Tag Archives: chocolate

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.

The Missing Story: The Spread of Cacao and the Popularity of Cocoa Production in Asia

It is no secret that chocolate was popularized in the Western world by the Europeans, particularly the Spanish, after discovering cacao in the New World. However, since Europeans began to dominate the chocolate industry, particularly relying on colonialism to exploit and export cacao from their colonies, the preeminent narrative has become one of widespread European production and consumption of chocolate. However, the historical focus on how chocolate spread from the European royalty to more broad audiences, such as the “common people” in Europe and in North America, limits the scope of understanding for the global popularity of cacao and chocolate production. The existing research tends to focus on chocolate as it spread from Europe to America, but this leads to a more narrow understanding of cacao and its popularity in other regions like East Asia.

The global narrative of chocolate cultivation, production, and consumptions begins in Mesoamerica. Cacao cultivation and chocolate production originated in Mesoamerica during the early BCE era, and for the Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs, and other Mesoamerican civilizations, cacao (or kakawa) was reserved primarily to produce drinks for the elite (although it also functioned as a form of currency) (Coe 2013, 78-81). Beginning around the early sixteenth-century, chocolate was introduced into the Spanish culture by Hernán Cortes and originally was similarly regarded as a popular delicacy of the European royalty. “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe,” (Coe 2013, 125). Chocolate remained an elite drink in Europe during the Baroque Age, as it spread in popularity from Spain and Portugal to Italy to France. In fact, the French are credited with the invention of the silver chocolatiére, pictured below, which was a chocolate-pot used to produce and serve the chocolate beverage produced from cocoa. The chocolatiére is significant because the invention evolved from the Mexican practice of producing a cacao beverage using a wooden molinillo, also depicted below. However, the French took this concept and produced the silver chocolatiére in which the European nobles could consume their chocolate beverages (Coe 2013, 156-157).

18th century French silver chocolatiére pictured third from the left, among other styles and types of chocolate-pots.https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2017-11-09_17-54-58_ILCE-6500_DSC09407_(26520185009).jpg

However, once chocolate spread to Britain in the seventeenth century, it also began to spread in popular consumption from the elites to the general public. Like the already-established popular coffee and tea houses, chocolate houses too began to pop up, one of which is depicted below. Chocolate houses were originally frequented by the British nobles and upper class citizens, as demonstrated by the noble style of dress (including the British wigs seen worn by the men in the image), as chocolate still cost more than did coffee (although not as much as tea). While chocolate was still an expensive commodity, the prevalence of the chocolate houses contributed to the spread of chocolate consumption from the elites to the masses as chocolate became popularized in British culture (Coe 2013, 167).

London Chocolate-house c.1708. Silver chocolatiéres can be seen on the tables, while British nobles (dressed accordingly) enjoy the delicacy. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate-house-london-c1708.jpg

Much of the existing literature on the global spread of chocolate focuses primarily on its path between South and Central America, Europe, and North America. In the 1660s, however, cacao began to spread not only to Europe but also across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines and the South Pacific region (C-spot, A Concise History of Chocolate). Cacao cultivation was especially successful in the Philippines, which at the time was a Spanish colony: “They have brought from New Spain to the Philippines the Cacao plant,” Italian merchant and voyager Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Carreri wrote of his travels to the Philippines in the seventeenth century. “[The Cacao plant] has multiplied so well, although it has degenerated a bit, that in a short while they can do without that of America,” (Coe 2013, 173). The Philippines was chocolate’s “one Asian success,” according to Sophie and Michael Coe; but cacao continued to spread beyond just the Philippines.

Map depicting the main routes for the spread of cacao globally, including to the Philippines and South Pacific/Southeast Asia regions. http://www.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/

As pictured in the map above, from the islands of the Philippines cacao cultivation first spread south to Indonesia, where the suitable climate, vast unused land, and large and inexpensive labor supply made the two Southeast Asian regions prime for Spanish exploitation (Sampeck and Thayn 2017, 93). Cacao cultivation grew in popularity in the Philippines and Indonesia specifically because their agrarian systems were characterized by the plantation sector, which excelled at producing tropical cash crops like cacao (Hayami 2001, 181-182).  Cocoa farming remained popular, however, because local farmers and large-scale plantation systems alike could cultivate cacao; the video below demonstrates that even now, cocoa farming continues to be popular in the Philippines, despite the global narrative about European production of chocolate and American consumption of chocolate.

Indonesia particularly grew in their share of the global cocoa market, while the Philippines began to grow in production of coconut oil instead (Hayami 2001, 190). Later in the nineteenth century, cacao spread from Indonesia westward across Asia and into Sri Lanka (C-spot, A Concise History of Chocolate). Not only was cocoa farming successful in the Philippines and Indonesia, the video below shows that ecological and technological advances allowed cocoa farming to become even more accessible, widespread, and environmentally conscious in the Philippines than it originally had been. So why does the narrative often stop at the introduction of cacao to the Philippines as a Spanish colony when there is so much more to the story? 

Although the widespread acceptance of chocolate in the Western world is a crucial element in the global history of chocolate, much of the existing research focuses solely on the European and North American cultivation, production, and consumption of chocolate as it spread from the elites to the masses. This leaves out an important element in the story of how chocolate rose to popularity in the global market: Asia, particularly regions in Southeast and South Pacific Asia, played a vital role in contributing to the successful cultivation and production of cocoa.

Works Cited

Chocolate House London C.1708. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate-house-london-c1708.jpg.

“Cocoa Farming – The Good Chocolate.” Video, 05:33. Youtube. Posted by John Croft, January 20, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOgksl9DDqI.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate: With 99 Illustrations, 14 in Colour. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

“A Concise History of Chocolate.” C-spot. http://www.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/.

French Chocolatieres. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2017-11-09_17-54-58_ILCE-6500_DSC09407_(26520185009).jpg.

Hayami, Yujiro. “Ecology, History, and Development: A Perspective from Rural Southeast Asia.” The World Bank Research Observer 16, no. 2 (Fall 2001): 169-98.

Sampeck, Kathryn E., and Jonathan Thayn. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” In Substance and Seduction. Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck, 72-99. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.

“A White Woman Dipped in Chocolate” Misogynoir and Cocoa Throughout History

When an aptly named German chocolate brand “Super Dickmann’s” posted this image of Meghan Markle, some people got upset while others laughed at their sensitivity.

The infamous tweet depicting mixed-race Meghan Markle as a chocolate-covered marshmallow

The German employee in charge of the corporate Facebook account was likely not aware that the comparison between African women and chocolate is imbued with historical misogynoir. Misogynoir, a term coined by black feminist Moya Bailey (Anyangwe, 2015), is double discrimination faced by black women where bias is both race and gender-based (Verve Team, 2018).

While women have long been seen as buyers, preparers and religious devotees of chocolate, the earliest depictions associated with chocolate were those of infants such as cupids or angels (Martin, 2020). Later, chocolate became associated with an idealized image of white womanhood, as society women became an important consumer demographic. An 1874 New York Times issue announced that wealthy women were the biggest purchasers of an “elaborate style of French candies.” New ads featured elegant white women and were meant to appeal to both the tastes of upper-class consumers and the aspirations of lower-class ones (Robertson, 2010).

Aspirational chocolate advertisements, such as this image from the 1970s, continued into the late 20th century

Such ads put white consumers at the forefront and minimized chocolate’s roots in West African agriculture. Romanticized images of white agricultural workers such as of this milkmaid carrying pails attempted to further erase chocolates’ African origins (Robertson, 2010).

Early 20th century Cadbury advertisement

These fictionalized images associated the labor required to produce chocolate with “wholesome whiteness” in the minds of consumers (Robertson, 2010). Notably, a 1930 Cadbury ad that does feature African women, shows them as faceless silhouettes balancing baskets brimming with cocoa pods on their heads (Robertson, 2010). While white women associated with chocolate were bestowed with good taste and wholesomeness, black women were dehumanized and fetishized through racist depictions.

In 1947 a new character “Honeybunch” was created to advertise Rowntree’s Cocoa (Robertson, 2010). Honeybunch looked infantile – barefoot and with bows in her hair. In this ad, she is dehumanized through the juxtaposition of her “imagined” character to “real” white people in the ad (Robertson, 2010).

Honeybunch and “real” white consumers

A 1950 ad goes further to depict Honeybunch as a spring bouncing out of tin of cocoa – an example of a common trope of Africans drawn as actual cocoa (Robertson, 2010) This association of a person with an edible object further solidifies the idea that black people are false commodities (Polanyi, 2001). According to Polanyi, labor is one of those fictitious commodities to which the market mechanisms should not apply (2001). According to Polanyi, not only labor but also the laborer can become commodities for sale if the commodity function of labor is prioritized (2001). Commodity function of labor is the low labor cost for the sake of lower prices, and in the case of chocolate, low labor costs help support higher remuneration for cocoa processors and chocolate producers instead of African workers. This problem persists into modernity: according to the Cocoa Barometer, cocoa farmer households earn merely 37% of living income in Côte d’Ivoire, the leader in cocoa bean production supplying 40% of world’s cocoa (2018).

Blackness is also objectified and commodified through the association between black skin and chocolate – a trope that still pervades today. Food-related descriptions have long been used to describe dark skin. While light foundation shades are often called “nude” or “fair,” darker shades are often named after commodities such as cocoa or coffee. This further solidifies the toxic idea that white womanhood is the default, and objectifies black womanhood through comparisons with edible objects.

A 2004 ice cream advertisement conceived in Brazil

Even black women of the same status as the white women in chocolate ads are not immune to dehumanizing fetishization. In 1976, a magazine editor described supermodel Iman as “a white woman dipped in chocolate,” (Oliver, 2015). The editor’s baffling comment is akin to Charlie’s question about whether the Oompa Loompas, which were distinctly African in the original book, are made out of chocolate (Robertson, 2010).

The fact that class cannot protect black women from misogynoir sheds critical light on “respectability politics,” an ideology that emphasizes the need for black people to gain respect and “uplift the race” by correcting ‘undesirable” characteristics and embodying desirable ones (Harris, 2014). Racist treatment of Iman despite her social prominence parallels the way companies such as Rowntree or Cadbury used depictions of black girls and women like Honeybunch for their “distinct difference” while dehumanizing them.

Pat McGrath, one of the most prominent makeup artists of the century, also had a cocoa related story that shed light on how designers who hire black models failed to provide them with equal supplies. McGrath often had to use cocoa powder on set because she wasn’t provided with darker makeup shades (Prinzivalli, 2019).

A group of black women has found a way to use the association between dark skin and chocolate for their benefit, creating a food-inspired makeup brand “Beauty Bakerie,” which counts cocoa-flavored powder among its products.

The “Beauty Bakerie” website

And what about Pat McGrath who had to use food instead of makeup? Her beauty empire is now worth almost a billion dollars – and her dark foundation colors are named Medium Deep and Deep instead of cocoa and chocolate (Mpinja, 2018).


Anyangwe, E. (2015, October 5). Misogynoir: where racism and sexism meet. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/oct/05/what-is-misogynoir

Fountain, A and Friedel, H. (2018). Cocoa Barometer

Harris, F.C. (2014). The Rise of Respectability Politics. Dissent 61(1), 33-37. doi:10.1353/dss.2014.0010.

Mpinja, B. (2018, July 23). Why Makeup Artist Pat McGrath Is the Self-Made Beauty Billionaire We Need. Retrieved from https://www.allure.com/story/pat-mcgrath-self-made-billionaire-success

Phillip, N. (2018, October 23). My Very Personal Taste of Racism Abroad. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/23/travel/racism-travel-italy-study-abroad.html

Oliver, D. (2015, September 10). Iman Opens Up About Deeply Upsetting Career Moment. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/iman-racism-fashion-industry_n_55f02b31e4b002d5c0775000

Polanyi, karl. The great transformation: the political and economic origins of our time. Boston: bEACON, 2001. Prin

Prinzivalli, L. (2019, May 21). Why Makeup Artist Pat McGrath Grew Up Using Cocoa Powder as Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.allure.com/story/pat-mcgrath-cocoa-powder-foundation-dark-skin-tone-shades

Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.

Team, V. E. R. V. E. (2018, September 4). Feminist Facts: What is Misogynoir? Retrieved from https://medium.com/verve-up/feminist-facts-what-is-misogynoir-5392c29d6aab

The Mancerina and Chocolate Consumption in 17th-Century Spain

In 1544, Kekchi Maya nobles traveled to Spain and presented Prince Philip with a variety of gifts from Mesoamerica (Coe, 1996). Among these gifts were quetzal feathers, chillis, maize, and chocolate. Scholars believe this interaction between Kekchi and Spanish nobility is the first example of chocolate in Europe (Coe, 1996). Following this exchange, Spain began importing cacao from Mesoamerica. By 1600, the Spanish royal court was regularly consuming chocolate in the form of a hot beverage (Coe, 1996). The introduction of chocolate to Europe spurred the development of a unique, European culture of chocolate production and consumption. This culture included the invention of special materials used to consume chocolate, including the Spanish mancerina (Coe, 1996).

A mancerina is a small plate with a raised ring in the center. The raised ring holds a small chocolate-filled cup in place and prevents it from sliding off of the plate (Moore, 2003). The mancerina was developed to prevent Spanish nobles from spilling chocolate beverages on themselves. In the 17th century, chocolate in Spain was associated with royalty and indulgence. Wealthy, high-ranking members of society consumed the exotic and decadent drink at parties, often while dancing (Coe, 1996). The mancerina thus allowed people to consume their beverage while they danced, without fear of spilling it. The mancerina, therefore, was integral to the culture of chocolate consumption in Spain, marked by nobility and excess.

Although the mancerina is a symbol of 17th-century Spanish chocolate consumption, it was not invented in Spain. Rather, it was invented by Don Pedro Alvarez de Toledo, the Marquis of Mancera, in Peru (Coe, 1996). Don Alvarez was serving as the Spanish Viceroy of Peru when he witnessed a woman at a royal gathering spill chocolate on herself (Coe, 1996). As a result, he commissioned a silversmith in Lima to craft a saucer with a raised center capable of balancing a cup to prevent spills: the mancerina (Coe, 1996). The mancerina was eventually brought to Europe and crafted using porcelain instead of silver (Coe, 1996).

Likewise, despite the mancerina’s association with Spanish nobility and chocolate consumption, the cup that the mancerina holds, called a jicara, is modeled off of pre-Columbian drinking vessels (Moore, 2003). The design of the jicara is based off of bowl-like cups made of gourds used in Mesoamerica before the Spanish arrival (Moore, 2003). As such, the mancerina, central to Spanish chocolate consumption culture, was heavily influenced by pre-Columbian Mesoamerican traditions and inventions.  

The invention of the mancerina reinforced chocolate’s association with royalty and indulgence in Spain. Not only was the mancerina used to serve chocolate, a beverage that was considered exotic and luxurious, but the mancerina itself was made of porcelain, another exotic and luxurious material. Additionally, it was invented in order to facilitate the consumption of chocolate at royal parties. “The mancerina lent a certain protocol to the act of taking chocolate and heightened the status of those who could afford the product and all of its accoutrements” (Forrest and Najjaj, 2007). In addition to symbolizing the lavishness of chocolate, the mancerina was itself a lavish item that contributed to the indulgent culture of chocolate consumption in 17th-century Spain.

Furthermore, the invention of materials like the mancerina contributed to the Europeanization of chocolate and the development of a culture of chocolate consumption marked by wealth, indulgence, and colonial power. The mancerina was created to accommodate a mode of chocolate consumption that Europeans considered unique from and superior to chocolate consumption in Mesoamerica (Forrest and Najjaj, 2007). In order to remake chocolate in their own image, Europeans forwent the chillis and maize that indigenous people often added to their chocolate beverages, and instead added sugar, bread, and other materials they considered their own. In the same way, Europeans developed their own drinking vessels, like the mancerina, in order to enjoy chocolate in a uniquely European way. The appropriation of chocolate and modes of chocolate consumption in Europe represented feelings of “nationalism and cultural superiority” (Forrest and Najjaj, 2007). The mancerina served to reinforce the notion that chocolate belonged to Europe. In addition to the invention of new chocolate beverage recipes, the development of materials like the mancerina, designed specifically for chocolate consumption in Europe, contributed to the appropriation of chocolate and the development of a European culture of chocolate consumption denoted by wealth, indulgence, and colonial power.

Following the introduction of chocolate to Europe by Kekchi Maya nobles in 1544, a culture of chocolate consumption developed in Spain. Chocolate came to be identified with royalty, decadence, and power. Central to the development of this culture was the invention of materials designed to accommodate modes of chocolate consumption specific to royal European society. One such material was the mancerina, a porcelain saucer designed to securely balance a chocolate-filled cup, which exemplified and contributed to the lavish culture surrounding chocolate in 17th-century Spain.

A drawing of 17th-century Spanish nobles sipping chocolate from mancerinas (Coe, 1996).

A porcelain mancerina, crafted sometime between 1735 and 1760 (Torrecid).

A porcelain mancerina, crafted sometime between 1770 and 1798, designed to look like a dove (Torrecid).


“Ceramic Art Collection.” Torrecid, http://www.torrecid.com/museum/index.php/ceramic-art-collection/.

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

Forrest, Beth Marie, and April L Najjaj. “Is Sipping Sin Breaking Fast? The Catholic Chocolate Controversy and the Changing World of Early Modern Spain.” Food and Foodways: Chocolate: Case Studies in History and Culture, vol. 15, no. 1-2, 2007, pp. 31–52.

Moore, Janet H. “Culture and Thought—Arts: Peking on the Rio Grande—An Art Form that Mixes Cranes, Cacti and Cultures.” Asian Wall Street Journal, Feb 07, 2003, ProQuest, http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/315498543?accountid=11311.

Putting Chocolate Into an Historical Context

When you bite into a chocolate bar, you are probably thinking something along the lines of “Yum, this bar of sugar is delicious” or “I’m on period, I deserve this”. Well, I’m sorry to say, but I am here to ruin chocolate for you. As you bite into that chocolatey sweetness, have you ever paused to think about where chocolate comes from? The origin of what we now call chocolate are racist, violent, and complex. Chocolate as we know it today would not exist without slavery and the forced servitude of entire groups of people around the world.

Chocolate is made from cacao beans and, as far as we can tell, originated with the Olmec in what is now southern Mexico some three thousand years ago. It is theorized that they were the first civilization to make chocolate from cacao (Coe, 37). Cacao was incredibly important in both Maya and Aztec cultures. In ancient Maya society, cacao was consumed as a beverage and used as a flavoring for food. It was usually drunk from tall, cylindrical vase and these jars were often buried with their owners.

Vase for drinking chocolate

Meanwhile, the Aztecs inhabited an area that was not conducive to growing cacao trees, so they mainly imported cacao beans through merchants and used it as currency as well as food. When the Spanish arrived, they found consuming cacao beverages to be a sensory experience unlike anything they had been exposed to before (Sampeck, 77). Columbus himself first came across cacao beans when his ship passed by a canoe full of traders. Though he didn’t know what the beans were at the time, it was clear they held some sort of value based on how the traders treated the beans. Today, people (especially chocolate-aficionados) tend to romanticize that moment, claiming that it was the moment “chocolate was discovered”, while ignoring the centuries of colonization, exploitation, and violence – also just because a white man sees something does not mean he discovered it. 

Eventually, the Spanish developed what most textbooks call the encomienda system (it was slavery) so that indigenous people could grow cacao and the Spanish could take it for themselves. In these “systems”, the Spanish owned the land, a percentage of the crops, and the lives of the indigenous laborers toiling in the fields. Indigenous laborers faced serious abuses and violence in these encomiendas, despite the fact that the purpose of this system was to protect indigenous people and bring them into the Christian faith. It doesn’t get much better from here. Cacao beans eventually made their way to Europe, where chocolate drinks became increasingly popular and as Coe writes, it “conquered Europe” (Coe, 125). Thus began the process of enslaving millions of Africans around the world to work on sugar cane plantations and cacao farms to feed the growing hunger for chocolate in Europe and the Americas.

Even today, you would be hard pressed to find chocolate untouched by child labor at some point in the supply chain. Around two-thirds of the world’s cacao supply comes from the former Gold Coast in West Africa. Over 2 million children work in this region on cacao farms, in harsh conditions, away from their families, often unable to attend school. This is chocolate’s dark side. Though it is often advertised as a guilty pleasure, a sultry indulgence, next time you feel the craving for some sweetness, think about where your chocolate has come from and try supporting businesses that ethically grow cacao.


Sampeck, Kathryn, and Jonathan Thayn. 2017. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.”

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007[1996]. The True History of Chocolate





Mesoamerican Artifacts!

In Mesoamerica chocolate was one of the most desired and sought after products, it was consumed by the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations. The consumption of chocolate early one was primarily spread through trade. This led to chocolate making it all the way to the Americas. One of the earliest and most common uses of chocolate was for consumption, whether this was in the form or a drink or as a solid. The Olmec tribe was one of the first civilizations to use chocolate as a drink, dating all the way back to 1900 BCE, this chocolate beverage was drunk from a special round jar known as a tecomate. Similar to the Olmec tribe, the Mayans also drank their chocolate out of a certain instrument. They used tall beakers, with an intricate design and text along the rim which described the intended use of the beaker. It is said that they made the design of the vessels so unique so that those who were looking would be impressed, proving that they had the status and means to enjoy such a prized and rich drink. This was significant, because it proved that cacao was a way to show social status. Drinking out of one of those tall beakers back then is equivalent to driving a very high end car like a Maserati or a Bugatti today. You don’t have em if you aren’t of a wealthy status.

( Mayan Beaker)   ( Olmec Tecomate)

Rio Azul Vessels: The Discovery

It is very important to understand the importance of cacao not just socially, but its value in certain cultural groups. The Rio Azul vessel is an important artifact that helps bring insight to the impact of cacao throughout the Mayan culture. These vessels were discovered inside the tomb located in the Rio Azul region of Guatemala. These vessels are very rare, from the hieroglyphics depicted on the outside to the physical design. The lid of the pot can be screwed on that way you can hold the pot by the arch handle and maintain what you are keeping inside without the risk of spilling what’s inside. Within the vessel there was some sort of dark residue left behind. Eventually it was determined that what the vessel had contained was in fact cacao. They came to this conclusion by having the vessel analyzed. Mayanist David Stuart discovered the hieroglyphics on the outside of the vessel represented the work “kakaw” which is the Mayan word for cacao. They specifically think this leader was buried with some sort of chocolate beverage concealed within the vessels. The leader being buried with these vessels speaks to the Mayan burial rituals, the dead were usually surrounded by many items like the Rio Azul vessels that contained food and drink that they were meant to enjoy in the after life.

(Rio Azul Vessel

The Molinillo: An Overview

The Molinillo is a whisk that is made out of wood, its main purpose is to stir hot drinks like hot chocolate, or champurrado. This whisk was made by the Mexicans, and is still made today by hand for the same purpose that it served back then. The tool was invented by the Spanish Colonists in the 1700s to help assist with the frothing of chocolate, this came to be because they thought that pouring the chocolate back and forth wasn’t the best way to do it. The Chocolate produced by the Aztecs was made from roasted beans that were grounded on a metate along with seeds and flavoring. The earliest version of the Molinillo had a ball or square end with a very long handle, over time the designs got more and more intricate with things like rings and movable parts, all to help with the stirring process. These instruments were meant to fir into a pot with the handling extending out of the top. To use to molinillo you were to put both hands palms facing in on the staff, and then proceed to use your hands to rotate it, thus frothing the chocolate.

Works Cited

Cartwright, Mark. “Chocolate in Mesoamerica.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 24 Mar. 2020, http://www.ancient.eu/Chocolate_in_Mesoamerica/.

Ewbank, Anne. “Archaeologists, Mayanists, and Hershey’s Collaborated to Reveal This Ancient Vessel’s Secrets.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 13 Sept. 2019, http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/mayan-chocolate.

Museum, Metropolitan. “Bowl (Tecomate).” Metmuseum.org, 2014, http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/318472.

Museum, smithsonian. “Large Molinillo.” National Museum of American History, 2018, americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_867633.

Sleuth, Gourmet. “Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer).” Gourmet Sleuth, Published by: Gourmet Sleuth, 16 Mar. 2018, http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/articles/detail/molinillo.

Historical Mesoamerican Chocolate Recipes

Diassa Diakité

Ms. Carla Martin

AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food

25 March 2020

In historical Mesoamerican culture, the commodity of chocolate played a very big role. Used to eat, drink, and even as a form of currency, without chocolate the Mesoamerican region would never be the same. Despite this extreme importance of the chocolate commodity in Mesoamerican culture, there was a difference between its use in Mayan and Aztec civilizations.

According to Hayes Lavis, a curator of cultural arts at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, “The Olmecs of southern Mexico were probably the first to ferment, roast, and grind cacao beans for drinks and gruels, possibly as early as 1500 B.C. (smithsonianmag.com)”. He followed this with saying that, “there is no written history for the Olmecs… but pots and vessels uncovered from this ancient civilization show traces of the cacao chemical theobromine” (smithsonianmag.com). By studying the process of making chocolate, it becomes visible that the Olmecs were indeed making chocolate. 

The traditional way of getting the chocolate ready to be served is usually not used anymore, as there is better technology for the job. “In traditional preparation methods…  farmers take seeds out of the pods, ferment them in a leaf-covered pile” (smithsonianmag.com). To go even more in depth, “The beans, plus surrounding white pulp, have to be left in the warm open air – but turned from time to time – to ferment over nearly a week – by which time the seeds are starting to germinate briefly, and the pulp to evaporate. This is important: no fermentation/germination, no chocolate flavour! They are then cleaned, spread in the sun to dry for up to two weeks, and then roasted for 1-2 hours” (mexicolore.co.uk). Fermentation was the first step in historical Mesoamerican chocolate recipes. After this, “the shells were peeled off one by one (a process called ‘winnowing’), leaving the ‘nibs’ ready to be ground to a paste on a stone metate (pic 3, left). At this point, the paste could be allowed to solidify into a block or tablet (pic 3, right), for easy storage, transport and subsequent use” (mexicolore.co.uk). It is even said that ancient Mesoamerican warriors would carry their chocolate supply like this during war campaigns. This is the default process of grinding the cacao beans. After this, flavors and textures would be added to their liking.

In early Mayan civilization, chocolate rapidly became one of the most important items, however, “despite chocolate’s importance in Mayan culture, it wasn’t reserved for the wealthy and powerful but readily available to almost everyone. In many Mayan households, chocolate was enjoyed with every meal” (history.com). Chocolate, something that is viewed as a candy or dessert in our American culture, was eaten at almost every meal for the Mayans. While chocolate as we know it is enjoyed as a savory treat, “the simplest mix was cacao with ground maize (corn) and water, providing a healthy, ‘cheap-and-cheerful’ gruel, that 16th century Spanish friar Toribio Motolinía described as ‘a very common drink’. Frequently combined with ground chilli, this ‘poor man’s chocolate’ was consumed throughout Mesoamerica” (mexicolore.co.uk). Not only did Mesoamericans drink their chocolate, but they had recipes in which it was considered something healthy. As historical Mesoamericans did not have the technology or services available to us now, “The naturally bitter flavor of cacao came through at full strength in early Maya recipes. ‘This was before they had really good roasting techniques, before they had conching, which is a step that mellows out the flavors, before they started looking at genetics,’ says Dandelion co-founder Todd Masonis” (smithsonianmag.com). Over time, as it got towards the end of Mayan civilization, the idea of chocolate evolved, and “cacao drinks in Mesoamerica became associated with high status and special occasions, Palka said, like a fine French wine or a craft beer today. Special occasions might include initiation rites for young men or celebrations marking the end of the Maya calendar year” (smithsonianmag.com).

In Aztec civilization, the idea of chocolate mirrored the later version of Mayan civilization, taking it to an even farther extent. “The Aztecs took chocolate admiration to another level. They believed cacao was given to them by their gods. Like the Mayans, they enjoyed the caffeinated kick of hot or cold, spiced chocolate beverages in ornate containers, but they also used cacao beans as currency to buy food and other goods. In Aztec culture, cacao beans were considered more valuable than gold” (history.com). The value of chocolate rose over time, and people were even using emptied out cacao beans as counterfeit currency! Today, “there are some 20 different species of cultivated Theobrama Cacao tree, each producing its own unique fruit,” however, “most botanists today believe that the Aztecs imported all their cacao from the same criollosubspecies, the most common Mesoamerican variety. The fruit grows directly from the trunk, each ‘pod’ containing some 25-40 ‘beans’, seeds or kernels” (mexicolore.co.uk). With this tree producing a high volume of cacao beans, the use of chocolate increased in Mesoamerica and many new recipes were used to make chocolate beverages. For example, “vanilla vines and annatto trees growing nearby were used to flavor cacao beverages” (smithsonianmag.com). In order to widen the gap between wealthy and poor, royalty and other fortunate people would make their own version of chocolate drinks. “Elite cacao drinks contained pure cacao, to which were added several subtle – and often highly prized – ground and roasted flavourings and spices, rendering them fit for nobles and the very rich. For the Aztecs, the premier flavouring was hueinacaztli, identified by the Coes as ‘the thick, ear-shaped petal of the flower of the Cymbopetalum penduliflorum, a tree of the Annonaceae or custard-apple family, which grows in the tropical lowland forests of Veracruz, Oaxcaca, and Chiapas’ ” (mexicolore.co.uk).

All in all, in historical Mesoamerican times, chocolate played a huge role in society. By being used as food and drink, a marker of one’s status, and even a form of currency, chocolate became known as a top commodity, and one of value. Now, chocolate is enjoyed all over the world and brings people together in difficult times.

Works Cited

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

History.com Editors. “History of Chocolate.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 14 Dec. 2017, www.history.com/topics/ancient-americas/history-of-chocolate.

“How Aztec and Maya Chocolate Was Prepared.” How Aztec and Maya Chocolate Was Prepared, http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/maya/chocolate/aztec-and-maya-chocolate.

Cadbury Chocolate: Cacao, Colonialism and Conscientious Capitalism?

Pious Captains of Industry at Home

The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain saw the rise of three Quaker families: Fry, Cadbury, and Rowntree. For a long time, the Quakers were a persecuted religious minority, and as such, they were barred from entering politics. Instead, they applied their industry to great success in business. Particularly, the three aforementioned families became very successful in the chocolate industry, dominating the British markets by the turn of the 20th century (Satre 14). And these Quaker families took their religion seriously, even in their spheres of business. As Coe and Coe note, “Being Quakers, [the three families] had a social conscience in the midst of all this money-making, unlike many other Victorian captains of industry” (250). For example, the families were involved in the antislavery efforts of the 17th and 18th centuries (Satre 14). Seebohm Rowntree and Edward Cadbury gained recognition for studying the terrible conditions of the working class in Britain (Satre 78).

Probably the most notable of the three families was Cadbury. Translating their religious convictions into practice, the Cadburys built a model factory town in the Birmingham suburb of Bournville that included homes, a communal bath, and recreational facilities for the workers; unsurprisingly, the town was a massive success, and the company had to expand its facilities multiple times to cope with the high demand (Coe and Coe 250; Satre 15–16). During a time of ruthless exploitation of the working class, the Quaker families stood out as conscientious capitalists.

Packing room at Bournville, circa 1903. Notice most of the workers shown in the picture are young women.

However, not all of Cadbury’s actions were without controversy. Most of the Cadbury employees were single women (hired in order to keep the costs low), and many of them were unable to live in Bournville due to the relatively high rent (Satre 16). To them, Bournville was something of a tantalizing paradise. Perhaps a more grievous injury to Cadbury’s reputation occurred during the food adulteration scandal that swept across Victorian era Britain. As the demand for chocolate continued to grow, many confectionaries adulterated their products with cheaper ingredients such as starch and even ground-up bricks. Even Cadbury’s products were shown to have been adulterated with starch and flour. Instead of being apologetic, the company went on the “advertising offensive,” using the slogan “Absolutely Pure, Therefore Best” to claim that only their chocolate was now trustworthy. Questions of hypocrisy or morality aside, the tactic was very successful, helping Cadbury’s to edge out Fry as the preeminent chocolate company in Britain (Coe and Coe 253).

Slavery in Portuguese West Africa

Portugal abolished slavery in 1761, but this decision did not extend to her colonies until 1875 (Satre 33). At the time, São Tomé and Príncipe was a center of cacao production, which constantly required manual labor. And while the supply was outlawed, the demand only kept rising, as chocolate’s popularity continued to grow in Europe and the United States. Thus, the Portuguese devised a new system of “contract labor” called serviçais, which made the workers “free” on paper. The serviçais were to work a specified period of time (often five years) on cacao plantations (roças) with pay, and were supposed to be able to leave after their tenure if they desired.

Portuguese São Tomé, circa 1670.

In reality, the serviçais system was simply slavery reworded. Between 20,000 and 40,000 serviçais slaved away on 230 roças in São Tomé, and another 1,000 worked under the scorching heat on 50 roças on Príncipe (Satre 10). Almost none of the serviçais were ever repatriated, and their contracts were often “renewed” without their input (Satre 11). Furthermore, the children of serviçais were considered to be the property of the plantation owners.

The Seven-Year Wait

William Cadbury (1867–1957) was the grandson of John Cadbury, the patriarch of the family. He was in charge of buying materials for the family business; of course, the key ingredient was cacao. In 1901, while on a business trip to the West Indies, William Cadbury first heard about the presence of slave cacao labor in São Tomé and Príncipe (Satre 18). This disturbing news was then corroborated further when Cadbury’s received an offer for a São Tomé cacao plantation that included the sale of 200 black “laborers” for a sum of money (Satre 18). Given the strong religious convictions of the family, the possibility of Cadbury using slave labor to furnish their products was a dire one, especially given that over 45% of the cacao purchased by the company in 1900 came from São Tomé (Satre 19).

William Cadbury

For the next seven years, William Cadbury was involved in a struggle to improve the working conditions of the serviçais, though the process was painfully slow in the eyes of some. Satre also wonders how the Cadburys only heard about the existence of slavery in Portuguese West Africa in 1901, given the extensive evidence available among the Protestant circles by the late 19th century (21). In any case, Cadbury wanted to move slowly, expressing reservations about the veracity of the bill of sale he had received (Satre 19). In 1903, Cadbury traveled to Lisbon to meet with the Portuguese government, who promised that conditions would improve once new regulations passed that year would kick in. More time stalled there, while many doubted the new regulation would have any effect.

Eventually, Cadbury decided to send a representative to travel down to Portuguese West Africa and examine the labor conditions in person. That representative was Joseph Burtt, who arrived in São Tomé in June 1905 and spent two years documenting life on the cacao roças. Burtt returned in 1907, having been convinced of the evils of the serviçais system: “If this is not slavery, I know of no word in the English language which correctly characterises it” (Higgins 137). Even with this piece of decisive evidence, Cadbury spent more time haggling with the British government on whether or not to publicize Burtt’s report. In September 1907, when some called for the boycott of cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe, Cadbury gave a speech opposing the measure (Higgins 137-38). Then, in October 1908, Cadbury decided to visit São Tomé and Príncipe with Burtt, taking stock of the situation himself. Finally, after seven years, Cadbury had made up his mind. His company would boycott cacao grown by slaves in São Tomé and Príncipe.

Between 1901 and 1908, Cadbury still purchased £1.3 million of cacao grown by the sweat and blood of the serviçais in São Tomé and Príncipe. Why did it take Cadbury seven years to decisively act on the information that he knew quite reliably? Perhaps his religious idealism clashed with the realities of running a successful business. Cacao was absolutely vital to the success of his family’s enterprise, and stirring the pot in Portuguese West Africa must not have been an easy move when his company greatly depended on it. Additionally, it was probably easier to apply his religious principles in initiatives in close to home. Whatever the case was, Cadbury has certainly left a complex legacy in the history of chocolate, being at the forefront of progress and reform on certain occasions and dragging its feet at other times.


Coe, Sophie and Michael Coe. 2013. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson. London, UK.

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2013.

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Barrow Cadbury by Thomas Bowman Garvie.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Johannes Vingboons – ‘t eylant St. Thome (1665).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Packing room, Bournville – Project Gutenberg eText 16035.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Valentine’s Day, Chocolate, and America

Valentine’s Day has transitioned from an age-old tradition to becoming a globally celebrated phenomenon that transcends the barriers of language, culture, and religion. On February 14th of every year people come together to celebrate the one(s) that they love through passionate displays of affection, gift-giving, meals, and most importantly: chocolate. Particularly in the United States, chocolate has come to define the central meaning of Valentine’s Day with Americans spending billions on the commodity annually. Through exploring the origins of the holiday, chocolate’s role in its development, and the impact of American consumerism an opportunity is presented to better understand a holiday that so many hold dear.


While the exact origins of Valentine’s Day is still a topic of discussion among scholars, the widely accepted historical accounts of it are noteworthy in understanding the thematic development of the holiday. One origin story dates back to pagan Rome and the two gods within Roman mythology: Lupercus, who protected lambs from wolves, and Juno, who looked over wives. Through a combination of the roles of the two deities, Romans paired men and women together for marriage. After Constantine converted to Christianity and legalized it, the church named the holiday after a bishop who was said to act as a matchmaker between young Christians. Similarly, another origin story traced back to Chaucer’s time notes the poet’s belief that on February 14th, “every foul cometh ther to choose his mate” (Dyk).  As such, Valentine’s Day emerged as a distinctively European, highly gendered, and heteronormative holiday with consumerist undertones. By the early 1600s, chocolate became a sweeping sensation across Europe as began to come in from the New World. Chocolate houses began to spring up across the continent and served as social gathering places and chocolate recipes became widely popular due to chocolate’s seemingly aphrodisiac qualities. Industrial pioneers such as Richard Cadbury began to make chocolate an even more accessible commodity, developing nicely packaged “eating chocolates” that came to be the standard. Despite its European origins, the power of advertising and a growing consumer culture brought it to the forefront of American society.

The commercialization of Valentine’s Day in the United States turned it from a historical ritual that had been widely forgotten to popular cultural event that anyone could be part of. Advertising companies leveraged media outlets to rave about the excitement of the holiday as a time for love, fun, and gift-giving. The word “valentine” transitioned from only meaning a person to also encompassing the gifts that people gave to each other on the holiday. Soon, the reconceptualization and commodification of Valentine’s Day transformed it into a staple of American life with the likes of Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter.

Today, Valentine’s Day continues to be a holiday marked by spending that adds fuel to the economy. In 2020, Americans spent over $27.4 billion on Valentine’s Day, up from $20.7 billion spent in 2019 according to the National Retail Foundation. On average, Americans spent $196.31 individually on Valentine’s gifts, up from last year’s record of $161.96. Chocolate and candy account for a strong proportion of spending on the holiday, having reached a sum of over $1.7 billion in 2016. As shown, people see chocolate and Valentine’s Day as inseparable identities and are willing to pay to ensure that those that they care about are able to indulge in the special treat.

Valentine’s Day continues to be a season of coming together and expressing the love we have for those dearest to us in life, whether it be our partners, friends, or families. As it has progressed through the centuries, so has the influences that have shaped it. Chocolate clings to the heart and soul of the holiday and continues to do so. As long as there is chocolate on earth and people are willing to spend on it, Valentine’s Day will continue to thrive and the popularity of chocolate along with it.

Work Cited:

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

Van Dyk, Natalie. “The Reconceptualization of Valentine’s Day in the United States: Valentine’s Day as a Phenomenon of Popular Culture.” Bridges: An Undergraduate Journal of Contemporary Connections 1.1 (2013): 4.

“Valentine’s Day.” NRF, nrf.com/insights/holiday-and-seasonal-trends/valentines-day.




Chocolate’s World Tour: How the Collision of Two Unique Cultures Allowed Chocolate to Spread Across the Globe and Diversify

Chocolate has evolved in many ways over the last few centuries. After its conception from a simple cacao pod, it has since crossed the entire globe and been incorporated into both hot and cold items, food and drink, and sweet and savory. The Aztecs, an ancient civilization located in modern day Mexico, were responsible for giving “the world the joy of chocolate taste” (Maries-Les 478). But this taste did not always bring great joy. When chocolate first arrived in Europe from the Americas, it was a “bitter and spicy drink used only on special occasions (Schulte Beerbühl 2). As would be expected by this description, chocolate was not immediately popular in Europe. However, after the addition of new flavors and ingredients, everything changed. Although chocolate originally comes from the Americas, Europe does hold a certain responsibility for transforming chocolate not only from a liquid to a solid, but also form a special drink only consumed by the wealthy and powerful, to a quick snack that is easily attained by commoners and easy to eat at any point in the day. Europe sent chocolate as we know it on its “world tour” and transformed its flavor entirely. 

Europe used and invented many new tools and machines in order to change the way chocolate could be processed and manufactured. Coenraad Van Houten, a Dutch chemist and chocolate maker, reinvented the way cacao was processed which ultimately led to the creation of solid chocolate. He invented the hydraulic press which allowed his creation of cocoa butter and cocoa powder. His advances led Joseph Fry, in 1847, to be able to create the first chocolate bar in England. Around the same time, many of the big chocolate companies we know about today were just getting started. Cadbury, Lindt, and Nestlé began selling and making chocolate in a way that produced much more than individuals had been able to in the past. Once these international countries got their hands on chocolate, it became accessible for the general public and those who did not originally have enough money for the delicacy. 

One of the first hydraulic presses. Source: www.physics.kenyon.com 

The evolution of the Cadbury Chocolate Bar. source: www.pinterest.com

All of these European advances happened over the span of only a few decades. The “bitter and spicy” chocolate drink described earlier, remained mostly unchanged for centuries in the Americas. So why did Europe seem to be more successful in capitalizing on this good in a much shorter period of time? I believe the answer to that question comes down to the respective cultures of each of the locations. The Aztecs were a much closer community than Europe, and a tribe that had been around for many years with the same customs and values. The Aztecs “excelled in sculpture and … their purpose was to please the gods” (Maries-Les 479). In Aztec culture, every item played a specific role and chocolate was no exception. Chocolate was seen in many ways as sacred and was valued as a ritualistic drink, the fruit of the gods, and a medicine for a multitude of ailments. The Aztecs did not consume chocolate for its sweet and delicious taste as the Europeans did, but rather as a symbol for different aspects of their culture and religion. The Europeans on the other hand, were in the midst of an industrialization period when most of the continent was introduced to the wonder of chocolate. They were eager to alter the good into something that could be spread throughout the country while generating revenue. Aside from chocolate serving to be a drink only for the wealthy at the beginning of its introduction, chocolate had virtually no religious or cultural significance to the Europeans. It was simply developed into a product that could be consumed alone, in social gathers, or at any time of day. 

A chocolate Warrior depicting the importance and god-like nature of chocolate. Source: www.chocolatour.net

Because the Aztecs valued the symbol of chocolate more than the product, it is no surprise that it wasn’t until the Europeans began to adjust chocolate recipes to bring in more generally well-liked flavors and consistency that it became the popular sweet treat we know and love today. But which region took the “correct” approach to chocolate? This is still up for debate. While Europe was notably more successful in monetizing and spreading chocolate, many of the Aztec ideas surrounding chocolate did slip into the Europeans minds and are now widely accepted today. Chocolate did in fact begin its European journey in the church, and “current research suggests chocolate can enhance health” (Lippi 1). Thus, it is impossible to say which approach was better, but rather it seems that the work of these two regions combined has made chocolate into the versatile and widely loved treat that it is today. Without this collision of cultures, chocolate would not be the multi-dimensional food and drink it is today. 

Works Cited

Lippi, Donatella. “Sin and Pleasure: the History of Chocolate in Medicine.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 63, no. 45, 2015, pp. 9936–9941.

Maries-Les, Gabriela. “AZTECS – CIVILIZATION, CULTURE AND SPORTIVE ACTIVITIES.” Calitatea, vol. 13, no. 2, 2012, p. 476.

Schulte Beerbühl, Margrit. “Diffusion, Innovation and Transnational Cooperation: Chocolate in Europe (c. Eighteenth–Twentieth Centuries).” Vol. 12, no. 1, 2014, pp. 9–32.