Tag Archives: chocolate

Constructing Taste: The Memetic Transmission of Chocolate’s Consumption

 

Taste, here, is an autonomous force that affected, rather than reected, discourse.”

Marcy Norton, in discussion of chocolate’s evolving composition (p. 691)

 

Tangibly, what we might intend by ‘chocolate’ is a broad, non-essentialist, amalgamated foodstuff; it is composed of myriad ingredients, none of which need necessarily be present in order for it to be known as such – with the possible exception of that core ingredient, Theobroma cacao (pictured above); it is “chemically complex, containing many potentially pharmacologically active compounds” and yet there is little in the way of consensus in the sciences or in the humanities as to what precipitates its elevated status among foodstuffs (Benton, p. 213) – a status complicated all the more by the great uncertainty as to what one actually intends by ‘chocolate’. There is ongoing research into the fundamental effects of neurochemicals contained in cacao, the actual content of which, in white chocolate for instance, may be negligible; how chocolate in its tangible form, or indeed as a psychosocial construct, might influence brain chemistry is likely to remain a research area fraught with moral hazard, given the normative judgements, claims, and aspersions more than likely to be elicited from competing interest groups in Big Food, consumer groups, democratically elected governments looking to legislate on nutrition, et cetera… These are particularly shaky foundations on which to attempt to construct some sort of accorded or objectivised truth, and indeed there continues to be a stark lack of consensus in scholarly circles with regards the neurological effects of cacao (Benton, p. 205). Thus this essay takes the behaviour of chocolate consumption, in a rather general and somewhat specious manner, as a behaviour transmitted socially and as that alone, not intending to cast any normative judgements thereupon but to deconstruct various intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics of ‘chocolate’ the concept and the object of consumption which might single it out. The objective is thus chocolate decentred, debased, and a formless tool for memetic analysis of our consumption habits.

 

Model of Transmission

            A behaviour born in the Amazonian basin millennia before Christ (Coe, p. 24), the spread of cacao consumption, in its broadest sense, would suggest a powerful intergenerational, and indeed intercultural, process of transmission. A foundational view of human ethology is the Platonic understanding of behavioural acquisition by the unending and omnipresent process of mimesis, or emulation (Stanford) – one learns of a behaviour by witnessing it and repeating it after assimilation and simulation in the brain. One can similarly understand this process as the memetic transfer of cultural information, the transfer of a meme (the intellectualised unit represent of the behaviour) from one individual to another and thus its transmission (see video below). One experiences this first-hand in the raising of a child, or simply in the development of close relationships, as humans are preternaturally disposed to mimesis of the bodily comportments of others – one can likely divine whence one inherited one’s own particular tastes, idiosyncrasies, and predilections (perchance chocoholism?).

 

https://video-api.wsj.com/api-video/player/iframe.html?guid=5C1154F8-36EB-4797-AFE9-C60226055FB1

Richard Dawkins on the ‘Cultural Meme’, Wall Street Journal

In this context, and a conception of his contemporary capitalistic society, the sociologist Thorstein Veblen posited that emulation is the chief determinant of taste – that one inherits tastes from the powerful classes, assimilating their mores out of a Dawkinsian survival instinct (Veblen, pp. 112-17). Chocolate still enjoys a status as a treat or luxury, some of that New World mystique and allure often lavished on its marketing, whilst the average individual in a western nation consumes roughly 10lbs or more per annum (Forbes). Veblen would argue that this alliance of one’s behaviours, and by extension one’s identity, to the trendsetting classes, ie. the colonial elites who first adopted the drinking of chocolate as a delicacy, would be out of prudence in a competitive social environment and thus serve a specific function. This is a view in line with that of cultural sociologist Pierre Bourdieu that taste is the conformity of subjective pleasures to social hierarchies (Sulkunen, p. 112). It would not be a stretch to link these conceptions of memetic transmission as subservient to socio-political order, and not simply informative thereof, to the Marxist or otherwise materialist understandings of the exigences of economy and how profit incentivises, ie. differential rates of taxation, which have dictated the relative fortunes of chocolate, or rather cacao, and other drug-foods such as coffee or tea (p. 185-186).

molten chocolate

Molten chocolate, muthscandy.com

Cultural historian Marcy Norton criticises the ‘functionalist’ perspectives detailed above for their invention of the rational consumer – who behaves according to economic and biological, perhaps genetic, imperatives. Norton similarly dismisses certain more qualitative explanations which suggest ethical, normative explanations for shifts in consumption behaviours. She holds that it is not the purpose of objects but their actual use that is of import, whilst supposedly attempting to address the ‘why’ as opposed to ‘how’ chocolate consumption evolved (Norton, pp. 661-664). Yet, the more post-structuralist aspects of her thinking, with regards eschewing qualitative understandings of the consumer, marry well with conception of the sociocultural functionality of taste as transferred memetically, albeit confined to the Cartesian lines of economic and biospherical exigence. Thus cultural-functional, emulative, materialist, and indeed psychopharmacological models (to be explored below) can be triangulated in the, unconnoted, notion that behaviours such as chocolate consumption, and indeed the very conception of ‘chocolate’ itself, are cultural information diffused by memetic transfer.

Yet, establishing an inoffensive theoretical model for how chocolate-related concepts and behaviours, or simply chocolate-related ‘memes’, are transferred offers no insight into what information is actually coded therein. In like cultural contexts to that in which this author has lived, chocolate is likely far more readily associated with the image of molten chocolate above, at least symbolically; that is, to the complex, recombinant form that has evolved over centuries, been embellished upon almost so much as it that normalised silky, conched, tempered form – as opposed to molten, note, though recognisable all the same – is still systematically erred from today. It is almost so wholly abstracted from the base plant as to render cacao, pictured below, all but unrecognisable to the average consumer. In order to understand the social transmission of chocolate consumption, one must look at the polymorphous conception of chocolate that is coded, in its intrinsic and extrinsic complexities.

sliced cacao pods

Sliced cacao pods, public domain

Content of Transmission

The experience of cacao consumption is not only a product of that behaviour’s transmission, but necessarily its precedent. Consumption of a foodstuff is the exemplification of a subjective experience and, as such, despite the fact that the behaviour may be replicable, and indeed often enacted socially and thus easily transmitted and replicated with a degree of specificity, attempts by researchers to construct metrics thereupon are doomed to be disappointingly lacking in insight (eg. Stuckey, pp. 136-137). Strictly gustatory experience, ie. taste only as experienced via the tongue in exclusion of other senses and neurological activity, has fewer variables at play and indeed the great sweetness and fattiness of some chocolates has been shown, though clearly not then representative of large swathes of that which falls under the moniker ‘chocolate’, to stimulate reward circuitry in the brain – ie. prefrontal activity indicative of mesocorticolimbic dopamine activation (Benton, pp. 213-215). Yet even one’s taste buds, the transductive receivers which convert molecules to electrical signals and neurochemicals that communicate information to the gustatory cortex (whose role is explained in the video below), do not work in isolation of other senses. They also vary, and not only from person to person, ie. in their combined constitution. In the individual’s own lifetime their taste buds evolve unto adulthood (Stuckey, p. 21). This only nods towards the potential epigenetic influences of tastes, themselves received and thus reinforced or augmented by memetic transfer – a good example would be how a child may have a sweet-tooth, partly due to exposure to high levels of cortisol in the womb, or to displays of stress in early life which predisposes a calorific diet, who in later life develops more savoury tastes and so alters the memes, and indeed genes, they would otherwise have transmitted to their own progeny (Cornell; NCBI). One can clearly see the application of this analogy to patterns of chocolate consumption and the potential for individuation thereof.

The Science of Taste – KQED QUEST

In addition to the strictly gustatory elements to the ‘taste’ of chocolate, there are the important effects of trigeminal nerve stimulation, ie. sensation of texture, pain or spice, and temperature, which are crucial to pleasure in eating. Additional elements, elaborated upon in the video above, concern not simply the olfactory, and other sensory data, but cognitive and emotional memories and associations – “enjoyment of emotions as summoned through imaginary or illusory images [as] central [to] pleasure” (Colin Campbell in Norton, p. 663). The totality of these elements together with ‘taste’ itself forms what is distinguished in the video therefrom as ‘flavour’.

In the consumption of a foodstuff there is major influence of other pre-coded aspects of human psychology, not simply immediate, tangible phenomenology – food developer Barb Stuckey argues that the sound of tempered chocolate cracking, qualitatively, is a key element in the presentation of, and in turn key to the preconceptions and thus eventual satisfaction a consumer has for, a chocolate product (Stuckey, p. 140). These ad hoc influences on one’s perception of a particular chocolate, if not ‘chocolate’ conceptually or behaviourally, add a great deal of complexity to the relationship of individuals to that particular object of consumption. And one’s enjoyment, indeed investment in, the momentary experience can be almost completely distracted, voided, or drained of pleasure (and thus likely otherwise altered or influenced) by dramatic ongoings in the environs – as described by Stuckey with regards how a couple’s spat at the next table utterly precluded her from investment or pleasure in her meal (pp. 132-133).

Given that the complexity of ‘flavour’ as a concept and experience is not limited to the concept or experience of chocolate alone, chocolate’s special status as an indulgence and yet in ubiquity, its elevation culturally, and enduring appeal have suggested some peculiarity thereto. As detailed at the start of this essay, there is not an agreed scientific explanation, indeed while there are a number of psychoactive chemicals such as phenylethylamine and methylxanthines caffeine and theobromine, as well as the serotonin-producing reservatrol and tryptophan, they all appear in far too low quantities to wholly explain widespread archetypes of the ‘chocoholic’ or the archetypal behaviour or ‘craving’ chocolate (Benton, pp. 209-212). A more comprehensive explanation is that the high correlation between pleasurable food intake and the release of endorphins, peptides which act on opioid receptors, is true of chocolate consumption (pp. 212-213). If one couples this with the dopamine activation described above then one can understand a major aspect of repeated chocolate consumption as dependent on one’s perception of chocolate as opposed to the inherent nature of the product itself – thus the great influence of information culturally conferred with regards to chocolate.

Multisensory factors do not end with those extrinsic elements of the experience, ie. the cultural context in which one consumes chocolate or the packaging and presentation, but extend to the temperature of the room one is in, the ambient noise-level, present company, weather, and so forth – and early experiences, within context, write scripts for future experiences in the associations they entail (Psychology Today). If one were to use the analogy of coffee and coffeeshops, the texture of the mug used, even the colour of that mug (Flavour Journal), the cultural construct of drinking from a mug at all, or indeed the fundamental construct that coffee, as opposed to maté or indeed chocolate, should be the warm beverage chosen; these are all examples of the complex psychology at play, influencing our perceptions and the manner in which we code concepts and behaviours memetically transmitted. In turn, those codifications inform the memes we pass on to others, here as pertains to our consumption patterns, in which the effects of theobromine content or ‘the catchy song playing in the background on the radio in the trendy coffeeshop where first I tried a white hot chocolate’ fade to one of legion infinitesimal inputs that construct the meme as it is held in the individual.

 

The counterpart to Plato’s mimesis, however, was diegesis, or ‘narrative’ (Stanford Online), and while this essay was intentionally aimed at deconstructing some of the intrinsic and extrinsic elements of chocolate as it is conceived and experienced, admittedly in a roundabout and haphazard fashion, it has been at the cost of any narrative sense as to what chocolate really is. Indeed, if one is to utterly debase and decentre one’s concept of what exactly a product is or should be – as has hopefully been achieved in this essay thus far – one is able to open consumers up (or is oneself opened up, dependent one’s role in the power dynamic in play) to the wholesale transfer (or adoption) of metanarratives. As so often becomes of highly mature consumer industries, as they slip towards conspicuous consumption and what one might term becoming ‘Veblen goods’ (pp. 33-48), there is developed a sense of ‘terroir’ and producers attempt to directly control the memetic transfer of conception as well as ritual, ie. all the multisensory facets to the psychological experience of consumption as detailed above. Thus there is the attempt to tailor experiences, alter transmission and construct the product, in this case chocolate, directly as opposed to leaving the interplay of transient socioeconomic, cultural, and biospherical factors reach equilibrium unaided.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving”. Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2004.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2006 (3rd Ed).

Mintz, Sidney W.. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1985.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics”. The American Historical Review, pp. 660-691. Vol. 111, No. 3. 2006. Print.

Sulkunen, Pekka. “Society Made Visible: On the Cultural Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu.” Acta Sociologica, pp. 103-115. Vol. 25, No. 2. 1982. Print.

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing. New York: Free Press, 2012.

Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Weinberg, Bennett A. and Bonnie K. Bealer. The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug. London: Routledge, 2002.

 

 

 

Web Sources

 

“Does the colour of the mug influence the taste of the coffee ?”, BioMed Central

http://www.flavourjournal.com/content/3/1/10

“Kids under chronic stress more likely to become obese”, Cornell University

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2012/01/study-stressed-kids-more-likely-become-obese

“The World’s Biggest Chocolate Consumers [Infographic]”, Forbes

https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2015/07/22/the-worlds-biggest-chocolate-consumers-infographic/#1fab80ed4484

“Epigenetic diet: impact on the epigenome and cancer”, NCBI

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3197720/

“Why do we crave chocolate so much?”, Psychology Today

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/comfort-cravings/201402/why-do-we-crave-chocolate-so-much

“Plato’s Aesthetics”, Stanford Online

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-aesthetics/

‘The Science of Taste – KQED QUEST’, YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HxAB54wlig´

Naughty but Nice: Gendered Sexualization in Chocolate Advertising

Chocolate is recognized as one of the most craved foods in the world, resulting in the coinage of terms such as chocoholic or chocolate addict. However, going from targeted marketing by most chocolate companies around the world, one would assume that the majority of the chocolate addicts or chocoholics were, women. As soon as a woman takes her first bite, in an advertisement, a sense of ecstasy follows triggered by the chocolate, invariably showing the relationship between women’s sexual pleasure and chocolate. Women’s sexual pleasure, much like the attitude towards chocolate, is considered sinful; the juxtaposition of these two views woven into narratives through chocolate commercials, only solidifies the concept of “naughty but nice” as they objectify women sexually while they are consuming chocolate.

Women tend to be sexually depicted in commercials in two ways, one, in which women are aroused by consuming chocolate, or two, women become attractive to men after they consume chocolate. Below are examples of two ads from Dove and Godiva that exemplify these two categories of portrayal of women in chocolate advertising. 


In both the commercials, chocolate is seen as a sinful treat that women consume. In the first Dove commercial, a woman is being wrapped in chocolate coloured silk as she sighs and savors the luxury of consuming chocolate whilst being wrapped around by a luxurious fabric. It is depicting the after effects of consuming the chocolate whilst showing what a privilege it is to be able to consume chocolate. The background music and noises further alludes to the effect of sexual arousal post consumption and the use of silk in the commercial shows luxury and class, and at the same time, it represents a material that is often used to portray sex. In the Godiva commercial, three women are shown in three different locations wearing long dresses that represent three kinds of Godiva chocolates; dark, milk and white. Three men can be seen gifting chocolates to the women, which in turn sexually arouses the women and thus excites the men. It is interesting to note that the commercial does not show men consuming the chocolate, but only women. In one instance in the commercial, one of the women almost shares the chocolate with the man but then teases him as she eats the whole truffle herself, because she just cannot share it or resist it.

Professor Peter Rogers, from the University of Bristol, explains: “A more compelling explanation lies in our ambivalent attitudes towards chocolate – it is highly desired but should be eaten with restraint”, he further states that “Our unfulfilled desire to eat chocolate, resulting from restraint, is thus experienced as craving, which in turn is attributed to ‘addiction’.” (Rogers, 2007) Women in the above commercials depict this relationship of resistance and indulgence with chocolate, not only through the consumption of chocolate itself but also through their sexual desires. Due to the perception that “nice” women and their sexual pleasures should be restrained as opposed to men’s sexual pleasures, chocolate gives them the narrative, the chance of indulgence, and gives them the opportunity to be “naughty”. Chocolate then starts to show women’s relationship with their own sexual desires, that relies on chocolate to be fueled.

Chocolate, then hence is portrayed to being the food for women by commercials. In contrast, a Burger King commercial shows meat as the food for men, aptly titled “I am Man”. The commercial shows men eating burgers while chanting socially accepted norms that make them men; these are men who are strong and can lift cars and pull heavy weights, men who cannot survive on “chick food” such as quiche. Commercials such as the one by Hungry Man, as well as Mc Donald’s McRib advertisement, show only men, consuming meat products. When catered to men such as the ones that are shown in these commercials, chocolate becomes delicate and feminine. When contrasted, meat becomes the socially accepted food for men while chocolate becomes the socially accepted food for women. 

Without any concrete scientific evidence, chocolate is now widely believed to be craved by women more than men. Dr. Julia Hormes from University of Albany states in her study published in Appetite in 2011 that “half of the women [in the U.S.] who crave chocolate say they do so right around menstruation,”. (Hormes, 2011) Hormes’s study tried to correlate menstruation with chocolate craving however, she arrived at the conclusion that “These biochemical, physiological hypotheses didn’t pan out.”  (Hormes, 2011) Hormes believes that the strong influence of culture, particularly the kind portrayed in commercials plays a role in how women tend to react to chocolate.

In an interview with Kate Bratskeir of Huffington Post, Hormes talks about chocolate marketing, she says;

“Chocolate is marketed as a way for women to deal with negative emotion (like, say, the stress and headaches that come with PMS), Hormes said. It is an “indulgence” because it is an exception to the rule — women who diet and subscribe to a certain ideal of beauty should only consume chocolate when they “need” it.”…“Only in America. In Spain, for example, women don’t report craving chocolate perimensturally nearly as much as women in the U.S. do. It’s not that Spanish women have a different make-up to their cycle, it’s really that tampon and chocolate ads aren’t aired during the same commercial break. In the U.S., it seems, there’s something so strongly feminine about chocolate that fewer men report wanting it. But, “Spanish men are almost as likely to crave chocolate as Spanish women.” In Egypt, neither men nor women really report craving chocolate; “They tend to crave savory foods,” Hormes said.” (Hormes, 2011)

The need that is described above by Hormes is a culturally manufactured one that is fabricated through commercials showing women needing chocolates, specially when it comes to sex.

ferrerorocher
Ferrero Rocher Print ad. https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2010/12/02/guest-post-sex-desire-and-chocolate-propaganda-research/

Chocolate advertisements not only play into women’s sexual desires but also women’s body image and various insecurities. The above print ad from Ferrero Rocher shows a naked model being tempted by chocolates that are growing from the tree. The ad is attaching the narrative of Eve and the forbidden fruit to chocolate, depicting this woman as a “sinner” for consuming chocolate and having sexual desires. The ad also shows a skinny model indulging in the sinful act of consuming chocolate. The inclusion of a model, gives off an image that makes it okay for women of regular sizes to indulge in chocolate. It shows that women can still be thin and be naughty, and consume chocolate as a guilty pleasure. While talking about the relationship of female body image and chocolate marketing, in his paper, Occidental College student, Jamal Fahim writes,

In order to remain slim and attractive, women must avoid foods that are high in fat, sugar and calories. Images of the ideal body have permeated the minds of many consumers who are inclined to view the body as an object of admiration and a model for self-construction. Moreover, consumer goods may serve to compensate for a person’s “feelings of inferiority, insecurity or loss, or to symbolize achievement, success or power” (Campbell 1995:111)”.

Image
Dove Print ad. https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2010/12/02/guest-post-sex-desire-and-chocolate-propaganda-research/

Chocolate companies tend to play up various different feelings that Campbell described whilst talking about consumer products, however in most cases those feelings within the wide spectrum from insecurity to success are usually related to sex and women in chocolate advertising. The print Dove advertisement above, for example, associates itself with an insecurity that is often linked with sex, lasting longer. The ad compares indulging the Dove bar to lasting longer while showing the face of a woman who is satisfied.

All the advertisements mentioned above adds to the misconception of chocolate as an aphrodisiac and that it works more on women. The New York Times article, tries to evaluate this claim stating;

“Nowadays, scientists ascribe the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate, if any, to two chemicals it contains. One, tryptophan, is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal. The other, phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, is released in the brain when people fall in love. But most researchers believe that the amounts of these substances in chocolate are too small to have any measurable effect on desire. Studies that have looked for a direct link between chocolate consumption and heightened sexual arousal have found none. The most recent study, published in May in the journal Sexual Medicine, looked specifically at women, who are thought to be more sensitive to the effects of chocolate. The researchers, from Italy, studied a random sample of 163 adult women with an average age of 35 and found no significant differences between reported rates of sexual arousal or distress among those who regularly consumed one serving of chocolate a day, those who consumed three or more servings or those who generally consumed none.” (O’ Connor, 2006)

The article concludes by stating that, “if chocolate has any aphrodisiac qualities, they are probably psychological, not physiological” (O’ Connor, 2006).

This psychological perception of chocolate and sex is one that is manufactured by chocolate advertising bringing out various themes that are associated with female sexuality starting from the perception that female sexual desires are akin to a sin, to body image issues that perpetuates women’s need to be slim to various other insecurities associated with sex such as lasting longer or overall satisfaction. Even though the findings and correlation between chocolate and sex are negligible, the marketing for chocolate continues to perpetuate chocolate’s association with sex and its implied special relevance to women’s sexuality as it plays into societal expectations from women, that require them to be and make them more attractive if they are “naughty but nice”.

Work Cited:

Bratskeir, Kate. “This Is Why Women Crave Chocolate, Men Want A Burger” Huffington Post. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/10/chocolate-craving-pms-men-vegetables_n_6102714.html&gt;

Campbell, Colin. 1995. “The Sociology of Consumption.” Acknowledging Consumption: A Review of New Studies. London, England: Routledge.

Fahim, Jamal, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing”. 2010. Sociology Student Scholarship <http://scholar.oxy.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=sociology_student&gt;

Hormes, Julia M, Alix Timko. “All cravings are not created equal. Correlates of menstrual versus non-cyclic chocolate craving”. Appetite. Vol 57. 2011. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21440592&gt;

Lindell, C.  Women and chocolate: A history lesson. Candy Industry, 180(3), 21. 2015

O’Connor, Anahad. “The Claim: Chocolate Is an Aphrodisiac”. The New York Times. 2006. <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/18/health/18real.html&gt;

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire. New York: Manchester UP, 2009. 

University of Bristol. “Chocolate Is The Most Widely Craved Food, But Is It Really Addictive?.” ScienceDaily. September 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070911073921.htm>.

 

Ethnography on Chocolate: Socioeconomic Visual Culture, Mesoamerican Origins, & Contemporary Perspectives

The purpose of this small-scale ethnography is to examine the social significance of chocolate from a cross-cultural perspective. Through interviewing various members of my local community that were born in different regions of Mexico and Central America, I document here their experiences and observances of chocolate.

Experienced through consumption or non-consumption, and observed through their emic perspective, there are underscoring themes exposed amongst the roles in which chocolate has played throughout each of their own lives. Within the context of those personal relationships with chocolate, an interaction between social and economic functions of their state and country may be contemporaneous to their outlook. Although this simultaneity is not always the circumstance, motifs emerge as their uniqueness transpires. Effectually, their contributed insight has actualized a microcosm of chocolates’ socio-cultural diversity and likenesses.

While conducting the interviews with members of my community, the aim was to first listen to their observances, and to then ask questions of clarification to assist in their thought process. The framework of my Q&A was designed this way to acquire a qualitative study, so that this retelling would reflect the individual perspectives of each subject, synchronously providing a glimpse into the societal experience. To depict those experiences through a cultural historical lens, that of which illustrated itself during most of the interviews already, I asked questions about their culture as a whole and how they thought chocolate was generally regarded in their own communities.

This study is not meant to define those relationships, but to highlight multiplicities within these individual cross- cultural accounts. Over reflections of my own and of the human subjects in this ethnographic study, I hope to provide sufficient ­imagery of historic milieu within the functional roles chocolate has played in personal experience and in society.

Origins

Theobroma Cacao, or the Food-of-the-God’s Cacao, is widely accepted by botanists and scholars as indigenous to Mesoamerica. Evidence of its cultivation is indicative of the role it played in ancient civilizations like the Mixe-Zoquean-speaking Olmecs (1500 BCE – 400 BCE). At the famed Olmec archaeological site in San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, evidence has been found of the term “Kakawa” used by the Olmec as early as 1000 BCE (Coe & Coe, 1996). See on the map below, San Lorenzo is west of present day Guatemala, and north of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.

 

San Lorenzo on the map 2
San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán is a famed archaeological site, well known for the massive Olmec stone heads excavated there

 

We find in the archaeological record, the ways in which early civilizations illustrated cacao, or “Kakawa” on their pottery. This being a significant attribute to understand the role chocolate played in their livelihoods and rituals. According to Maricel Presilla in her book, The New Taste of Chocolate, “it was the Maya who brought chocolate making to a high art… building on the foundation left behind by other Mesoamerican cultures”, like that of the Olmecs and other sibling tribes (2009).

 

FullSizeRender (4)
Buenavista vase, Buenavista del Cayo, Belize

 

See this Classic Maya vase from the seventh century portraying the Maize God in an “unending dance, symbolizing both the creation of the universe and also his cycle of death and rebirth” (Takushi, Pioneer Press).

Maya Classic period (250 – 900 CE) vessels show quite literally the function of cacao as it was for drinking, as well as the relative role it played in Mayan life though various representations of the divine.

This is one of the many Classic period vessels that was found to contain cacao residues inside. We know it was used to hold chocolate because cacao is the only plant in the region with both the compounds Theobromine and Caffeine, “a unique marker for the presence of cacao in pre-Columbian artifacts” (Cheong, 2011). To verify the vessels were used to hold chocolate was an important piece to the archaeological record. It provided contextual knowledge when deciphering the imagery or glyphs depicted on the vessels.

Affirmed in the glyphs of drinking vessels from this period, there is evidence of “well established cacao-chocolate terminology”. On the Buenavista vase shown above, we see “tree-fresh cacao” inscribed.  From the Primary Standard Sequence (PSS) of the glyphs you see banded around the top of the vessel, the characters that make the Maya name for cacao, “Ka-Ka-Wa” were deciphered. What strikes me the most about this piece is the seemingly relative “tree-fresh cacao” to the Maize God’s cyclical existence. (Presilla, 2009)

FullSizeRender
Buenavista vase closeup: Maya glyphs depicted translate to “tree-fresh cacao”, “Ta-Tsih-Te’el Kakawa” (Prescilla)

I particularly find this vessel so interesting when we look at the role of chocolate in culture because it reflects a cyclical ideology of their ecological relationship to their land; in the sustenance it provides, the concept of time through death and rebirth, and their Gods all-encompassing role within those cycles.

Field Study

A few years ago in 2013 I came to know a few young men and women from the northern Mexican state of Sonora – (follow the link to read a brief history of Seri Indians of Sonora). They were working and studying here on visa’s while we were employed at a busy restaurant in the heart of downtown Boston. What better place than behind the bar to nose around and pick into people’s lives for cultural insights! Just kidding on the nose-picking… but seriously, even minute conversations with guests created thought-provoking observations. During their multiple terms of residency in Boston over the years, these talented intellectual Sonoran natives and I connected on Mexican – American culture alike, and apart. Upon reaching out to ask if anyone would be interested in participating in this modest ethnographic study, my request was received most graciously. They have all elected to omit fully identifying information, so for the purposes of this study, I will refer to them by their first name only. Below I have included their perspectives on the role chocolate has played throughout their lives.

Andrés began by explaining Mexico as a large country where the culture is full of diversity. “Every state has their own culture about everything – food, traditional parties, our dialect and slang”. With that being said, in the state of Sonora where he lives he doesn’t use chocolate and cacao the way he knows it is used in the southern states of the country like Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas, and Tabasco. Andrés has observed the influence of cacao beans in southern Mexico because the cacao growing region produces a lot of recipes that involve cacao and chocolate.

When I asked what he knows about Mesoamerican uses for cacao, he remembers learning from childhood that they used it as currency, and he understood they sometimes would use it in beauty treatments. On that note, I recollect a fortuitous conversation about skin care had between myself and a female of Mexican ancestry I met while servicing wedding hair and makeup to her cousin’s bridal party, circa summer 2015 in East Boston – Indeed, I am not only an aspiring Anthropologist, also a Cosmetologist. My thoughts are usually occupied by anthropological inquiry on a daily basis, which inevitably grants unique opportunity for cultural discussions with the people I meet. Although not a part of this ethnography, she let me know back then about her family recipe for a skin care regimen that contains cacao. Her grandmother and her aunts would grind down cacao beans into a powder, “cocoa powder” minus the hydraulic press. They would mix the antioxidant rich powder with other grinded down local herbs, add water to create a paste-like texture and apply generously to the skin.

“Lather. Dry. Rinse. Repeat.” – she persisted. Yum.

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The Spa At Hotel Hershey seems to know just how to indulge all the senses with chocolate

 

For the purposes of this study, I was curious about chocolate in spa treatments, as I have heard echoes of the luxury before. Take a look at The Spa At The Hotel Hershey or examples of just a few contemporary accommodations created for chocolate in the beauty industry.

Andrés expressed to me that Sonora being just below Arizona, his culture is more- so “American” than the way Mexicans live in the south. It is in his experience and observation the misconception of Mexican culture as being one. I think any educated person understands culture, language, economy, etc. vary across spaces of human population. Yet, for those who generalize a nation’s people by its borders, Andrés and his community experience the bias. He grew up with a collection of influences “by the things Americans do”. For example, one of his earliest memories of eating chocolate was during Halloween. They’re also heavily influenced by “spring break madness”, as he defined the season. He grew up consuming chocolate predominantly made by the big corporations, like Mars. His notable favorites being the Snicker and M&Ms. “In the south they don’t have that influence, they don’t experience American Halloween as we do”.

Carlos V chocolate bars are the Nestlé- proclaimed “# 1 chocolate brand in Mexico with over 70 years in the market!… Because of its unique and mild flavor, it is considered the reference of chocolate for Mexicans.” The Aztec stylized imagery first designed to brand the chocolate before it was bought by Nestlé sometime in the 1980’s was created by Fabrica de Chocolates La Azteca, S.A. de C.V. Jason Liebig on his blog, Collecting Candy chronicles his findings in the L.M. Kallok Confectioners Collection of antique packaging. Most notable about the evolution of the branding is first the Aztec styling alongside the “Imperial Coat of Arms” for “by the grace of God, Carolus V Imperator (emporer)”. Then with the English labeling introduced we see a change in the ingredients as well (which was apparent of each label seen in Leibig’s compilation from the beginning to the end. “A tie-in with the film Toy Story, which tells us La Azteca was still the brand’s sole owner as late as 1995″ is interesting where we see Quaker Oats leaving its insignia on the label by the late 1990’s.

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Not one of the Sonoran’s I interviewed has tried a Carlos V chocolate bar but they have all heard of it at some point in their life through advertisements. Eduardo attests to Andrés’ personal account of diversity from the southern regions in Mexico. Dia de los Muertos is “not celebrated as much as the south, but we do things like going to the cemetery”, Andrés says. Eduardo told me that they celebrate Dia de los Muertos on November 2. “We celebrate in memory of the people who are no longer with us and usually at the tombstones we put special things they liked when they were alive. Chocolates is usually one of them”. Both Andrés and Eduardo did not have a definitive sense of the historical reason for chocolate being placed on gravesites, but they both know it as a long- standing tradition and ritual in celebrating their deceased ancestors. Fernanda, another Sonoran native, added some insight to this practice of memorial. She told me that usually the graveyards are managed by local churches or publicly owned so in contrast to the majority of graveyards that are privately owned in the US, the families play a greater role in gravesite maintenance of their deceased. In this way, chocolate serves a social function in their celebrations.

Interpretations

Shown below, Dr. Martin presented in class this semester some of the ways Maya and Mixtec society visually depicted the functions that cacao played within their cultural practices and belief systems. Royal marriages necessitated the use of currency in the negotiation, so we see in the Codex Nuttall how cacao was a part of the price for the bride. Eduardo remembers learning in school that Mayans used to used the cacao “as a coin to buy everything, from goods to wives”. A relative topic for further study would be in the ways chocolate was introduced to the elite. Diffused out of Mesoamerica first by the Spanish, the Europeans assimilated to its royal regard and used chocolate in the women’s dowry through royal inter-marriages – that of which played a great role in spreading chocolate throughout Europe.

Another example (seen below) comes from the Madrid Codex where we see cacao being exchanged, portraying a give-and-take linkage between their concepts of cyclical time (lunar goddess) and their environment (rain god). I find this imagery especially expressive to their belief of the divine relationship to their human existence and sustenance on earth. Lastly, from the Codex Nuttall we see a royal funerary procession in “Twelve Movements”. Within the tomb depicted at the bottom right of the artwork lies a “vessel of foaming cacao beverage… to ease the soul’s journey to the underworld”. (Martin)

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Eduardo recounts drinking cups of hot chocolate since he can remember. While traveling south to Puebla state he tried their “typical meal, mole, and it’s made of cacao”. What he knows about the Maya and cacao is how they used to prepare beverages and meals like the Puebla “mole”. “We have different tribes and culture but we learned about it in school and I experiences it myself while traveling south. Cacao is still a huge deal in south Mexico.”

 

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“Mole” Ingredients. Presilla, 2009

 

See the dozen or more ingredients to make the traditional “thick, baroque sauce, mole” from Xalapa, Veracruz (Presilla), north of Puebla state in Mexico. Presilla notes that each ingredient is “processed in sequence, each at its own time” (2009).

As the mole is diverse in ingredients, and rich in unique Mesoamerican culture, so too – as these contemporary perspectives have illustrated, are the people of the region diversely interwoven with it’s history and unique place on Earth’s sphere.

***

 

Sources:

Campbell, Lyle & Kaufman, Terrence. 1976. A Linguistic Look at the Olmecs: American Antiquity, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 80-89 Published by: Society for American Archaeology http://www2.hawaii.edu/~lylecamp/LC%20Lx%20look%20at%20Olmecs%20JSTOR.pdf

Cheong, Kong (Powis, T.; Cyphers, A.; Gaikwad, T.W.; Grivetti, L.) 2011. Cacao use and the San Lorenzo Olmec: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 108(21):8595-600 · May 2011 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51110764_Cacao_Use_and_the_San_Lorenzo_Olmec

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013 [1996] The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson

Johnston, Bernice. 1997. The Seri Indians of Sonora Mexico. The University of Arizona Press http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/onlinebks/SERIS/HISTORY.HTM

Liebig, Jason. 2012. Carlos V – Building a history for the King of Chocolate Bars http://www.collectingcandy.com/wordpress/?p=2958

Martin, Carla. 2017 AAAS E-119 Lecture Slides. February 1st, pp.23, 47, 53, 57

Mintz, Sidney. 1986 [1985] Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books

Morton, Marcia and Frederic. 1986 Chocolate, An Illustrated History Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, NY

Nestlé. 2017. https://www.nestle.com.mx/brands/carlos-v

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology: Harvard University. 2017. https://www.peabody.harvard.edu/node/287

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

Smithsonian Institute. 2017. Olmec Stone Heads photo: http://anthropology.si.edu/olmec/english/sites/sanLorenzo.htm

Takushi, Scott (Pioneer Press). 2013, December 17. Museum of Belize and House of Culture: NEWSEUM Blog Spot: Belize’s Maya Collection on Displayhttps://mobnmoc.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/belizes-maya-collection-on-display/mayaex1/

Unknown photographer; featured image. 2016, October – November. Nexos. https://americanwaymagazine.com/cacao-route

Unknown photographer; chocolate as beauty regimen image. 2017. The Spa At The Hotel Hershey. http://www.chocolatespa.com/treatments/signature/chocolate.php

Faulty Fair Trade: The Hidden Realities of Fair Trade Chocolate

In today’s interconnected world, one’s decisions are no longer decisions merely. Every choice is a statement, a declaration of personal values. For example, purchasing a Prius or installing solar panels can reveal your stance regarding the state of the environment. In a similar fashion, purchasing Fair Trade certified chocolate provides an option for chocolate lovers to enjoy a delicious treat while contributing to the well-being of cacao farmers and indirectly shunning “bad” chocolate companies that utilize modern day slave labor. In fact, one research showed that consumers sought the Fair Trade label to a point that they were willing to purchase the same amount of certified Fair Trade chocolate each year, even after an increase in prices (Hainmeuller 23).

Above: Promotion of Fair Trade chocolate for Valentine’s Day. The Fair Trade brand has become a part of consumer decision making.

Thus, the demand for Fair Trade is clearly present. In theory, Fair Trade helps cacao farmers “build better livelihoods for themselves, their families and communities” (Fair Trade Briefing 10). More specifically, Fair Trade aims to stabilize incomes for cacao farmers, whose livelihoods fluctuate in response to the volatility of chocolate prices[1] (Ibid 11). For example, Fair Trade guarantees a “minimum price of $2,000/tonne for Fairtrade certified cocoa beans, or the market price if higher” and works to ensure that “forced labour and child labour are prohibited” (Ibid). According to Fair Trade such measures “[help] producer organisations and farmers weather low and unstable markets by encouraging greater access to financing, relationship building between buyers and sellers, and improved contract terms” (Ibid 17). But is the existing consumer demand for Fair Trade chocolate feeding a truly “fair” system? While the Fair Trade theory is desirable, the realities are much less so. Despite Fair Trade’s efforts, cacao farmers continue to struggle with chocolate pricing, costs of obtaining Fair Trade certification, and ambiguity of Fair Trade standards in cultural contexts.

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The ideal results of Fair Trade Chocolate

Fair Trade’s claim on providing cocoa farmers with better prices has been questioned in recent years. Entrepreneurship lecturers Alex Nicholls and Charlotte Opal point out that returns are “marginal at best, non-existent at worst,” and that “a typical Fair Trade chocolate bar only returns about 4% of its final price to the producer” (Nicholls 29). Seventy% founder Martin Christy, founder of Seventy%[2], stated that “the Fairtrade premium—about $400 per tonne of cacao—is not enough to make much difference to farmers lives and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that not much of that actually reaches the real farmers” (Ramsey). Christy adds, “if you do the the maths backwards from a £1.30 100g Fairtrade bar there’s no way, once you’ve taken off all the margins, that the farmer is getting enough to live on” (Ibid).

According to a transnational investigation hosted by the Forum for African Investigative Reporters, farmer testimonials support Christy’s claims. Frédéric Doua—owner of a cocoa farm in the Ivory Coast—revealed that his harvested product often sits in warehouses, waiting for the occasional Fair Trade buyer to come along (Fair 6). According to Doua, he was hoping for “higher prices and welfare premiums,” but instead became “overly dependent on cocoa prices and Fair Trade buyers” (Ibid). This is due to the fact that “as a member of a FAIRTRADE-certified cooperative, one ‘cannot sell beans outside the FAIRTRADE circuit’” (Ibid). In other words, even if Fair Trade can provide better prices (which Nicholls and Christy have shown isn’t necessarily true), they do not guarantee consistent purchases, despite forcing farmers to sacrifice their freedom to choose their buyers.

But restriction on clientele is only one of the many hoops Fair Trade farmers must jump through. In the first place, gaining Fair Trade certification is a challenge for many cocoa producers. Economist Peter Griffiths notes that “the costs of achieving certification are an unavoidable negative impact” (Griffiths 363). Farmers are expected to pay fees for receiving certification (Certification). For a small farming cooperative of just twenty workers, such a fee can run upwards of $5,000 (Ibid). In addition, Fair Trade does not cover the costs incurred by farmers in order for them to meet Fair Trade standards. A major Fair Trade requirement is the use of sustainable agricultural practices (Brodersen). Thus, cocoa producers that use herbicides must switch to manual weeding, which usually results in higher wage costs. In such cases, Fair Trade does not compensate farmers accordingly (Griffiths 363).

Two additional issues exacerbate the cost problem of Fair Trade certification. The first is that Fair Trade is “unable to certify the total production of registered organizations” (Muradian 2033). For example, in 2001 only about 13% of total production was sold as Fair Trade, thereby resulting in “a large gap between potential and actual certified sales” (Ibid). Farmers’ fears of certification costs are usually sated by projected sales, which are based on selling annual production in its entirety as Fair Trade. However, the reality of partial certification sales causes farmers to rarely restore the money used in order to pay for Fair Trade certification in the first place. The second problem is the lack of a strong regulatory force on Fair Trade’s part. Mislabelling—when non Fair Trade products are sold as “fair trade”—is a rampant problem, allowing non-certified products to enjoy the benefits of price premiums (Parry). The global nature of the chocolate market makes label enforcement difficult, which means that real Fair Trade certified farmers aren’t protected. One seller might lie about being “fair trade,” which is unfair for the producers who had to spend their own money to officially earn Fair Trade certification.

An unexpectedly ambiguous source of contention is Fair Trade’s policy on child labour. Simply stated, Fair Trade has zero tolerance for child labour, especially in a production process as risk-heavy as cacao farming (Child). Injuries from the use of tools such as machetes are common, as well as illnesses caused by contact with various agricultural chemicals (Alliot 10). The confusion arises from determining the line between child labor and family labor. According to Fair Trade:

A major cause of the use of child labour is poverty: farmers receive such low prices for their produce that they can’t afford to pay hired workers. Even where farmers want their children to attend school, this is often hampered by poor availability of education in rural areas, and parents not being able to afford to buy schoolbooks or pay teachers. (Fair Trade Briefing 8)

But from farmers’ perspectives, Fair Trade’s child labour regulations are what leads to such “poverty” (Ibid). Without the help of family members, farmers simply cannot harvest enough to pay for their children’s school fees (Etahoben 16). Furthermore, the generalization that any child participating in work—even if that work is the family business—is considered a violation of Fair Trade values seems excessive. A Cameroonian farm owner Dat Williams explained: “When it is time to break the cocoa pods, I collect my children and any family children around at the time and take them to the farm to help. This is considered as part of the household chores children do to help their parents” (Ibid). Etahoben added “It was an exciting experience when we, as kids, were taken to the farms to break the cocoa, suck the seeds and drink the juice from the pods. We considered it part of becoming a responsible family member” (Ibid). While no parent should get away with abusing children and placing them at risk, the issue of child labour requires greater scrutiny and careful judgment so as to prevent unintended harm caused by good intentions.

 

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A child helping with the cacao harvest. The boundaries between familial work and child labour are sometimes unclear.

With Fair Trade no longer being a clear-cut good, and standard chocolate brands already having been criticized for unsustainable business practices, who can consumers turn to? Organizations like Direct Cacao, founded in 2012, are attempting to provide alternatives to the Fair Trade model. Whereas Fair Trade requires cocoa producers to essentially become members of a global organization and work under standardized guidelines, Direct Cacao works directly with small farmers and create specific relationships based on individualized circumstances (Declaration). Without a singular structure and a set of regulations that apply universally, this direct interaction model does run the risk of creating inconsistent standards. In addition, the process of following each producer through their cocoa production and discussing the best price is time-consuming and in many cases, expensive. The time and money costs can limit the range at which direct interaction can have an impact. However, as Direct Cacao points out, this new approach frees farmers from having to meet Fair Trade standards that aren’t universally easy to achieve.

Another alternative to Fair Trade is an alternative trading organization (ATO). ATOs share the goals of the Fair Trade movement, but each ATO takes its own approach to achieving those goals (Abufarha). Alter Eco, a France-based company founded in 1988, is a representative example of an ATO. All of Alter Eco’s chocolate is Fair Trade certified, but the organization also pursues particular principles that are not apparent in the Fair Trade’s broader manifesto. For example, Alter Eco places a special emphasis on gender equity within the chocolate industry (Alter). While the Fair Trade movement has a general mission to improve the well-being of cacao producers, they are not as specific as Alter Eco’s. Because Alter Eco is part of the Fair Trade movement but doesn’t manage every source of Fair Trade cocoa, they are more mobile and better equipped to place more focus on individual producers. In essence, ATOs are a compromise between Fair Trade and Direct Cacao.

It’s important to note that the presence of such alternatives does not necessarily mean that Fair Trade has failed. Fair Trade’s ideology comes from a desire to help people and create a more sustainable world. Despite the problems discussed above, there are plenty of success stories with Fair Trade—as there should be, given its 70-year history. Still, consumers should approach products with a critical mind. It’s not enough to claim one’s participation in ethical consumerism simply by purchasing a Fair Trade chocolate bar. Without proper scrutiny, the Fair Trade brand will quickly fall from being a symbol for change to being a pawn of consumerism, manipulating the consumers’ guilt complex and desire to “feel good.” In the case of Fair Trade, the organization as a whole should work to ensure stable income over higher per unit prices, redirect cocoa premium investments toward children’s education—thereby alleviating parents’ concerns regarding school fees—and implementing an organized regulatory force that effectively prevents others from taking advantage of the Fair Trade label, so as to protect the investment and hard work of farmers toward Fair Trade certification.

Works Cited

“About.” Seventy%. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 May 2017.

Abufarha, Nasser. “Alternative Trade Organizations and the Fair Trade Movement.” Fair World Project. N.p., 2013. Web. 09 May 2017.

Alliot, Christophe, Matthias Cortin, Marion Feige-Muller, and Sylvain Ly. The Dark Side of Chocolate: An Analysis of the Conventional, Sustainable and Fair Trade Cocoa Chains. Rep. N.p.: Bureau for the Appraisal of Societal Impacts and Costs, n.d. Print.

“Alter Eco Nourishing Foodie, Farmer and Field.” Alter Eco Foods. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2017.

Brodersen, Pernille Louise. How Fair is Fairtrade? Thesis. Copenhagen Business School, 2013. Copenhagen: n.p., 2013. Print.

“Certification fees.” FLOCERT. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 May 2017.

“Child and Forced Labour.” Fairtrade International (FLO): Child and Forced Labour. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2017.

“Declaration.” Direct Cacao. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2017.

Etahoben, Chief Bisong, Bjinse Dankert, Janneke Donkerlo, Selay Kouassi, Benjamin Tetteh, and Aniefiok Udonquak. The FAIRTRADE Chocolate Rip-off. Rep. Ed. Evelyn Groenink. N.p.: n.p., 2012. Print.

Griffiths, Peter. “Ethical Objections to Fairtrade.” Journal of Business Ethics 105 (2012): 357-73. Print.

Hainmueller, Jens. Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Multi-Store Field Experiment. Diss. Stanford U, 2014. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Muradian, Roldan, and Wim Pelupessy. “Governing the Coffee Chain: The Role of Voluntary Regulatory Systems.” World Development 33.12 (2005): 2029-044. Web.

Nicholls, Alex, and Charlotte Opal. Fair Trade: Market-Driven Ethical Consumption. London: Sage, 2011. Print.

Parry, Hannah. “Beware the Fairtrade fraudsters: Shoppers warned to watch out for produce with fake labels as criminals attempt to cash in on premiums on ‘ethical’ goods.” Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 06 May 2015. Web. 9 May 2017.

Ramsey, Dom. “How Fair Is Fairtrade Chocolate?” Chocablog. N.p., 1 Mar. 2013. Web. 8 May 2017.

[1] Some of the causes behind price volatility are: political instability in cacao producing countries, variable weather, and changes in supply and demand (Fair Trade Briefing 5)

[2] Seventy% is an organization founded in 2001 whose aim is “to raise awareness of the quality and origin of the chocolate we eat” (About)

Tackling Terroir in Chocolate

For this blogpost, I was curious to explore the idea of terroir as it pertains to chocolate. “Terroir” is, literally, the French word for soil or land and can be defined as “the conditions in which a food is grown or produced and that give the food its unique characteristics.” [i]  According to Kristy Leissle, “cocoa beans, like wine grapes, produce distinct flavors depending on strain and terroir, and showcasing that flavor is the goal of single origin chocolate.” [ii]

Of course, as discussed throughout our chocolate class (Karla Martin, personal communication) the final taste of chocolate is determined by many factors. The taste can be influenced by the type of cacao and where it is grown but can also be influenced by the type of cacao tree, how the cacao beans are fermented and dried and how it is processed. How is it roasted? Is it conched and for how long? Are other ingredients added?  A description of the kinds of factors that influence chocolate flavor can be found here: [iii]  But despite those questions, I was curious to explore what differences we would taste in chocolate bars whose beans were sourced from different countries.

So I took myself off to Whole Foods in Dedham – one of the largest Whole Foods I have ever visited. There I faced an enormous and bewildering display of chocolate: 3 full banks of shelves – ½ of an entire aisle – entirely devoted to chocolate, none of it mass market. I employed the following criteria to restrict my choices:

  • Must be at least 70% chocolate
  • No added ingredients other than sweetener, vanilla, emulsifier
  • Package must state the cacao is sourced from a certain geographic area.

I ended up with 7 bars of chocolate to taste, from 6 different areas: Ghana, Dominican Republic Madegascar, Tanzania, Haiti, and Ecuador. Only one was made in the country of origin. The others were produced in Germany, Massachusetts, Belgium, and Switzerland.

What I found at Whole Foods bears out Leissle’s statement that even though the majority of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, most single single origin chocolate bars are sourced from other regions. She suggests that this is likely because the quality of West African chocolate is often not high. The one bar I found from West Africa was from Ghana. Ghanaian chocolate, which is regulated by a national Cocoa Board is considered the best of the West African chocolate. (Leissle). Tight regulation may be the reason that it is higher quality, but it can also make it difficult for manufacturers to source enough chocolate from Ghana to create single-origin bars. Another issue with West African chocolate is that it is often tainted in the public mind by allegations of child and slave labor, which could affect sales.

Interestingly, all of these chocolates bore a special certification of one kind or another, indicating that the buyer was not just buying chocolate to eat, but also contributing to social good with the purchase. Certifications included Fair trade, Fair for life, direct trade, whole trade.  As Ndongo S. Sylla suggests in his critique of Fair Trade, it is as if “poverty itself has become a commodity. Through this label, it is the idea and the approach that are being sold…The irony is that the new advocates of the poor unknowingly work for the rich, being themselves part of this category.” [iv] The packaging suggests that with your purchase you have become a “compassionate consumer” as Martin and Sampeck [v] label it, and so you can feel good about yourself because you are meeting the needs of others when you spend your money, often justifying a higher price. Of course, one doesn’t know how much of that premium actually reaches the farmer. It’s almost a side benefit to one’s good work in buying the chocolate, that it may also be delicious.

All but two of the bars were organic, and this also seems to play into the idea of doing good with your dollars. The packaging materials themselves are organic-looking/earthy-crunchy with non-shiny paper and arty graphics. Julie Guthman, in her history of the development of organic salad mix (“yuppie chow”), says “eating organic salad mix connoted a political action in its own right, legitimizing a practice that few could afford.”[vi] This notion of eating as a political action could also be applied to organic chocolate. However, as Williams and Eber point out in Raising the Bar [vii], organic chocolate isn’t necessarily the best chocolate. Furthermore, organic certification is an expensive proposition for a small cocoa farmer because the land must come out of production for 3 years and getting a certificate costs money. The premium that organic chocolate can demand tends not to come to the farmer. Furthermore, much cocoa actually is in essence organic, though not certified as such, because many farmers cannot afford pesticides. So how much good are you really doing by buying organic chocolate?

For this project, I convened an after-dinner tasting panel of 3 foodies: myself (a prolific cook-gardener), my friend Emily (an artist/social worker who generally prefers milk chocolate to dark chocolate), and my husband John (a field engineer by day and musician/poet in the off hours). We discussed a common convention of tasting, guided by Barb Stuckey’s article on How the Pros Taste. [viii] She suggests the importance of using other senses in tasting, such as sight, smell, taste, and texture or mouth feel. We placed each sample on a white plate to judge the the color, slowly sniffed it to sense the aroma, snapped it with our teeth to judge crispness, and then placed it on our tongue to savor slowly and see what flavors emerged. We sampled in order of lightest (70%) to darkest (85%). After sampling each, we took a look at the package to see what information we could glean. Our method of palate cleansing after each taste was perhaps unorthodox, but delicious: water, plain crackers, and red wine that had been aged in bourbon barrels.

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THE TASTING:

Divine 70% “Intensely Rich” chocolate. Ghana     IMG_7855

Color: very dark brown. Aroma: rich and lovely. Snap: Nice, crisp.

Savoring notes: we found it sweet but not overly so. Delicious. You could taste the vanilla. It melted slowly with a lingering flavor and was very smooth. John, our poet, said he could taste the savannah. The finish was very earthy. However, at the end it felt a bit chalky and dry, as if it sucked the moisture out of one’s mouth. We decided to call this kind of finish “sere.”  “Sere” is defined as dry or arid. [ix]

Judgment: We all liked this chocolate very much at first taste, though we weren’t fond of the sere finish.

Ingredient %: 70% cacao. 19g fat, 11 g sugar.   Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, vanilla.

Certifications: Non gmo project, halal, fairtrade.

Price: $3.00 for 3.5 oz. (It was on sale; normally $3.99).

Website here

Other Notes:  Divine is made with cocoa beans from a co-op of small-holder farmers in Ghana and is produced in Germany. The package is decorated with Adinkra symbols which are traditional West African motifs. The inside of the package congratulates the buyer for supporting cocoa farmers and displays the photograph of an individual cocoa farmer and tells her story.  It also displays the AYA symbol, representing Endurance and Peaceful Coexistence. It feels like you are invited into the community of cocoa farmers by purchasing this chocolate.

Taza Chocolates 70% stone ground chocolate. “perfectly unrefined” Dominican Republic

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Color: less dark and rich looking than the Divine. Aroma: less intense than Divine, but nice. Less crisp than Divine.

Savoring notes: Tasted sweeter than Divine and the initial taste was less intense at the start. Not buttery and smooth but textural, (unsurprising since it is stone ground and unconched.) Very pleasant to savor, though the texture was distracting. Overall a simpler taste than the Divine. The finish was also less dry (sere) at the end.

Judgment: We all thought this chocolate was o.k., but not a favorite, mostly because of the grittiness and lack of complexity.

Ingredient %: 70% cacao. 14 g. fat, 11 g. sugar.  Ingredients: organic cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, organic vanilla beans.

Certifications: USDA Organic, non GMO project, Gluten Free, Vegan, Direct Trade

Price: $4.75, 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: Packaging is simple non glossy paper, quite attractive. It makes a big point of being unrefined and minimally processed with bold flavor and texture. It is made in Somerville, MA

Madecasse, Madagascar.  70% heirloom Madagascar cocoa, “bright with a fruity finish.”

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Color: not as dark as the first two. Aroma: strong, rich and deep. You could almost taste the chocolate as you smelled it. A reasonable snap.

Savoring notes: A bit granular. Not as smooth as the divine. Lingering, complex flavor. Our poet musician called it “beautiful birds” and then described the taste as “symphonic” and “well-orchestrated.” The finish had a little vanilla, it was luscious all the way through, and there was no chalky dryness or “sere” quality at the end.

Judgment: Our favorite so far.

Ingredient %: Fat 16 g, Sugar 10 g.   Ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, natural vanilla.

Certifications: Fair Trade, Fair for life.

Price: $4.50 for 2.64 oz.

Website here

Other notes:  The packaging is lovely. Simple yet colorful with a drawing of an opened cocoa pod (revealing the white flesh and the cocoa beans), nestled with leaves, cocoa beans and pieces of chocolate bar. On the back, a map of Africa/Madagascar and the story of the chocolate. Madecasse was started by peace corps volunteers in Madagascar who decided to make chocolate “as a vehicle for social impact.” This bar is not only sourced from Madegascar, it is made there. More than some of the other packaging, this bar seemed to stress the deliciousness of the chocolate, as much as their mission.

Whole Foods 72% “Tanzania Schoolhouse Project Cacao.”

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Color: quite dark, as dark as the divine chocolate. Aroma: rich. Bite: soft.

Savoring notes:  Smooth and delicious. No “sere” finish at the end. We couldn’t say exactly what we were tasting…just that it was delicious.

Judgment: The favorite of Emily, the person who typically doesn’t like dark chocolate. John and I still preferred Madecasse, though we did enjoy this bar.

Ingredient %: 17 g fat and 10 g of sugar.  Ingredients: Organic chocolate liquor, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter. No lecithin and no vanilla.

Certifications: vegetarian, USDA organic, Kosher, Whole trade

Price: $6.00 for 3.5 oz.

No website.

Other notes:  Somehow we didn’t expect this to taste good – perhaps because it seemed to be more about supporting Tanzanian schoolhouses and doing “good works” and less about the chocolate. And perhaps because it was made by the big business of Whole Foods. The packaging wasn’t as appealingly earthy/arty as the others. It was glossier, with photographs of Tanzanian people and cocoa trees rather than compelling graphics. This bar is made in Belgium. We were also surprised to find that we didn’t miss the vanilla in this bar. Interestingly, the Tanzania schoolhouse Project website link which describes their charitable projects makes no mention of this chocolate. The packaging also doesn’t indicate what amount of proceeds are donated to the project. My cynical side thinks Whole Foods may be using the Tanzanian project as a marketing tool, since there is so little transparency about what they are really doing in Tanzania.

Apotheker’s “classic dark”, bee-sweetened 76% chocolate, Dominican Republic.

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Color: This chocolate was the darkest so far. Aroma: wonderful – very rich. Bite: very soft.

Savoring notes: The honey taste was predominant at first and the chocolate tasted very different from the other ones. Although the texture was not smooth, it was enjoyable, more so than the grittiness of the Taza. The taste felt slow to open up, perhaps because it was less sweet, but when it did open was nice. The honey taste lingered throughout and the finish had no “sere” at all. This was definitely a different kind of chocolate and we found it enjoyable.

Ingredient %: 18 g fat, 6g of sugar.  Ingredients: Organic Cacao liquor, organic cacao butter, organic raw honey, sunflower lecithin, organic vanilla beans.

Certifications and claims: direct trade, family owned, gluten, dairy and soy free, single origin, biodynamic, hand-crafted.

Price: $6.50 for 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: The package graphics and the name hint at being like something from an apothecary or a general store, like it might be good for you. It has an old-fashioned, early 20 century look that might draw you in on the basis of sentimentality. It also proclaims in large letters that it is organic raw honey sweetened – so it can draw in people who are drawn to health foods. This bar is made in Dorchester, MA by a husband/wife team who also make soaps, hot cocoa, and bee-sweetened mallows. This was our second bar made with Dominican cocoa and quite different from the first.

Taza “perfectly unrefined” 84% Dark chocolate, sourced from Haiti.

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Color: quite dark. Aroma: very earthy and perhaps a little sharp. Bite: hard but not crisp

Savoring notes: Like the other Taza bar, this was granular, but the texture was almost sandy. It had a very earthy taste, very simple, almost primitive. Emily commented that it was more like a food than a dessert. It finished with a fruity taste.

Judgment: We loved the flavor that opened when we savored a piece of this bar, but we were put off by the grittiness.

Ingredient %: 13 g fat, 6 g sugar.  Ingredients: cacao beans and cane sugar

Certifications and claims: organic direct trade, non gmo, gluten free, dairy soy and vegan free

Price: $7.50 for 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: the packaging of this bar is similar to that of the Taza Dominican bar. It is also made in Somerville. The package makes note that Taza is the first U.S. chocolate maker to source certified USDA organic cacao from Haiti.

Alter Eco, “dark blackout” 85% dark chocolate, from Peru.

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Color: quite dark. Aroma: strong and vegetal, reminiscent of tobacco. Snap: crisp.

Savoring notes: The flavor was very slow to open – perhaps because it had less sugar. The taste was a little acidic. The texture was smooth, waxy at the start. It had a chalky, “sere” finish.

Judgment: Meh. We didn’t care for this chocolate very much.

Ingredient %: 22 g fat, 6 g sugar.  Ingredients: cacao beans, cocoa butter, raw sugar, vanilla beans

Certifications: USDA Organic, Fair trade, gluten free, non gmo.

Price: $3.99 for 2.82 oz.

Website here

Other notes: packaging is the least glossy of all – very recycled looking. There is a lot of comment on the inside of the packaging about their mission: sustainability, replacing coca crops with cacao crops and the importance of cocoa cooperatives and a Carbon Zero reforestation project, along with photographs of people who are presumably cacao farmers. Clearly the intent is to let you know that by buying this chocolate you are doing good. Too bad we didn’t like the taste of it.

Last thoughts on this experience

We were all surprised by how interesting – and enjoyable – it was to use so many senses in experiencing each chocolate bar. Taking the time to savor revealed so many nuances. Emily, who prefers milk chocolate, actually enjoyed most of the bars when she took the time to smell and consider each sample and slowly let it melt in her mouth. We found ourselves with questions about the reasons for the differences in taste: what was due to how the chocolate was processed, how much was terroir, how much was the power of suggestion in packaging, how much was due to the percentage – or type – of ingredients.

There are many avenues for further investigation. For instance, we could compare a number of different chocolates sourced from one region (if we could find them). We could compare chocolates produced with different methods – for instance a variety of unconched chocolates. We could investigate the claims different companies make about bettering the lives of farmers or the environment or contributing to other good causes. How much do they actually do and contribute and how much of the lingo is an attempt to reel in the compassionate consumer by convincing them they are doing good with their consumer dollars? I look forward to  exploring these ideas in future tastings with friends.

Sources Consulted:

[i] Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/terroir.

[ii] Leissle, Kristy, “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 2013. 13:3, pp, 22-31.

[iii] Chocolate Review, Chocolatereview.com.au, accessed May 9, 2017.

[iv] Sylla, Ndongo S., The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. 2014. Athens, Ohio University Press.

[v] Martin, Carla D. and Kathryn E. Sampek, The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. Doi: 10.18030/SOCIO.HU.2015EN.37.

[vi] Guthman, Julie, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow” in Counihan, Carole and Penny van Esterik, ed., Food and Culture. 2013. New York: Routledge.

[vii] Williams, Pan and Jim Eber, Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. 2012. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation.

[viii] Stuckey, Barb, “How the Pros Taste,” in Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. 2012. New York: Free Press.

[ix] Mirriam Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sere, Accessed May 9, 2017.

Bipolar Self-Medication with Chocolate: How Science Has Confirmed Chocolate’s Place as a Mood-Enhancer

Ever since the Spaniards discovered the new world, and along with it, discovered chocolate, chocolate consumption has been associated with medicinal benefits.

In The True History of Chocolate, Sophie and Michael Coe tell us:
“the Spaniards had stripped [chocolate] of the spiritual meaning which it had for the Mesoamericans, and imbued it with qualities altogether absent among the Aztecs and Maya: for the invaders, it was a drug, a medicine, in the humoral system to which they all adhered. It is hardly surprising to find that it was under this guise that chocolate travelled in Europe, from one court to another, from noble house to noble house, from monastery. But it soon became a medicine that was appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation.” (Coe and Coe 126)

We have several early Spanish attestations to medicinal properties of the newly discovered chocolate. Girolamo Benzoni, author of the History of the New World (1575), was among the first to write of chocolate’s beneficial effects on the body, though he did not exactly liken it to medicine or medicinal effects. He writes that chocolate “satisfies and refreshes the body” (Coe and Coe 110). These generalized benefits of chocolate consumption for the body soon developed into medicinal effects, as the Spanish began to encorporate chocolate consumption into their Galenic views of medicine (Coe and Coe 122). In 1570, Philip II had sent his Royal Physician Francisco Hernández to Mesoamerica on what would ultimately be a seven-year expedition to document native plants so that the Spanish might benefit from Mesoamerican medicinal practices, which were far superior to their own (Coe and Coe 122). Coe and Coe describe Hernández’s incorporation of chocolate into the Galenic system:
“Cacao and chocolate naturally attracted Hernández’s attention. The cacao seed is ‘temperate in nature,’ he says, but leaning to the ‘cold and humid’; on the whole, it is very nourishing […]. Because of its cool nature, drinks made from it are good in hot weather, and to cure fevers. Adding the mecaxochitl flavoring to chocolate not only gives it an agreeable taste, but because it, like most cacao spices, is ‘hot’ by nature, it ‘warms the stomach, perfumes the breath … [and] combats poisons, alleviates intestinal pains and colics,’ and so on.” (Coe and Coe 122)
Hernández’s description firmly set chocolate in the medicinal conversation of Europe forevermore.

The use of chocolate as medicine persisted in European history. The medicinal properties of chocolate beverages were cited by Francesco Maria Brancaccio in 1664 as an argument for why chocolate beverages should be permitted during times of ecclesiastical fasting (Coe and Coe 149). Most 18th century authorities believed that, as long as it was not consumed in excess, chocolate was on the whole very beneficial to one’s health.

Though much of the conversation about chocolate as medicine was centered around its physical benefits, people also began to suggest mental benefits of chocolate consumption as well. In his 1591 treatise on New World foods, Juan de Cárdenas asserted that chocolate consumption, among its other properties, could make one “happy” (Coe and Coe 123). Later, in the 1600s, marquise de Sévigné, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, advises a correspondent who was apparently not sleeping that “chocolate will set you up again” (Coe and Coe 155).

These early attestations to beneficial psychological effects of chocolate consumption paved the way for modern beliefs in chocolate’s psychological effects, as a mood enhancer. The public’s belief that consuming chocolate will boost their mood has greatly impacted the modern chocolate market. A recent report by Mintel (2016) “found 24% of British consumers say they have bought chocolate confectionery in the last three months to boost their mood, while 64% of Chinese consumers agree that eating chocolate is an effective way to relieve stress” (Yu). Many chocolate companies advertise in such a way as to capitalize on the mood-enhancing effects of chocolate.

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Depicting many of the psychological effects attributed to chocolate consumption in the modern age, this particular image is used by Fondant Chocolate, a premier chocolate company in India, as part of its marketing. This demonstrates how the modern chocolate market benefits from public belief in the positive psychological effects of chocolate consumption.

Many people seek out chocolate for its mood-enhancing benefits, but this essay will focus on a group of people who use chocolate for much more than cheering themselves up on a bad day: those diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

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This medically reviewed article on Healthline shows that not only do bipolar people self-medicate and crave chocolate, but it is actually being medically recommended as a remedy for bipolar symptoms. (Krans)

For the purposes of this essay, it is useful to give a brief overview of what bipolar disorder, a mood disorder, entails. The International Bipolar Foundation describes:
“Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. […] Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings– from overly ‘high’ and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between. Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression.” (“Learn”)
It should also be mentioned that people with bipolar have low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is considered to be a naturally occurring mood stabilizer (Peeke).

 

First, I will mention that the reason I picked this topic is because I am, myself, bipolar, and I, like many other bipolar people, have used chocolate to self-medicate. Many others with bipolar also use other, actual drugs to self-medicate (such as alcohol, cocaine, and heroin) and often develop substance abuse problems. I, however, never found comfort in a bottle. Chocolate was my self-prescribed mood-stabilizer, long before I had even received my diagnosis. It is my intention to share a little bit about my own use of chocolate as a mood-enhancer, before delving into the science and explicating why the use of chocolate as medicine, though not treating the same ailments as chocolate beginning in the 1500s, may actually have more clout than a simple urban myth.

I am not exactly sure when my bipolar disorder began manifesting symptoms, but in hindsight, I can definitively say that by junior high, it was definitely in full-swing. My pre-teens through early college life were categorized by all the typical signs: extreme mood swings with intermittent periods of normalcy, ‘bipolar rage’ (blind, irrational, near-violent anger with no traceable cause), crippling anxiety, et cetera. I am not sure at what point my childhood love of chocolate became a realization that eating chocolate helped my mood, but at some point, I began to associate my turbulent moods with a solution: the consumption of chocolate. It made me feel better, especially in the moment, but eventually I would come crashing down, as my mood spiraled downward. I would thus seek out more chocolate to ease that depression, and thus I became as dependent on chocolate as an alcoholic is on alcohol to self-medicate. I became so dependent on chocolate as my self-prescribed mood enhancing drug that I actually developed compulsive-eating and binge-eating disorders (see also a blog about another bipolar person’s experience with this). Even my family recognized the power that chocolate had to improve my moods, and when they saw that I was struggling on a given day, their go-to method of cheering me up was giving me something with chocolate in it.

I was not diagnosed with bipolar disorder until I was 20 years old, and it took until I was 22 to finally be put on the right dosage of the right medication: lithium. Lithium is arguably the oldest psychiatric medication around (in use during Classical times (Angst and Marneros)) and is a mood-stabilizer. Lithium will be very important in the science on chocolate as a mood-stabilizer that I outline below. Still, even though I am now on the right dose of the right medication, I still have mood swings, and when I do, my family still suggests chocolate as a remedy.

Many studies have been conducted on chocolate as a mood enhancer. According to UNH Staff in their article, “2 Chocolate Benefits for Your Brain: Improves Memory and Mood”, “chocolate has been shown to improve depression and anxiety symptoms and help enhance feelings of calmness and contentedness. Both the flavanols and methylxanthines are believed to play a role in chocolate’s mood enhancing effects” (UNH Staff). In addition, the article cites several studies that showed chocolate consumption improved mood, and another study in which participants “felt more calm and contented after consuming a daily dark chocolate drink containing a high amount of polyphenols” (UNH Staff).  These studies show that chocolate does indeed have a connection to ‘good feelings’, much as Juan de Cárdenas had asserted that chocolate could make one happy centuries earlier.

Chocolate also contains phenylethylamines, which are a neurotransmitter that “in low levels, is associated with depression […] Phenylethylamines work by releasing endorphins in the brain and promote feelings of attraction and giddiness” (Chitale and ABC News Medical Unit). Between the low levels of serotonin, which cause cravings for carbs and sweets to spark pleasure centers in the brain and elevate mood (Peeke), and the low levels of phenylethylamines, people with mood disorders may actually be self-medicating with chocolate consumption, which compensates for those low levels.

I must here take a slight detour from the discussion of the science-supported benefits of chocolate to set precedent for my conclusion. The American Chemical Society put out a summary of research that was delivered at one of their meetings, in an article entitled “Good Mood Foods: Some Flavors in Some Foods Resemble a Prescription Mood Stabilizer.” The research is exactly what the title suggests: “New evidence reveals the possibility of mood-enhancing effects associated with some flavors, stemming at least in part from natural ingredients bearing a striking chemical similarity to valproic acid, a widely used prescription mood-stabilizing drug” (“Good Mood Foods”). This suggests that some foods, far from simply providing a quick mood boost, could actually be used to medicate mood disorders, even if it were just as a supplement to actual medications.

Nuno Rodrigues-Silva considers the science behind the question: why do we crave chocolate? One view he considers argues that craving for chocolate is a “homeostatic response to nutrient deficiency (e.g., magnesium deficiency)” (Rodrigues-Silva 430). He goes on to explain why someone with magnesium deficiency would crave chocolate specifically:
“Chocolate has one of the highest magnesium levels reported of all foods, approximately 100 mg/g, except white chocolate which contains magnesium in much lower amounts, about 12 times lower than milk chocolate. Magnesium deficiency results in selective depletion of dopamine in the CNS [central nervous system], a major neurotransmitter involved in euphoria, satisfaction, and addiction. Additionally, magnesium deficiency is related to anxiety, and its administration has been related to reduced hyperexcitability in children and attenuated posttraumatic depression/anxiety in rats.” (Rodrigues-Silva 430)

However, Rodrigues-Silva fails to mention an important function of magnesium: magnesium is frequently used as a supplement to aid in sleep for those with sleep disorders (common for people with bipolar disorder), but most importantly, recent studies suggest that magnesium can produce improvements in bipolar disorder similar to the improvements seen in patients who take lithium (Lake). That would put magnesium on the list of mood-stabilizers.

You might remember how I said that the medication that stabilized my bipolar was lithium, and that before that, I was regulating my mood with chocolate consumption. If I, as a person with bipolar, craved chocolate when my moods were out of control, that would indicate that I might have been experiencing magnesium deficiency, according to Rodrigues-Silva. If magnesium, according to recent research, might be a mood-stabilizer, that would mean that when my bipolar disorder reared its ugly head, I was actually craving chocolate not as a quick mood enhancer but as a medication. I was, in all reality, actually self-medicating my bipolar with chocolate.

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Star Wars star Carrie Fisher, outspoken about her bipolar disorder until the day she died, describes in her second memoir Shockaholic her “craving for salad– chocolate salad.” (Fisher)

It is not just an urban myth that chocolate will boost your mood — chocolate has, now, a firmly rooted place as a medicine, just as the Europeans had claimed centuries earlier, though for different ailments.

So, what does this mean for the future of the chocolate industry? The chocolate industry already markets to and profits from people who believe that chocolate will boost their mood. Taking daily medications to manage mental illness is a hassle at best and impossible to remember at worst– and many people with bipolar simply do not want to take medication. Imagine if chocolate manufacturers began to market chocolate as an alternative or supplement to traditional mood-stabilizers. How many people would buy into that option? A lot of people, I reckon– and they would also need to consume chocolate en masse in order to get enough of a mood-stabilizing benefit day to day, sky-rocketing sales. It could be a great new direction for the chocolate market.

 

 

 

Bibliography
“About Us – Fondant Chocolate.” Fondant Chocolate. Fondant Chocolate, n.d. Web. 10 May 2017.
Angst, Jules, and Andreas Marneros. “Bipolarity from Ancient to Modern Times: Conception, Birth and Rebirth.” Journal of Affective Disorders 67.1-3 (2001): 3-19. Web.
Baker, Kelley Thorpe. “Until I Pop: Emotional Eating and Bipolar Disorder.” Blog post. Bipolar Hope. Bipolar Magazine, 26 May 2015. Web. 10 May 2017.
Chitale, Radha, and ABC News Medical Unit. “You Feel What You Eat.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 05 Mar. 2008. Web. 10 May 2017.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.
Fisher, Carrie. Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill eat chocolate. Digital image. Daily Mail. Daily Mail, 9 May 2014. Web. 10 May 2017.
Fisher, Carrie. Shockaholic. London: Simon & Schuster, 2013. Print.
“Good Mood Foods: Some Flavors in Some Foods Resemble a Prescription Mood Stabilizer.” American Chemical Society. American Chemical Society, 19 Aug. 2012. Web. 10 May 2017.
Krans, Brian. “7 Foods That Help to Calm Your Nerves During Bipolar Mania.” Healthline. Healthline Media, 12 Sept. 2016. Web. 10 May 2017.
Lake, James. “Integrative Treatment of Bipolar Disorder: A Review of the Evidence and Recommendations: Page 2 of 4.” Psychiatric Times. UBM Medica, 03 July 2013. Web. 10 May 2017.
“Learn.” International Bipolar Foundation. International Bipolar Foundation, 2017. Web. 10 May 2017.
Mental Benefits of Chocolate Consumption. Digital image. Fondant Chocolate. Fondant Chocolate, n.d. Web. 10 May 2017.
Peeke, Dr. Pamela. “Mood, Food and Bipolar Disorder: A New Prescription.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 21 July 2014. Web. 10 May 2017.
Rodrigues-Silva, Nuno. “Chocolate: Psychopharmological Aspects, Mood, and Addiction.” Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Ed. Ronald Ross. Watson, Victor R. Preedy, and Sherma Zibadi. Totowa, NJ: Humana, 2013. 421-36. Print.
Thompson, Dennis, Jr. “Sugar and Bipolar Disorder.” EverydayHealth.com. Everyday Health Media, LLC, 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 May 2017.
UNH Staff. “2 Chocolate Benefits for Your Brain: Improves Memory and Mood.” University Health News. Belvoir Media Group, 20 Apr. 2017. Web. 10 May 2017.
Yu, Douglas. “Happiness Factor: Emotional Benefits Are Top Chocolate Sales Drivers, Says Mintel.” ConfectioneryNews.com. William Read, 29 Mar. 2016. Web. 10 May 2017.

From Gene to Bean to Bar: A Tour from USDA Research to Castronovo Chocolate

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Photo of Display at Castronovo Chocolate literally from beans to bars.

I spent a day and a half visiting both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Miami and Castronovo Chocolate, a 700 square foot chocolate factory, 2 hours north of Miami located in Stuart Florida. This posting tells the story of the morning with Mike Winterstein, an agricultural research technician at the USDA and of the afternoon and following morning, spent with Denise Castronovo, an artisan chocolate maker and the owner of Castronovo Chocolate.

It is my opinion that both the USDA and Castronovo are part of solution to problems we have studied in the cacao-chocolate supply chain.

First Stop: USDA Agricultural Research Subtropical Station

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Photo: Mike Winterstein is the Agricultural Research Technician at the USDA Agricultural Sub Tropical Research Service,  He is from Long Island New York, moved to Florida in 1974, as a farmer, and joined the USDA in 1994.

As a grower, Mike maintains plants, going out into the fields and taking care of them from planting to germinating etc.  Indoors, he also formats and stores data, maintaining data on the USDA websites.  Mike works with other researchers verifying collections.  The USDA genome research is publically available.  You can order a species, 13,000 are available, from the USDA for the cost of shipping and the phytosanitary certificate verifying the plant is free of all pathogens ($50 ) The big five crops for the USDA are wheat, rice, soybean, corn and cotton.  However at the station in Miami the primary crops being studied are avocado, mango and cacao, and interestingly also sugar cane.  To paraphrase, Mike, “Even though cacao is not really grown in the US, yes, some is in Puerto Rico (Mayaguez has the main cacao collection) and Hawaii, the research and the storing of the genome and plants are important because lots and lots of jobs in the US are tied into chocolate from the manufacture, to the infrastructure, to the advertising/marketing to the consumption.”

The research at the USDA is funded primarily by the US Government.  CRIS the Current Resource Information System https://reeis.usda.gov/reports-and-documents/cris-reports/cris-overview. Is the “documentation and reporting system for ongoing agricultural, food and nutrition, and forestry research.”

The research is funded through farm bills, approved by Congress and thus is really funded by the US taxpayer.  The USDA is a government agency, funding for research changes (due to changing taste and politics), research is at the mercy of the government.  In the new farm bill you can look up the research being done on specialty crops. Here is the link for 2017 http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/fy17budsum.pdf and a link for programs possible being dropped in 2018 http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/path-to-the-2018-farmbill-stranded-programs/  and another link  from the Council of State Governments for 2018 as proposed by President Trump:  http://www.csg-erc.org/blog/2017/04/10/first-look-president-trumps-usda-budget-2018/

The History

The USDA in Miami started with “The Boys”. (See photo) Walter Tennyson Swingle, (1871-1952)  who graduated from Kansas State at age 16 and had an obsession with chasing citrus (there was no citrus industry yet in Florida, but there was a potential for the crop. http://merrick.library.miami.edu/specialCollections/wtswingle/. Swingle taught himself Mandarin Chinese and German and went looking for crops that could be successful in the US.  He persuaded Henry Flagler, the man who brought his railroad to South Florida, thus opening Florida for development, to give the USDA an acre of land along Biscayne Bay for a lab to study plant disease.  Swingle also persuaded Mary Brickell to give 6 acres to use as a plant introduction site.  The donation was not accepted, but a lease was negotiated.  Plant Explorer, David Fairchild, the same David Fairchild who brought the cherry trees to Washington, D.C.’s tidal basin, is another major player in the history. He sought a piece of land for its climate, not just for the land.

Where the USDA sits today is not shielded by barrier islands.  It receives the warm gulf stream, and because there are no barrier islands, the Atlantic Ocean retains the warmth of the gulf stream, creating a climate fit for cacao.  The land, it is believed,  has always been frost free (important for all subtropical fruits and vegetation).

Viktor Emmanuel Chapman was the first aviator to be killed in France in WWI on November 15, 1918. He trained on this same sight, what is now known as Chapman field with America’s first “Fly Boys” who flew, before the US entered WWI, for the French Foreign Legion in the American Escadrille.  The history of the USDA station at Chapman field in Miami and the breadth of agricultural research currently being done at the USDA subtropical agricultural research center is fascinating and complex.

For more detail of the history see: https://www.ars.usda.gov/southeast-area/miami-fl/subtropical-horticulture-research/docs/a-century-of-research-with-usda-in-miami/

1 The Boys

The USDA Mission in Miami is to:

1. Introduce a broad genetic base for tropical and subtropical horticultural crops believed to have economic potential in warm humid regions of the United States or its territories.

2. Evaluate the introduced populations for their genetic structure, horticultural variation, and botanical characteristics.
3. Preserve a diverse sub-set representing a broad genetic base for each crop.
4. Distribute the material to research scientist, botanical gardens, nurserymen and parks as is appropriate.

The National Germplasm Repository (NGR) is one of eighteen such repositories in the NPGS. The NGR-Miami shares responsibility with Mayaguez – Puerto Rico, for maintaining the U.S. clonal collections of mango, avocado, banana and plantain, tropical citrus, annonas, sugarcane and related grasses, palms, Tripsacum, and a few other relatively minor tropical crops.

Germplasm Holdings: 

The NGR-Miami maintains approximately 6000 accessions. Most the holdings (3500) are in the major fruit and grass collections. The remaining 2500 accessions are ornamental, chemurgic, and spice introductions from tropical and subtropical areas of the world. These plants are a unique collection and requests for material come from many scientific disciplines. Small quantities of germplasm are distributed to bona fide scientists for research purposes.” Not true anymore:  the germ plasm is available to landscapers, botanists, landscape architects, nurseries, as well as bona fide researchers.

Cacao is held at the NGR Miami and has been important both to deal with diseases:  witches broom, frost pod, bitofera, pests, parasites, fungus, etc.  benefitting cacao producers worldwide, but also because “significant quantities of milk, sugar, peanuts, almonds, and other materials produced in the U.S. go into the making of chocolate products. The station is one of two quarantine facilities for cacao in the western hemisphere that serve to keep diseases from moving into the area”.  The station also does research for Mars with Mars scientists.  They have sensors monitoring trees for nitrogen, sunlight, humidity etc. monitoring conditions to be able to help cacao farmers in Indonesia.  The cacao is grown in an area that was built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp -think the Depression and the New Deal) cement walls that look like Mayan ruins absorb the heat keeping the area warmer.

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Mike will hand pollinate a cacao tree, by collecting pollen at the beginning of the day., The next morning he takes the anther’s off, so the tree can not self pollinate, and he brings the pollen, using a Q-tip or tiny paint brush from another tree.  He said  that when he brings the pollen he sees a little spurt.  Wire mesh to keep rats and mice away are around the trees.

Kathleen Martinez, a researcher at the USDA doing Mars research, took me inside the lab.  I was not allowed to photograph inside.  I was shown how leaf material is organized for genome sequencing.  Kathleen explained pipeters, fill tips, DNA samples, working in small quantities, then working on a plate, sequencing 96 samples on 32 plates , PCR amplifying samples, like 96 little needles into a capillary system, with florescent probes, Single nucleotyde polymorphism genotyping, looking for one single change in the genotyping, 96 samples and 96 markers ,fluidigm EPT.  She talked about raw data, XX meaning homozygous, XY meaning heterozygous, allele.  Basically, taking a physical trait linking that trait to a genotype associating it to a phenotype to predict the physotype.  I was shown how the researchers use the centrifuge to remove the cell wall to get clear DNA, some scientists use the plate method and do 40 samples in a day.  Extractions are done all day long.  I was shown the lypholizer, how the water is removed from the fresh leaf keeping the leaf material for long term storage minus 80 degrees C.  Leaves being worked with regularly are stored at minus 20 degrees C.  The autoclave sterilizes all equipment with heat.  Everything is reused.  Tips are cleaned in bleach.  UV cross linker sterilization washed with ethanol then the UV cross linker sterilizer microwave.

Cacao bred to be resistant to disease that tastes well, horrid, CCN51, is now being bred again,  for flavor. I do not know how much research is being done on flavor at this site.

 “The next time you drive by Chapman Field or enjoy a fine bar of chocolate, ponder the centuries of work that have gone into the making. Agriculture is always a struggle and it never ends.  The climate will change, diseases ravage, breeding lines narrow and humans crave something new.  Behind that fence along Old Cutler [road] is a battleground on which the survival of one of mankind’s most iconic crops depends”

Richard Campbell in Edible South Florida Magasine, Winter 2017, Number 1, Volume

Plant_Science_HD2Photo from USDA website

From Gene to Bean to Bar: Visiting Castronova Chocolate

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The timing of my 2nd visit to Castronovo Chocolate was serendipitous:  I got to see the cacao beans arrive. The driver who delivers them brings them inside and is thanked by Denise with one of her chocolate frozen drinks.

Denise Castronovo is a fine chocolate maker.  Originally from Massachusetts, she went to Lehigh University for her Bachelors and Masters in Environmental Science and Economics, then for 2 years she did her PH.d coursework in Ecology in the Botany Department at the University of Georgia. During her undergraduate years she had visited Costa Rica to study the rainforest. In Florida, she started her own mapping technology consulting business.   She has always been interested in sustainable development and conservation.  At the time she was in Costa Rica, eco-tourism was beginning to grow.  Her studies in Economics linked conservation and the environment.  She was interested in monitoring reforestation using aerial satellite imagery.

In her home life, Denise wanted healthy eating for herself and  for her family, (husband and two young children).  She became interested in superfoods, foods high in anti- oxidants, acai, goji berries.  When she went to Whole Foods and bought cocoa nibs she  became amazed by the flavor notes and chocolate and decided to learn all about chocolate.   All her life was excellent preparation for the opening 5 years ago of her chocolate factory and store.

What Denise is successfully creating and growing parallels the societal changes reflected in the American Artisan and Craft Chocolate time line by Carla Martin, Ph.d Chocolate, The Politics of Culture and Food, Harvard Extension. And just as in France, in American society  today it appears that the food movement is valuing artisan craft makers, (perhaps the consumers are of a certain economic level)  turning to slow, small batch chocolate, that we too are part of a changing culture of chocolate consumption. (See Carla D. Martin-Kathryn E. Sampeck)

Denise’s mission is to raise awareness of chocolate by offering unique varietals of chocolate and flavors, heirloom varieties that are endangered,  to create a market that will preserve the diversity of cacao.  see http://hcpcacao.org    On her website she has written: “Reclaiming the craft of bean to bar chocolate making. At a glance, all chocolate-making looks the same: beans are cultivated and fermented, roasted and ground, sweetened and sold. Large-scale chocolate manufacturers have optimized this process for mass production. The unfortunate result: flat, uninspired, expressionless chocolate – the taste has been engineered out of the bar!
We salute the few, craft chocolate makers that are taking time and care with each part of the chocolate making process, releasing the full potential of the bean; those who are supporting careful farming and fermentation, the ones who ensure farmers are paid a fair wage through an ethical and sustainable supply chain, and those who skillfully grind, roast, and sweeten without diluting the bean’s essence.

We at Castronovo Chocolate are in relentless pursuit of discovering the absolute depths of the chocolate experience knowing full well we may never get there. But along the way, we can all enjoy a bar of the most flavorful chocolate you can find.

Denise receives positive feedback from her customers.  She loves to watch them try a truffle at the store, because most have never had anything quite like the ones she makes. One customer has told her that her truffles are better than any he ever had in Brussels.

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She is succeeding as shown by the numerous  international awards she has already won. As she said modestly “I am winning awards with Bonnat, how incredible!”

International Award-winning Chocolate

Sierra Nevada Dark Milk 63%

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Dominican Republic Dark Milk 50%

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Academy of Chocolate Silver Winner Castronovo Sierra Nevada 72%

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Academy of Chocolate Gold Winner Castronovo Chocolate Maya Mountain Belize 72%

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Academy of Chocolate Silver Winner Castronovo Chocolate Lemon White with Lemon Salt

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Academy of Chcocolate Bronze Winner Castronovo Chocolate Amazonas 72%

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 The Process

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photo of Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier Chocolate Map with Descriptions copyright 2012-2015

For a complete description of the chocolate making process see http://expertenough.com/973/chocolate  Both are much like Denise’s process.

Denise with her two employees, wearing gloves, sorts the beans, the beans go on trays.   She roasts them in a convection oven (not in a coffee roaster). A roast of 15 trays is approx. 5 1/2 pounds.  She has a loss (shrinkage) of about 30%. Next she winnows the beans which crack and separate the nibs and shell.  The vacuum suction takes the lighter weight nibs to the bottom.  Again she handsets, making sure there is no shell.  Shell is dirty, having bacteria.  The beans roast at 250 to 270 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.  killing the bacteria.  She does her grinding and mixing in a melanger.  For milk chocolate sugar is added and milk powder.  Her melanger has 2 big granite wheels and a granite bottom.  She does about 90 pounds of chocolate in 3 -4 days.  10,00 in a year.  Refining, Conching and TemperingIMG_0200

Tempering – creating stable crystals.  Denise uses the seeding method.

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an example of a badly tempered bar.

Denise mentioned how clean the beans are from Honduras.  Obviously leaves, twigs, rocks especially are not good for the juicer.  One can hear the rock in the juicer and must pull it out!

Everything in the shop smells so good, the aroma hits you as soon as you enter the door. All the volatile compounds come out mellowing the chocolate.   Denise has a chocolate library, pours the chocolate into hotel pans, pours it into blocks and then uses air conditioned cooling.

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Sample Packaging.

Castronovo chocolates may do more flavored bars in the future, she does 2 right now with coffee.  But the focus will remain on single origin bars.

BEANS

Some of her beans are sourced from the wild.  Her beans from the Sierra Nevada and Honduras are wild.  Beans in her Patenemo, Venezuelan bar are not quite as wild, as they are grown by subsistence farmers.  She sees herself as a small fish in a big pond, but by joining with other craft makers there will be an impact. source: http://www.castronovochocolate.com

If you take the time to look at each Castronovo chocolate bar, read the label: you will see the % of cacao, the type, where it is sourced, a story about the cacao and its origin and flavor notes, and a batch number.

The flavors of chocolate begin with the farming, with the soil, the climate, the elevation, the tree, perhaps the spacing, and then with the process: the harvesting, the fermenting the addition of sugar (or not) or milk (or not) and all the steps leading to the bar . Certain beans, the varietal of chocolate will grow better in one place than another. The difference between a single origin chocolate maker and large companies, is the same as the difference between agriculture and viticulture for wine.  Agriculture seeks standardization, uniformity, high yield and consistency on as large a scale as possible.  With single bar origin done well, the taste brings a sense of connection to the place from which the bean came.  It is “perhaps the most elusive of these concepts and the most difficult to ascertain.  It is the sense you get from …aroma and flavor that could not have come from just anywhere but rather the embodiment of a single piece of earth.  Connectedness makes a thing different and therefore worthy of appreciation. ”

Acknowledgement:

Both Mike and Denise are incredibly knowledgeable, enthusiastic, passionate and generous.  Thank you both for the time you spent with me, guiding me through your factory and your fields and for the information and  the chocolate Denise fed me!  I am enormously grateful.  Thank you Kathleen Martinez for showing me the lab and for making the chocolate genetics research more understandable.

Disclosure:  Next blog post, I would like to make a comparison between wine and chocolate as my husband is a 30 year wine industry consultant, specializing in artesan vintners.  participating in this course through learning about chocolate, and now enthralled with the history, politics, culture, and taste of chocolate (and other foods) has heightened for me the parallels between wine and chocolate.

Sources:

Campbell, R.  Edible South Florida Magasine, Winter 2017, Number 1, Volume 8.

Castronovo, D. , Castronovo Chocolate Factory, Stuart, Florida, conversations and texts May 2017. and website: http://www.castronovochocolate.com

Kiel, K. & Ornelas, K.,200, “North America from 1492 to the Present- Recent Developments in Foodways” The Cambridge World History of Food, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, p. 1320.

Leissle, K, Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Fall 2013), pp. 22-31 Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22 .

Martin, Carla D. and  Sampek, Kathryn E , The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. DOI: 10.18030/SOCIO.HU.2015EN.37.

MacNeil, K. , The Wine Bible,  2001, Workman Publishing, New York.

Martinez, K., Subtropical Research Geneticist, USDA ARS, Miami,  Florida, lab research tour, May 2017

Sethi, S. 2017, “Origin Made Chocolate: The Bars to Beat”, Wall Street Journal, web Feb 9, 2017.

Williams, P. & Eber, J., 2012,”To Market to Market: Craftsmanship,Customer Education, and Flavor Raising the Bar The Future of Fine Chocolate, pp 143- 209, Vancouver, BC Wilmor Publishing.

Winterstein, M. USDA ARS, Miami,  Florida, conversations and emails, May 2017

Websites:

Council of State Governments, http://www.csg-erc.org/blog/2017/04/10/first-look-president-trumps-usda-budget-2018/

Expert Enough Blog http://expertenough.com/973/chocolate

Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund http://finechocolateindustry.org/hcp

Jean Marie Auboine Handcrafted Chocolate Map https://www.jmauboinechocolates.com//

UM Walter Swingle information http://merrick.library.miami.edu/specialCollections/wtswingle/

USDA Agricultural Research website https://www.ars.usda.gov

USDA GRIN System: http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/

USDA Station History:https://www.ars.usda.gov/southeast-area/miami-fl/subtropical-horticulture-research/docs/history-of-chapman-field/

USDA https://reeis.usda.gov/reports-and-documents/cris-reports/cris-overview.

The Devolution of My Favorite Chocolate

Chocolate is the extraordinary and laborious product from cacao, processed into a gem for indulgence to all who enjoy eating it! As I reminisced about the early years of my life living in my beloved Venezuela, I thought fondly about the piece of chocolate that every Venezuelan loves to have: the medium-sized, lustrous ball of rich milk chocolate with a hazelnut inside that is an icon to Venezuela’s history of chocolate and culture – Toronto, made by Savoy. Sadly, the Toronto is no longer as exquisite as it used to be; its quality started decreasing in the 90s.  Savoy is an established chocolate company in Venezuela. In this country, the quality of the chocolate industry has gradually declined when the political and economic faces of the country started to change more notoriously and up to this day, they are still carrying severe consequences. How is it possible that for Venezuela, a country that produces the best cacao in the world, the quality of manufacturing chocolate is decreasing?

I believe that this is a political issue and to understand it, it is important to refer to the political history of Venezuela in the last twenty years. There has always been corruption in the Venezuelan government. However, Venezuelans have endured very radical challenges in the political, social and economic areas since the late president Hugo Chavez took office in 1998 who was followed by his successor Nicolas Maduro. It has been with this duo and their political and economic policies that have broken the foundation, the base, the pillars and the structure that sustain the country and its citizens. Many of the main issues that are seen today are caused by the dramatic massive inflation rates that soar every day, aggravated by the devaluation of the Venezuelan currency, el bolivar (1B). The threat of a steadily devaluating currency brought fears of massive capital fight and flight to quality (BBC2013).  In theory, the government offered businesses the purchase of the “preferential dollar”, which in other words is American dollars at a much lower and fixed rate than what is sold in the black market. However, when businesses submitted the requirements to obtain the currency to import materials and goods, the actual truth came out: there is no such preferential dollar. This policy was built on lies so that business owners were forced to purchase dollars in the black market so that they could supposedly import the goods as well as purchase materials and ingredients for production.

Although Venezuela’s oil revenue was so lucrative during the Chavez administration and his predecessor’s administration, Carlos Andres Perez, Chavez proclaimed cacao as a very strategic national product in 2010 (Sputnick 2010). Yet, the economies of these two products are incomparable because of their quantity production, time and revenues.  Venezuela is known as the country with the best cacao of the world and owning the most precious and the most sought of all: the criollo. Maricel Prescilla, author of The New Taste of Chocolate, states “it is one of the most harmonious and symphonic cacaos. Even the lowliest cacao in Venezuela is fine cacao” (2015). The criollo cacao is cultivated mainly in the town of Chuao which is comprised of a small village of fishermen and it is reachable only by boat from the coastal shores of Choroni. In the class Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food at Harvard Extension School, Dr. Carla Martin lectures students about the unique experience of this farm where the process of criollo cacao is still processed as it was done in the 1500s and 1600s, all through manual work. It is important to know that Venezuela has various regions of cacao farms and not all these farms are equally the same. They vary in climate, geography, care, irrigation, geology and soil conditions that interact with the plant’s genetics. This concept is called Terroir; different terroir, different flavors in chocolate (spring 2017).

I recently spoke with Mr. Victor Guama, a cocoa worker in one of Chuao’s cacao farms. During the phone conversation, he informed me about the process used on this cacao, which is mainly done by women. It is also very important to note that Chuao has many cacao farms where the employees have been and continue to be comprised of generations of families. It seems that they are born to carry on the tradition! He happily says that his mother worked in the cacao fields for forty-four years and his aunt has been working there for thirty-three years. I can sense the pride in his voice when he said that they “are so proud to work for the best and finest cacao in the world, especially when it is produced in our hometown of Chuao, Venezuela. It is very hard work, and we care about it.” In the farm, there are approximately 124 women who harvest the cacao pods, extract the seeds and pulp, begin the fermentation cycle, put them to dry in the sun, and sort and bag the beans so that they can be transported by the 10 men who do the heavy lifting in the farm. Sophie and Michael Coe, authors of The True History of Chocolate write “through fermentation and drying , the cacao’s pulp-surrounded seeds are converted into nibs ready for roasting and grinding into chocolate liquor (105)” Interestingly, Victor also informed me that 75% of the cacao production is sold by contracts to Europe, especially in France and 25% stays in Chuao to make artisanal chocolate. Victor proudly talks about the excellent quality of the criollo cacao harvested in this area, pointing out that the key of its fine quality and distinctive flavor is due to the irrigation system done with the water coming down from the river. Surprisingly, he also said that as cacao workers, the previous administrations before president Chavez never provided job security and benefits to the workers, but Chavez did. Sadly, Chavez’s successor, president Nicolas Maduro eliminated them. These cacao workers are uncared for and underprivileged because the income they receive does not compensate the amount of work and hours they put into the process of the best cacao in the world, especially during the current regimen and difficult time that Venezuela is going through.

Whether or not Savoy produces its own cacao is unknown, however, since 2012 they offer Plan-Cacao Nestle as an integral support program to cacao producers that encircles the producer, family and community as it is shown in its website. Although it presents a list of objectives, it projects vague information. Savoy claims in its website that they make their chocolates with the best cacao in the world, but this claim leads to unanswered questions such as where the cacao comes from.

I would look at Savoy’s history. Savoy opened its doors in Caracas, Venezuela in 1941 by three Swiss brothers.  In 1988, Nestlé, a transnational corporation, acquired Savoy and substituted the original crown logo above the name of Savoy for the Nestlé logo on all the packaging. The Savoy company is considered a Venezuelan patrimony and is the primary chocolate company.  Even with the decline in quality in recent decades, Savoy chocolates continue to be loved by consumers. Although there is a significant difference between the chocolates that were manufactured more than twenty years ago versus those that are manufactured today, I believe that the problem is not the cacao itself, but more so the quality of the manufacturing process of the various products. It is here where the politics of food plays a very important role in the production and quality control of Savoy manufacturing because the true ingredients are not available. Regardless, there are very noticeable characteristics in the chocolate that a fine Venezuelan chocolate bar should not have which are shown in the image below such as white marks and a bland brown color.

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           Through the years of the industrialization of chocolate, Savoy is well known for the following products: Cri-Cri, made of crispy rice covered with chocolate, Bolero, a crunchy corn covered with chocolate, and Ping-Pong, the classic crunchy peanut covered in chocolate. Yet, the most popular of all the products is Toronto. It is the one that most Venezuelans, especially those living out of the country, remember with excitement and nostalgia.  It is the one that brings memories of relationships between family, friends, school and communities to our lives. It is the one that is always well-received as a gift from relatives and friends coming from Venezuela. I clearly remember the original Toronto as a very rich, fine milk chocolate bombón with a very smooth texture and an impressive satin look that had a deep brown colored hazelnut inside. It melted in my mouth as I ate it, leaving a very pleasant and savoring flavor in my mouth. It was my favorite chocolate! Sadly, this was then. The new Toronto made today from the 90s is tasteless, dry on the outside, and greasy on the inside. It has a boring, bland brown color, breaks into pieces when in my mouth, and its size continues to shrink. Again, a fine piece of Venezuelan chocolate should not have traces of white marks inside as shown in the image below- it almost seems as if the chocolate is old.

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Image Two

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

          There is a large difference between the two eras of Savoy’s chocolate making. My daughter’s generation enjoy and love the new Toronto! When I narrate to them the Toronto of my time, which I used to eat with so much pleasure, they cannot make a connection because they have never tried it and most likely never will. A Savoy retail store located in what used to be a very popular commercial and residential area of Caracas called Boulevard Sabana Grande, used to sell bags of “recortes de chocolate” or “chunks of chocolate.” They were sold by the kilo in clear cellophane bags wrapped in a bow at the top. My job’s office was on the same street side where this Savoy store was and I never failed to buy several bags every quincena or 15 days. Savoy has a long-lived trajectory of a great market and loyal customers who are very proud of these chocolates. Savoy’s trademark, “Con Sabor Venezolano” or “With Venezuelan Flavor” still lays under the oversized Savoy billboard above a building that overlooks the main highway in Caracas, Venezuela. This Savoy sign is equivalent to what the Citgo sign means to Boston!

savoy highway   savoy billboard

                                 (a)                                                                            (b)

    Image Three

Savoy remains the chocolate choice of the Venezuelans. They are proud to have an industry that has continuously worked for 75 years, especially since Hugo Chavez expropriated thousands of international investments and production companies in the country, including our own oil companies.

The journalist Ileana Magual from El Universal newspaper writes “One of the icons and jewel in the crown of Venezuelan gastronomy is the cacao, known to be the best in the world. Talking about Venezuela is talking about our unbeatable cacao, our gold vegetable. It used to be shipped, turned into a beverage, and used as an offering and currency by our first settlers who called it ‘the money that grows on trees’” (2015). I hope that the future of the Venezuelan cacao will never vanish because it is a heritage of the land with fertile soil and infinite roots in the trees.  As Marisel Presilla writes “where there is cacao, there is life. No tree has more to teach us than cacao, when we take the trouble to see it in its own environmental and biological context (7).” Cacao is the gross domestic product that makes the economy of cacao communities and their generations work for the love of cacao. Based on my research, I do not believe that Savoy uses Venezuelan cacao made in places such as Chuao, however, it could be possible that their chocolates would improve in quality if they did. I wish that my daughter’s generation and the generations to come will someday experience the delightful pleasure of eating the real Toronto just as I dream of Venezuela returning back to the versatile and stable country it once was. Until then, I will continue searching for the chocolate that reminds me of all the fond memories from my childhood in Venezuela!

 

 

 

Works Cited

S.D., Coe, 2013; M. D., Coe,  2013.  The True History of Chocolate. London, Thames   & Hudson, Ltd

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of      Cacao with Recipes. New York: Teen Speed Press, 2009. pg., 7

 

Prof. Carla Martin.  Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Personal Communication.  Harvard Extension School. Spring 2017.

 

Victor Guama. Telephone interview.  May 6, 2017.

 

 

 

Multimedia Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image # 3  Savoy billboard

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

Chocolate Lessons: Knowledge Gleaned from Chocolate Bars Sold in the Natural Foods Aisle

On average, Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate per person each year or a little less than a quarter pound of chocolate per week. A typical chocolate bar ranges from 1.5-3.5 ounces. Therefore, 12 pounds of chocolate equates to enjoying 55-128 chocolate bars (depending on its size) per year! It is safe to say, for better or for worse, chocolate has become an integral part of the American diet.

Historically, chocolate was consumed for medicinal purposes, primarily as a source of nourishment and energy. Today, the developed world struggles with being simultaneously over nourished and malnourished from an imbalanced diet. Nevertheless, chocolate health claims persist, usually in reference to darker chocolates. Beneficial properties of cocoa include antioxidant, cardiovascular, and psychological enhancement, which are linked to its polyphenol, flavanol, and caffeine content (Castell, Pérez-Cano, and Bisson, 2013). These health claims are not present on chocolate bar labels, though.

In the last couple of decades, food packaging has actually become quite informationally dense. How can you sift through all of the information on chocolate labels to know what’s really important? Additionally, what can we learn from a chocolate bar’s packaging, besides its nutritional content? The goal of this blog post is to help decipher the various symbols, certification meanings, and key words that appear on chocolate wrappers.

Ultimately, you, as the consumer, have to decide what is important to you and what you are looking for in your chocolate purchases, not only in terms of taste but also social responsibility. Equipping yourself with the knowledge to know what to look for, and what symbols, certifications, and other words on chocolate packages mean, makes informed chocolate purchases a much smoother process and ensures you have the best chocolate buying experience possible. Before chocolate tasting can become embodied knowledge, it requires repetition in order to pick up on flavor nuances of single origin chocolate or to be able to tell if a chocolate bar was made with over-roasted cacao beans. In the same way, learning the stories and processes behind the chocolate you are eating requires some research, occasionally beyond the label itself.

I studied the chocolate bars in the natural foods aisle of a Stop & Shop grocery store in the greater Boston area to see what information could be gleaned from the chocolate labels within this section. I did not include enrobed chocolate candies within this aisle, “regular” chocolate bars (i.e., Hershey’s) in the main candy aisle or those present in the checkout lanes. I chose to focus on the chocolate bars within the natural foods aisle because, typically, these brands offer more information and stories about cacao procurement, processing, and its impact on people or the environment, whereas chocolate produced by most Big Five brands only provide nutritional information on the back of the wrapper. The Big Five chocolate brands include well-known companies: Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Nestle, and Ferrero (Allen, 2010).

The type of consumer who shops for chocolate in the natural foods aisle is most likely not just looking for a sugar fix because there are cheaper ways to meet that need. The intended audience includes individuals who may be interested in supporting social or environmental causes, and who are probably health conscious, even though it is still chocolate. Additionally, he or she may have a sophisticated or informed palate, and prefer quality chocolate with nuanced flavors. The natural foods aisle typically offers products that are slightly more expensive than its conventional counterparts, so the consumer is not making his or her choice of chocolate based solely on price point. Rather, the consumer possibly has a higher disposable income and is able to spend two or three times as much money on a chocolate bar from this section than on chocolate from one of the large chocolate corporations previously mentioned.

The natural foods aisle in Stop & Shop offers eight different brands of chocolate bars: Chocolove XOXOX, Green & Black’s, Divine, Theo, TCHO, LILY’s, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Alter Eco. These bars are being sold for $2.50-$3.99, with Chocolove XOXOX being the cheapest because it was on sale. Divine, LILY’s, and Alter Eco lands at the upper end of the options. The TCHO 70% dark chocolate bar usually retails for $4.29, but happened to be on sale. Still, these are moderately priced “good” chocolate bars compared to other specialty chocolate companies and retailers who sell their bars for about double the price. The juxtaposition of these brands, with a $1.00 (or less) Hershey’s chocolate bar, provides an interesting comparison in both price and taste.

The eight brands offer bars in a variety of flavors ranging from 34% milk chocolate to 85% dark chocolate with the option of added fruit or nut pieces. The white chocolate selection was nonexistent in this section at this particular grocery store. However, just for informational purposes, one brand (outside of the eight focused on here) does contribute a white chocolate peanut butter cup.

Just a few of the brands provide chocolate bars made from single origin cacao, which might be a more common provision at specialty retail stores. Both TCHO and Divine use Ghanaian cacao, and Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from Ecuador. Chocolove XOXOX states on the back of the wrapper that their Belgian chocolate bars are crafted with African cocoa beans. This somewhat vague statement only alludes to the fact that their beans do not come from Central or South America, or Southeast Asia but could be sourced from one or more of the cacao producing countries within the large continent of Africa. Additionally, Green & Black’s credits Trinitario cacao beans for giving their chocolate a rich and unique flavor profile. Trinitario cacao beans are thought to embody the best qualities of its genetic parents, the Criollo and Forastero varieties, with the hybrid cacao being both hardy and possessing a nice flavor profile (Prisilla, 2009). Likewise, the purpose of brands specifying single origin or the use of a single cacao variety suggests an increase in quality or flavor characteristics that add value to the end product. Thus, the price of these types of bars is usually slightly higher compared to mixed bean origin or variety, and especially compared to bulk cacao.

There are a few things that stand out upon taking a closer look at the packages. First, Alter Eco is the only brand that uses a cardboard packaging to house its chocolate. All of the other brands wrap their bars in a glossy paper. In both cases, the chocolate is likely sealed in foil before receiving either the glossy paper or cardboard outer wrapper. While the outer cardboard layer looks visually appealing and feels nice to the touch, it also makes the bar appear larger than it actually is. The 2.8 ounce Alter Eco chocolate bar looks bigger than the 3 ounce LILY’S bar sitting next to it on the shelf, as the image shows below. Thus, most consumers probably believe they are purchasing a larger chocolate bar if they do not read the front of the package and realize the chocolate bar is smaller by weight than some other options.

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Alter Eco 2.8 ounce chocolate bar

Like several other brands, Theo includes a brief description about the company and their procurement and processing practices on the back of the package. Here, Theo shares it is a bean to bar chocolate company, which means the company purchases the fermented and dried cacao beans, and then carries out each of the remaining processing steps (about 10) from roasting to packaging, according to their unique preferences. Thus, the company oversees the entire chocolate making process and can tweak each batch according to its needs and the desired outcome, making it a true craft.

Green & Black’s label does not readily offer information about the company’s processing practices other than it uses fair trade and organic ingredients. Interestingly, the backside of the label does say Mondelez Global LLC distributes Green & Black’s chocolate bars. Mondelez is one of the largest global snack food companies and now owns Cadbury, one of the Big Five chocolate companies. Last year, Mondelez even attempted to acquire the Hershey Company, but Hershey declined the offer (Bukhari, 2017). Thus, Mondelez is a significant player within the global food system. This association alone may deter some consumers from purchasing Green & Black’s chocolate.

Another unexpected but perhaps pioneering find is LILY’s, whose chocolate bars are sweetened with the natural sweetener, Stevia, and erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Additionally, LILY’s adds inulin, a fiber commonly used as a bulking agent. These are not traditional chocolate bar ingredients, but perhaps the fewer calories and grams of sugar allow individuals with specific dietary restrictions to still purchase fair trade chocolate. The bar also boasts that it is still “100% indulgent.”

Before dissecting the chocolate bars’ various certifications, I want to look at Divine’s commitment to its producers. In the West, chocolate consumption has long been feminized, associated with temptation and indulgence (Robertson, 2009). Women are important as both chocolate consumers and producers, something Divine has recognized. The two images above depict Divine’s pledge to support the female cacao farmers within Kuapa Kokoo (cocoa co-operative) in Ghana and make sure their voices are heard. In doing so, these female business owners are positioned as powerful actors within the cacao and chocolate industries, rather than being viewed as exploited workers in an underdeveloped country (Leissle, 2012). This has significant implications not only for the female producers, but also culturally, and for future standards within the chocolate industry.

This final section includes a brief discussion on food certifications. Fair trade certification is the most popular certification that the eight brands feature. Other certifications that appear on the chocolate wrappers include USDA Organic, Non-GMO Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan, Kosher (dairy), Fair for Life, and rBST free. I was surprised I did not find the UTZ Certified symbol on any of the chocolate bars, since UTZ is the most common cacao certification related to sustainable farming practices.

Fair trade certifications can be represented in a variety of ways depending on the party providing the certification. The images above show several different certifications present on the different brands’ packaging that symbolize the employment of fair trade practices. In order for a product to be labeled “fair trade,” all members of the processing chain (including producers) must pay into the fair trade system. As a result, producers are promised better trading conditions including long term relationships with buyers, garner presumably higher wages, have better working conditions, and live overall improved lives. However, many question whether this system is as transformative as it claims to be. The terms “fair trade” and “sustainable” have become ubiquitous, and the commodification of the terms also threatens their legitimacy (Sylla, 2014).

When thinking about food certifications, it is important to remember these certifications are neither all encompassing nor meant to solve all social or environmental issues with one label. Companies are now starting to launch their own certifications rather than going through a third party certification. It will be up to the individual company to define the criteria for “fair” or “sustainable,” or any new term it deems important. Whole Foods already uses its “Whole Trade Certified” label. Consequently, continuing to be an educated consumer will be extremely imperative in order to know what the certifications represent and what the companies stand for. It is unclear whether these self-certifications will be viewed as legitimate certifications or just add to the confusion many consumers feel when reading food labels.

While the objective of self-certification is to offer more affordable fair trade items to consumers, it raises the question of whether that should be the ultimate goal of selling fair trade products, and what the tradeoffs are for making fair trade more affordable and part of the mainstream? If large food conglomerates begin to self-regulate certifications, rather than paying third party companies, who is to say the consumer will actual benefit from the money saved? Historically, when the price of goods has dropped, large corporations scoop up the difference and pocket the extra profits, rather than decreasing the cost for the consumer (Albrittion, 2013). However, consumers still have the power to vote with their dollars.

The next time you peruse the chocolate selection within a store, feel empowered to study the information provided on the packaging (and conduct further research if needed) rather than being overwhelmed by various symbols and industry jargon.

 

**All images were taken by the author

 

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. 2013. “Between Obesity And Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”. In Food And Culture: A Reader, 3rd ed., 342-352. New York: Routledge.

Allen, Lawrence L. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle For The Hearts, Minds, And Wallets Of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association.

Bukhari, Jeff. 2017. “Why Investors Are Bingeing On Snack-Maker Mondelez”. Fortune.Com. http://fortune.com/2017/02/22/why-investors-are-bingeing-on-snack-maker-mondelez/.

Castell, Margarida, Francisco Jose Pérez-Cano, and Jean-François Bisson. 2013. “Clinical Benefits Of Cocoa: A Review”. In Chocolate In Health And Nutrition, 1st ed., 265-276. Humana Press.

Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2): 121-139. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13696815.2012.736194

Prisilla, Maricel E. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Robertson, Emma. 2009. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich. 1st ed. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Sweet Medicine: The science of chocolate and health

 

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Chocolate had used as medicine since its inception. The Aztec king Montezuma is said to have consume anywhere from 20 to 50 glasses in order to remain virile. In more recent times, scientists have been looking into whether there are some medical treasures hidden in this scrumptious treat. Naturally, scientists have been zooming in on what it is in chocolate that gives it its health benefits. Scientists now believe these compounds in chocolate, called flavanols, have antioxidant properties and could help treat a variety of conditions and fight a variety of diseases. This has led to a lot of good research being done. There have been studies done that look at chocolate’s impact in fighting heart disease, diabetes, and cancer[1]. There have been studies looking at chocolate’s effect on cognitive function, memory, and blood pressure.  However, before you run to the pantry to self-medicate with chocolate be forewarned; this research, like all medical research, in fact like all science, has caveats. This particular group of research has a good deal of caveats, though not every study has the exact same caveats. Those depend on the strengths and failings of each individual study.

There is one caveat though that applies to this entire group of research; all the chocolate in these studies is all dark chocolate, that is to say to that it is at least sixty percent cacao solids. Milk chocolate is not included and for good reason. US law states that chocolate only needs to contain ten percent cacao in order to legally qualify as chocolate, the rest is mainly sugar, fat, and a few other things such as milk. According to professor Carla Martin, lecturer at Harvard University and director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, “A Hershey’s Kiss typically contains about, I think, 11 percent cacao content”. To put that in perspective, if you had a bar of typical milk chocolate that weighed one hundred grams (about the weight of an iPhone 5S[2]), then the actual amount of chocolate in the bar would be only about ten grams, or the weight of two nickels. The fact that milk chocolate has barely any actual chocolate means that milk chocolate has barely any of those cacao flavanols that are thought to provide the health benefits. Thus, anyone, scientist or otherwise, looking towards chocolate for health benefits has to look towards chocolate with a high cacao content.

Chocolate flavanols table
Figure 1

 

There are many pitfalls a research study can fall into. One of these is having a limited and/or small sample size.  Multiple studies on the effect of chocolate on health have had sample sizes of less than a couple hundred people. One such study, the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study had only ninety participants. The study found that regular cocoa flavanol consumption can reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction, but given such small sample size it is difficult to draw any large generalized conclusions for the general population, since there is a wide variety of differences across populations. Moreover, the CoCoA study limited their sample size in an attempt at prove clearer causation; because this was a study on aging all the participant were elderly, and the study also excluded Current smokers, habitual users of antioxidant supplements (including vitamins C and E), habitual consumers of chocolate or other cocoa products (daily consumption of any amount), or individuals prescribed medications known to have antioxidant properties (including statins and glitazones) or to interfere with cognitive functions (including benzodiazepines and antidepressants). This means for populations outside the participant group, the research has limited application, since the researcher did not look at how cocoa flavanol intake affects people with these additional variables. It has to be remembered that studies like this are jumping off point, they prove that there is something there that needs to be looked into, but further research is required in order to the proper applications and implications of the initial research.

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