavor popularized by Hershey. German chocolate generally ranks as the richest because of it’s traditionally high fat content, while Italian chocolate is drier, more bittersweet. Swiss chocolate, considered the finest by connoisseurs, is characterized by a strong, aromatic, almost perfumey flavor and the smoothest, silkiest texture.” (Brenner)

Industrial era companies, such as Nestle, created products that contained little to no actual cacao. Milk Chocolate, a mixture of powdered milk and cacao butter that uses little to no actual cacao, and other similarly faux chocolate products, like nougat, relied more on sweetness and chocolate coating than authentic cacao (Coe and Coe 250). Products from the Western Hemisphere, like cacao and sugar, flowed into Europe through Trans-Atlantic colonialism while the later Industrial Revolution allowed for production on a massive scale. This allowed for a fusion of Mesoamerican cacao with imported goods from the New World brought from Europe (Mintz 151).

Chocolate Moves to the Factory

Industrial-era companies focused heavily on marketing chocolate which had previously been reserved for the elite to the general public– “everything had to be faster, cheaper, bigger, better” (Brenner 8). Milton Hershey, for instance, constructed a town-sized complex to house and facilitate workers in his chocolate factory (D’Antonio 108). This was a sharp contrast to the way chocolate was hoarded in royal courts, like that of Cosimo III, in the seventeenth-century. Given the new technology of the era, the philosophy of chocolate companies transitioned to massive operation and marketing.

Image result for town hershey factory town
The original Hershey factory built in 1894, photographed in 1976

The history of chocolate was rewritten with a new origin story that began in Europe, demonstrated by the marketing campaign of companies, like Rowntree which owned one of the largest newspapers in London and used full-page advertisements and billboards to promote their chocolate (Brenner 65). Such marketing campaigns all but erased the Mesoamerican roots of cacao and chocolate consumption by westernizing chocolate’s history and redefining the good as quintessentially European in post-colonial consumer and popular culture. The development of factories allowed for shortened production time and increased volume. Further, the expansion of colonial plantation economies into West Africa and other regions supplied the factory economy developing in Europe. By controlling the historical narrative of chocolate, and redefining food culture, the mass-marketing practices of industrial-era European companies made chocolate a western good. Bolstered by a history of Trans-Atlantic slavery and colonialism, the Industrial Revolution allowed for powerful marketing campaigns that are largely the reason why companies, like Mars, Hershey, Lindt, and others, are among the most popular chocolate-makers today.

Works Cited

Brenner, Joel Glenn. “Chapter Five: To the Milky Way and Beyond.” The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, Broadway Books, 2000, pp. 49–69.

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

D’Antonio, M. (2006). Hershey. New York, NY. (pp. 121).

File:Hershey Factory.jpg. (2016, November 29). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 20:19, March 25, 2020 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Hershey_Factory.jpg&oldid=223766892.

File:Takalik Abaj metate 1.jpg. (2019, March 20). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 20:20, March 25, 2020 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Takalik_Abaj_metate_1.jpg&oldid=343320395.

Khan, Gulnaz. “Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate-Making.” National Geographic, September 11, 2017. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/guatemala/anitgua-maya-chocolate-making/
Mintz, S. W. (1985). Sweetness and power: the place of sugar in modern history. New York.

Chocolate Consumption and Production: How Mesoamerican Cacao Culture has Faded

The significance of chocolate holds a profound and broad importance in our modern day American society. Chocolate has been incorporated in our everyday life as an indulgence.The commonly found sweet treat melts in one’s mouth, and in American culture, is used to melt one’s heart! However, chocolate is not bound by its asset of sweetness, as that asset was incorporated into chocolate fairly recently; chocolate can be bitter and brittle, and can even be featured as a drink! There are many types of chocolate varying by texture and taste, and the good has evolved over the ages, and so has its pairwise culture as it has moved from society to society, but all types stem from cacao. The original chocolate/cacao and its production can be traced all the way back to Pre-Columbian civilizations where it was valued highly and reserved for nobility and important people. In that time, Cacao was much more than a sweet, refreshing treat: it was a vital and versatile part in Pre-Columbian traditions including religion, status, and health. These traditions are portrayed in several interesting artifacts allowing us to better understand cacao’s significance in the Aztec, Mayan, Olmec and other Mesoamerican societies. Analysis of these artifacts allows us to discern that the culture of cacao has been distorted and watered down over the ages, and this can be seen in a comparison of modern day chocolate related activities to its ancient roots.

Modern day practices with chocolate primarily involve mass production and consumption of chocolate. Because of the bustling chocolate industry, people from all over the world are able to experience and indulge in a version of cacao, thus somewhat honoring the importance of cacao through enjoying its consumption. However, historical companies like Cadbury and others have significantly watered down the original culture of the product in order to capture a larger target market. The process of making chocolate used to be a niche and special thing and rarely resulted in the type of sugar-infused chocolate bars that we love today. There were various unique recipes and methods of production for the cacao beans. In cacao’s historical roots, every part of production was done by hand. Cacao beans were obtained from open cacao pods and were fermented, then dried, then roasted and winnowed, and then finally ground into the “chocolate liquor” paste.

Once this product was created, there were various ways to proceed in the making of the final product. Popular preparations of the time included fresh cacao pulp batidos, cacao and chile balls, and cacao and corn based beverages.

The production of the final cacao product in Mesoamerican tradition is very laborious but feels raw and real. Here, a woman follows traditional practices in making the highly regarded cacao-corn beverage

However, as the world became more interconnected over time, cacao production was adopted and altered primarily by Europeans in the mid to late 1600’s. “Europe is the biggest processor of cacao as well as the largest per-capita consumer of cacao” (Martin & Sampeck 2016, 37). Thus, Europeans altered cacao recipes to better suit their taste and culture. “The industrial chocolate that they produced was higher in sugar and less complex in taste compared to the variety of local chocolate makers” (Martin & Sampeck 2016, 37). So as the primary production center of cacao shifted from Mesoamerica to Europe, variety and quality of the product mattered less to the masses, and cacao’s original tastes were neglected. The driving force for this change in chocolate production was the introduction of chocolate to the world, and the resulting different chocolate consumption.

Cacao consumption was extremely significant in Mesoamerican culture. There weren’t many who were able to consume it every day, especially because of its cultural importance, not just because of its scarcity. “People in Central America and Mexico linked cacao and vital cosmological forces. These associations made cacao the proper offering in rituals related to fertility, health and travel as well as consecrating social unions such as marriage” (Sampeck & Schwartzkopf 2017, 74). Cacao was held in high regard in its original culture and we can confirm this through the analysis of Mesoamerican artifacts. Inscriptions on “monogrammed vases”, such as the one presented, reflect how the Mesoamericans “invested meaning in cacao” through their consumption and production (Martin & Sampeck 39). Analyzing a variety of inscriptions allows us to further understand the presence of cacao and chocolate in one’s life, and we can discern that cacao was pivotal during major social events such as religious practices, marriage rituals and funerals. In marriage ceremonies, cacao beverages were shared between the groom and the bride’s father during a pre-martial discussion. Cacao was dried and dyed red during funeral procession and was believed to ease the soul into the afterlife.

“Princeton Vase”, a Maya cacao-drinking cup depicting a rite of passage during a marriage ceremony – the presentation of a cacao beverage

These cacao beverages were prepared in a very sacred practice in ancient Mesoamerica. The primary ingredients were corn and cacao. In the making and drinking of the beverage, it was crucial that it had a frothy foam on top as it was believed that it “satisfies the soul.”

Depiction of the preparation of the frothy cacao-corn beverage – a tall pour to create bubbles
“Codex Nuttal”, Mixtec funeral scene with funeral procession

On the contrary, once the primary consumption and production of cacao shifted away from Mesoamerica, chocolate lost a little part of its identity. All of the tangible practices of production and consumption of cacao were stolen – the Europeans even crafted their own chocolate consumption drinking vessels – and barely any of the cultural practices that made cacao so special in its original culture were adopted. Instead, Europeans looked to make cacao production the most efficient. They imposed on Africa and coerced African labor for cacao production. And those historical shifts have had lasting impacts today. The ones on the frontline – the farmers – who wether the hot sun and the excruciating physical labor to harvest cacao beans have almost no power in the supply chain of chocolate. According to the “Cocoa Barometer 2018” smallholder cocoa farmers in Cote d’lvoire, already struggling with poverty, have seen their income from cocoa decline by as much as 30-40% from one year to the next”(Fountain & Huetz-Adams 2018, 10), and this is just on example of the perpetuated injustice that grips the chocolate industry. Although Europeans found a way to globalize chocolate for the taste buds of all, the sacrifice of culture and humanity is too monumental.

In conclusion, traditional ways of producing and consuming cacao have been neglected in exchange for the health of an industry that was built upon the tired backs of Africans and South Americans. The significance of cacao in the Pre-Columbian era can be examined in artifacts and documents dating back to the 15th century, and we can learn a lot from them about this faded culture. We can see through these artifacts that their beliefs and culture revolved around these special Theobroma trees, and it is quite fascinating to see how the ancients interacted with cacao.

Works Cited:

“Toledo Ecotourism Association – making a chocolate drink.” Youtube. May 10, 2008. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vC4dq69rqE&feature=youtu.be

Fountain, Antonie, and Friedel Huetz-Adams. “Cocoa Barometer 2018.” VOICE Network. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.voicenetwork.eu/cocoa-barometer/.

Martin, Carla D, and Kathryn E Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, 16 June 2015, socio.hu/uploads/files/2015en_food/chocolate.pdf.

“The Princeton Vase (y1975-17).” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, artmuseum.princeton.edu/collections/objects/32221.

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

Gaddis, Donald. “The Codex Nuttall: Funeral Scene.” Pinterest, http://www.pinterest.com/pin/13581236346174560/. IMG.

The Advent of Conspicuous Consumption: Chocolate as Status Symbol in European Bourgeois Society

Before the nineteenth century, chocolate in Europe had only been available to the aristocratic classes and royal courts. In eighteenth-century Europe, during the Age of Enlightenment, the drink associated with the poor classes was alcohol and the drink of the small but growing bourgeois class was coffee: chocolate became stereotypically aristocratic during this period. Coffee was associated with bourgeois work while chocolate was associated with aristocratic leisure activities: coffee “gave to the mind what it took from the body, while chocolate was thought to do the reverse” (Coe 200). Chocolate was enjoyed by all classes in the Aztec and Mayan civilizations we have studied in this class, yet the consumption of chocolate was remarkably exclusive to the highest class in Europe. This is demonstrated by the presence of chocolate in royal family portraits such as 1762 portrait of Maria Theresa and her family, including daughter Marie Antoinette, celebrating Saint Nicholas. A large silver chocolatière and two cups are central to the portrait, seen on the breakfast table.

Fig. 1. 1762 Portrait of Maria Theresa and Family in Vienna

Marie Antoinette brought her love of chocolate from Vienna to the French court when she married Louis XVI. While Marie Antoinette was very abstemious and only consumed a small amount of chocolate at breakfast, her influence made chocolate into a craft within the French noble court (Coe 219). Chocolate has become part of the mythology of decadence that brought upon the deluge of the French aristocracy. The Versailles website features an article on “Hot Chocolate in Versailles,” which recounts how Marie-Antoinette brought her own personal chocolate-maker from Vienna to the court of France: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/key-dates/hot-chocolate-versailles. This chocolate-maker was seen as a skilled craftsman, sometimes even combining chocolate with Orange blossoms or sweet almonds.

Chocolate is again revealed to be a status symbol for eighteenth-century European nobility in a 1768 portrait of Princesse de Lamballe and her family drinking chocolate, titled La Tasse de Chocolat. Chocolate is depicted in paintings as the stereotypical drink of the French aristocratic class, establishing the identity of the Lamballe family as refined and noble. However, it is important to note that chocolate in France during this period also became elaborate in its uses besides the way it is portrayed in historic paintings as a beverage. Chocolate biscuits, pastilles, mousse, conserve, marzipan, creams, truffle-like delicacies, chocolate sugared almonds, and chocolate wafers were also innovated during the pre-revolution period in France. These types of chocolate items are still what make up the luxury chocolate industry today, as France has become the capital of luxury products.

Fig. 2. Princesse de Lamballe in 1768 Portrait, La Tasse de Chocolat

The strong association of chocolate in Europe with luxury and aristocracy during the nineteenth century became essential to its importance among the rising bourgeois. Nineteenth-century Europe saw a transformation in attitudes towards consumption, which became a way the bourgeois could establish themselves as part of the leisure class and gain social influence. As revealed in Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, chocolate began to be consumed by the bourgeois during this period who sought a higher status, as Charles’ first wife, a bourgeois lady, “had to have her cup of chocolate every morning” (Flaubert 11). You further see it in advertisements on nineteenth-century theater cards targeted towards a bourgeois audience such as those for producer of chocolates, Chocolat Debauve & Gallais.

Fig. 3. Advertisement for Chocolat Debauve & Gallais

This is because the bourgeois had begun to partake in what economist Thorstein Vleben would term ‘conspicuous consumption’ at the end of the nineteenth century in his work, The Theory of the Leisure Class. Vleben articulates how consumption had become a tool to differentiate the leisure class from the working class, and how the working bourgeois male used goods and the leisured status of his wife to elevate himself in society. Since chocolate had already been established as a luxury good of the royal courts, it had great significance and popularity amongst the bourgeois partaking in conspicuous consumption. Debauve & Gallais, the producer of chocolates that created the above advertisement, initially created chocolates for the court of Marie Antoinette alone. Once the manufacturing guilds of the ancient regime became obsolete and the economy was transformed by the second industrial revolution and rising bourgeois, such historic chocolate makers started producing for a broader audience. However, Debauve & Gallais among others still advertise their products as part of an ancient aristocratic tradition. Debauve & Gallais is still famous for its chocolate coins, “first developed for Queen Marie Antoinette in order to ease her distaste for taking medicines” as stated on the website: https://www.debauveandgallais.com/.

Conspicuous consumption gave rise to the association of chocolate with luxury and widespread consumption of chocolate in Europe and the US that we see today. The popularity of chocolate in European bourgeois society was dependent on its association with an aristocratic past, since European bourgeois society sought a higher status. Chocolate is still understood as a treat or extravagance in the modern West, which contrasts the original nutritional or ritualistic uses by the Mayans and Aztecs.

Works Cited

Vleben, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. London: MacMillan & Co, 1899.

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

Flaubert, Gustave, et al. Madame Bovary : Contexts, Critical Reception. 2nd ed., W.W. Norton, 2005.

Fredric Woodbridge Wilson Collection of Theater, Dance Music. French Advertising Trade Cards, 1882 and Undated, 1882.

“Hot Chocolate in Versailles.” Chateau de Versailles. Online. Last accessed May 17, 2020.

“Queen Marie Antoinette Pistole Sampler.” Debauve & Gallais. Online. Last accessed May 17, 2020.

Liquid to Solid: Chocolate Recipes over time

Today when we hear the word chocolate, we often picture a chocolate bar or small treat. We think of a sweet taste and often consumed as a dessert or delicacy. In various forms from luxurious truffles to drugstore bars, chocolate is often found in a person’s life today in a much different way of the past.  First discovered by the ancient Mayans, chocolate consumption was not only bitter but also found in different forms than the most commonly present on the market today.  The flavour that today’s society associates chocolate with is unparalleled to its original ways of consumption transformed by humans’ decisions to combine cacao powder with various other flavours and spices.

Historically known as cacao in reference to the raw material, cocoa was born as a result of the anglicization of the word cacao in reference to the commodity to be sold or processed. With consumption linked to “unhealthy” or “treat like” ideas, it is to some’s surprise that the main substance in chocolate is found on a cacao tree. Grown on the cacao trees we find cacao pods which are a colourful fruit encapsulating a seed within; the cacao bean. Undergoing processing, cacao beans become a chocolate liquor which can also be referred to as cocoa liquor. Processing this chocolate liquor, we arrive at cocoa butter, which is described as waxy and rather than the brown colour we usually associate chocolate with is actually and ivory-yellow solid (Lecture 2). By pressing the cocoa butter, we get cocoa powder which is frequently used in baking today. To arrive at the chocolate, we know today the seeds of the cacao plant must be roasted, husked and ground, then combined with other flavours, usually sugar and vanilla, to create your favourite chocolate bar.

Going back in time:

Going back in time to the 16th century, Mesoamerican’s classified chocolate as a native good similar to that of beans and squash. Through the use of a Geographic Information System, researchers are able to depict the areas and times in which chocolates flavours differed and how they evolved to the common good today. Representing a luxury during that time, cacao beverages were the most common form of consumption of cacao. These drinks however, were found in combination with goods we don’t usually consume today. Experiences described as “flowery immersion” (Sampeck 2017) provide imagery for the flower additives to the cacao beverages. Having been a luxurious edible as well as medicine, the numerous combinations define its use during early consumption. Cacao was viewed as quite a unique substance at the time, varying from its liquid form to a solid, was solely based on its preparation and preferences of the consumer. With strong ties to religious beliefs, ceremonies, and “superpower” like traits, chocolates ability to be consumed was taken much more seriously in comparison to our consumption today. The evolution of the tastes and flavours associated with each new transformation of chocolate has significant ties to historical advances over the substance’s lifetime.

Recipes: spicy to sweet to floral to umami to nutty to starchy

Chocolate during the 16th century did not describe the solid substance we consume today but rather described one of many cacao drinks. Tools used to create various recipes have also proven to have evolved over time. Originally made with a molinillo, a special type of stirring stick; the finished product was kept in a spouted pot and finally poured into a steep-sided cup. These tools used are much different to the large machines and factories presently involved in the production line for chocolate. Molinillos allowed Mesoamericans the ability to froth the beverage acting similar to a whisk, giving volume to the fatty liquid. In addition to the whisking, pouring from a great height allowed for air bubbles to enter the liquid on its way into the steep cup from the spouted pot. It was most important to the Mesoamericans to ensure that the preparation process such as the one described above be completely accurately in order to achieve the desired flavours for the beverage. Additionally, the variety and degree of ripeness of the cacao bean were just as important as the processing of cacao. Inscriptions in Mayan pottery and archeological remains describe the combination of cacao with honey, flowers, aromatic herbs, achiote, sugar, vanilla, chili, and various fruits (peaches, apricots, oranges) (Sampeck 2017).Original tastes seem to fair on the bitter side while pre-Columbian and colonial period recipes begin to incorporate natural sweeteners.

Mayan Artifacts:

Used for centuries to whip up a foam on hot-chocolate drinks in Mexican and Central American kitchens

The Princeton Vase: Women on far right demonstrates pouring of chocolate beverage from height

Silver chocolate pot

With recipes varying mostly by geographic locations, the availability of resources determined which flavours were used in combination with the cacao to achieve each concoction. Records show that common spices used in combination with cacao for Europeans include cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, saffron, nutmeg, ginger, and clove (Sampeck 2017). It is evident based on these flavours that the tastes in various parts of the world seem to take individual themes. With Europeans inclined to a earthy, musky, spicier flavour, the Mayans and Spanish preferred a sweeter sensation. The commencement of trading of substances among countries jumpstarted the wide array of recipes that blossomed from attaining new spices and flavours from others. Although each spice added a new dimension to the taste and feeling of consumption of cacao, one of the most important and sought-after combinations for countries on either side of the Atlantic Ocean involved that of honey or fruit.

Recipes from the British impacted chocolate flavours by acting as a generic starting point for much of the creations across Europe having combined cacao with a wide array of ingredients, much more in fact than any other European place. With such a large array of recipes chocolate became an opportunity for each location to explore their environment and preferences to arrive at a combination they chose to consume.

Interestingly, certain recipes continued to have the chocolate name in them when in fact no cacao was included in the mixture. The name stuck due to the similar preparation style to that of chocolate beverages and included combinations of spices and flavours that would typically be found in combination with cacao powder.

Evolution over time:

Beginning in the 18th century, recipes for chocolate began to shift from a liquid substance to a solid matter. As slavery became more prevalent, the production of cacao heightened, allowing it to be used by commoners.  The prestigious power of chocolate was stripped with mass amounts being consumed on the daily by all individuals of society. The famous chocolate company Nestle, gave rise to milk chocolate in the 17th century by combining condensed powdered milk, sugar and processed chocolate (Lippi). By 1847, the first chocolate bar was created by a company called J.S. Fry & Sons, made from cocoa butter, powder and sugar. Soon after Lindt curated the conching machine which allowed for production of the creamy chocolate ganache that fills their popular truffles (Klein). The 20th century opened the door to the creation and enjoyment of various chocolate flavoured solid treats, combining large amounts of sugar and other additives in order to ensure preservation and enjoyment (Fiegl).

Advertisement for Fry’s Chocolate, 1847.

Manufacture of first chocolate bar in England.

Work Cited:

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

Klein, Christopher. “The Sweet History of Chocolate.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 14 Feb. 2014, http://www.history.com/news/the-sweet-history-of-chocolate.

Lecture 2 Slides: Professor Martin

Lippi, Donatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food.” Nutrients, MDPI, 14 May 2013, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3708337/.

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

Multimedia Cited:

Edwards, Owen. “A Historic Kitchen Utensil Captures What It Takes to Make Hot Chocolate From Scratch.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Sept. 2007, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/kitchen-utensil-chocolate-stirring-from-scratch-cacao-161383020/.

Khan, Gulnaz. National Geographic, 11 Sept. 2017, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/guatemala/anitgua-maya-chocolate-making/.

Lecture 5: Professor Martin

“The Princeton Vase (y1975-17).” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, artmuseum.princeton.edu/collections/objects/32221.

“The Silver Chocolate Pots of Colonial Boston.” Colonial Society of Massachusetts, http://www.colonialsociety.org/node/1359.

From Elite to Everyday: How Chocolate Became Democratized

When chocolate was first introduced to Europeans in the 1500s, they maintained a similar perception of it as Mesoamerican societies did long before them — a “food for the gods.” But for the Europeans, chocolate belonged to the closest category they had to the gods: the elites. Pictured below is an engraving of men at a chocolate house, which were lively, oftentimes raucous hubs designed for elite men to converse while consuming chocolate.

Socializing ensues in a London chocolate house. (image source: http://www.herbmuseum.ca/content/londons-chocolate-houses)

Dressed in opulent garb and engaging in animated discussion, it is evident that these are privileged members of society. In stark contrast, standing to the side is a maid — presumably in charge of serving the chocolate — whose demeanor and expression show that leisurely enjoyment of chocolate was not made for everyone. However, this notion of chocolate as a delicacy for the elite did not remain static. Today, people living in the US can walk into any corner store or supermarket and find a variety of chocolate products sold at reasonable prices. This transition from a delicacy for elite Europeans to the everyday snack that we recognize it as today was propelled by several intertwining factors. The realization that chocolate did not have true medicinal properties made it acceptable to consume chocolate unsparingly. Once this norm had been established, the creation of more efficient modes of production removed slow, inefficient labor from the chocolate production process, thereby extending the availability of the product to an even larger audience. Ultimately, these factors that drove chocolate from the hands of the elite to everyday were associated with the desire to profit from the production and selling of chocolate. 

Elite Europeans initially perceived chocolate not as a readily consumed treat, but rather as a supplement with medicinal properties. This was a notable departure from the spiritual properties of chocolate that Mesoamerican societies originally believed it to have. As Coe and Coe described in The True History of Chocolate, “for the invaders, [chocolate] was a drug, a medicine, in the humoral system to which they all adhered” (Coe and Coe 126). This system, which was the extent of European medical knowledge at the time, was based on 4 “humors,” in which “good health [was] defined by the balance and mixture of the humors, whilst their imbalance and separation [were] the cause of disease” (Jouanna 335). One example of how chocolate’s purported medicinal properties functioned within the humoral system can be observed in Italy. The Roman physician Paolo Zacchia described chocolate as a new medicine that could aid the digestive process, but it should be consumed with caution for fear of exposing the body to excessive amounts of the “hot” humor (Coe and Coe 139). This instruction clearly suggests a conservative, strictly medicinal expectation for the consumption of chocolate.

Yet, the leisurely consumption of chocolate was not unheard of. Francesco Redi, a scientist and physician for Cosimo III de Medici, describes his heavily-guarded recipe for jasmine chocolate, which included additional aromatic flavors such as citrus, musk, cinnamon, and vanilla — indicating that chocolate wasn’t solely reserved for healing the body, but it could also bring pleasure to the body (Coe and Coe 145). Redi’s refusal to share this recipe with others is an example of the elitism associated with chocolate in Europe. Despite this, the recipe also demonstrated a shift of the perception of chocolate to non-medicinal and suitable for everyday, unrestricted consumption. It was only a matter of time before replications were attempted and the more widespread consumption of chocolate commenced, therefore paving the way for chocolate to be consumed at much higher rates and become a more profitable commodity.

Early modes of chocolate preparation employed by Europeans involved intricate, hand-operated tools. However, these were eventually overcome by the techniques developed during the Industrial Revolution, which streamlined the production process and turned it into an efficient endeavor, albeit at the cost of sacrificing the artisanship that had been an integral part of chocolate consumption for much of its history. One example of this early method of chocolate processing was the French chocolatière, or the chocolate pot, pictured below.

A staple for elite households, this silver chocolate pot contains ornate detailing and raised feet. (image source: https://art.thewalters.org/detail/5934/chocolate-pot/)

This pot borrowed elements from the Spanish molinillo. In fact, the handle on the side of the pot served the same purpose as the molinillo: to foam up the chocolate (Coe and Coe 157). Complete with a lid, these pots were usually constructed out of silver or gold in order to meet the exquisite tastes of the elites that these pots were intended for (Coe and Coe 157). However, this method of chocolate production by hand was not appropriate for quick, widespread consumption. The advent of the Industrial Revolution brought a shift from producing by hand to manufacturing with machinery, and chocolate production was no exception to this. One chocolate manufacturing development that rose to prominence during the Industrial Revolution was the conche machine developed by Rudolphe Lindt in the latter half of the 19th century, pictured below.

Conche machines used today are larger and less decorative than Lindt’s early conche. (image source: https://www.chocolate.lindt.com/world-of-lindt/the-lindt-difference/the-lindt-differencethe-lindt-invention-conching/)

This machine rolls the cocoa solids around with granite rollers for a duration of about 72 hours, which is sufficient to break down the small particles and allow the chocolate to adopt a smoother texture — much more than the Spanish metates or French chocolate pots could ever accomplish (Cidell and Alberts 1002). The conche was an important development not only because it gave chocolate a universally appealing texture that could be enjoyed by everyone regardless of social status, but it also was conducive to outputting this smooth chocolate in a time-efficient manner that required less manual labor, which made the final product more affordable for non-elites.

These advancements that were made during the Industrial Revolution resulted in a less costly and easier production process, which allowed chocolate to become a more widespread staple for those who could not previously obtain it. Due to this heightened degree of accessibility to chocolate, entrepreneurs realized that it was a commodity that should be commercialized and marketed to the masses, rather than just remain a delicacy among the elites. Consequently, to maximize this new profitability associated with chocolate, new techniques, such as tempering, the process of raising and then lowering the temperature to prevent unwanted crystallization and irregularity in the chocolate (Coe and Coe 248), were continuously developed. This would further expand this level of accessibility of chocolate — both to the tastes and budgets of average people — to the degree that we can observe it today.

Chocolate’s journey from the reserves of the elite to its current commonplace consumption began with an understanding that its supposed medicinal properties were false, which made it acceptable to consume without fear of overdosing. But this alone was not sufficient to spread the consumption of chocolate to non-elites; it merely normalized the notion of everyday, nonmedicinal consumption. The industrialization of the chocolate production process is the corresponding factor that gave the final push of chocolate into the hands of the everyman. Although it was accompanied by a desire for profit by companies who wanted to capitalize on the new technologies discovered in the Industrial Revolution, there still arose a slightly more equitable distribution of who got to enjoy the rich, decadent flavors of chocolate.

Works Cited:

Cidell, Julie L. and Alberts, Heike C. “Constructing quality: The multinational histories of chocolate.” Geoforum, vol. 37, 2006, pp. 999-1007.

Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd Edition, London, Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Jouanna, Jacques. Greek Medicine from Hippocrates to Galen: Selected Papers. Translated by Neil Allies, Leiden, Brill Publishers, 2012.

More Chocolate, More Quickly!: Changes in Chocolate Consumption brought about by the Industrial Revolution

The Bigger Picture: How did we get here?

“200 years ago, the average American ate only 2 pounds of sugar a year . . . Today, the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year” (Martin 2020).  But what contributed to this major uptick in consumption?

Sketch of sugar consumption over time, based on (Martin 2020).

As portrayed in my sketch of a graph above, sugar consumption (and consequently chocolate consumption) has always been on the rise.  However, the inflection point in the exponential curve was in the late 1700s to early 1800s, precisely the time of the Industrial Revolution. (Martin 2020)

During the Industrial Revolution, various technological developments not only further augmented the supply and demand for chocolate, but also altered the way in which it was consumed, especially among the working class.

More chocolate for everyone!

Several technological advancements drove the industrialization of chocolate (among other foods) via developments in the preservation, mechanization, retailing, and transport of food (Goody 2013).  While the production process once required much more manual labor with tools like the molinillo and metate, industrialization led to the automated mechanization of roasting, winnowing, grinding and milling, among many other steps diagrammed below (Coe and Coe 2013).

Diagram of chocolate manufacture process (Mintz 1965).

In 1828, Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten developed an incredibly efficient hydraulic press along with the Dutch process; these particular inventions would forever change the chocolate industry in enabling the large-scale manufacture of both powdered and solid chocolate (Coe and Coe 2013).

As delineated in the production process like the one filmed below, these developments were taken up by Big Chocolate companies like Lindt, Nestlé, Cadbury, Hershey’s, and Mars, further helping to scale up the chocolate industry through the utilization of this machinery (Martin and Sampeck 2016, 49). 

(How Hershey’s Chocolate Is Made and Packaged HD 2015)

Beyond this, the industry giants would continue to cast their net to an even wider consumer base, by introducing even more changes to chocolate production: Fry’s tempering process would lead to the manufacture of the first chocolate bars (pictured below), Lindt’s conching process would enable chocolate to be filled with other ingredients, and Hershey would develop the means of improving shelf life and producing even larger quantities of chocolate (Martin 2012).

(Fry’s Milk Chocolate Enamel Advertising Sign 2013)
(Frys Five Boys Milk Chocolate 2005)

With all these developments, the ever-growing demand for chocolate was better supported, and the mass production led to an overall deflation of chocolate prices that allowed it to become more accessible to the masses (Martin and Sampeck 2016, 55).  “It was no longer an elite, expensive product primarily consumed as a beverage, but instead an inexpensive cocoa powder to be drunk or low-cacao-content chocolate bar to be consumed as a food by elite and non-elite alike” (Coe and Coe 2013).

The busy consumer

Industrialization not only revolutionized chocolate production, but also created more employment opportunities and expanded the workforce.  As a result, many people’s schedules underwent a dramatic shifted in order to accommodate their new work hours.  Naturally, this directly affected people’s eating patterns as well; with more limited time came a need for quicker meal preparation.

As nations became “more urban and industrialized” over the next century, they “[changed] eating schedules to meet work schedules, teaching laborers to eat away from home, to eat prepared food more frequently, and to consume more sugar along the way. Managers of such societies recognized the potentiality of workers to increase their own productivity if sufficiently stimulated, and to open themselves to new, learnable needs” (Mintz 1986, 181).  In addition, division of labor, in conjunction with familial gender roles, affected eating patterns as well.  With more women in the workforce, women were spending less time at home, shifting the traditional reliance on women’s cooking and labor for food production.  Therefore, family diets were unequivocally affected (Martin 2020).

The sudden spike in chocolate production, in conjunction with the rise of the working class, changed not only the quantity but the very way in which chocolate was consumed, with the birth of various new recipes.  Chocolate provided people with the ability to take “shortcuts while maintaining effective results” and the food industry successfully took advantage of this; for example, through their novel marketing and advertising, “cake and brownie mix producers were able to convince home cooks around the country to purchase their products, while forever altering the American relationship to home cooking and taste” (Martin 2012).  Later in the twentieth century, with advancements like microwaveable technologies, products like microwaveable brownies were made possible as well, simultaneously addressing both the need for speed and the growing demand for chocolate.

Chocolate today

The developments made during Industrialization indefinitely transformed not only the way chocolate was produced, but the quantity and quality in which it was consumed.  In fact, we continue to employ many of the same advancements in the production process and enjoy much of the new eating patterns that came about during that time.  The Industrial Revolution is to thank for transforming chocolate to become what we know it as today, and for making it possible for us to even enjoy it.

To many of our delights, most of us have the privilege of consuming chocolate, and on any occasion in present day.  Although we have the industrial period to be grateful for, it is worth noting that chocolate has an incredibly rich history extending beyond industrialization as well, and that chocolate consumption still fails to be fully equitable.  As contemporary consumers of chocolate, it is important to be mindful of both the sweet and bitter history of chocolate.


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

Frys Five Boys Milk Chocolate. Wikimedia Commons, 2005. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frys_five_boys_milk_chocolate.jpg

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine,” 2013.

How Hershey’s Chocolate Is Made and Packaged HD. YouTube, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MytilMhNUq8.

Martin, Carla. “Brownies: The History of a Classic American Dessert,” 2012, http://www.ushistoryscene.com/uncategorized/brownies/.

Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Class lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 2020.

Martin, Carla, and Sampeck, Kathryn. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe,” 2016.

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.

Traynor, Kim. Fry’s Chocolate Enamel Advertising Sign. Wikimedia Commons, 2013. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fry’s_Chocolate_advertisement.JPG.

Consumption as Class? The Evolution and Implications of Sugar Usage in 18th Century England

Until the 18th century, sugar was a commodity strictly confined to the nobility (Mintz 45). However, by the mid-1700s, the “poorest English farm labourer’s wife took sugar in her tea” (Mintz 45). In less than a century, sugar evolved from a symbol of the ruling classes to an everyday commodity consumed veraciously by the working class. Yet, this process cannot merely be explained by the social adaptation of consumption practices by class—though distinct social meanings ascribed to sugar certainly developed within the social hierarchy of England. Rather, the evolution of sugar in England is representative of a complex system of political and economic power, of production and consumption. This blog explores the historical evolution and significance of sugar consumption in England. I will begin by analyzing the evolution of consumption practices as sugar pervaded households throughout the social hierarchy. Then, I will contextualize sugar consumption in England within a broader historical narrative, arguing that consumption patterns in the country were unique. Finally, I will locate the distinctness of British sugar consumption within the political and economic mechanisms of 18th century England. Though early consumption practices were representative of a social hierarchy and served to validate social status, the mounting taste for sugar throughout English society conferred political and economic, rather than merely social, significance.

Social Evolution of Sugar Consumption 

Some historians link the growing demand for consumer goods, such as sugar, in 18th century Europe to consumption as a signal of respectability and class (Smith 3). This is especially salient when examining the nascent phases of sugar consumption in England. When the commodity first arrived from the Caribbean, it was both expensive and rare, characteristics that contributed to its popularity among elites (Godoy 1). Before sugar was made economically available as a sweetener, it was utilized among the elite classes as a spice or condiment, decorative material, and an additive in medicine (Mintz 79). The exclusive association between sugar and the elite class bestowed symbolic weight upon the product in English life, providing its users with validation of power, authority, and status.

Though the evolution of sugar as a sweetener signifies its initial dispersion throughout English society, this method of consumption also played a significant role in the social life of elites. The focal point of English nobility’s political and cultural life was London’s many chocolate and coffee houses (Coe and Coe 223). Sugar played a significant part in these institutions, as sugar was added to both substances in order to enhance palatability. To be associated with such pleasures was to be among the political and economic elite and to have access to decision-making processes. Further, these institutions were places in which respectability and privilege were conferred (Cocking, 2018). However, while the image below conveys that these posh establishments were initially limited to political and social elites, their existence represents the diffusion of sugar into the broader public domain.

White’s Chocolate House in London
Source: Cadbury/ Wikimedia

By the mid-1700s, sugar was consumed by a widespread population, evolving into a necessity rather than a frivolity. While sugar had previously been associated with elitism, the social expansion of sugar contributed to its development as an everyday commodity that linked sugar to proletariat survival. Among the working classes and the poor, sugar was utilized as a sweetener for tea and coffee, as well as to supplement the consumption of carbohydrates, such as porridges and breads (Mintz 118). As a cheap, accessible source of calories, sugar came to be synonymous with the everyday Brit and was gradually reduced from its status as a luxury product. The recasting of sugar as a symbol of the working class, rather than elites, is representative of extensification, in which larger numbers of persons were becoming familiar with the good on a regular basis (Mintz 122).

The Consumer Revolution

Some historians have argued that European society experienced a “consumer revolution” throughout the eighteenth century, marked by the increased consumption of non-European consumer commodities (Smith 5-6). Indeed, it appears as though such a “revolution” occurred with regards to sugar consumption in England. Over a period of seventy years, English per capita consumption of sugar nearly quadrupled, indicating significant dispersion of the commodity throughout English society (Rivard et al. 424). As the following case study reveals, some individuals consumed sugar in excess daily.

“A Vindication of Sugars ,” written in 1715, argues for the beneficial nature of sugar. This entry suggests that the Duke of Beaufort survived to an old age because of his excessive sugar consumption.
Source: The British Library Board

William Wadd remarked in 1816, “ For one fat person in France or Spain, there are one hundred in England” (5), which is suggestive of the unique nature of English sugar consumption. In other European colonial societies, such as France, sweet delicacies were reserved only for the monarch’s court and highest-ranking nobility (Green 1). During the French revolution, indulgence in sugar came to be associated with immorality, as the history of the marquis de Sade—whose affinity for “pastry and sweets” is well-documented—exemplifies (Coe and Coe 230). Rather than permeating social classes, sweetness came to represent the hedonistic nature of the ruling elite. Thus, the widespread nature of sugar consumption in England represents a unique phenomenon that simultaneously reflected and enabled political and economic influence at the time.

Consumption Beyond Class

The extensification of sugar has explanations beyond the social structure of British society. The taxation of sugar served to bolster the financial resources of the British Empire. By the mid-1700s, the annual taxes procured from sugar imports sustained the ships of the British Navy (Godoy 1). As the navy was the primary mechanism through which British influence was spread throughout the globe, sugar served a political purpose in the British Empire. The expansion of the British Empire was enabled by the importation and consumption of sugar. Economically, widespread consumption of sugar in England solidified demand from British sugar plantations in the Caribbean. The novel, everyday uses for sugar that developed among the British working class necessitated the continued production and importation of the commodity. Further, sugar enabled the widespread consumption of chocolate, coffee, and tea, encouraging the demand for these items, as well

Sugar Plantation on the British colony of Antigua 
William Clark/ Wikimedia

Conversely, the availability of sugar was also reflective of state and business interests. Compared to other colonial powers at the time, England approached the colonization of the Caribbean most aggressively. According to Mintz, England “fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves… and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system” (38). Demand for sugar was conceived of, in part, by British suppliers, who realized that production and consumption were inextricably intertwined (Mintz 42). Despite a significant influx of sugar from British sugar islands throughout the 1700s, demand in the country continued to rise significantly—in this case, consumption matched production. Though sugar was initially consumed by and symbolic of elites, the British expansion of planation production necessitated a differentiation of sugar usages and an expanded consumer market. With this in mind, the spread of sugar can be viewed, not necessarily as an example of social extensification, but rather as a construction of the state. Thus, the diversification of sugar consumption cannot be merely identified as a social phenomenon. Rather, it is embedded within the broader political and economic mode of English colonialism.

Works Cited

The British Library Board. Sugar in Britain. British Library, London.

Clark, William. The Mill Yard. 1823. British Library, London.

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

Godoy, Maria. “Tea Tuesdays: How Tea + Sugar Reshaped The British Empire.” NPR, 7 April 2015, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/04/07/396664685/tea-tuesdays-how-tea-sugar-reshaped-the-british-empire. Accessed 8 Mar 2020.

Green, Matthew. “How the Decadence and Depravity of 18th-Century London Was Fuelled by Hot Chocolate.” The Telegraph, 23 Dec. 2018. http://www.telegraph.co.uk, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/england/london/articles/surprising-history-of-london-chocolate-houses/. Accessed 8 Mar 2020.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.

Rivard, Christopher, et al. “Sack and Sugar, and the Aetiology of Gout in England between 1650 and 1900.” Rheumatology (Oxford, England), vol. 52, Nov. 2012. ResearchGate, doi:10.1093/rheumatology/kes297.

Smith, Woodruff D. Consumption and The Making of Respectability, 1600-1800. Routledge, 2002.

Wadd, William. Cursory Remarks on Corpulence, or Obesity Considered as a Disease: With a Critical Examination of Ancient and Modern Opinions, Relative to Its Causes and Cure. 3rd edition, Smith and Davy, 1816.

White’s Chocolate House. 1708. London.