Tag Archives: chocolate

From cacao to chocolate: Cacao as a Mesoamerican Artifacts

In today’s modern society, when Westerners things of chocolate, images of it’s solid sweetened form is likely the first thing that comes to mind. A more in depth look at the history of cacao shows that nine tenths of the time it was consumed in liquid form not eaten (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 12). The story of how cacao developed from a sacred drink to the industrialized food that is is today is a rich history that dates back thousands of years to the Amazon basin. As more knowledge about cacao and its history is uncovered, it is important to note the significance that historical linguistics, written documents, and archaeological artifacts play in revealing the ancient uses and significance of cacao. Even the word cacao itself has a disputable lineage. Today, words such as chocolate, cocoa, and cacao float around and are often used interchangeably when in fact they are quite different products. It is useful then to example the word cacao, referring to the unprocessed material that is used to create both chocolate and cocoa.  

First, the historical linguistics of the word cacao should be considered part of and a type of Mesoamerican artifact, for the word itself has helped elucidate the development of modern chocolate as it is now known. The scientific name of chocolate before processing is known as Theobroma cacao, which comes from Greek and means “food of the gods”, aptly names in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 18). Even from the naming of cacao, it is evident that history of chocolate was written and known mostly from a western-centric point of view and that influence must be considered.

The word cacao was taken by Spanish invaders and their first real knowledge of cacao came from the Maya people of the Yucatan Peninsula and close by parts of Central America. They used the word chokola’j, or ‘to drink together’. Going back even further, the Olmec civilization from the lowlands of the Mexican Gulf Coast, known for their Colossal Head mounds, left no writings behind but research shows that the word cacao originated from kakawa of the Mixe-Zoquen language dating back to 1000 BC  (Presilla, 2009, p. 10-12). Further, there are many word diffusions that came from Uto-Aztecan languages. For instance, classic Nahuatl used the kakaw-atl or cacautl. In addition, there are other known words with similarities to Mesoamerican languages that use versions of the word cacao as Professor Carla Martin of Harvard University and the Founder and Executive Director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) discussed in her Harvard Extension School Course on the topic. As she explained, there are many variations of the usages and origins of cacao which include: The proto-Mixean used kakaw, the Nahua used kakawa-tl, the Mazahua used kakawa,the proto-Mayan, Totonac, Salvador Lenka people had the word kakaw, the Paya/pech people used kaku, the Purhépecha used khe´kua, and Hondura used kaw (Martin, 2018b, slide 19).

As the above illustrates cacao did not have its start in Europe, a common misconception from the vantage point of the western elite who have colored the history of cacao in their image. Examples of our current understanding on the Aztec and Maya people in relation to cacao is explored in the general over stereotyping of these cultures through generic and inaccurate hieroglyphs and word use. The Larabar and Rawcholatl examples (Martin, 2018, slide 22,24) below were especially telling for this propagated understanding of what the Aztec and Maya people actually represented and how they lived. Many do not understand the falsity of these representations when it comes to actual history.


In reality, the Mesoamerican region where cacao’s influence can be seen in societal, political, and religious aspects among Preclassic Maya which lasted lasted from 2000 BC-AD 200  to late classic times of AD 200-700. The increasing number of archaeological artifacts discovered and analysed reveal and even deeper history with cacao. For instance, research done at the Hershey Food Technical Center by Jeffrey Hurst detected three types of alkaloids important to cacao in samples that were taken from archaeological ceramics that date back almost 40 centuries, predating even the Olmecs (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 36). There were many words for cacao throughout the region, which not only further demonstrating its importance as an linguistic artifact but also its widespread use and importance to those civilizations through centuries of history well before europeans decided on the anglicized word chocolate used today.

This linguistic artifact use and misuse can then be viewed in the few remaining written documents of the time. Documents such as the Dresden Codex, Madrid Codex, and Paris Codex are good examples of this. These documents are extremely rare pre-Columbian Maya books written in hieroglyphics that often depict cacao being consumed by gods in ritual activities. They build on and solidify the linguistic Mesoamerican artifact history of cacao.

When Yuri Knorosov deciphered the phonetic part of the Dresden Codex, he made it possible to read its text and from that we learn that ritual activities show Gods with cacao pods and beans. It is written that, “On a Dresden page dealing with the New year ceremonies so important to Post-Classic Yucatan, the Opossum God travels a sacred road to the edge of the town carrying the Rain God on his back, while the associated text tells us that “cacao is his food [kakaw u hanal]”” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 42). This is pictured below.


The cacao-containing vessels, or “chocolate pots”, became recognized as powerful social objects unto themselves for the Maya and Aztecs as well.David Stuart, the epigrapher was the one to deciphered the hieroglyphic for cacao. This was an important step in the Primary Standard Sequence (PSS) in gaining better understanding of glyphs of classic ceramics, one such pictured below (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 44) kakaw

Once the cacao symbol was determined, when other types of vessels were found and  had the cacao hieroglyphic on them, it provided further linguistic proof that these vessels once contain cacao.
To conclude, the word cacao has a fundamental significance that can be traced back through linguistics, written documents, and archaeological artifacts directly linked to a powerful and long standing Mesoamerican history.

Works Cited:

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

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 1 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009. Print

All images used from: Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 1 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.


The Great Wall of Chocolate: Barriers Against Chocolate in China

As the gates of the Chinese market began to open in 1978 through Deng Xiaoping’s Four Modernization Policy, western industries began scrambling to access the 1 billion prospective customers within China’s borders. The chocolate industry in particular made a noticeable effort in trying to alter the Chinese diet so that it could include the massive quantities of the sweet treat that western societies have grown so fond of. However, despite their efforts throughout these years, the average person in modern day China only consumes about “1.8 ounces of chocolate annually”. In comparison, Switzerland consumes “22 pounds per person” and the U.S. consumes “11.7 pounds per person” annually (Allen, 28). But what factors in China have contributed to this stark difference? This blog will address how cultural barriers and distrust in dairy products have deterred the spread of chocolate within China’s rapidly growing populace.

The disparate cultural layout of China’s provinces has proven to be difficult for chocolate companies to maneuver. For starters, although the Chinese ethnic diversity is mainly homogenous with “92 percent” of the population being Han Chinese, the culinary traditions are not. For example, the north prefers “salty” foods, while the south favors “sweet and fresh”; “spicy” is the ideal flavor in the east, as opposed to the west, which adheres to “sour” flavors (Allen, 23). This amalgamation of preferences has made it difficult for chocolate companies to create products that would satisfy the majority of the population and make lasting impressions on anyone that is willing to go out of their comfort zone to purchase the exotic confectionaries.

Furthermore, older generations of Chinese were accustomed to a “limited range of foods” due to the tough economic times of the 40’s and 50’s. This caused monotony in the citizens’ diets, as their palates became accustomed to eating the same salty foods well beyond the moment China’s borders opened to foreign lands. As a result, the introduction of chocolate into the Chinese diet in the ‘80’s was not well received because “the sweetness of chocolate [was] too foreign and too extreme” (Allen, 27). This deterred people from consuming it in their daily lives due to how abnormal it was when compared to the average Chinese foods at the time; thus, it was considered a luxury to eat chocolate, which could be equated to how westerners view fine wine. This also proved that traditional marketing methods that worked on average westerners would not function with the Chinese populace. To account for this, the exotic and sweet treat was introduced as something one would give as a gift during a special occasion rather than for self-consumption. The following Chinese Dove Commercial is a perfect example of this practice. During the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, chocolate as a gift accounted for “over half” of the sales in China, but so long as chocolate continued to be viewed as a gift, it would never reach the heights that we see in the west. Younger generations of Chinese citizens, who have grown up eating the popular dessert, have been known to be more likely to purchase it for self-consumption. According to a study by the New York Times, modern Chinese chocolate consumers mostly consist of young people ages fifteen to twenty-four, which shows that there is still hope for chocolate as a commodity in China’s future.


Gifts like the one in this picture would often be given along with chocolates and red envelopes, traditional Chinese gifts that usually contain money. This exemplifies the combination of western consumerism with Chinese traditionalism.


One other reason why Chinese people have avoided chocolate and other dairy-based products has been because of a general distrust in the quality of Chinese milk. One incident, in particular, caused Chinese trust in milk products to dwindle. According to a Harvard Business School case study, in 2008, Sanlu, a milk provider, started adding increased amounts of melamine in their products in order to maintain protein content standards. These increased chemical levels killed six infants and made 300,000 other people sick. This article by Forbes gives more details on how this incident has effected the Chinese dairy industry. After this incident, many other milk brands were found to have this exact same problem with their products, thus, causing widespread skepticism towards Chinese dairy. Chocolate in China, which contains at least 15% milk powder, took a major hit within this scene. One article from Reuters recalls how on September 29, 2008 Cadbury had to shutdown eleven of its Chinese chocolate products due to the suspicion that they were contaminated by melamine. Eventually, the company was forced to close three of its chocolate factories within China. Below, you can find a chart to visualize how much of the Chinese chocolate market the top companies had during the year of 2008. As expected, Cadbury was not doing so well after the milk scandal.

chocolate charts

As a result of this scandal, the confectionary industry has since slowed down, but the Chinese government has imposed tighter regulations on the milk industry in order to regain customer loyalty and trust. For instance, in 2009, the government passed a series of legislation that mandated dairy product producers to raise industry standards, bolster the barriers of entry, and promote the development of large-scale dairy farms, which tended to have higher quality products than their smaller counterparts. These tight regulations allowed for our favorite confectionary treat to make a comeback in the country years later. In 2012, CNN declared that chocolate sales in China grew about 19%, which accounted for $1.9 billion in sales, so we can see that chocolate is here to stay in the long run and is slowly making its way into the Chinese hearts and stomachs.


Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes. American Management Association, 2010.

Burke, Samuel. “Who Consumes the Most Chocolate?” CNN, Cable News Network, 17 Jan. 2012, thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/17/who-consumes-the-most-chocolate/.

Jones, David, and Tan Ee Lyn. “Cadbury Withdraws China Chocolate on Melamine Concern.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 29 Sept. 2008, uk.reuters.com/article/uk-cadbury/cadbury-withdraws-china-chocolate-on-melamine-concern-idUKTRE48S2B520080929.

Kirby, William and Dai, Nancy Hua. (2016) Yili Group: Building a Global Dairy Company. 9-317-003. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School.

Shen, Samuel. “Chocolate Makers Try to Satisfy a Picky Chinese Palate.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 July 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/07/03/business/worldbusiness/03iht-choco.1.14202940.html.




Cacao From Hands to the Machine

The sourcing and production of chocolate had a direct effect on its place in the social hierarchy in different societies and cultures across time. It is possible to see this by going in depth into three chronological time periods in different places in the world where the allure of cacao had spread. By an early exploration of Mayan chocolate production to Venezuelan plantations ending at the discovery of the Cocoa press in the Netherlands.

Mayan Chocolate Making 

Mayans revered chocolate, it played an essential role in their stories of origin and cosmology. It was used in burial rites and great ceremonies. Cacao was grown agriculturally by the Mayans 1.

Maya Vase

One of the only direct evidence discovered about how Mayans made their chocolate is found in this vessel on the right-hand side which shows a lady pouring chocolate drink from a height into another cup. This was to create the foam that was extremely prized in the Mayan culture; it was thought to be the breath of the Gods.

Maya Princeton Vase

This Maya Princeton Vase is evidence for the heavy usage and importance of cacao in the Mayan culture. It has engraved hieroglyphics for the word cacao coupled with cosmological depictions.

The Maya had many ways of using Cacao to make food.

Chacau haa – This is hot chocolate drink.

Tzune – This is a mix of cacao, maize and sapote seeds.

Saca– A gruel made from cooked maize, water, and cacao.

The flavoring that was commonly used was vanilla and ‘ear flower’2. These different ways of cooking show a creative and vibrant diversity in the usage of the cacao pod. It is highly developed and adaptable. It shows cacao to be an essential part of the Mayan culture and diet.

The remnants of traditional Mayan way of making chocolate drink are still alive today in certain parts of Mexico among the Mayan communities. This video highlights and explains the traditional ways women make the chocolate drink in these Mayan communities.

This video shows us how labor intensive and time consuming it was to make chocolate drink in the Mayan style. The cacao beans have to shelled, roasted, dried in the sun, ground and after this long process mixed with water ready to be consumed.

Venezuelan Cacao Boom

The high-quality strain of Criollo cacao is native to Venezuela. It started being produced agriculturally at the turn of the seventeenth century. The first recorded shipment is in 1607 from La Guaira to Spain 3. This was under the influence of Hispanic colonization, those working on these plantations were slaves and laborers 4.

Here the cacao was so abundantly grown it was consumed on a regular basis by everybody, from slaves to lords. There were three different styles in consuming the cacao 5.

Cerrero– ( rough and ready, bitter ) This was just plain cacao dissolved in water with no added flavorings or sweeteners. It was widely drunk by people in the interiors.

Chorote– Made by creating solid chocolate balls which are dissolved in water, added to this is muscovado sugar. The chocolate balls were created by boiling ground cacao to separate the fats and solids. This was drunk by people in the cities as well as given to slaves and laborers for lunch and dinner.

Chocolate– Made by mixing balls of ground chocolate mixed with sugar or honey, toasted corn, seasonings such as cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. This was consumed by the Spanish elite at morning and noon meals.

The mass production led to cacao being available for everybody to consume. However what marks the social classes is by what process they made their cacao and what was added to it. Also the number of cacao beans used in the food and the time and effort of making it.

Development of industrial techniques of cacao processing

Conrad Johanes Van Houten discovered, along with his father the Cocoa press and Dutch process chocolate 6.

Conrad Johanes Van Houten

This created a fast and easy chocolate producing technique. It was adopted by big industries to use in their ways of chocolate production. This created a speedy and cheaper way of making good tasting chocolate.

Another process invented was the conching of chocolate. This was invented by Rudolfhe Lindt in Switzerland 7.
. It created smoother chocolate and covered the origins and original flavors and textures of the cacao bean, hence a bean sourced from anywhere of any strain could be used. The image below portrays the process of creating smoother chocolate.

Image from page 148 of "Cocoa and chocolate : their history from plantation to consumer" (1920)

These invented process allowed for the anonymity of cacao in the chocolate drink and bar. It became possible to mass produce chocolate without knowing of the origins and sourcing of the cacao bean that went into the chocolate. This created a lot of distance between the agriculture of growing cacao, strains and qualities of the pod and the consumer of the chocolate.


Mass Chocolate Production Today

This kind of mechanized industrialized mass production allows for a lot of chocolate to be produced. When chocolate production moved to such a mechanized way of being made, it became widely available for the average consumer. In today’s world chocolate is a regular household good with a large gap between knowledge of the sourcing and production of chocolate and the regular consumers of chocolate. The intensive agricultural development of cacao with the support of slave exploitation and the inventions of chocolate processing in Europe led to chocolate as is known today.


1- Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.

2- Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.

3- Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.

4- Romero, Simon. “In Venezuela, plantations of cocoa stir bitterness.” The New York Times (2009): A04.

5- Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.

6-  Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.

7-  Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.


Cadbury Bros. and the Chocolate Islands Scandal

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (28)
Image displayed on page 28 in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton. The image shows an early Cadbury’s Cocoa advertisement. Printed in 1907 version. By Isabella Beeton. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1908, a report by Cadbury Bros. agent Joseph Burtt detailing practices of slave labor in the Portuguese-owned “chocolate islands” of Sao Tome and Principe began circulating in Britain (Satre 73); and in March of the following year, the Quaker-owned firm announced its decision to cease the purchase of cocoa from the islands (Higgs 148). These announcements were met not with acclaim but coldness (Higgs 152-153); an article in the Standard attacked Cadbury’s policies, and Cadbury’s libel suit against the paper won them only a farthing in damages (152). The problem? The firm had known about the existence of slave labor on the chocolate islands for upwards of six years before Burtt’s report was ever made available or the boycott instated (Satre 32, 98)—and thanks to already-aired evidence (Satre 20), including a series of articles by journalist Henry Nevinson, so had much of Cadbury’s political peerage (Satre 12, 82; Higgs 152; Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, 566–568.) The firm’s disregard of evidence and lengthy delays (Satre 76) led to accusations of hypocrisy (Higgs 143, 152-153; Satre 78, 82), inaction (Satre 76), and greater concern for international politics than for the plight of those who provided their livelihood (Satre 75), all of which threatened to render null Cadbury’s righteous core. The story sheds a troubling light on the conflict between good business and good ethics (Higgs 165), and leaves open dark questions about how Western culture treats its less-seen, less-valued workers.

Cadbury's Cocoa advert with rower 1885
“Drink Cadbury’s Cocoa” advertisement with rower and lady friend – B&W engraving – 1885. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Cadbury became aware of slave labor in practice on the island of Sao Tome in 1901, by “an offer of a plantation for sale … that listed as assets two hundred black laborers worth £3555” (Satre 18). Lowell J. Satre marks this bill of sale as the initial point of concern for William A. Cadbury, then in charge of purchases for the company (18); but “ample” evidence was available to William through his connections with England’s Anti-Slavery Society (20)—reports describing starving workers, ships full of bought men and women, and brutal death rates of “servicaes” (Grant 1), or indentured servants, on the plantations (Satre 22-24). Cadbury Bros. was a Quaker company founded on Quaker ideals (Satre 14), with close ties to the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines’ Protection Societies (Satre 21) and a reputation for taking care of its workers at home (15-16), even building the Bournville Village Trust for factory employees (15-16), in addition to which the Cadbury-owned Daily News had run stories railing against slavery-like work conditions and “sweated trades” (16). Their treatment of the prospect that the plantations from which had come 45% of its beans in 1900 (Satre 19, 24) were practicing an evil they had long publicly opposed would have heavy implications for their hold on their moral high ground. Would the company apply the same stringent ethics they championed at home, and against other countries and trades, to matters that affected their own business? William Cadbury aired on the side of patient and cautious inaction; he never published the bill of sale, citing the document’s vagueness (as Satre icily puts it, his reasoning made “little sense, as the document specifically identified human beings as property”; Satre 19), and continued to dither in the face of distressing accounts. This silence would stretch until 1904 (22-24), when with new Portuguese labor legislation, and permission from the company’s board, William hired Joseph Burtt to travel to the Portuguese West African colonies (Satre 30-32) and investigate whether the whole unsavory matter had been put to rest on its own.

The beginning of Burtt’s journey to Sao Tome overlapped with the end of journalist Henry Nevinson’s (Satre 32); Burtt would return to England in 1907 (Satre 32, 73), by which time Nevinson’s articles and subsequent book (A Modern Slavery, 1906) about what he had seen in the islands were already two years published and on the market (Satre 32, 73). Burtt produced what Nevinson declared “an abstract of my book and no more” (Higgs 137), which nevertheless echoed Nevinson and the reports William Cadbury had heard: slavery, under a euphemistic title and technical obfuscations (Satre 76, Grant 1, Higgs 136-137), was producing the chocolate that Cadbury Bros. was buying (Satre 74). The onus was now on Cadbury, and its industry peers and allies, to put pressure on the Portuguese (78, 79)—but while the Aborigines’ Protection Society demanded an immediate boycott of the islands’ chocolate, international politics (one wonders if the companies’ bottom line and need for product didn’t also figure in) begged for another solution (Satre 81-82). William Cadbury’s decision to carry out the wishes of the Foreign Office (Higgs 135) by delaying Burtt’s report in lieu of a diplomatic meeting between the chocolatiers and the Portuguese planters (Higgs 134, Satre 75) nearly started a full-blown war with the outraged H.R. Fox Bourne of the APS (Higgs 134-136, Satre 78-80). The meeting with the planters took place in late 1907, with ineffective compromises, pleasantries, and technicalities exchanged (Higgs 141-142); it was followed by further negotiation the next year (143), by which William ended up taking a personal trip in October to Principe, Sao Tome (145) and the coast of Africa (146) to see if reform had been instated – and to look at the construction site of a railroad on the Gold Coast.

Cadbury’s almanack for 2,000 years – a literary & useful curiosity
Print shows a young boy dressed as a chef carrying a tray on which are a steaming ewer and cup of “cocoa essence”; also shows various graphics around the central motif and states that it is “Registered”. Digital file from original print. No known restrictions on publication. Manchester, England: Henry Blacklock & Co., [1885?] Via Library of Congress.
After meetings with reasonably cooperative planters and recalcitrant officials (146), William finally recommended the long-in-limbo boycott in January 1909, and in March Cadbury ceased buying cocoa from the chocolate islands – but not before the firm had purchased fourteen acres of land on the Gold Coast, near the new railroad, for a factory (147). Inaction, compounded by desire to maintain positive relations with the Portuguese in spite of the colonies’ violent and oppressive practices (Satre 77, 81), had forestalled the boycott for eight years; and though the guilt of the islands was off the company’s hands, and something of a backup plan in place, more sticky consequences had been set in motion. Cadbury Bros. was fighting a veritable media circus, demanding apologies from multiple papers for articles questioning the company’s actions regarding the islands (Higgs 143). By the time William left for Africa in 1908, a libel suit against the Standard was underway for a blistering (though hardly hypocrisy-free) article wondering “why the solicitude for the ‘white hands of the Bournville chocolate makers’ seemed not to extend to ‘African hands’” (Higgs 145).  William returned home in plenty of time to testify at the trial, which ruled in favor of Cadbury—awarding them all of a quarter-penny (152). Letters from Cadbury customers delivered their version of this scathing verdict—one addressed the company as “You pious Frauds,” “You Anointed Hypocrites” (152-153).

Cadbury’s Quaker morals, so intact in their home country, were proven by the chocolate islands scandal to be shaky with regard to their business dealings and their concern for what Fox Bourne phrased as “putting an end to a monstrous evil, for the tolerance and development of which Great Britain is to a large extent responsible” (Satre 77). William Cadbury taking earlier action might have been risky, but his caution and protection of trade interests in the face of oppressive practices led him to conflict and embarrassment. A review of Nevinson’s A Modern Slavery published in 1908 reads: “After reading Nevinson’s most interesting book one cannot doubt that slavery is still a tremendous problem, and that its origin and continuance are due to the fact that, for the present, peculiar … conditions have appealed to the selfishness of the Portuguese so strongly as to overcome all scruples” (Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, vol. 40, no. 9, 567-568). In light of the long years it took to acknowledge and boycott the slavery that gave them their cocoa, such a statement could well be applied to Cadbury Bros.

Grant, Kevin. A civilised savagery: Britain and the new slaveries in Africa, 1884-1926. Routledge, 2005.

E.H. “Bulletin of the American Geographical Society.” Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, vol. 40, no. 9, 1908, pp. 566–568. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/198362.

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on trial slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Ohio University Press, 2006.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate islands: cocoa, slavery, and colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2013.

“Cadbury’s almanack for 2,000 years – a literary & useful curiosity.” Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2015651603/. Image. Accessed March 11, 2018.


Chocolate in Modern Day Ecuador

IMG_9888Throughout our time in chocolate class so far I have wondered what the modern-day chocolate industry looks like outside of the United States. During my recent travels through Ecuador, I visited several markets, pictured left. Indoor and outdoor, the tables and surrounding floors of these markets were piled high with products: produce, grains and meats, some more familiar than others. These markets were, for the most part, similar to ones I’ve seen during travels through European countries. A lifelong lover and now student of gastronomy, one of the reasons I enjoy exploring markets in different countries is to see and understand the different products the local people consume on a daily basis. Being my first time traveling to a South American country, I had never seen the wide variety of cacao products many of the vendors were selling before. These products are, of course, remarkably unprocessed in comparison to the chocolate products that line the shelves of the baking and candy aisles in grocery stores here in America. Seeing, smelling, feeling, and tasting these raw, minimally processed products gave me a new appreciation for the abundance of this rich, historic product and the various ways it is sold and marketed in Ecuador today. I was happy to see that the cacao products offered in the markets were undisturbed by modernization to some degree.

IMG_9054 In contrast to the cacao products found in the market, I also visited several high-end chocolate retail shops, all using a unique approach to marketing their chocolate as the best of the best. Amedeo Chocolate, located in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador seems to be on the rise in terms of luxury, single-origin chocolates. Having stopped into their shop several times while in Cuenca, I became well oriented to their company and products. They offer several different kinds of chocolate, each bar indicating on it where the cacao beans were sourced from. A favorite of mine and others I was with was their dark milk chocolate using cacao from Los Rios, Ecuador. At 53%, this chocolate bar was very appealing to me, a milk chocolate lover, while still managing to be appealing to others who favor dark chocolate more highly. There truly is a large difference in the quality of the single-origin chocolate found in Ecuador in regards to flavor; mass produced, multiple-sourced chocolate bars truly do not come close in regards to overall quality.

We were lucky enough to be able to meet the owner as well as the chef at Amedeo to learn even more about their chocolate production. I was curious about how a modern company approached production in a place rich with cacao history. Our conversation began with a tasting of the white, fluffy edible fruit that surrounds the bean. It tasted IMG_7953surprisingly like a mix of papaya and kiwi. I was equally surprised to learn that when the bean is broken in half, it is a deep purple color. Amedeo receives their beans after they have been fermented and dried. Chef Ruth Mahoney sources only rare, heirloom-certified beans from three cacao plantations in coastal Ecuador and from one other plantation in Tumbres, Peru. The cacao sourced from the coast of Ecuador is considered Forastero, one of the major branches of origin for cacao. The others being Criollo as well as a hybrid of the two known as Trinitarios (Presilla 2009).  After the beans arrive at the Amedeo factory they are hand sorted and then roasted. Following this first step, they grind the beans and separate out the dried husks. Next they crush the beans into broken pieces, what are widely known as ‘nibs’, and refined until they reach 10 microns. Mahoney explains that this releases and blends the acidic chemicals while creating an amazing sensory experience. Finally, the chocolate undergoes constant stirring which smooths the molecules. Mahoney explained, “We treat our chocolate like fine wine. We let it age for up to 60 days, allowing all of the chemical flavors and crystals to blend and bind together.” From there, products are poured into molds and shaped into bars. Amedeo prides themselves on their goal to reduce waste as much as possible and as such offer several other interesting products like cacao tea made from the dried husks as well as cacao powder, drinking chocolate, and cocoa butter hand lotion. In addition to their bars, which sell for between $10 and $16 USD, they also offer several different kinds of truffles as well as a new product: cacao beans hand-rubbed and coated with liquefied chocolate and then hand rolled in cocoa powder. Despite their success in developing connections within the United States to distribute and sell their chocolate, they are very limited in terms of the amount of production they can do. For example, the beans used in their dark milk chocolate bar have become increasingly popular and because of this, more beans will not become available until 2019, we were told.

While cacao seems to be alive and well, this hasn’t always been the case. “Ecuador’s cacoa industry has been collapsing throughout the twentieth century. Its prized Arriba, already in serious trouble, received what may have been the coup de grace from the 1982 to 1983 and the 1997 to 1998 climate disruptions of El Nino” (Presilla 2009 p. 49). Despite this, there are a few individuals leading the way in trying to create a thriving market for Ecuadorian Cacao. “Latin America has been sitting on a gold mine of cacao that has historically been sold to other countries,” said Maricel Presilla, U.S. based chef, food historian and member of the International Chocolate Awards, “but now is the time to reclaim that resource” (NBC News 2016) See how they do it at Pacari Chocolate , one of Ecuador’s most thriving chocolate companies. 

Works Cited
Caselli, Irene. “Is Ecuador Home to the World’s Best Chocolate?” BBC News, BBC, 6 June 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-22733002.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: a Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.
“This Couple Aims to Make Ecuador the Cradle of Fine Chocolate Making.” NBC News, NBCUniversal News Group, 7 Jan. 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/couple-aims-make-ecuador-cradle-fine-chocolate-making-n474366.




The Evolution of American Chocolate: From Beverage to Bar

It is perhaps unsurprising that chocolate did not arrive on the shores of Plymouth Rock wrapped in Hershey’s labels or moulded in the shape of Ferrero Rocher spheres of deliciousness. Chocolate’s evolution in the United States is unique, and it has been shaped by multiple cultures across hundreds of years. The journey of modern chocolate in the United States begins with Jews in Spain and Portugal in the 1400s. Centuries later, liquid chocolate would transform into a solid candy delicacy coined by the Swiss. Their ingenuity would be adopted by Milton Hershey himself, catapulting the United States to the forefront of a chocolate empire.

Chocolate’s importation to the American colonies was started by Jewish merchants residing in Brazil and the West Indian colonies. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella initiated the expulsion of Jews in the late 15th century (Grivetti 2809), causing an influx of Jewish populations to the New World. Concurrently, Hernando Cortés arrived back in Spain in 1527 with cacao and the recipes and tools of the Aztec peoples. As Jews continued to leave Spain and Portugal for the New World, they carried with them knowledge of cacao production (Grivetti 2815). Later on, the Portuguese conquered the Dutch colony of Recife, a present-day large cosmopolitan area in the northeast portion of Brazil. Jews residing in Recife were forced to flee. Some went to Amsterdam, some to the West Indies, and 23 arrived in New Amsterdam in the mid 1600s (Grivetti 3006). New Amsterdam is presently the southern tip of the island of Manhattan. Around the same time, Jews also moved to present-day Newport, Rhode Island.

1664 initiated the English conquering New York, making Jews English subjects (Grivetti 3016). Jews did not have the right to participate in retail trade, so instead of selling cocoa, they began importing it from the West Indies to New York (Grivetti 3090). Around the same time, some prominent traders from Jamaica arrived in New York, bringing with them knowledge of the cocoa trade. Jews were granted the right to participate in wholesale trade in 1685. Importantly, they traded cocoa, chocolate, and used chocolate themselves (Grivetti 3021). One prominent Jewish trader – Nathan Simson – was responsible for the trade of 150,000 pounds of cocoa from Venezuela to Curaçao during the three months between February and May 1722 (Grivetti 3026).  In the first quarter of the 18th century, letters reveal hundreds of cocoa transactions between Simson and other Jewish merchants and manufacturers (Grivetti 3045). Evidence of bidirectional trade routes emerged in the 1730s. In 1748 an Annapolis newspaper advertisement read “John Campbell… makes and sells as good Chocolate as was ever made in England” (Grivetti 3106). Aaron Lopez, a Portuguese and Jewish immigrant, came to Rhode Island in 1752. An immensely successful merchant, Lopez had thousands of pounds of cocoa shipped to a black man named Prince Updike, who would take raw cocoa and return it to Lopez as ground chocolate for profit. Records of this business transaction between Lopez and Updike appear throughout the late 1760s, such as the one depicted below (Grivetti 3178, fig. 5.4).

Aaron Lopez ledger with details on work with Updike (page 3178)
Lopez ledger, 1766

Consumable chocolate in the late 17th century was in the form of ground lozenges or chocolate powder cakes. Cakes were flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, red peppers, and cloves (Grivetti 6441). The cake would be grated to a powder and incorporated with other aromatics. Cooks would incorporate eggs to encourage frothing, an intriguing example of pre-Columbian customs set forth by indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. Drinking chocolate was reserved for the American elite through the mid-18th century. Many families possessed silver drinking pots for chocolate, which are extremely rare nowadays (Grivetti 6525).

Chocolate Pot
Silver and wood chocolate pot

The chocolate pot above is a rare example of silverware used to house chocolate beverages. This piece was constructed by renowned silversmith Edward Webb between 1707 and 1718 in Boston (“Chocolate Pot”). It is apparent how highly colonial Americans regarded chocolate by the money and craftsmanship spent creating vessels such as the one above.

Colonial chocolate rose in popularity in the mid-17th century. Chocolate had medicinal purposes, often being marketed to cure the sick, help hangovers, and aid digestion (Grivetti 6402). Drinking chocolate was deemed very difficult and complicated to make. The process involved grinding the cocoa cake, boiling it with water, and whisking constantly to ensure smoothness. Chocolate in the colonies arrived as ready-made nibs imported from the West Indies. No roasting or grinding of the beans was done in the colonies for the most part (Grivetti 6430). Early reference to chocolate mills appeared in 1751 in a newspaper advertisement for Joseph Palmer and Richard Cranch (Grivetti 6436). The chocolate industry was permanently altered with Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten’s invention. Van Houten developed lower fat, alkalized chocolate that could more easily be made to a powder and mixed with other liquids (Grivetti 6769). The alkali relaxed the harsh flavors of chocolate, making chocolate sweeter and more palatable.

Liquid chocolate stayed in American fashion until the end of the 19th century (Grivetti 8615). The move from liquid to solid chocolate consumption was initiated by Henri Nestlé’s invention of powdered milk and Swiss chocolate manufacturer Daniel Peter’s idea to combine this powdered milk and chocolate to construct the first milk chocolate bar in 1879 (Coe and Coe 549). Concurrently, Rudolphe Lindt developed the process of conching – using heavy rollers to smooth cocoa until it attained a high degree of smoothness (Coe and Coe 551). Europeans and Americans alike developed a taste for the smooth and mellow flavors of solid milk chocolate. These advancements undoubtedly inspired the original American king of Chocolate: Milton Hershey.

Hershey, by the early 1890s, was a successful confection manufacturer; his company crafted caramels of various types (D’Antonio 60). In 1893, Hershey traveled to Chicago to attend the World’s Columbian Exposition – a fair meant to showcase the most up-to-date technologies of the time. At the fair, Hershey took note of the J.M. Lehmann company’s exposition. They set up a full-scale operation to show off their ability to make chocolate bars. Hershey went day after day to investigate, to learn, to mimic, and to taste the delicious product they could produce. Hershey purchased the necessary equipment, shipped them to Lancaster, and began what would become one of the largest chocolate producing conglomerates in the world (D’Antonio 69). The below image depicts Milton Hershey in front of his first chocolate producing facility in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

hershey plant 1901
Hershey plant, 1901-1904

The path to the American chocolate bar took centuries to come to fruition. From the exodus of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula to the New World, to the elitist drinking chocolate of the 17th century, chocolate evolved slowly and assuredly to the profitable, affordable, and delicious delicacy that we know today.


Sources Sited

“Chocolate Pot.” The Museum of Fine Arts Boston. 24 February 1993. http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/chocolate-pot-42519.

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

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Paw Prints, 2008.

Grivetti, Louis Evan., and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. A John Wiley Publishing, 2009.

“Milton Hershey’s Experimental Plant, 1901-1904.” The Hershey Story, 11 Mar. 2018, hersheystory.org/milton-hershey-history/.


“Chokola’j”, History of Chocolate Popularity on the Rise

The Mayan Society of Mesoamerica drank chocolate together and called this popular social act “Chokola’j” (C. Martin, Mesoamerica and “the food of the gods”). History is often written through landmark events that shaped it, but often without the mentioning of the common human who made it, this is especially true about the history of chocolate. The significance of chocolate came from the captivating ability of chocolate to touch hearts and transcend social, cultural, lingual, and physical barrios and dovetail the Americas and Europe with a power even mightier than that of the military and economic powers, the social power of chocolate. In Sweetness and Power, Sidney W. Mintz argues that the simple decision of the common human in post-colonial European societies to consume Mesoamerican commodities made history through changing the meaning of labor, self-identity, and commodity: “In understanding the relationship between commodity and person, we unearth anew the history of our selves” (qtd by C. Martin, Slavery Abolition and Forced Labor, Mintz, 1985, page214). Mintz is right, for unraveling the history of Chocolate’s popularity unravels the western hemisphere’s origins of wealth distribution, social habits, economic relationships, and self-identities. More importantly it can define our future path towards what is responsible, just, and right for a prosperous chocolate future that involves all stakeholders and shareholders. The beautiful moments of happiness, comfort, and love passing through the lives of millions of people eating and drinking chocolate every day lure intellectual curiosity to trace what key factors, trends, ideas, and technologies contributed to the rise of chocolate’s popularity over time.

Chocolate(Chocolate, a stack of the different kinds of chocolate, dark, milk and white) (André Karwath aka, Feb, 2005.)

In The True History of Chocolate Sophie and Michael Coe explain that “It was the Maya who first taught the Old World how to drink Chocolate, and it was the Maya who gave us the word “cacao.” They deserve recognition in the culinary history of Theobroma Cacao.”(Coe and Coe, P.66). Archeological records of historical Mayan documents and artifacts like the Maya Princeton Vase of the 8th century stands testimony to the ancient Mayan chocolate-socializing habits, it depicts a Mayan royal palace with people seated in a scene with a woman preparing chocolate (Coe and Coe, P.50). Over time chocolate spread from the Mesoamerican elites to European elites and amplified in popularity among the masses. Chocolate and coffee houses were a part of the English life in 17th century England where the Italian Lorenzo Magalotti who lived in England between 1668 and 1688 AD described these houses: “…Where coffee is sold publicly, and not just coffee, but other drinks, like chocolate.”(Coe and Coe, P.171).

800px-Maya_vase(Mayan Vase, the Princeton Vase depicting chocolate) (Unknown, Between circa 600 and circa 900 AD)

Chocolate-house-london-c1708(Socializing inside the English: White’s Chocolate House, London) (Unknown Artist, 1708)

It is academically imperative to narrate the historical change that transpired through time over what contributed to the increase in chocolate’s popularity and spread from the Mesoamerican and European elites to the different classes of society in Europe, the Americas, and transversely the world. In order to interpret colonial military, economic, and social factors that contributed to the spread of chocolate it is necessary to mention the documents, encounters, and records found in Rio Ceniza Valley, located in today’s El Salvador ( C. Martin, lecture 3 “Chocolate Expansion”, 2018). The 17th century’s “Recordation Florida of Antonio Fuentes y Guzman” was imperative as it revealed the cocoa beans-based Nahua counting system that was used by the Mayans as their local currency, which was a mammoth economic factor behind the Spanish military colonization campaigns triggered by the Spanish desire to adopt that currency system and demand part of the Mesoamerican crops (C. Martin, Lecture 3, “Chocolate Expansion”, 2018).The other significant document to illuminate on the social power factor that contributed the most to increased popularity of chocolate was the original chocolate recipe found in Rio Ceniza ( C. Martin, Chocolate Expansion). A European style drawing in the 16th century Codex Tudela shows us an Aztec woman foaming Chocolate evoking similarities to the Mayan Princeton Vase, which depicted a woman foaming chocolate eight centuries earlier (Coe and Coe, P.88).The factor of the transfer of Mesoamerican recipes will be the most powerful of all because the chocolate recipe that we know traveled through European colonists to Europe and created anew the trend of the chocolate commodity consumption in Europe. Chocolate recipes were first moved by elite catholic clergy into Spain, Italy, France, and Britain. In 1636 Antonio de Leon Pinelo, a Spanish catholic wrote a book debating the morality of chocolate and its inclusion into European diets and religious traditions (Coe and Coe, P. 152). Coe and Coe explain that “Lion Pinelo gives details on production as well as recipes for the drink, he is also extremely knowledgeable about cacao, chocolate, and various writers on chocolate.” (Coe and Coe, P.152)


(European styled drawing of Aztec Lady Preparing Chocolate, Mujer Vertiendo Chocolate – Codex Tudela) (Anonymous, circa 1553)

Knowledge of chocolate and its recipes got adopted by the masses and spread along European colonial societies including North America. In The History of Classic American Dessert, Carla Martin explains that “Newspaper advertisements for chocolate sales in the colonies have been traced back to the early eighteenth century, as have customs logs and diary entries mentioning chocolate” (C. Martin, 2012). In The New Taste of Chocolate, M.E. Presilla reveals the Xocolat familiar: “Contains recipes written in an elegant 19th century hand, giving precise measurements for chocolate blends prepared especially for local families.”(M.E. Presilla, 30, 2009). Based on the above literary and material sources it is evident that the Mesoamerican chocolate traditions were adopted by Europeans and North Americans, which induced significant change defining labor, social, and economic change. It cannot go unstated that this steered an ever increased demand, which brought about the tragedies of slavery, colonization, massive inequality in distribution of prosperity and wealth, and went all the way to restructuring the sense of western world Norms, struggles, and identities .

In The New Taste of Chocolate, M.E. Presilla reveals the 1874 invention of the Melangeur:” The Melangeur is one of the most versatile and long lasting inventions of the industrial revolution of chocolate manufacturing.” (M.E.Presilla, page 28, 2009). Historic literary and material sources evidence shows an entire technology developing from traditional Mayan recipes of preparing and processing chocolate. Images of the Mesoamericans preparing the drinks can be seen today in their thriving societies as in the historical depictions of 15 surviving documents of Dresden Codex pre-colonial documents and the ambiguous Popol Vuh, colonial documents (C. Martin, “ Mesoamerica and the “ food of the gods”). The preponderance of social power that steered the increased popularity of chocolate were driven by chocolate’s ability to touch hearts, penetrate feelings, and create taste.

Chokoversum_MelangeurChokoversum Melangeur (An-d. Nov, 2013).

Chocolademachine_Mol_D'ArtModern Chocolate Machine (Right: Oriel. Chocolate Machine, n.d.)

Knowing the key factors, trends, ideas, and technologies contributed to the rise of chocolate’s popularity over time enable us to draw the future. The social power of chocolate is galvanized to serve the powerful managerial chocolate corporations today. What is needed is a balancing approach that enables the corporations to get galvanized behind the social power of chocolate. This is especially important to achieve in Ghana and the Ivory Coast where 72% of the worlds Cocoa production is produced, often under dire circumstances (C, Martin Lecture One). Going back into these historic changes can guide us to successfully adopt changes in the future inclusive of all its stakeholders and shareholders.

This Video is mixing some historic facts, some of which were mentioned in the blog, and interestingly reasoning them with fun facts in trying to explain the ever rising popularity of chocolate.

(Talltanic Surprising facts about Chocolate video from January 16th, 2018). (Talltanic, 2018)


References-Works Cited
An-d. Chokoversum Melangeur. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 22 November 2013, 18:22:53

André Karwath aka. Chocolate. This image shows a stack of chocolate, including milk chocolate, nut chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate. Wikimedia Commons. Web.13 February 2005. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate.jpg#mw-jump-to-license
Anonymous. Mujer vertiendo chocolate – Codex Tudela. Español: Mujer azteca espumando cacao, reproducción perteneciente al folio 3-r del Códice Tudela. Source/Photographer: http://www.danielhschreiber.com/i/03-21-10/codex-tudela.jpg. Wikimedia Commons. Web. circa 1553. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mujer_vertiendo_chocolate_-_Codex_Tudela.jpg#mw-jump-to-license
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third Edition. Thames & Hudson Ltd: London, 2013. Print.
Martin, Carla D. 2012. “Brownies: The History of a Classic American Dessert.” Retrieved from http://www.ushistoryscene.com/uncategorized/brownies/
Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan.2018. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 31 Jan.2018. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.’”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 07 Feb.2018. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, Abolition and Forced Labor.’”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 28 Feb.2018. Class Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power, The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Viking Penguin Inc. Penguin Books: New York, 1985. Print.
Oriel. Chocolademachine Mol D’Art. Chocolate machine. Wikimedia Commons. Web. N.D.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, 2009. Print.
Talltanic. (Jan 16, 2018). Surprising facts about chocolate. 2018. Taltanic. (Video file). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cI_WIcpcvDA
Unknown Artist. English: White’s Chocolate House, London. Wikimedia Commons. coloured lithograph published by Cadbury. Note: Not a contemporary 1708 illustration (late 19th-century at earliest) Web. circa 1708. https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate-house-london-c1708.jpg
Unknown. Photograph of a Maya vase. Wikimedia Commons. Art from late Classic c. 600 – 900 AD, per book “The Blood of Kings, Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art” by Linda Schele, Mary Ellen Miller, Justin Kerr, Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1986, plate 115 Mechanical reproduction of art more than 1,000 years old. Web. Between circa 600 and circa 900 AD https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maya_vase.jpg#mw-jump-to-license




Cheap Sugar and Expensive Cacao: the democratization of the “food of the gods.”

Chocolate means many things to many people, invoking feelings of romance, decadence, comfort, celebration, and memories of childhood. And despite its ubiquity across most of the globe, chocolate has maintained an aura of lavishness, mystery, and prestige. Once a food item strictly for the elites, chocolate has kept its image as a luxury item even though it has been cheaply available for over a century. How and why did chocolate go from an exclusive luxury item for the privileged to a staple everyday treat for the masses? The history of chocolate, or cacao, the treated fruit-seeds from which chocolate is produced, and how it became commonplace is inseparable from the history of colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the industrial revolution. And the same is true of the history of sugar. Ultimately it was the evolution and combining of these two once-exclusive products that changed chocolate from an expensive, rare commodity for a small elite class to an affordable, mass-producible snack for the everyday citizen of the industrialised world.

Chocolate finds its origin in the cacao tree, or theobroma cacao, literally “food of the gods, cacao,” as it was named by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus.1 However, the word cacao had been used, as had the fruits and the seeds within, since long before Linnaeus encountered the species. Traces of cacao have been discovered on pottery dating as far back as 3,300 B.C. in Zamora Chinchipe, Ecuador,2 almost five thousand years before contact between Europe and Mesoamerica began. When Europeans first encountered cacao at the beginning of the sixteenth century, cacao was used as currency and consumed as a beverage by the ruling class of the Aztec empire. The drinking chocolate travelled first to the royal courts of Spain and then spread to the other major powers in Europe including, Italy, France, and England.  Drinking chocolate prevailed until the middle of the nineteenth century when solid chocolate was first produced for widespread sale.


Sugar has been known in Europe since long before cacao. Cultivated into its crystallized form in India as far back as 500 A.D.,3 and spread through the Arabic conquests of the eighth century, it was and remained “a luxury, a medicine, and a spice”4 until the seventeenth century. With the discovery and conquering of the West Indies, Europeans colonialists began to cultivate and mass-produce the luxury items – cacao, tobacco, coffee, rum, tea, and sugar – that would dramatically change the economies of the world forever.

By the nineteenth century sugar had a become a necessity of British daily life. And it was during this century that Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented a machine that would lead to the ability to produce chocolate in its solid form. Van Houten’s hydraulic press separated the fat, cacao butter, from the cacao beans, leaving behind a powder we call cocoa.5 The British Fry family, who had been producing and selling drinking chocolate since the eighteenth century, discovered that by remixing this cocoa with the butter and adding sugar, a liquid that would harden could be made, and the first real chocolate bar was born.6


It should be stated that none of the major producers of solid chocolate who would come to dominate the market were the first to think to sweeten cacao for consumption. Adding honey to sweeten drinking chocolate had been commonplace in Mesoamerica before the arrival of the Spanish, and drinking chocolate recipes enjoyed by the aristocracy in Europe pervasively contained sugar. The change that took place that would significantly spread the consumption of chocolate was the pronounced increased, first, in the consumption of sugar. According to Sidney W. Mintz’s estimates, between 1800 and 1890 world production shot from approximately two-hundred and forty-five thousand tonnes of sugar to over six million, and he writes, “there is no doubt that the sucrose consumption of the poorer classes in the United Kingdom came to exceed that of the wealthier classes after 1850.”7 This transformative period in sugar production and consumption paired with Van Houten’s machine, which meant for easier and cheaper production of higher quality cacao powder and butter, set the stage for the mass-production and consumption of chocolate.


The public’s insatiable appetite for sugar has meant that chocolate production can be much cheaper, as the most expensive ingredient, cacao, can be used in less quantity. A good example of this is the enormously successful Hershey’s kiss that is just eleven percent cocoa and over fifty percent sugar.8 And the mass-production ideology that came with the industrial revolution led to astonishing manufacturing achievements. A good example of this is the lettering machine at the M&M factory that is able to print the M’s on M&M’s at, “200,000 M&M’s a minute, or 100 million M&M’s every eight hours:”9 needless to say, a far cry from the time-consuming procedure to make the drinking chocolate that was enjoyed by Mayans, Aztecs, and European “nobility” for the centuries and millennia prior. That milk chocolate can be legally called as such with just 10% cacao content has meant a form of chocolate can be made, and therefore bought and eaten, cheaply and regularly across class lines. So while there is debate as to the health effects of cheap chocolate and ethical concerns of cheaply sourced cacao, the “food of the gods” is now available to all mortals. And thank god for that.


Works Cited


  1. Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. Page 5
  2. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-22733002
  3. Mintz, Sidney W. 1985. Sweetness and Power: the Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin. Page 23
  4. Page 30
  5. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 1996. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson. Page 234
  6. Page 241
  7. Page 143
  8. Martin, Carla D. “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 3/7/18, Class Lecture
  9. Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. Page 185

A Salute to Chocolate

Endurance to Diplomacy: Highlights of Chocolate in the Military

Chocolate is enjoyed worldwide by both children and adults and its popularity continues to grow. A recent report by Technavio valued the global chocolate market at $105.56 billion with an estimated value of 137.12 billion in 2021.[1] With these earnings, chocolate is truly the “food of the [shareholder] gods.”

Setting market success aside, chocolate is a unique fruit that contains theobromine, caffeine, and cocoa butter (fat), which can provide a needed energy boost, stave off hunger, and it is less likely to spoil on long journeys. These qualities make chocolate practical for many uses. One use probably not at the forefront of everyone’s mind, is military use, which has its roots in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

Map of Mesoamerica highlighting Mayan and Aztec empires
Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica (partial view). Highlighting Mayan influence and Aztec empire.
Statuette of Mayan with cacao pods on uniform
Cacao pods dangle from this Mayan warrior or Mayan athlete? Academic debate continues on this Mayan’s identity. Either way, he would benefit from cacao’s energy boosting and fortifying properties.

The people of Mesoamerica may not have known the scientific reasons why their chocolate, or cacao, gave them energy or satisfied their hunger, but they were certainly aware of these benefits. Chocolate was a common ration for both Mayan and Aztec warriors. Although the Aztecs limited their chocolate consumption to the elite, their soldiers were allowed to partake. Ground cacao could be made into small wafers for easier travel and remote preparation.[2] Chocolate use, among Mayans, was more democratized and consumed along many classes for rituals, medicinal, and social occasions. Mayan soldiers too carried chocolate into battle.[3] Flexible and fortifying, chocolate provided a handy fix to fight hunger, or an opponent, for soldiers in Mesoamerica as for those in North America.

In 1757, 1,200 French and Indian forces were preparing for battle from Fort Carillon (then Fort Ticonderoga) in New York state. The officers issued an additional “two pounds of chocolate,” to energize the troops.[4] Twenty years later at that very fort, chocolate continued to fortify. During the American Revolution, young Captain Moses Greenleaf noted in his diary that he had hot chocolate when he first arrived at Fort Ticonderoga in the spring of 1777.[5] That summer, when he and his small army were ordered to evacuation the fort, he ate chocolate dinner and breakfast to strengthen him on “as fatigueing [sic] a[9].”[6] In additional to fortifying soldiers, chocolate’s popularity was also due to its perceived health benefits.

General Grant sits atop of horse in front of Union Army camp
General Ulysses S. Grant at City Point during Civil War. Close quarters like these, for long periods of time, could create unsanitary conditions.

During the Civil War unsanitary field conditions and malnutrition claimed more lives than battle. Concerned with this growing public health crisis, The United States Sanitary Commission (USSC), purchased more than $20,000 pounds of chocolate during the Civil War from the Baker Chocolate Company. The USSC believed chocolate had nutritional and healing properties and served it to wounded soldiers to improve their health. [8] In 1864, Dr. E. Donnelly, a field surgeon wrote the Baker Company with this endorsement “a chocolate should be made to keep in a powdered condition, not too sweet, and free from all husks or other irritating substances. Chocolate … would be much more nutritious than coffee, not so irritating to the bowels.” [9] The Baker Company would later show their patriotism through chocolate.

During World War I, the Baker Company would stamp chocolate with the intials “W.T.W” (Win The War).[10]  A warm sentiment that would reach Allied soldiers around the world, forming strong bonds with them. This is just one example of chocolate diplomacy.

Berlin Airlift, Lt. Halverson, Chocolate Flyer
Miniature parachutes can be seen dropping from Halvorsen’s C-54 as he brings the plane in for a landing at Tempelhof.

Another example of chocolate diplomacy against a backdrop of hardship and despair comes in post World War II Germany. Berlin was split between the U.S. and its Allies (West Germany) and the Soviets (East Germany). In 1948 the Soviet Union sought to control all of Berlin and closed it off in hopes of starving out West Berliners. For over a year, Allied forces provided daily airdrops of provisions to West Berliners. One the most popular pilots was Lieutenant Gail S. Halvorsen, better known as the “the Chocolate Flyer.” Inspired by meeting the children of Berlin and their shy demeanor, Halvorsen wrapped candy bars and gum into little packages, then dropped them to the awaiting children. As Halvorsen explains “Day by day the crowd of kids waiting for the drop got bigger, and day by day my supply of handkerchiefs, old shirts, GI sheets, and old shorts, all of which I use for parachutes, gets smaller.”[11] The chocolate drops would be repeated many times after Halverson left Germany. The Operation was covered by the International press displaying Allied forces in a positive light on the world stage.

On the heels of World War II and at the start of the Cold War, chocolate was able to perform yet another service – publicity.  For centuries, chocolate has been serving the military on many levels. From fortification to diplomacy; energy to encouragement; now publicity and propaganda, chocolate continues to serve.

Works Cited

[1] Business Wire. Technavio. Top 6 Vendors in the Global Chocolate Market from 2017 to 2021: Technavio. June 28, 2017. Web. March 4, 2018. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170628005998/en/Top-6-Vendors-Global-Chocolate-Market-2017

[2] Coe, Sophie D.. The True History of Chocolate (Kindle Locations 1372-1373). Thames & Hudson. Kindle Edition.

[3] Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerican and the “food of the gods”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. Jan. 31, 2018. Class Lecture 2.

[4] Grivetti, Louis E.; Shapiro, Howard-Yana. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage (Kindle Locations 15908-15911). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

[5] Ibid. (Kindle Location 15887).

[6] Ibid. (Kindle Location 16244).

[7] Ibid. (Kindle Locations 12681-12682).

[8] Ibid. (Kindle Location 14089).

[9] Ibid. (Kindle Locations 14093-14094).

[10] Ibid. (Kindle Location 14212).

[11] Giangreco, D.M. and Griffin, Robert E. The Berlin Crisis of 1948, its Origins and Aftermath. Presidio Press. New York. Excerpts Published by Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum. Web. March 8, 2018. https://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/BERLIN_A/CHOCOLAT.HTM


Not So Sweet: Slavery in the Cacao Industry

dairy-milk-barsChocolate is arguably one of the greatest culinary achievements in human history. I currently do not have a citation for that statement, however I am banking on scholars and researchers to catch up to my sweeping generalizations. Chocolate, and cultivation of Cacao have been interwoven into the fabric of societies all across the globe. These connections have happened in so many ways that are not just appealing to the pallet but also to the spirit. Chocolate confections for some are the corner stone to childhood, and to others it is a symbol of ancestral connection. For some groups and societies, this connection has a more malevolent feel, either due to historical significance or even current trends in the chocolate marketplace. Chocolate and cacao production, have and continue to be connected to one of the darkest parts of the human experience. Slavery and forced labor are probably not what most consumers of chocolate think when they pick up their favorite chocolate candy in the local grocery aisle. This is likely due to the disparity and disconnection of the consumer from chocolates actual production. Chocolate production has been, and can continue to be, a marker for where such social disparity exists in our global market places. Using examples of past and present issues related to cacao production, it may be possible to shed light on how practice and policy of large candy manufacturers could potentially impact the lives of some of the most vulnerable communities in the world.
screen-shot-2015-03-12-at-7-11-13-pmGeorge Santayana said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Building on this philosophy, it is important to acknowledge our past mistakes in order to inform our future practice. On the other side of the coin, we can also adopt what was successful into the same playbook. One instance that is important to highlight takes place over 100 years ago with a Quaker owned chocolate producer called Cadbury. The Cadbury family was not just associated with the prominent industrialist family, but also with the Quaker philosophy of passivity and equity. In the workplace, it was also important to the Cadbury brand and philosophy that this applied to the treatment of those in their employ. In the early 1900s, William Cadbury investigated allegations that the primary source of their chocolate was being produced with slave labor. Their chocolate was being imported from the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, just off the western coast of the African continent. Once the allegations were verified, Cadbury petitioned the Portuguese government to change the labor practices and laws in their colony, however was not successful in its initial attempts. During this time, Cadbury continued to import a great deal of chocolate from the island, and in response faced a tremendous outpouring of public pressure. Due to their inability to appeal to the Portuguese government, Cadbury refocused their chocolate production elsewhere, and urged other chocolate companies to do the same. (Satre, 2005) While it was not a solution to the problem, it did demonstrate a morality in business practices that can be emulated in today’s chocolate industry.

So why look to Cadbury and the action of a chocolate maker 100 years ago? Well in the past two decades, allegations of chocolates connection to slavery have surfaced again. One of the countries that has been a focus for this issue has been Côte d’Ivoire. The accusations stated that nearly 90% of all chocolate produced there, had been involved in some form of slave labor. The international community was outraged, as Côte d’Ivoire was responsible for almost half of the world’s supply of chocolate. (John, 2002) cocoa-productin-and-consumption-map This practice also involves children, who are sometimes sold into labor from bordering nations like Mali. A great deal of pressure was put onto some of the largest chocolate manufactures such as Nestle, due to international laws and increased media attention on the subject. (Schrage & Ewing, 2005) One of the major differences in this instance and the Cadbury example is the speed of information and the influence of the global media. The outcry from the international community was enormous and promises were made from major manufactures because of it.

That was almost 20 years ago that light was shed on this issue. What about today? Côte d’Ivoire, along with others, is still listed by the U.S. Department of Labor as an exploiter of forced/child labor. (U.S. Department of Labor, 2016) Apart of their research found that in 2016, 2.1 million children had been involved in cacao production in an “inappropriate form.” (Lowy, 2016) 13E10CBB-C119-4185-AF0F-985DBD4FDAFE
Using Cadbury as a case study, it is possible to show that morality in business practice does not just positively affect the global community, but also can still be lucrative for a company. Cadbury did not solve the issue of slavery in the instance of the Portuguese colony, however they did influence the other chocolate makers to change their business practices which ultimately did leave a lasting impact on the islands need for forced labor. By doing so, they did not cease to exist, and by all accounts still flourish today. In today’s global economy, large manufactures have the opportunity to follow Cadbury’s example, and even potentially go a step further to create more sustainable practices for the global community.

Works Cited:

John, A. V. (2002, June). A new slavery? History Today; London, 52(6), 34–35.

Lowy, B. (2016). Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem. Retrieved March 9, 2018, from http://fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor/

Satre, L. J. (2005). Chocolate on trial: slavery, politics, and the ethics of business (1st ed.). Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Schrage, E. J., & Ewing, A. P. (2005). The Cocoa Industry and Child Labour. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, (18), 99–112.

U.S. Department of Labor. (2016). List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Retrieved March 9, 2018, from https://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/