Tag Archives: conche

Innovating the Culture Away: The Evolution of Cacao’s Preparation

For the many Mesoamerican peoples with access to cacao, traditional preparation methods contributed largely to the plant’s known cultural significance. The customary techniques of chocolate production represented a cornerstone of cultural and political gatherings (Coe and Coe 45-47). Additionally, the presence of ritualistic cacao preparations at momentous occasions, and the product’s spiritual connotations and economic utility (Leissle 30), maintained an intimate connection between the sacred plant and Mesoamerican life. The reach of cacao expanded following encounters with Western colonizers, and gradually Mesoamerican preparation practices were hybridized through a European lens. Furthermore, an industrializing Europe introduced numerous innovations in the preparation of chocolate products (Leissle 38-39). Hence, by the 19th century, a large factor in cacao’s original cultural significance—its preparation—had been separated from the plant itself.

Mesoamerican Preparation

On account of the plant’s particular environmental preferences, there were just several epicenters of intensive Theobroma cacao production in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Nevertheless, cacao was among the most prevalent products in Mesoamerican life, serving numerous cultural and economic purposes (Sampeck and Thayn 75). The nature of the T. cacao plant influenced many of the processing steps required prior to the preparation of cacao beverages. The pods cannot be opened to unveil the prized seeds (“beans”) without the aid of an animal (Leissle 27); moreover, much of the sought-after aroma and flavor profile of the beans must be brought out through production processes such as fermentation and roasting (Coe and Coe 22-24). These arduous procedures are essential to produce cacao nibs, the starting point for deeper exploration of Mesoamerican preparation techniques and recipes (Coe and Coe 22).

From its nib state, the cacao was ground into small granules which, with enough grinding, could become a paste-like substance now known as cacao liquor (Coe and Coe 24). Mesoamerican societies like the Aztecs employed a metate, or curved grinding stone, during this process (Coe and Coe 115).

A metate, used to grind cacao nibs in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

Importantly, once the cacao was ground, Mesoamerican preparations diverged based on ingredients, the terroir of the cacao used, and the target consumers—elites, common people, or gods (Coe and Coe 61-63; Sampeck and Thayn 77). Cacao beverage recipes distinguished Mesoamerican regions from their neighbors, as common supplemental ingredients included vanilla, chilis, various flowers, and the corn-based atole (Sampeck and Thayn 81-82). One widely desired element in cacao beverages across Mesoamerica was a frothy texture, often created in pre-Columbian times by repeatedly pouring a cacao beverage from one vessel into another from a height (Coe and Coe 48, 62; Leissle 31). The below scene from the Princeton Vase, while quite dramatic and busy, includes on the right-hand side a woman pouring a cacao beverage from one vessel to another in pursuit of the foamy texture cherished in pre-colonial Mesoamerica (Coe and Coe 48). This calligraphic painting supports the presence of ritualistic cacao preparations in cultural settings, such as the mythological scene unfolding below.

A mythological scene from the Princeton Vase (670-750 A.D.) depicting the deity known as “God L,” who was associated with trade. On the right-hand side of the scene, a woman is frothing a cacao beverage by pouring it from one vessel to another from a height.

Cultural Significance and Ubiquity of Cacao

The traditional preparations of cacao in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica—both the techniques used and the recipes followed—were meticulous and even ritualistic. Martin and Sampeck note, “The distinctive tools and preparation of cacao beverages…created a highly distinctive sensorial experience of cacao beverages in Mesoamerican foodways” (41). This cultural experience was especially present in Mesoamerican life due to the social, spiritual, and economic pervasiveness of cacao.

The T. cacao plant itself was intimately linked to Maya culture. The Dresden Codex frequently depicts gods as cacao trees or holding cacao pods and beans (Coe and Coe 42-43). In addition, cacao was offered during healing rituals, marriage arrangements, and burials (Coe and Coe 45-47; Martin and Sampeck 39). In both the Maya and Aztec civilizations, rituals of preparing and drinking cacao were instrumental in political and economic affairs (Leissle 30). In short, cacao was undeniably embedded in Mesoamerican society. Plus, the techniques and recipes used to make cacao beverages were relatively familiar to the people of a given region (Sampeck and Thayn 82). Thus, each instance of cacao in religious, cultural, or economic life represented an opportunity for Mesoamerican people to stay in touch with their local traditions of taste and preparation. The ritualistic preparations of cacao in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica served to reinforce the connection between the people and the plant.

Beginnings of Western Influence

In the 16th century, European explorers encountered Mesoamerican peoples and their cacao-based traditions. Europeans initially appreciated the beans’ utility as currency (Martin and Sampeck 41). As for the comestible side of cacao, European adoption was more gradual (Norton 660); in fact, Europeans took up the newly coined chocolate “in a generally Mesoamerican way, both in flavorings and in manner of preparation” (Sampeck and Thayn 80). These early encounters marked the beginning of Western influence on the preparation of cacao and chocolate products—a multi-century trend that steadily eroded the sociocultural significance of the plant and its bounty.

To bridge the unique tastes of Mesoamerica and Western Europe, cacao experienced a process of hybridization: Europeans drank their chocolate hot, rather than cold as in the Aztec tradition; they sweetened the product with cane sugar; and they introduced Old World spices, such as cinnamon, anise, and black pepper, into their chocolate recipes (Coe and Coe 114-115). Some preparation methods, such as grinding the nibs over a heated metate, carried over in early European recipes. Other techniques changed, such as the introduction of the molinillo, a swizzle-stick that replaced the pouring-between-vessels method of frothing the beverage (Coe and Coe 115). Europeans further translated cacao-making tools into new materials, such as metal and porcelain (Martin and Sampeck 43).

A Still Life of Peaches, Fish, Chestnuts, a Tin Plate and Sweet Box and
Two Mexican Lacquer Cups, by Spanish painter Antonio Ponce (1608–1677). A molinillo is pictured next to a container of ground cacao—evidence that Europeans initially engaged in the textural and flavor experiences of Mesoamerican cacao.

In 1556, the so-called “Anonymous Conqueror,” a companion of Hernán Cortés, described the preparation of an Aztec cacao beverage (Frydenborg 58). The author’s awed descriptions of the instruments used, the novel foam texture, and cacao’s health benefits display a Western curiosity toward Mesoamerican cacao preparation. Through encounters like these, cacao preparation began to be filtered through a Western lens—one which eventually rendered cacao a global commodity (Leissle 34). Increasingly, the preparation of a once-sacred product became detached from its sociocultural significance, as Kristy Leissle summarizes superbly:

“For all its history prior to European colonization, cacao as a fruit on a tree, as currency, and as a drink had been deeply connected, within civilizational traditions that barely distinguished between its economic, social, cultural, and food values. Now, those values diverged”

Leissle 34

Innovating the Culture Away

Over the next two centuries, the global taste for chocolate expanded, and a broader socioeconomic base gained access to the product (Leissle 36-38). In the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution unlocked new preparation methods for chocolate that drastically separated the modern conception of cacao from its traditional Mesoamerican roots. For one, the burgeoning industrial manufacture of chocolate nullified the notion of cacao’s terroir, once so important to the localization of recipes and preparation techniques. The goal of creating uniform products was achieved by blending cacao beans, yielding a new consumption experience in “stark contrast to historical chocolate flavor experiences” (Martin and Sampeck 49). Today’s most renowned names in chocolate—Cadbury, Nestlé, Lindt, Hershey, and the like—were behind these industrial shifts in preparation (Martin and Sampeck 49). Rudolphe Lindt’s 1879 invention of the conche, a device that employed rollers to reduce the size of ground cacao particles, attained a smoother chocolate for confections (Coe and Coe 247-248; Leissle 39).

An example of an industrial conche, a more modern manifestation of Lindt’s 19th-century invention. Begin at 1:25.

Innovations like the conche supported the chocolate industry’s ability to scale globally (Martin and Sampeck 49). Yet, they also contributed to a striking shift from local production—settings in which “people knew who made the tools they used and the foods they ate”—to factory production (Leissle 38). The impersonal preparation methods of 19th-century chocolate were wholly disparate from the socioculturally relevant, ritualistic Mesoamerican preparations from the days of the Maya and Aztecs.

Conclusion: Food for Thought

The historical narrative of chocolate preparation, featuring a glaring dislocation of cacao’s cultural connotations from its purely comestible properties, represents a critical step in the formation of the modern conception of chocolate. Compared to cacao’s Mesoamerican roots, most chocolate is mass-produced with little sociocultural attachment; in the absence of traditional preparation practices, there are fewer reminders of the cacao plant’s original societal significance. Thus, cacao has been reduced to a mere commodity in the eyes of most global chocolate producers. This shift in the world’s conception of cacao allowed the product to be “absorbed into expanding overseas…capitalism” (Mintz 69), which arguably set the stage for the well-documented exploitation and inequity underlying chocolate production to this day.

Works Cited

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

Frydenborg, Kay. Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat. 2015.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.Hu, no. special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37–60.

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

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review, vol. 111, no. 3, 2006, pp. 660–91.

Sampeck, Kathryn E., and Jonathan Thayn. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” Substance and Seduction : Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, First edition., University of Texas Press, 2017, pp. 72–99.

From Cultural to Commercial: Cocoa’s Geopolitical Transformation

Molded by years of exposure to masterfully crafted marketing campaigns, average consumer knowledge of cacao [or cocoa] is limited to its function as an ingredient and source from which their beloved chocolate is derived. There is much more to the birth, rise, and spread of Theobroma cacao.

The following seeks to explain how a culturally significant crop among early civilizations dating back to 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe, 2013) transformed from a highly treasured ingredient and social currency cultivated within a fairly limited zone to a globally produced and traded commodity: a highly reformulated, mass-produced, and readily available confectionery product.

This journey traces cacao back to its genetic and cultural beginnings where it was religious and cultural fixture among early civilizations; how exploration and migration played into the geographical expansion of its cultivation and rise in popularity as a food; role in accelerating industrialization; and transformation from a social currency and treasured ingredient to a heavily traded commodity and mass manufactured consumer product.

Genetic and Cultural Beginnings

From births and burials, recipes and rituals, cacao’s cultural origins are linked to Mesoamerica (present day Mexico through Central America), where its social and religious significance among the Olmec dates back to 1500 to 400 BCE (Coe and Coe, 2013). The rise of Maya and Aztec civilizations gave way for cacao’s evolution utility and proliferation as a consumable.

Cacao’s Role in Society and Religion

Evidenced by archeologic discoveries, translated texts, and scientific testing, several vessels and writings have been unearthed, clarifying and validating cacao’s significance, religious ties, and early application as a currency.

Mayan and Aztec civilization associated cacao with the gods. As such, they were believed to enrich and afford protections during and after life, playing a central role in offerings and rituals (Coe and Coe, 2013).

Ceramic vessels similar to those pictured here which date back to 455 to 465 CE were found in burial tombs at Río Azul (Martin, 2019). Further testing confirmed positive traces of caffeine and theobromine—two of cacao’s alkaloid signatures (Martin, 2019).

Dating back to 455 to 465 CE, “funerary vessels” similar to those pictured here were discovered in tombs at Río Azul. As testing revealed traces of caffeine and theobromine, two of cacao’s signature alkaloids, this further supported evidence of cacao’s religious significance (Martin, 2019).

As a food or drink, cacao took many forms. Popular among the Maya and Aztec, “cacahuatl” was a frothy preparation often transferred from one vessel to another and served cold (Coe and Coe, 2013).

Described by Coe and Coe in The True History of Chocolate and drawn by Diane Griffiths Peck, this illustration provides a glimpse into one of many Maya and Aztec cacao preparation and serving methods.
Of the 15 discovered, translated, and still intact, the Dresden Codex contains the aforementioned Mayan hieroglyphic depiction of cacao being consumed by gods and used in rituals (Martin, 2019). Other major works include the Popol Vuh or “Book of Counsel” is a colonial document later translated by Friar Francisco Ximénez that reveals the importance of cacao among early civilizations.

Exploration and Migration: Changes in Cultivation and Consumption

By definition, explorers were bound to make new discoveries and learn from their experience. Capturing the innocent confusion and eye-opening experience (only to be realized years later), the following briefly details just how one explorer mistakenly thought that cacao beans were almonds.”

Mistaken for Almonds: When recounting observations from his 1502 landing at Guanaja, one of many landmasses that make up the Bay Islands archipelago, Ferdinand Columbus, one of Christopher Columbus’ sons wrote about cherished “almonds” that traded hands similarly to how currency would pass between customers and merchants (Coe and Coe, 2013). It was not until years later after multiple interpretations and sources concluded that what he presumed to be almonds were in fact cacao beans.

As it came to be more widely known, not far from where Ferdidnad landed, throughout the Rio Ceniza Valley (present day coast of El Salvador), cacao was an increasingly popular form of currency being produced and traded in record volume—something . In time, this led to further learnings about the “Nahua counting system” and subsequent adoption of cacao as payment for “protection” by Spanish conquistadors.

Generally relegated to tropical climates falling 10-15 degrees north and south of equator, is was inevitable that cacao would make its way around the world. So as people moved, and culture spread, so too did the cacao, as a crop, currency, and curiosity, ultimately leading to its introduction to new geographies, and paving the way for new industries and traditions around the world (Martin, 2019).

New Formulations and Complementary Ingredients

As ingredients such as vanilla, chili, and many others traveled around the world, pairings and formulations rapidly evolved. Marking a major development and informing direction for the confectionery side as we know it today, sugar was introduced to Europe around 1100 CE and chocolate followed shortly thereafter in 1500 CE (Martin, 2019).

Cacao’s Role in Accelerating Industrialization and Expanding its Place in Society

While cacao consumption continued to be reserved for certain classes during its journey around the world, increasingly sophisticated processing methods streamlined productions, regulation eventually brought its price down, and despite medical and religious challenges to its place in society, cacao products were increasingly available to a grander population.

By the 1600 and 1700s, advances in processing continued to align with rising and more diverse consumption habits. Of course, by this time, the separation between “producing” and “processing” countries (read: colonies vs. industrialized nations) was increasingly clear.

So while cultivation and production spread across Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa to meet demand, industry began to take shape on the consumer side as well with the emergence of social gathering halls or “Chocolate Houses” in Britain, France, Spain, the United States, and other “industrialized” nations who had transitioned to managing the cacao’s trade as a commodity and processing for various food and beverage applications. It was not until Rudolphe Lindt’s invention of the conche in 1879, an advancement that bolstered flavor and feel (among other things), and set the stage for quality, processing, and mass production to take off (Coe and Coe, 2013).

Illustrated above, the matete, grinder, and conche are examples of what cacao processing tools were used by early civilizations (and are still used in the same or similar forms today) and evolved or industrialized processing equipment employed today (Martin, 2019).

From early civilizations to present day, cacao’s role in society, cultural significance, availability and consumption have evolved tremendously. However, its mystique and association as something special are still true to this day—just as they were in different and more elaborate forms among early civilizations. Perhaps this condensed history will give pause and reason for the average consumer to think beyond commercialization of cacao, cocoa, or chocolate, and value and validate its history and claims made by brands to improve global understanding, perception, and consumer habits.

Works Cited

  • Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2013.
  • Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.Hu, Vol. 3, 2015, pp. 37–60.
  • Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.
  • Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018

Media Cited

  • Hansen, Magnus Pharao. “Cacao: How a Single Word Holds the Key to Understanding the Mesoamerican Past”. Nawatl Scholar. January 1, 1970. Accessed March 15, 2019. http://nahuatlstudies.blogspot.com/2015/01/cacao-how-contested-history-of-single.html?spref=tw.
  • Olver, Lynne. “Food Timeline FAQs: Aztec, Maya, & Inca foods and recipes”. Lynne Olver 2000. March 1, 2015. Accessed February 17, 2019. http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodmaya.html.
  • Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies. “Map of Mesoamerica.” Accessed February 17, 2019. http://www.famsi.org/maps/.
  • Río Azul [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
  • Wikimedia Commons. File:Popol vuh.jpg. (January 16, 2015). Retrieved February 17, 2019. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Popol_vuh.jpg&oldid=146695431.
  • Matete [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
  • Grinder [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
  • Conche [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.

Lectures Cited

  • Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. February 13, 2019. Lecture.
  • Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. February 20, 2019. Lecture.
  • Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.

Chocolate Production for the Masses

By the mid-to-late 18th century, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing around the world. New methods of production were being invented across a variety of industries. Goods could now be shipped quickly over long distances via steam engines, and textiles were being mass produced via machinery. One industry that continued to lag behind during this era, on the other hand, was chocolate. To this point, chocolate remained a labor intensive drink reserved for the elite, and the beverages were still being masterfully hand-crafted in coffee and chocolate houses across Europe. A turning point was just around the corner, however, as several inventions, including those of Coenraad Johannes van Houten, Joseph Storrs Fry, and Rodolphe Lindt, were to join the revolution over the next few decades and change the face of chocolate forever.

The late 1820s brought the first of three great changes to the chocolate industry. By this time, chocolate makers were in search of a new, cheaper way to produce chocolate, so they could expand their consumer bases and earn a greater profit. In 1828, Coenraad Johannes van Houten “took out a patent on a process for the manufacture of a new kind of powdered chocolate with a very low fat content” (Coe and Coe 234). His development led to the production of a hydraulic press which was able to reduce the fat content – or cocoa butter – in chocolate liquor from about 53 percent to 27-28 percent and produced a cake that could be crumbled into a fine dust that is known today as cocoa powder (Coe and Coe 234). Dutching, or adding alkaline salts to this powder, allowed for better mixing in water and produced a drink that was “easily prepared, [and] more easily digestible” (Coe and Coe 234-235) than the standard cocoa drink of that time. As the dutched cocoa powder was easily mixed with water in a quick process, far less labor was required to craft each beverage. In addition, the van Houten ad depicted below explains that this new powder was very potent and a very small amount could be used to craft a desirable cup of cocoa. These two changes produced a shift from limited consumption by the elite, to widespread enjoyment among the masses.

Van Houten's Cocoa, heard in the train. 'Yes, Miss, when travelling I always drink Van Houten's Cocoa. It is so sustaining.' [front]
The front of an ad card for van Houten’s cocoa.
Van Houten's Cocoa, heard in the train. 'Yes, Miss, when travelling I always drink Van Houten's Cocoa. It is so sustaining.' [back]
The back of the card, touting the beverage’s benefits.

While van Houten was responsible for the first great change to the chocolate industry in 1828, a few decades later in 1847, Joseph Storrs Fry was responsible for perhaps the greatest change to the industry. Using cocoa powder, sugar, and melted cacao butter, Fry was able to produce a “less viscous [chocolate] paste which could be cast into a mold” (Coe and Coe 241). These molded chocolate bars became the first true eating chocolate.  Early demand for the new confection drove the price of cacao butter up, and relegated the treat to a new form of chocolate that was reserved for the elite (Coe and Coe 241). Van Houten’s cocoa powder remained the chocolate of choice for the masses through this time, thanks to its low cost (Coe and Coe 241). The shift from drinking chocolate to eating chocolate opened a new market for chocolate makers of this era. The treat was quickly targeted by mass producers who saw the possibility of greater marketability of the more portable confection.  Eventually, new technologies and changes to the production process allowed chocolate manufacturers to once again target the masses with their marketing, as exemplified in the following ad for Fry’s Five Boys milk chocolate bars.

An ad for Fry’s chocolate bars.

As more producers entered the ring of chocolate bar crafting, each strove to make their chocolate bar better than the competition.  As a result of this competitive stance, consumers were treated to the third great change to face the chocolate industry during this time: the conching process developed by Rodolphe Lindt. Lindt built on Fry’s notion of eating chocolate, but desired to move away from the inherent graininess of the current process (Presilla 40). In 1879, he developed a “sloshing-and-kneading apparatus called a ‘conche’” (Presilla 40). The liquid chocolate was mechanically pressed between a granite roller and base, pieces which are illustrated below, in an enclosed basin for twenty-four or more hours until the cocoa and sugar particles had been broken (Presilla 40-41).  The resulting chocolate was silkier than its predecessors and became the preferred chocolate of the time.  To this day, consumers often judge chocolate on its smooth quality in addition to its flavors.

A granite roller and base, like those found in Lindt’s conche.

While chocolate has undergone many changes since its first introduction to Europe in the 16th century, these three changes to the chocolate production process provided the greatest changes the industry has seen. Once, a difficult to craft beverage for the elite, chocolate has shifted to become a commodity enjoyed by all classes of people. Thanks to the changes that occurred during this era, cheap hot cocoa made from powder and smooth, mass-produced chocolate confections are the norm across much of the industry today. Without the ingenuity and inventiveness of van Houten, Fry, and Lindt, the chocolate industry could have continued to lag behind others and chocolate may not have become the consumer staple it is.

Works Cited

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

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

Image Sources

Frys five boys milk chocolate. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2015. Web. 9 March 2016.

Granite Roller and Granite Base of a Conche. 1 February 2014. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2014. Web. 9 March 2016.

Van Houten, C. J. and Zoon. Van Houten’s Cocoa, heard in the train. ‘Yes, Miss, when travelling I always drink Van Houten’s Cocoa. It is so sustaining.’ [back]. 1870-1900. Digital image. Boston Public Library. Flickr, 2012. 9 March 2016.

Van Houten, C. J. and Zoon. Van Houten’s Cocoa, heard in the train. ‘Yes, Miss, when travelling I always drink Van Houten’s Cocoa. It is so sustaining.’ [front]. 1870-1900. Digital image. Boston Public Library. Flickr, 2012. 9 March 2016.

The Influence of Public Scrutiny on Cadbury Business Ethics

Today, chocolate is ubiquitous: supermarkets and convenience stores keep shelves stocked with a variety of affordable treats to satisfy the sweet-tooths of shoppers, and almost every restaurant boasts at least one dessert appealing to chocoholics, from molten lava cakes to chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate has become a major component of holidays like Halloween and Valentine’s Day, assuring the exposure of people to this delectable indulgence from an early age. However, chocolate was not always the dietary staple it is today. The industrial revolution expanded chocolate consumption by increasing its affordability and accessibility. As their consumer base grew, chocolate companies faced extreme public scrutiny, forcing producers to forgo chocolate’s debaucherous past in favor of a more ethical, quality-driven future.

A typical convenience store’s chocolate display. (Garland)

 Lascivious Beginnings

The first Englishmen to come into contact with cacao were pirates looting Spanish ships returning from the New World. Authorized by Elizabeth I, these pirates were uninterested in the “strange, bitter seeds,” and one ship went so far as burn a shipload of cacao after mistaking the beans for sheep droppings (location 2333). Later, when chocolate made its formal introduction in the 1650s, the English adopted a far less cavalier opinion of the New World crop and readily integrated it into their bustling economy by way of coffee and chocolate-houses. Chocolate’s timely appearance in England allowed for immediate public integration: the English Civil War (1642-1651) reduced the power of the monarchy and transformed England into a country controlled by shopkeepers and enterprising private businessmen, allowing chocolate to escape the aristocratic confinement it had found in France (location 2413).

The gaming-room at White’s, aptly named “Hell”, served as the inspiration for the sixth plate of William Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress.” The men are busy gambling, oblivious to the fire growing in the back of the room. Notice the perukes (powdered wigs) that many of the men are wearing. These were expensive and associated with social rank in the 17th century. (Hogarth)

Chocolate was mainly consumed in public coffee and chocolate-houses, all-male establishments central to social life in London that charged a penny admission fee. Here, chocolate garnered a hefty price due to its high taxation by the English government as well as the time and skill required to make the delicious beverage (“London’s Chocolate House”). The high cost and later privatization of the chocolate-houses made chocolate a de facto drink of the wealthy elite.

One of the most famous chocolate-houses was White’s Chocolate House. Opened in 1693, White’s was originally public, increasing admission prices substantially by 1711 before becoming private in the middle of the 18th century. Known for lively political conversations, members included prime ministers, monarchs, dukes and earls. However, the wealthy members of White’s were known to take part in more scandalous activities than political debates: the high stakes gambling at White’s was notorious throughout London. The chocolate-house was known as a place where young noblemen were “fleeced and corrupted by fashionable gamblers and profligates.” In 1754, The Connoisseur, a London weekly newspaper, reported that at White’s, “there is nothing, however trivial, or ridiculous, which is not capable of producing a bet” (Coe, Location 3286).

Industrial Innovation and Increased Consumption

The conche, pictured above, is another innovation of the industrial revolution. Invented in 1879 by Rudolphe Lindt, the conche made chocolate less gritty which helped it transform from a drink to a solid. The conche in the picture above was used by Hershey in the 1900s. (Z22)

Industrial revolution chocolate innovation began with Coenraad Johannes Van Houten in 1828. His invention, the hydraulic press, allowed the defatting and alkalizing processes to occur more efficiently and made possible “large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses, in both powdered and solid form” (Coe Location 3459). The press cheaply created a “cake” that could easily be ground into a fine powder called cocoa. It is with this cocoa that enabled the Fry firm to create the first chocolate bar in 1847. Debuted at a high price, solid chocolate quickly became within the reach of the public as companies like J.S. Fry & Sons, Cadbury, and Nestlé developed and perfected mass production and cost-cutting methods (Coe, Location 3476).

The industrial revolution not only increased the affordability of chocolate through innovation that allowed for cheap and efficient mass-production but also increased accessibility through its impact on retailing. In Medieval Europe, the buying and selling of food occurred in open marketplaces, where authorities actively prevented the use of middle-men. By the time Elizabeth I was in power, retail had begun to shift from open markets to closed shops, although urban authorities strongly resisted the move to retail shops in the food trade (Goody). However, with the industrial revolution came the growth of suburbs surrounding London. Industrialization made groceries essential and solidified the shift from open markets to retail shops.

This postcard shows a typical English market in 1905. The growth of retail stores decreased the size (fewer stalls) and frequency of open markets (once a week when this photo was taken) after industrialization. (Osborn)

Public Outcry for Ethical, High-Quality Products 

Cadbury advertisement shifts to focus on the unadulterated nature of its product with lines like “absolutely pure” and “no chemicals used” along with a source, The Analyst, to provide credibility. (Advertising Archives)

With popularity soaring, chocolate companies were tempted to increase their margins by selling adulterated chocolate. One of the more popular modes of adulteration significantly reduced the shelf-time of the end product by completely extracting expensive cacao butter and replacing it with olive oil, sweet almond oil, egg yolks, etc. Another popular method involved the inclusion of foreign materials like “wheat or barley flour, pulverized cacao shells, or even ground brick” (Coe, Location 3519). This inspired The Lancet, a British medical journal, to analyze food quality and a consequent study found that “39 of 70 [cocoa samples] had been colored with red ocher from ground bricks” and many had also contained added starch (Coe, Location 3528). Facing public outcry, George Cadbury admitted to adulterating Cadbury cocoa with starch and flour and the company changed its practices. In 1866, the company invested in Van Houten’s press and launched “Cadbury Cocoa Essence,” marketing it as the “UK’s first unadulterated cocoa” (Cadbury). This product increased sales, transforming the small business into a global company.

The final shift from the debaucherous past to the more ethical modern-day came in the early 20th century when Henry Nevinson issued a report detailing the gruesome slavery occurring in São Tomé and Príncipe, the primary cacao supplier for the major English chocolate firms (Satre). Cadbury became aware of this practice in 1904 after sending Joseph Burtt to STP on behalf of the company and almost immediately began searching for a new supplier, understanding that the company’s “good Quaker reputation” was largely responsible for their success. They waited until 1909 to announce a formal boycott, at which time public outcry had reached a high after an article was published in the British daily The Standard outlining Cadbury’s knowledge of the slavery . At the time of the boycott Cadbury had already found new cacao suppliers on the African Gold Coast.

Works Cited

Advertising Archives. “Cadbury’s 1980s UK Cocoa Drinking.” Fine Art America. 2013. Web.

Cadbury. “The Story: 1866 An Innovative Processing Technique is Introduced.” The Cadbury Company, UK. Web.

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

Garland, Leslie. “858.01.14”. The Image File. Web. 2015.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2013 [1982].

Hogarth, William. “File:William Hogarth – A Rake’s Progress – Plate 6 – Scene In A Gaming House.Jpg”. Wikimedia Commons. 1735. Web.

“London’s Chocolate Houses”. The Herb Museum. Web.

Martin, Carla D. “AAS E-119 Lecture 6: Slavery, abolition, and forced labor.” 2016. Lecture.

Osborn, Bob. “Yeovil’s Markets”. The A-to-Z of Yeovil’s History. 2015. Web.

Satre, Lowell. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens: Ohio University Press. 2005.

Z22. “File:Granite Roller and Granite Base of a Conche.jpg”. Wikimedia Commons. 2014.

Innovation and Chocolate Consumption: How Manufacturing Created Today’s Demand for Chocolate

Beginning in the 1800s, chocolate consumption increased exponentially due to innovations in chocolate production. These manufacturing innovations were not the result of increased demand, but rather were the cause of increased consumption, making chocolate production a very lucrative business and ultimately the popular food that it is today.

Van Houten cacao proef blikje, foto1
Van Houten’s cocoa powder can from 1828
In 1828, Coenraad Johannes Van Houten was responsible for creating an easier way to remove cacao butter by using a hydraulic press to remove twice as much cacao butter and make cocoa powder. He also processed cocoa with alkali (now called Dutch processing because he was in Holland) so it would be more easily mixed with water, which enabled the large-scale production of both cocoa powder and drinking cocoa, allowing it to be sold to the masses for a cheaper price (Coe and Coe 234), thereby increasing chocolate consumption.

In 1847, armed with Van Houten’s invention of the hydraulic press, one of England’s Quaker chocolate manufacturing company, J. S. Fry & Sons, was able to create the first solid “eating chocolate” by re-combining the cacao butter with cocoa powder and sugar (Martin). Now this bar was for the elite because it contained pricey cacao butter, while the drinking chocolate was now for the masses (Coe and Coe 241). This is an example of how society’s consumption of chocolate changed due to innovations in manufacturing.

When Cadbury’s, another Quaker chocolate company in Britain, got hold of Van Houten’s hydraulic press in 1866, they too began to produce their own cocoa powder and even introduced the first box of chocolates (Coe and Coe 242). This revolutionized the way cocoa was used in the world of confections, and by way of making chocolate more available, these new products increased the consumption and demand for chocolate – not only was chocolate cheaper, but it was now easier to eat.

To follow these new manufacturing practices, we must slide our gaze over to Switzerland in 1867: Henri Nestle invented powdered milk, and Daniel Peter added this to the chocolate bar to create the world’s first milk chocolate in 1879. That same year, Rudolphe Lindt invented the conching process which yielded a much smoother chocolate through grinding and heat (Martin). This video shows a present-day depiction of this chocolate making process:

Toblerone Bars
Toblerone bars, the first to be molded and filled with nougat, are still sold today

Followed by Jean Tobler’s 1899 creation of the Toblerone bar, the first filled and molded chocolate of its kind, these inventions put the Swiss on the map in terms of revolutionizing chocolate manufacturing processes (Martin). These innovations allowed milk chocolate to become popular, so popular in fact that it is still the most popular type of chocolate today.

Meanwhile, in America, Milton Hershey had also purchased Van Houten’s press and began making his own chocolates in Pennsylvania, eventually building his very own factory town to produce his famous milk chocolate (Coe and Coe 251).

Granite Roller and Granite Base of a Conche
Conche used by Hershey’s in the early 1900s.
Hershey may have borrowed techniques and machines from those that came before him, but he revolutionized the way confectioners made chocolate by focusing on producing large quantities of fewer products rather than many different products. This decreased costs enough so that more stores could carry Hershey’s Kisses and bars, thereby making it well-known (and more in demand). This strategy allowed his sales to increase by $1.4 million between 1911 and 1912 (D’antonio 121), proving that innovations in chocolate production led to increased consumption.

Ultimately, the smooth, tempered, milk chocolate that is so popular today would not have been possible without new manufacturing practices that began over 150 years ago. It was these inventions – the hydraulic press, conching, and more – that have allowed chocolate to be mass-produced and highly craved by so many of us today.


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

D’antonio, Michael. “Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams”. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006. Print.

DancityMachinery. “Chocolate Making Machinery” Video. YouTube, 20 Dec 2011. Web. 12 March 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oaUeAg1Ezg&gt;.

Martin, Carla D. “Popular sweet tooths and scandal.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 25 Feb. 2015. Class Lecture.

By Z22 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

By Alf van Beem (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By WestportWiki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons