Tag Archives: Cortes

How the Evolution of Chocolate's Form Transcended Socioeconomic Divides

Chocolate’s Evolution

Walking into an average American supermarket, one would be able to find chocolate in several different aisles of the store. There may be chocolate croissants in the pastry section, solid chocolate bars in the candy area, and chocolate milk in the drink aisle. Cacao now takes on a multitude of forms and is widely accessible by people from across the globe and across socioeconomic classes. However, cacao used to only be affordable for elite circles and royalty and was simply served as a chocolate beverage.

Chocolate popularity has been able to spread from elite Europeans to broader audiences across social classes due to the changing form of chocolate. Cacao has been consumed in a variety of ways, ranging from as a liquid to as powder to as a solid block, and tracing the evolution of how the cacao bean has been used and taken shape over time can help illuminate how the ingredient has transcended socioeconomic divides.

Liquid Form

Cacao had its origin in Mesoamerica as a fine crafted drink; the beverage was mostly enjoyed by the nobility during the times of Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec civilizations. The liquid form of cacao was believed to have been consumed by the gods and thus was a sacred product in every aspect of elite Mayan culture. The drink was manually processed and typically flavored with ingredients native to the region, such as vanilla and achiote (Coe and Coe 61). The Mayan served cacao beverages at feasts as a display of wealth and power and even incorporated it into negotiations and political pacts (Leissle 30). Similarly, this elite drink was reserved solely for the nobility in the hierarchical Aztec society but served cold rather than hot (Coe and Coe 84). Cacao beans, consumed solely as a beverage among the Aztecs, were ground into a powder, mixed with water, and then poured from one vessel into another to obtain the sought after foamy texture (Coe and Coe 98). 

By 1519, European colonizers such as Hernán Cortés were introduced to cacao and exploited its potential for consumption by introducing it to Spanish royalty. Although the Spanish incorporated different spices such as sugar and cinnamon into the drink, the chocolate beverage remained a sign of luxury that only those with wealth and power could afford (Klein). The popular beverage soon spread to the elite families in France and England and in 1657, the first chocolate house opened in England. These houses provided the English elites with a place to discuss the most controversial political issues of the day and socialize over a cup of hot chocolate. To further establish the drink as exclusive to the upper class, the Europeans drank their chocolate from ornate dishes made from precious materials that are comparable to the embellished ceramic vessels that the Mayan and Aztec rulers had utilized. 

Vessels for cocoa / Съдове за какао
Mayan cacao drinking vessels
gilded two-handled chocolate beakers (1717 to 1720)
European gilded two-handled chocolate beakers
(From 1717 to 1720)

Powder Form

By the 18th century, chocolate was widely regarded as a luxurious good and it wasn’t until the early 19th century with the onset of the Industrial Revolution that it became accessible to the lower classes. In 1828, a Dutch chemist invented a cocoa press that revolutionized the way that Europe was able to produce and consume chocolate. The Van Houten press squeezed out the cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving behind a dry compact cake that could be pulverized into a fine powder that became known as “Dutch cocoa” (Coe and Coe 234). Such a separation allowed for the individual sale of cocoa powder on a mass scale and an improvement in chocolate’s consistency. The powder was incorporated into liquids to create a much cheaper version of the aristocrats’ chocolate beverage and gained popularity as a confectionary ingredient in a variety of other common recipes (Klein). The invention of the cocoa press and other mass production equipment during the Industrial Revolution thus greatly expanded the use of chocolate and significantly cut production costs to make it available to people across socioeconomic classes.

5 stage cocoa press
Houten’s mechanized hydraulic press
Cocoa Press (3)
The resulting cocoa press cake

Solid Form

While cocoa powder was able to mix with water and sugar to create relatively less expensive chocolate drinks and treats, cocoa butter (the other product of the cocoa press) was also able to make chocolate more affordable for the masses. The cocoa butter was initially discarded and amounted to thirty percent wastage (Chrystal and Dickinson); Joseph Fry & Sons recognized that something productive had to be done and manufactured the first chocolate bar in 1847 by returning some of the cocoa butter to their chocolate drink mix to create a paste that could be moulded (Coe and Coe 241). In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine which further lowered the cost of producing chocolate goods; the machine refined and mixed together cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, and dried milk to create a solid chocolate bar that was less expensive and had a smoother texture than that made by Fry & Sons (Presilla 29). When the conching technique was integrated into factory assembly lines during the Industrial Revolution, chocolate bars were able to be produced more affordably on a mass scale, expanding the international accessibility of chocolate. The key ingredient to cheap production was sugar. According to Sidney Mintz, author of Sweetness and Power, sugar developed in parallel to chocolate in that it was a rarity in the 1600s, a luxury by the mid-1700s, and ultimately a staple in Western diet by the mid-1800s (Mintz 78). As the increase in slave labor lowered the price of sugar in the 19th century, the ingredient made its way into more recipes, particularly into chocolate bar recipes as sugar is less expensive than cocoa. 

With this new form of solid chocolate, people have been able to consider different ways to make the bar even more affordable. Milton Hersey had experimented extensively with remaking solid chocolate and found that adding a considerable amount of condensed sweetened skim milk to the mixture could create chocolate with a longer shelf life and smoother texture; his relatively cheaper chemical mixture of ingredients was instrumental in delivering chocolate to even more people (D’Antonio 108). Mars was inspired by Hersey’s innovative approach to the chocolate formula and created the Milky Way bar (which uses Hersey’s chocolate) to create a nougat that was similar in taste to but much less expensive than traditional chocolate bars (Brenner 54-55). Both Hersey and Mars were thus able to innovate upon traditional solid chocolate formulas to bring down costs and share chocolate with the masses.

Process of grinding and conching cocoa 
Hershey's Mr. Goodbar POP, ca.1930
Hershey Chocolate’s Mr. Goodbar advertisement from 1930. It was sold to the masses for cheap prices.

Conclusion

Chocolate has undergone many transformations since its origin as a cacao bean. It began in the liquid form as a type of frothy beverage exclusively for the elite in Mesoamerica and Europe. As the Industrial Revolution took place, new inventions allowed chocolate to transform into a powder that could be made in bulk and used as a confectionary ingredient among the masses. Technological inventions in the years after then reconstructed chocolate into the form of a solid and chocolate makers have continued to develop new recipes and techniques for creating solid chocolate that tastes better and costs less to produce. As such, as chocolate has evolved over time to take different forms, so has its consumer base to mirror the growing popularity and accessibility of the good. From liquid to solid and from royal courts to supermarkets, the evolution of how chocolate can be consumed has allowed it to transcend socioeconomic divides.

Works Cited:

Brenner, Joël G. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World on Hershey and Mars. Broadway Books, 2000.

Chrystal, Paul and Joe Dickinson. History of Chocolate in York. South Yorkshire: Remember When, 2012.

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

D’Antonio, Michael D. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

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

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2018.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2001.

Multimedia Sources:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mitko/2213221302/in/photolist-4nzme3-t8L5T-GSvSxv-BSJzZ4-7iwD3k-a5vdvS-j3aNNG-26pYAVs-6aorW7-4nzkzY-j3aLVT-4nvgbB-j38Vgd-4nzjh3-j3ePJw-pghG36-xYeyQ provided the image of the Mayan cacao drinking vessels

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sftrajan/16293258758/in/photolist-tMAaHr-tMp1d6-urBfGu-VJyyts-bWDP85-uJhJuB-tMgBdo-4aBRiv-urKCcC-tMhhcW-tMnaRi-urKL4a-W4RTe7-urDRkW-oompvs-4aMTii-oEzRn1-2cRp1pC-2bCcUyv-xfKVbn-bXuK5J-2aahmmQ-eCkRku-WejGdW-WbLGim-VZki5E-WbLH4j-wXGBeB-xfKVG2-VZkiyq-WbLHEu-2btCvR6-dXsMVL-2bLBtTT-f1Ub3W-wwLTDg-eY2KwR-boKNqs-Nu7Sit-koY1Jd-qPMdbs-7k2sd9-adsFfm-GSk8RS-aT4r6M-icT7jy-9n6wNw-ysp2vh-yGGmQ7-MugYKm provided the image of the European chocolate beakers

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dghchocolatier/8432942639/in/photolist-dRc33K-aQEuPp-dzBtoe-8QXVCB-8R5tLt-di1Wck-xgzo3D-2hv7qhL-eioLo4-659C43-2gWtJg7-6RTBXR-JLP7WU-9pwbPc-9zwaZ2-2irFRt2-rQ1TmC-6rc4zA-69aQa7-4zMFyG-ascr4Y-ascqqQ-dRFFwx-8R1YbN-a1MCpc-8369Q2-3S4Xbf-c7H78U-c7B8uj-23wynFg-23NUdrN-GKU6cu-ascenu-p6rqxG-FeC2ST-24TEHmP-pnVFHg-24TEJSV-24TG5Et-228KTDS-6obUYx-24TEHZx-228KTu3-FeBUwR-FeBTLn-GKU6xj-24PYoGd-24TG4Pk-24TG8DK-228KTpU provided the image of Houten’s mechanized hydraulic press

https://www.flickr.com/photos/136051124@N02/36268614934/in/photolist-XfW8D9-YwJHuX-9V2qVT-nQES2-RBfPzK-2g3BcFM-fSmgjw-x4YpZ-aecxqE-9VDeoP-9QwfyD-8UNJBB-7h8Kay-2hbsRMs-9u7AQ-R6xSsM-8kK6vc-bruxVr-ipVbCC-abNDZd-wjy6iY-8uUhCQ-eiQWPD-bn3EZ2-2f9wnFo-rDjXyo-5RJ7Vs-kPEf-aR9Ysp-2efU1cb-aYSB9r-7MGoe1-awK3b7-9VVHno-7EGXvk-aYiMop-942MEu-7h5md8-CANmYy-7LNXzM-228WC7S-rGij2E-95Rc3E-228WBYf-23aUwXL-9DfBam-4h1RdE-LKBnf7-956DrY-4aorzE provided the image of the cocoa press cake

https://youtu.be/Sg7d7dqZ01U provided the video of cocoa being ground and conched

https://www.flickr.com/photos/26307193@N02/4680253654/in/photolist-88zwmw-88zwuU-88whJ2-73YZfn-VZH83L-baSsQB-88whBg-BVwVF1-88whBK-88whGx-Kandtg-x8pj2Y-aqc6QH-9AdkNM-9CiNVk-9CkjMS-9Ag3EC-cENXtu-nQdpd-9Ad6ax-QLq7uG-JidGHe-QfGZ1S-27F7yWt-qKfz2f-8H2Rac-bVdWPA-2axhNCv-a1TWhV-4yfBa2-6yYHyS-5Bqc7k-rrBZS5-NG5KzV-N4xKwU-BdfckK-9AdknT-9Ad5W2-9sXJWM-2bZrHao-HNpaJo-27gGuzL-9AfZ8f-Z5DRNs-22Wyd5n-VRQjXr-9Agi6G-TDy8AU-9AdkyM-9Ad6dV provided the image of Mr. Goodbar’s advertisement from 1930

Cooking Chocolate: Cacao and Colonial Values

From Hershey’s kisses to Snickers bars, the chocolate circulating contemporary culture tends to be sweet. Contrary to modern times, the Aztecs prepared savory chocolate drinks used for sustenance, religious ceremonies, and special occasions. Aztec people came to the Valley of Mexico by the early 1300s and, after being cast out into small islands, utilized warfare to eventually rule many parts of Mesoamerica. Cacao became integrated into the Aztec way of life following the conquest of the Xoconusco province during the late fifteenth century.

judge-ch18-lecture-11-638

Heavy cacao production occurred in this part of southeast Mesoamerica. By the time Spaniards came to Mexico’s interior, the Aztecs had solidified a sprawling, socially stratified society thriving from the tribute required of provinces. The Aztecs had a rich, amalgamated culture drawing from the land’s natives and the extinct Mayans. In addition to the importance of chocolate in Aztec culture, a close analysis of a recipe narrated by an anonymous conquistador reveals colonialist thinking and ultimately foreshadows the exploitation of Mesoamerican lands and peoples to sustain Europeans’ hunger for chocolate during the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.

Drinking cacao-derived beverages was reserved for elites in Aztec culture, as most likely noticed by an anonymous conquistador when he published his description of Tenochtitlan in 1556. The recipe he provided in his composition mentioned

“seeds which are called almonds or cacao are ground and made into powder, and other small seeds are ground, and this powder is put into certain basins with a point [whatever that may mean], and then they put water on it and mix it with a spoon. And after having mixed it very well, they change it from one basin to another, so that a foam is raised which they put in a vessel made for the purpose” (Coe and Coe 84).

The way chocolate permeated economic and social customs explains why the Aztecs had vessels specially made for chocolate and made sure to foam the liquid for a luxurious feel. Cacao functioned as money, a noble beverage, a sustaining drink for warriors, and a metaphor for the heart or blood, giving it use in sacrificial rituals. The recipe hints at cacao’s high status by mentioning the specialized, precious silverware involved in the formalized process. However, this recipe from the “gentleman of Hérnan Cortés” leaves out some information (84). After carefully extracting the almond-like cacao seeds from the mucilaginous pulp in cacao tree pods, they had to be fermented and winnowed from their shells. The vague “other small seeds” mentioned are most likely maize, as the plant was common in food preparation due to its versatile and filling nature.

300px-Blowing_on_maize

Above is an image of an Aztec “woman gently dropping shucked corn into boiling water” (Maite Gomez-Rejon 1). Maize was a crucial food item, as the woman is blowing on maize to calm it before cooking it in a fire. Unlike the hot chocolate drinks of the Mayans, the Aztecs served their cacao mixtures cold and incorporated a variety of flavors and spices.

2014_02_12_peppers-460x459_c.jpg.html

The most common addition was chili, a sharp peppery taste well-known to the Aztecs. Though other portions of the conquistador’s publication are not mentioned, the recipe cited by Coe is interesting for what it does and does not contain. Cacao’s significance is implied, but the lack of detail regarding cacao’s preparation and the type of grains or seasonings added suggest and defend a colonialist mentality.

In order to justify plundering lands, killing natives, disrupting cultures, and stealing natural resources from distant lands, European conquistadors had to label locals as inferior savages in need of civilization and Christianity. This entailed disparaging the Aztecs and trivializing their ways of life. The anonymous conquistador implies that chocolate is significant to the Aztecs, yet cannot be bothered to supply thorough information despite having ties to Mesoamerica through Cortés. He ambiguously refers to additives as “other small seeds,” leaving out the important, widespread uses of other flavorings (84). The conquistador snidely comments “whatever that may mean,” dismissing the Aztec people’s socially constructed realities and thereby encouraging his readers to do the same (84). The recipe’s cavalier tone and shortcomings in capturing Aztec chocolate traditions reflect views shared by other conquistadors. Hernán Cortés officially claimed Tenochtitlan for Spain in 1521 using violence and deception, aided by beliefs in European superiority over the Aztecs.

Cortés acted on behalf of Spain, a country that sanctioned these measures because of colonialist ideas. The anonymous conquistador, and later the Western world, praised the chocolate drink rather than the culture that created it, removing the Aztecs’ agency and shifting the focus to the product rather than the producer. A close reading of this recipe is limited by the scarce context about the conquistador and his writings, though the telling language he used has historical significance.

The rest of the recipe contains passionate praise of the chocolate drink with exaggerated language that fed into the European chocolate frenzy and justified cacao’s expansive cultivation after conquistadors destroyed the Aztecs. The gentleman of Cortés found that

“This drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else. … It is better in hot weather than in cool, being cold in its nature” (84).

Hyperbole litters his description, for while the alkaloids and caffeine provide ample energy, the maize-chocolate beverage was not the “greatest sustenance” one could drink “in the world” to sustain him “no matter how far he walks” (84). By embellishing the effects of the Aztec cacao recipe, the conquistador encourages Europeans to greedily consume chocolate. As cacao became firmly ensconced in European appetites, forced labor disrupted indigenous populations and tied them to perpetual debt as they tried to keep pace with demand. The conquistador comments that the drink is “cold by nature” to classify the drink according to the humoral theory of disease and nutrition that was popular in Europe until the 1800s (84).

133q-5

According to the system, health “depended on a proper balance among four bodily humors” – blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm  (Presilla 27). An example of achieving this stability is to “correct excessively ‘warm’ and ‘dry’ tendencies” through “doses of ‘cold’ and ‘moist’ foods” (27). The Aztec chocolate drink had to fit into this humoral theory in order to be adopted by Europeans, so its designation as cold asserts its place in the Western world and gives Europeans more reason to eagerly consume it at the expense of Mesoamerican peoples and lands. Alternatively, this classification empties the drink of the intrinsic meanings it had within the community that created it in order to fill the beverage with palatable European ideals.

The limited analysis of the Aztec cacao drink recipe provided by an anonymous conquistador exposes a harmful colonialist worldview. Through dismissive comments, a contemptuous disregard for the full picture of Aztec life, and exaggerations of the drink, the conquistador sheds light on beliefs that justified colonial ventures. Chocolate’s relationship with European violence is a horrifying reality evident in the sixteenth century retelling of an Aztec recipe.

 

Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Gomez-Rejon, Maite. “Cooking Art History: The Aztecs.” The Huffington Post. 3 May 2010. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

“Hernan Cortes: Conquered the Aztec Empire.” The History Channel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1P_euomdHOU

“Indulge in Our Mayan Chocolate Stout and Spicy Aztec Chocolate Cake.” Airways Brewing Company. Kent Brewing Company LLC, n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

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

“The Humoral Theory.” Medical website. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

 

Conquistadors Changing Cacao Culture

The Aztecs’ Precious Cacao

Chocolate today is commonplace and eaten by almost everyone. In the 14th-16th centuries, the Aztec Empire cherished cacao. Cacao was only drunk by the elite and for special ceremonies. “If one of the common people drank it, if they drank it without sanction, it would cost their life” (Presilla, 19). In the Aztec society cacao was not drank among commoners, it was drank by the elite. The Spanish immediately felt the importance and value of the precious cacao. When the Spanish conquerers arrived in the New World, “they observed the Emperor Montezuma II drinking frothed chocolate with a degree of ceremony clearly marked as an exalted food” (18). Cacao was ranked with “gold and gems in records of solemn offerings to the dead” (18). The Aztecs had created a culture of veneration around cacao and over time this culture changed to be something common place and ubiquitous. The changing culture resulting from the shift in cultural ideals of those in charge.

Texcatl-Hist2
 This is a photo from the Toxcatl ritual, where a young man is selected for his beauty. Again, it is clear that this is a drink to be talent, to impersonate Texcatlipoca  in a show of veneration. He receives many honors and at the end of his term he receives cups of chocolate mixed with achiote, symbolizing heart and blood, and then is sacrificed at the edge of an  obsidian blade. Once his beating heart is pulled out the rest of his body is an annual Spring ritual important for worshiping the deity the rest of his body is consumed. (A Concise History of Cacao) This gives us insight into the significance that cacao holds over the Aztecs. They cherished cacao and used it only for the most important events and only for those who are the most highly regarded.    http://www.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/

 Cortes comes to the New World

The revere and admiration the Aztec Empire expressed for cacao led Cortes to understand the riches and wealth cacao could bring. “Cortes was quick to see that in Aztec society cacao was a road to riches”(23).  In 1521 the Aztec Empire fell to Cortes and Moctezuma’s treasures of cacao were taken into his possession (23). Starting with Cortes, the culture around chocolate began to change. With Cortes in control of a large sum of cacao, it was not long before the cacao beans made their way to Spain. From Spain, “the cacao was spread to other countries in Europe such as Italy, France, England and most parts of Europe”(24).  It is unknown if Cortes is directly responsible for the transportation of cacao to Spain, but during his time cacao made it to Spain. Not only was cacao creating a culture in Europe, but cacao created a new culture among New Spain.

cortez_montezuma

Photo: This is a picture of Montezuma and Cortes meeting. Montezuma was the Emperor of the Aztecs and Cortes  was  a conquistador from Spain. Eventually Moctezuma’s falls as Emperor and his cacao treasures are passed on to Cortes. http://www.sun-nation.org/sun-maya-hunab-ku.html

New Spain, New Cacao Culture

The adoration the Aztec Empire had for cacao was clear. Once Montezuma was dead, the Empire fell to Cortes, and this is where we start to see the changing  culture around cacao. With the death of Moctezuma, there was also the death of the cacao traditions and rituals. The Spanish brought new foods and started adopting the foods of the natives. The 16th century was characterized by  “the Spanish quickly [taking] over the role filled by pre-Hispanic lords  and administrators who had supervised the Mesoamerican cacao trade”(28).  The previous economy of the Aztec’s consisted of bartering and trading. “With the Spanish in control the colony of New Spain underwent a transition from a bater-based to a money economy that placed high emphasis on cash crops, especially cacao”(28). Instead of relying on a subsistence farming  economy, “the commoners adopted the Spanish attitudes toward profit as well as purchasable luxuries”(28). They would choose to buy fine foods over crops to plant and the luxury of cacao began to spread through all classes of society. By the 17th century cacao was being grown commercially and had spread to new colonies in South America, such as Venezuela. In the 18th century chocolate had been established popularly as a main staple in colonial cities. “Even black slaves drank it daily after breakfast.”(30) With the progression of time and the wiping out of the Aztec Empire, the conquerers commodified cacao and made it a central crop to the lives of their new colonies. The commodification of cacao allowed for changes in the way we drink, eat  and use cacao. 

Emperor Montezuma of the Aztecs liked drinking cocoa
In this photo we can see Moctezuma consuming the treasured cacao drink. Again, this is another instance where we  see  cacao being consumed by the elite. Once Moctezuma’s reign ended, and the Spanish took over, the drinking of chocolate penetrated all classes, even slaves were drinking it. 

http://www.lookandlearn.com/blog/17870/montezuma-gave-us-cocoa-cadbury-gave-us-chocolate/

 

Sources

A CONCISE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE.  A CONCISE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE. C-spot, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.