While cacao didn’t originate in Europe, its role in European society has been dynamic since its introduction and can be used to understand the evolution of European culture. Over time, cacao has influenced social, economic, and political decisions in Europe and Europeans treatment of cacao has also changed. Many of these changes can be seen in early European customs and beliefs involving cacao and chocolate.
Understanding the role of cacao in Mesoamerican culture is fundamental to analyzing its place in European culture, as many Mesoamerican practices were adopted by the Europeans (Martin and Sampeck).
Despite originating from the northern Amazonian basin, cacao had a prominent place in Mesoamerican culture. The crop itself is difficult to produce, thriving only in regions with its narrow range of shade and moisture. Therefore, its production occurred in small quantities in many places. Its widespread cultivation and preparation was not standardized but led to various different recipes for preparing cacao that were heavily regionally influenced.
Figure 1. Cacao growing regions in Mesoamerica (BERGMANN)
Distinct tastes and flavors influenced by the production and ingredients could be tied to a particular place and its identity, to quote Mintz “food preferences are close to the center of their self-definition” (Mintz).
Cacao had a place throughout Mesoamerican culture as it was used in marriage rituals, fertility rites, rites of death, healing rituals, and as a sign of a royal bloodline. Both the wealthy and commoners had access to cacao though how it was used differed by social class. Cacao was a unique commodity in that it was used simultaneously as a food flavoring and drink, ritual offering, but also as a currency. While quantifying the divide between social classes, this also provides the opportunity to accumulate cacao and change one’s status.
Surprisingly, many of these practices were conserved when cacao made its way to Europe. The most obvious being cacao as currency. It took its place as a small coin in Europe, one Spanish real was equivalent to 200 cacao beans (Cacao Money). It took a little more time for the widespread consumption of cacao to reach Europe. As a food, cacao was unpopular at first because of its bitter taste, but later grew as regions developed a taste for it and their own distinct recipes. Similar to the regionally specific tastes found in Mesoamerica, Europeans added their own more familiar flavorings to distinguish their recipes.
Figure 2. Frequencies of ingredients in colonial European chocolate recipes (Sampeck and Thayn)
Cacao’s changing role from Mesoamerican to European culture can be seen by comparing the different vessels used to serve it. While both developed specific vessels for the beverage, they were used for different purposes and constructed out of different materials. Mesoamerican drinking vessels were made from clay and decorated with hieroglyphs. Vessels could also be burial items indicating cacao’s significance in Mesoamerican rituals. European chocolate vessels were made from metal or ceramic indicating a wealthier owner and ornate for the sake of aesthetics rather than ritual. Chocolate’s association with a culture outside of Europe was part of its appeal but also led to several debates on its social acceptability. The ambiguity around its acceptance into European culture slowed its integration and popularization. Over time chocolate became more common, but its spread was monitored because of a fear of foreign religious influence due to its origin. (Aram and Yun-Casalilla)
Figure 3. Rio Azul funerary vessel (left) Spanish mancerina (right)
Consuming chocolate became a social activity in early Europe. It was an expensive commodity and could thus be used as a sign of wealth and status when shared with guests. It circulated across Europe at first among the wealthy as gifts. It existed as an exotic good and a sign of distinction for the socially elite. As both culinary and medicinal uses for cacao spread, the demand for chocolate increased leading to the establishment of cocoa plantations (McCabe).
Cacao’s role in European society seems to parallel much of its place in Mesoamerican culture in its transition to early Europe. Despite fears over its spiritual ties to Mesoamerican beliefs, chocolate was commodified and separated from any religious background. It spread through the upper class and eventually becoming more commonplace, but its uses and consumption still varied by class.
Aram, B., and B. Yun-Casalilla. Global Goods and the Spanish Empire, 1492-1824: Circulation, Resistance and Diversity. Springer, 2014.
BERGMANN, JOHN F. “The Distribution of Cacao Cultivation in Pre-Columbian America.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 59, no. 1, Routledge, Mar. 1969, pp. 85–96. Taylor and Francis+NEJM, doi:10.1111/j.1467-8306.1969.tb00659.x.
Before the nineteenth century, chocolate in Europe had only been available to the aristocratic classes and royal courts. In eighteenth-century Europe, during the Age of Enlightenment, the drink associated with the poor classes was alcohol and the drink of the small but growing bourgeois class was coffee: chocolate became stereotypically aristocratic during this period. Coffee was associated with bourgeois work while chocolate was associated with aristocratic leisure activities: coffee “gave to the mind what it took from the body, while chocolate was thought to do the reverse” (Coe 200). Chocolate was enjoyed by all classes in the Aztec and Mayan civilizations we have studied in this class, yet the consumption of chocolate was remarkably exclusive to the highest class in Europe. This is demonstrated by the presence of chocolate in royal family portraits such as 1762 portrait of Maria Theresa and her family, including daughter Marie Antoinette, celebrating Saint Nicholas. A large silver chocolatière and two cups are central to the portrait, seen on the breakfast table.
Marie Antoinette brought her love of chocolate from Vienna to the French court when she married Louis XVI. While Marie Antoinette was very abstemious and only consumed a small amount of chocolate at breakfast, her influence made chocolate into a craft within the French noble court (Coe 219). Chocolate has become part of the mythology of decadence that brought upon the deluge of the French aristocracy. The Versailles website features an article on “Hot Chocolate in Versailles,” which recounts how Marie-Antoinette brought her own personal chocolate-maker from Vienna to the court of France: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/key-dates/hot-chocolate-versailles. This chocolate-maker was seen as a skilled craftsman, sometimes even combining chocolate with Orange blossoms or sweet almonds.
Chocolate is again revealed to be a status symbol for eighteenth-century European nobility in a 1768 portrait of Princesse de Lamballe and her family drinking chocolate, titled La Tasse de Chocolat. Chocolate is depicted in paintings as the stereotypical drink of the French aristocratic class, establishing the identity of the Lamballe family as refined and noble. However, it is important to note that chocolate in France during this period also became elaborate in its uses besides the way it is portrayed in historic paintings as a beverage. Chocolate biscuits, pastilles, mousse, conserve, marzipan, creams, truffle-like delicacies, chocolate sugared almonds, and chocolate wafers were also innovated during the pre-revolution period in France. These types of chocolate items are still what make up the luxury chocolate industry today, as France has become the capital of luxury products.
The strong association of chocolate in Europe with luxury and aristocracy during the nineteenth century became essential to its importance among the rising bourgeois. Nineteenth-century Europe saw a transformation in attitudes towards consumption, which became a way the bourgeois could establish themselves as part of the leisure class and gain social influence. As revealed in Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, chocolate began to be consumed by the bourgeois during this period who sought a higher status, as Charles’ first wife, a bourgeois lady, “had to have her cup of chocolate every morning” (Flaubert 11). You further see it in advertisements on nineteenth-century theater cards targeted towards a bourgeois audience such as those for producer of chocolates, Chocolat Debauve & Gallais.
This is because the bourgeois had begun to partake in what economist Thorstein Vleben would term ‘conspicuous consumption’ at the end of the nineteenth century in his work, The Theory of the Leisure Class. Vleben articulates how consumption had become a tool to differentiate the leisure class from the working class, and how the working bourgeois male used goods and the leisured status of his wife to elevate himself in society. Since chocolate had already been established as a luxury good of the royal courts, it had great significance and popularity amongst the bourgeois partaking in conspicuous consumption. Debauve & Gallais, the producer of chocolates that created the above advertisement, initially created chocolates for the court of Marie Antoinette alone. Once the manufacturing guilds of the ancient regime became obsolete and the economy was transformed by the second industrial revolution and rising bourgeois, such historic chocolate makers started producing for a broader audience. However, Debauve & Gallais among others still advertise their products as part of an ancient aristocratic tradition. Debauve & Gallais is still famous for its chocolate coins, “first developed for Queen Marie Antoinette in order to ease her distaste for taking medicines” as stated on the website: https://www.debauveandgallais.com/.
Conspicuous consumption gave rise to the association of chocolate with luxury and widespread consumption of chocolate in Europe and the US that we see today. The popularity of chocolate in European bourgeois society was dependent on its association with an aristocratic past, since European bourgeois society sought a higher status. Chocolate is still understood as a treat or extravagance in the modern West, which contrasts the original nutritional or ritualistic uses by the Mayans and Aztecs.
Vleben, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. London: MacMillan & Co, 1899.
Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
We consume sugar in our everyday lives without even thinking about it. From our morning coffees to our afternoon snacks and evening dinners, sugar is an integral part of the food we ingest, if not constituting the food itself. However, only relatively recently has sugar accessibility and consumption become so widespread. When sugar first was introduced into Europe, it was a very expensive and rare commodity. Over time, the increased availability and affordability of sugar not only drastically increased its consumption, but also shaped many changes in its social perception and usage.
Early Sugar: Spice and Medicine
Sugar was introduced to Europe in around 1100, and at first, it was considered a spice alongside ingredients like nutmeg, pepper, and ginger. These types of spices were treated as “rare and tropical…imports, used sparingly by those who could afford them at all” (Mintz 79), and sugar was regarded in the same way. Because it was so rare and expensive, sugar was “prized among the wealthy and powerful of western Europe” as something that made diets “more digestible, varied, [and] contrastive” (Mintz 80) – due to its expensive nature, its consumption was a luxury reserved for the elite, but because it was so rare, its main uses were for practical and important needs, and in small amounts.
The other main function of sugar from the beginning of its consumption in Europe was as a medicine, but unlike its use as a spice, its medicinal uses sustained for much longer. These two functions were actually quite related – as Fischler explains, “literally all spices were believed to have some kind of medicinal significance” (5), which makes sense given that spices were used in food partially to improve digestibility (7). Its medicinal ability was introduced to Europe through Arab pharmacology, though its utility had already long been established in the Islamic world (British Library). Throughout the 13th-18th centuries in Europe, sugar became so useful in medicine that the phrase “like an apothecary without sugar” was coined (Fischler 5).
These early uses of sugar were shaped by its availability (or lack thereof) as a material in the sense that its main, most common uses were for important and essential purposes – to cure illness or to aid digestibility of food – and often in sparing amounts. As sugar trade became more widespread, however, this allowed sugar to be treated as more commonplace and take on more indulgent purposes. A religious debate sparked in the 12th century over whether it counted as a food that broke fast reflected the shifting attitude at the time toward the everyday uses and roles sugar had.
Developments in Sugar: A Symbol of Elite Status
As time went on, sugar remained expensive but became increasingly accessible. Mintz describes that “during the thirteenth century, sugar was sold both by the loaf and by the pound, and though its price put it beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest, it could be procured even in remote towns” (82). As it grew more accessible among the rich, its uses morphed to include decoration. Sugar pastes could be used to form sculptures which were not only aesthetic, but also self-preserving and of course, edible. These pastes were often made from combining sugar with oil, crushed nuts, and vegetable gums, which resulted in a clay-like substance that could be molded (Mintz 88). Once formed, the sculptures were baked and hardened.
These sugar sculptures were often displayed at celebratory events or feasts, such as royal French feasts starting in the 13th century (Mintz 88). Though they were appreciated and eaten, they did not serve the role of the main food entrées, but rather as transitions between banquet courses (Mintz 88). The displays, called “subtleties,” often represented animals, objects, or buildings and later evolved to take on political symbolism (Mintz 89), establishing them as an art form that could be used to express ideas. At this point, sugar was able to be used not for essential needs, but as an accessory and an artistic medium.
In its role as a decoration and art form, sugar also took on socioeconomic meaning. Because the ingredient was precious and used in large quantities, its decorative use was at first limited to kings (Mintz 90). The material was so rare that no others could even afford quantities substantial enough to create sculptures out of. Thus, it was viewed as a display of “wealth, power, and status” for a host to be able to procure such valuable food for guests, and guests eating these symbols validated that status (Mintz 90).
Sugar importation stabilized in the 14th century, and this practice had trickled down to merchants and nobility by the 16th century (Mintz 90). By the late 16th century, it had permeated families who were not considered noble or particularly wealthy, even if they were still in England’s higher socioeconomic levels (Mintz 91). Recipes for sugar pastes began to appear in cookbooks and became increasingly widespread (Mintz 92), indicating their use among more common households. As sugar sculptures continued to trickle downward, they inevitably became less grand, compared to what kings might have displayed previously. This was also in part because as recipes became more common, they adapted to the more commonplace needs and resources of consumers. For example, one adaptation in Mrs. Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery described “jumballs” and “hedgehogs,” which were little dough confections cut into pretty figures that were meant to be admired and eaten (Mintz 93). The focus became less on the ability to spin art and decoration out of sugar, and more on providing quantities of sugar to guests.
Though today, sugar does not carry the same signal of status, these ornamental practices still persist to some degree. We still often use sugar as a decoration on treats, albeit on a much smaller scale and solely for the purpose of aesthetics. And on special holidays or occasions, we still seem to turn to sugar to symbolize our feelings.
Sugar Today: Food Staple
As sugar’s symbolic importance to the elite declined, its importance in the general population increased, contributing to how we consume it today. Today, sugar is no longer expensive as it once was, and it is very easily acquirable. Though it has lost its original meaning as a status symbol, the increased accessibility has allowed it to rise up as a household staple. It is an integral part of many food recipes, and in many cases, sugar is the main food itself – whether we are consuming it as dessert, as a sweet snack, or as a candy treat. Often, we consume sugar without even thinking about it or even realizing that we are. In fact, in many countries, sugar is consumed on the order of many tens of kilograms per person per year, on average. Thus, as sugar has shed its previous defining limitations of expensiveness and scarcity, it has become fully integrated with everyday life, spanning consumption purposes which vary from the medicinal to the decorative to the nourishing.
Across the countries of Enlightenment era Europe, elites distinguished themselves from other social classes through their exclusive social and consumption practices—musical evenings with private orchestras, fluency in multiple languages, and international travel as exemplified in the Grand Tour of the Continent’s most fascinating historical sites (Jacob, 2016). These class-defining practices notably included the drinking of chocolate as a beverage. Taken this way, chocolate “had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans”—i.e. the Olmecs and Mayans who first invented the idea of processing cacao beans into a chocolate drink—and it “stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Coe and Coe, 2019).
The relationship between chocolate consumption and the social position, ideology and religion of particular individuals in the Enlightenment period is not a simple one, however. While chocolate was clearly an elite drink that was also associated with the Catholic church, a more detailed investigation of consumption patterns and preferences among Enlightenment individuals shows that we cannot simply read off a person’s social position, religious outlook or ideological commitments from their beverage consumption preferences—nor vice versa. To try to do so would lead to serious error, and to understand the situations and choices of particular individuals it is necessary to look at the meanings they attached to various beverages, and the compromises they may have made in regard to their values, in a more nuanced way.
The Enlightenment period is considered to have been approximately coextensive with the 18th century in Europe (Robertson, 2015). Why did chocolate remain associated with the social elite in general over such a long period of time, in countries from Spain and Italy to France and England? Part of the answer is illuminated when we examine the slow progress made during the 18th century toward making chocolate more affordable through mechanical manufacture. Although Europeans had first become familiar with imbibing chocolate during the Renaissance, as late as 1772 the famous Encycopédie compiled by Denis Diderot and Jean d’Alembert depicted contemporary methods of chocolate manufacture that had barely advanced from those of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica (Coe and Coe, 2019).
In fact, some modest advances in mechanizing chocolate manufacture did occur during the Enlightenment period, notably in Great Britain’s American colonies, as well as in France. In 1765, a Massachusetts chocolate-making firm began used water power to grind cocoa beans, and in 1776 a hydraulic machine that could reduce chocolate to paste was invented in France (Morton and Morton, 1986). But it was not until the second quarter of the 19th century, with the invention of a new process of cacao refinement in Holland, that things really began to change (Coe and Coe, 2019).
This stagnation in technological progress helped to keep chocolate expensive during the Enlightenment era—and consequently out of reach middle class consumers, who had little choice but to choose cheaper drinks—notably coffee—instead. In the coffee-houses of 18th century Venice, for example, a cup of chocolate cost three times the price of a cup of coffee (Coe and Coe, 2019). In consequence, coffee remained by far the more popular drink in the Serene Republic.
This consumption pattern was not repeated across other Italian cities, however. In Rome and Naples chocolate remained the drink of choice. The foundation for Venice’s distinctive preference for coffee would appear to lie in the city’s historical success as a seafaring, trading republic that had first made its fortune as the gateway to Europe at the western terminus of the Silk Route (Norwich, 2012). The commercial origins of Venice’s wealth resulted in a civic culture dominated by its mercantile class, a social reality we see reflected in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. By contrast, in other Italian cities, most notably in the papal city of Rome and at the Vatican itself, chocolate was consumed heavily. The situation was similar in Naples, which was ruled by the Spanish branch of the royal Bourbon dynasty. The dominance of these latter cities by royal and aristocratic elites has been implicated by their citizens’ prevailing preference for chocolate over coffee, in contrast to the coffee-oriented beverage culture of Venice (Coe and Coe, 2019).
These differing patterns in chocolate consumption helped to justify the outlook of anti-clerical radicals of the era, who associated chocolate drinking with the oppressive Catholic Church (Coe and Coe, 2019). This does not mean, however, that all such radicals eschewed chocolate drinking. The case of Voltaire, perhaps the greatest anti-clerical thinker of the age, is instructive in this regard. While we might expect Voltaire to have been very much a coffee-drinker on the basis of his social position and ideological orientation, there is considerable evidence for his liking of chocolate as well as coffee. It is recorded, for example, that when Prussia’s young music- and art-loving king Frederick the Great invited the old philosophe to stay with him in 1740, much chocolate was imbibed by both (Sorel, 1998). Moreover, Voltaire maintained a liking for chocolate, as well as coffee, to the end of his life. The Marquis de Condorcet, youngest of the great philosophes, visited the elderly Voltaire at his estate at Ferney near Geneva in 1770. Condorcet later recorded that “a dozen cups of coffee mixed with chocolate” constituted “the only nourishment which M. de Voltaire took from five in the morning till three in the afternoon” (Condorcet, 2020). Even after the French Revolution, Voltaire appears to have “remained sufficiently of the ancien régime to prefer his morning chocolate … over all other hot drinks” (Coe and Coe, 2019). This was despite the cacao for the chocolate having being produced by slave labor.
Nor was chocolate automatically the preferred choice of the religiously inclined. Many of the musical compositions of Johan Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) that ostensibly appear entirely secular arguably bear the distinctive imprint of his Lutheran piety (Gaines, 2005). Moreover, although Bach’s life extended well into the Enlightenment era, his religious commitments appear to have made him resist the period’s secularized, religion-questioning avant garde culture. This caused tensions during his visit with Frederick the Great in 1747, when the old composer’s religious temperament led him to clash fiercely with the young king’s advanced Enlightenment outlook (Gaines, 2005). For Bach, chocolate may have been associated less with the Catholic church than with elite social, artistic and intellectual preferences that he would have regarded as questionable, to say the least. This is speculative and asks for further investigation. But perhaps differences in Bach’s and Frederick’s preferred beverages accentuated, or at least reflected, their intellectual and religious differences. At all events, while Bach wrote a cantata in praise of coffee, he wrote nothing about chocolate (Coe and Coe, 2019).
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019
Condorcet, Nicholas. Life of Voltaire. Web. 6 March 2020
When chocolate won the hearts of Baroque Europe in the 17th century, Cosimo de Medici III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, was not one to be left out. Medici was one who “spared no expense to summon the rarest and most precious condiments from all sections of the globe to his table” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.142); chocolate was surely one of these condiments. The best-known recipe that came out of the Medici court was the coveted and covert jasmine chocolate, concocted by Medici’s physician, Francesco Redi. The jasmine chocolate recipe came to fame, not only because of chocolate’s supposed health benefits, but also because of its status as a culinary innovation and social power in Baroque Europe. To date, the jasmine chocolate recipe—and flavored chocolates at large—plays a role in our consumer culture and relationship with chocolate.
Chocolate itself made its entry to Europe under the guise of a panacea. The Spaniards stripped the original spiritual and ritual implications chocolate held for the Mesoamericans, labelling chocolate as a medicine fitting in the Galen humoral theory, which was popular in the Baroque Age (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.126-128). Paolo Zacchia, a Roman physician, suggested that drinking chocolate in the morning helps comfort the stomach and aid digestion (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.138). It was under such health claims that chocolate made its entrance. While chocolate was introduced as a medicine, its usage expanded as it gained popularity around royal courts.
Yet while chocolate has its health benefits, this alone did not explain why Redi’s jasmine chocolate recipe was so sought after. Flavoring chocolate was not a novelty. In fact, flavoring often had to be used to conceal the taste of the high fat content of cacao beans, the precursor of drinking chocolate (Schulte Beerbühl, 2014, p.14). The flavor that chocolate takes on was often a homage to regional and national taste preferences: Spaniards and French preferred vanilla, Englishmen treasured mint (Schulte Beerbühl, 2014, p.15), and the originators of chocolate—Mesoamericans—included spices like chili (Martin, 2020).
Redi himself was a curator and innovator of flavors. Redi produced his own twist on chocolate by introducing novel European ingredients—“the fresh peel of citrons, and lemons, and the very genteel odour of jasmine” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.145). Redi believed that together with more traditional Mesoamerican flavorings like cinnamon and vanilla, these exquisite scents have a “prodigious effect” towards consuming chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.145). In other words, these scents elevated the already wonderful chocolate tasting experience. As a spice, chili was not popular in Italy. However, other flavor elements viewed as more baroque (and perhaps Eurocentric) were highly coveted and popular in the European courts.
While Redi was willing to divulge his recipes for chocolate laden with citron, lemon, and ambergris scents, he guarded his jasmine chocolate recipe jealously, politely refusing requests from nobles for sharing the recipe (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.145). When the recipe was finally made public after Redi’s death, it was still incredibly challenging to recreate. The recipe required picking a significant number of fresh jasmine buds in the morning, layering it with cacao nibs, and allowing the buds to bloom while mingling with the scent of cacao. Modern recipes estimate that around 250 jasmine flowers were required per kilogram of cacao nibs per day (Amore, 2014). To add on to the laborious process, this layering technique needs to be repeated for 10-12 days (Segnit, 2018; Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 146).
As later culinary documentations agreed, Redi’s creation was truly an innovation, as it is incredibly challengiing to create and retain a floral note in chocolates—and food in general. Notably, this unique and delicate jasmine flavor was completely natural, as it was flavored with Jasminum sambac, a species of jasmine native to southern Asia, India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka (Lippi, 2009, p. 1102). Imaginably, it was likely challenging and expensive to acquire such flower. As a shortcut to achieving flavor, people use absolutes, also known as essential oils, nowadays. It was perhaps the challenge of creating this jasmine chocolate that earned its fame, garnering the title of the most “baroque” of all chocolate.
Beyond a gastronomic feat, or perhaps because of this culinary innovation, exquisitely flavored chocolates became a symbol of status and prestige. Cosimo III’s jasmine chocolate was often sent to other European courts as a gift (Lippi, 2009). It was also used to rival the products of other courts, such as the Spanish chocolate paste (Lippi, 2009). In a lavish court like the Grand Duke’s, one can imagine how this tightly guarded recipe was a showcase of the ability to produce rare commodities, in turn displaying the opulence of the court. Chocolate was not merely a medicine or a delicacy to enjoy: it was a statement of power. It was under the name of fame that chocolate elevated beyond medicinal.
This trend was not unique to Italy. When it entered Baroque Europe, chocolate was first associated with royalty and nobility— as a delicacy that was inaccessible to the public. With the innovations of floral chocolates, it was not soon before the “Gift of Gods” (Martin, 2020) was given as a gift of power around Baroque Europe.
As it transcends to modern times, what is the significance of jasmine chocolate to us? Importantly, the social significance of the jasmine chocolate and flavored chocolate at large still remain today. It is no surprise that we have taken some hints from Baroque Europe, as chocolate continues to serve as gifts during special and daily occasions.
As a testament to jasmine chocolate’s popularity, people still attempt recreate this painstaking recipe. A quick Google search for “jasmine chocolate” returns both recipes and products. The website “It’s Tuscany” boasts a small piece of the famed jasmine chocolate from “Granduca de Toscana” for 5 euros. Beyond jasmine, the recipe also contains cinnamon and candied orange and appears to use some flavor extracts of vanilla and jasmine (we do not know if this is artificial or natural). If Redi were alive, he would not have approved this usage.
Towards a more laborious attempt, Italy magazine reveals the below recipe recreating the famed jasmine chocolate during “La festa dei Gelsomini” (The Jasmine Festival) (Amore, 2014). The process documented the amount of labour and care devoted to such a work of art. As evidenced in this recipe, the historical influences of chocolate have a strong hold on our present view, relationship with, and preferences of chocolates. And yes, jasmine chocolate still has the popularity it had back in Baroque Europe.
For its significance in gastronomical innovation, health, and politics, the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s jasmine chocolate recipe is one to be remembered. While chocolate was introduced as a medicine to the European courts, it was quickly popularized, and the innovation of floral scents elevated the Tuscan court’s social status. Redi perhaps did not forsee the long-lasting popularity of his chocolate through present day, yet he inspired a lasting elevation in technique, in flavor, and in power. As Redi aptly stated: e secondo l’arte si fa il cioccolato—chocolate is made, according to art (Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, 2014)
The Renowned Jasmine Chocolate of The Grand Duke of Tuscany
(Recipe from Coe & Coe, 2013, p146)
10lb [4.5kg] toasted cacao beans, cleaned and coarsely crushed
Fresh jasmine flowers
8lb [3.6kg] white sugar, well-dried
3oz [85g] “perfect” vanilla beans
4 to 6 oz [115 to 170g] “perfect” cinnamon
2 scruples [1/12 oz, 2.5g] ambergris
In a box or similar utesil, alternate layers of jasmine with layers of the crushed cacao, and let it sit for 24 hours. Then mix these up, and add more alternating layers of flowers and cacao, followed by the same treatment. This must be done ten or twelve times, so as to permeate the cacao with the odor of the jasmine. Next, take the remaining ingredients and add them to the mixed cacao and jasmine, and grind them together on a slightly warm metate; if the metate be too hot, the odor might be lost.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. Feb. 12, 2020. Class Lecture 3.
Schulte Beerbühl, M. (2014). Diffusion, Innovation and Transnational Cooperation: Chocolate in Europe (c. Eighteenth–Twentieth Centuries). Food and History, 12(1), 9–32. https://doi.org/10.1484/J.FOOD.5.105141
Chocolate is an intriguing treat, junk food, energy snack, medicinal food, etc. This sentence itself is interesting in and of itself since chocolate is a type of food that can be labeled in so many different ways. This is not necessarily the case because there are an endless number of versions of chocolates, but it has instead been the result of the myriad of different ways in which chocolate has been marketed to different demographics throughout the years. As we have seen in our course, “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food,” the way in which chocolate has been viewed has changed in many ways since it has been demonized by religious groups in the first half of the 20th century 1, it has also been “sanctified as a thoroughly American food” in the 1920’s 2, and if you go back to the 18th and 19th century, then you see that chocolate was marketed as a food that you could ingest as medicine to improve health 3. However, the contemporary state of the cacao-chocolate industry has led chocolate as a food to be seen and marketed in new ways that have been a response to the societal changes that have influenced the role that chocolate has in our society. The chocolate industry has started to market chocolate towards adults in recent years and they have started to put less focus on marketing to children. This shift in marketing has largely been the result of the fact that the market for children’s candies is so mercurial and is largely dependent on the current trend in candy, which makes it very difficult to remain profitable as a candy company that focuses on the children’s market 4. The chocolate industry is largely dependent on sugar and the way that it is perceived by society and there has currently been a shift to no longer seeing chocolate as an unhealthy food that was meant to be for kids. An interesting example of this shift is the fact that the National Confectionary Assn. has hired Olympic medalist Bob Matthias to promote “the nutritional benefits of chocolate.”5 The promotion of chocolate as a candy that is healthy and meant for adults largely stems from a trend of chocolate products moving up and offering better quality through sophistication.6 Gary Foote, who is the marketing manager for Ferrero USA, claims that this is largely the result of the “Europeanization, or the gourmetization of America.” 7 It is possible to see the cause of this shift because there are many examples of the perception that American adults have of European chocolate when compared to American chocolate.
As you can see in the video below, these Americans who are doing a study abroad program in Belgium, have this idea that European chocolate is a lot more sophisticated than American chocolate.8
Studies show that one of the reasons why these American exchange students feel that European chocolate is superior partially has to do with how “a brand and a country-of-origin have a positive correlation, as they influence consumer’s brand evaluation, perceptions, purchasing behavior and brand equity.” 9 European chocolate has the advantage that it is being made in European countries that are seen as first world countries which has a certain allure and elegance in the eyes of American consumers. On the other hand, you have chocolate that is being made in South America and Africa where most countries are seen as third world countries by most American consumers, which can be attributed to many social factors and racism is one of these factors. It becomes obvious that the reason why these Americans feel that European chocolate is superior to American chocolate is because the marketing and packaging is more professional and sophisticated—it is marketing that is clearly targeting an older demographic. The article “A review of marketing strategies from the European chocolate industry” by Nur Suhaili Ramli mentions that European chocolate typically stands out for the most part when it comes to their marketing, but it is also unique in the use of “quality ingredients, supply chains, marketplace, and product attribute information.”10 It is fascinating to notice how effective this type of marketing is with adults since the people in this video never mention anything about the chocolate itself. The women never mention that the taste of European chocolate is superior to American chocolate and instead they largely focus on the superiority of the look, the presentation, and the aesthetic of European chocolate. There have been many studies done around this topic of how marketing of chocolate affects the way that people perceive the differences between chocolate that is labeled as “organic” and chocolate that is not labeled that way. The study “The Effect of ‘Organic’ Labels On Consumer Perception of Chocolates” by Kiss, Kontor, and Kun makes a conclusion that the label of “organic” on chocolate packaging increased the “perceived gap between organic and regular chocolates according to fragrance, healthiness, calories content and price.”11
This is a rising trend in the chocolate industry that can clearly be seen in advertisements, as the one listed in the video below for the product Choconature, where you have a doctor appearing in this advertisement in order to assure audiences that this product will improve your health.12
The doctor in the video mentions that the chocolate is 100% organic, decrease inflammation in the body, decrease the free radicals in the body, help improve your skin, and decrease your blood pressure. 13 It is evident from this ad that there is a viable adult market in the chocolate industry and they are trying to find a way to rebrand the image that people have of chocolate, as a sugary treat that is bad for your health, and turn it into a product that can actually help fix many ailments that affect older demographics.
There is a significant question that is posed by videos like the one above: is chocolate, or at least some version of chocolate, capable of not only being a healthy food, but also a food that could have medicinal properties? Chocolate, as it is typically created for products like Snickers and M&M’s—in particular dark chocolate of high cocoa varieties—has natural antioxidant benefits. 14 These benefits have long been known by the general public and companies selling dark chocolate, which has lead these companies to market their dark chocolate as a healthy version of chocolate for many years. However, there has recently been a huge surge in the fortification of chocolate in order to artificially add properties to chocolate that, according to these chocolate manufacturers, could help improve your health and solve other body ailments. 15 Some of the ingredients that companies fortify chocolate with are vitamins, minerals, superfruits, lavender, and goji berries. 16 On the surface the addition of these nutritious ingredients may seem like a win-win situation since customers will be able to eat a tasty snack, like chocolate, and also be able to consume ingredients that would improve their health. Yet, the chocolate manufacturers who are creating these healthy versions of chocolate are deliberately misinforming consumers on how healthy these snacks truly are by abusing how ambiguously defined “organic” products and “all-natural” products are in the United States market and the international market. Chocolate manufacturers have taken note of the growing popularity of “organic products and ingredients in the U.S.” In order to take advantage of this trend, chocolate manufacturers have begun to market their products as “all-natural” products as an alternative to the “organic” products that consumers typically associate with healthy foods. On the surface, they both seem like they are equally healthy, however, it becomes apparent that they are some major differences between the two products once you start looking at the specific requirements needed for a product to be considered either “all-natural” or “organic.” When it comes to “organic” products, they are typically priced at a higher price since the ingredients required are more expensive. 17 Additionally, it is expensive for manufacturers of organic products to go through the certification process required to have their product labeled as “organic.” Therefore, chocolate manufacturers are leaning towards creating products that can be marketed as “all-natural” since it is easier and cheaper to make because of the lack of regulation and the affordability of the cheaper ingredients that are accepted as “all-natural.” More and more manufacturers are leaning towards creating “all-natural” products in order to satisfy the burgeoning demand for natural products in the adult demographic of chocolate consumers.
The lack of regulation that exists in the “all-natural” sub-industry of chocolate is an issue because it allows companies to use marketing in order to take advantage of the fact that the majority of chocolate consumers do not know the tactics that companies can use to falsify legitimacy as a healthy food product. A prime example of how chocolate companies manufacture artificial legitimacy is by paying independent researchers to conduct studies on the health benefits of eating chocolate—mainly the niche “all-natural” products that chocolate companies make. The chocolate brand CocoaVia, which is a subsidiary company of Mars Inc.—focuses on creating supplements and bars that are marketed as a healthy food option. 18 Brands like CocoaVia rely on scientific studies done on cocoa flavanol that claim that their products contain properties which allow them to “promote healthy blood flow from head to toe.” 19 There is a major issue with these studies that purportedly claim that these chocolate supplements are nutritious and beneficial to the health of consumers: the majority of these studies are funded by the same companies that are being examined by the independent researchers. 20 The main problem with the aforementioned power dynamics between employer and employee is that these companies are more inclined to “fund researchers with favorable views about their products, and researchers may consciously or unconsciously tweak the design of their studies or their interpretation of results to arrive at more positive conclusions.” 21
These claims are not unfounded since the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council has filed claims against CocoaVia as a result of a lack of substantial evidence to support claims in their marketing, such as “CocoaVia daily cocoa extract supplement delivers the highest concentration of cocoa flavanols, which are scientifically proven to promote a healthy heart by supporting healthy blood flow (as can be seen in the image below).” 2223
It is dangerous to allow companies to make claims such as the aforementioned one because according to the Natural Marketing Institute found that “43% of US shoppers consulted nutritional information on product packaging when buying a product for the first time.” 24 Therefore, the fact that chocolate companies are putting unsubstantiated claims on their nutritional information marketing is dangerous since customers are easily susceptible to marketing, especially if it is marketing that promotes “healthy” chocolate that targets an adult demographic.
The chocolate industry has been maturing and it
has made a conscious shift from focusing on kids as a market to focusing on
adults as a more viable and profitable market. This has led to a change in the
marketing used by chocolate companies in order to attract an older demographic
to purchase their healthy chocolate. Chocolate marketing for kids has typically
focused on making chocolate appear to be as fun and as tasty as possible, but
marketing has started to focus more on “scientific studies” and “health facts” ever
since the chocolate industry started to direct the majority of its industry to
an adult demographic—this is evident in ads like the one below. 25
The marketing done
for healthy chocolate is an example of the dangers that exist with the
marketing of chocolate since it has become clear that there is a lack of
regulations in place when it comes to the integration of science into the ads
in this industry. The perception of chocolate, and the way that it is marketed
by companies and by society, has changed throughout history as reactions to the
ebbs and flows of societal values. Currently, this trend of healthy chocolate
has been a reaction to a societal trend that has leaned toward valuing a
healthy lifestyle and reducing the intake of food that is deemed to be junk
food—and chocolate has long been a member of this group of foods.
1 Carla Martin, “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 13, 2019.
3 Carla Martin, “Sugar and cacao,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, February 20, 2019.
4 Chocolate marketing no longer kid’s stuff, pg 2
5 Patricia Winters, Chocolate marketing no longer kid’s stuff, Advertising Age, May 19, 1986, 2.
Industrialization greatly improved the quantity, quality, and variety of food of the working urban populations of the Western World. This development was due to reasons which were two-fold: first, historical developments such as colonialism and overseas trade were structures which inspired this process, and second, specific technologies such as preserving, mechanization, retailing, transport, and the growth of the commercial catering business allowed for the distribution and access of chocolate to flourish. Technologies which were developed from the Industrial Revolution greatly changed the worldwide consumption of chocolate, greatly increasing the quantity and ease of its production and distribution and subsequently increasing the ease and diversity of consumers’ access to chocolate products.
The Industrial Revolution began in England in the early 19th century, and stemmed from factors such as a smaller population and thus a need for a more efficient workforce. Prior to industrialization, the majority of people in Europe subsisted on peasant farming and leasing land from the elite (Dimitri et al. 2). In the latter half of the second millennium A.D., voyages of discovery around the globe sparked colonialism in foreign lands soon thereafter. There were various philosophies in justification of colonialism; one was that of social evolutionism and intervention philosophies, or the idea that natives were incapable of governing themselves and in need of outside intervention. According to research published by M. Shahid Alam of Northeastern University, industrialization of countries across the world was unequal; some countries underwent industrialization centuries prior to others (Alam 5). The reason for this was partially due to the fact that some countries colonized other countries for their own imperial or industrial benefit, so the colonized countries themselves could not go undergo industrialization at that time. Great Britain, Spain (and subsequently Portugal), and France were a few imperial superpowers which underwent industrialization first and each dominated many colonies.
Image Source: Dimitri C, Effland A, Conklin N. “The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy.” USDA ERS. 2006.
Because of the far-reaching, global geography of these mother countries’ colonies, the colonial economy depended on international trade. For example, the British empire depended on the American colonies’ production of goods, as did the colonies on the goods of the British Empire. Merchants sent out ships to trade with North America and the West Indies; in 1686 alone, over 1 million euros of goods were shipped to London (“Trade and Commerce”). While wool textiles from England’s manufacturers that spurred from the Industrial Revolution were shipped to the Americas, the colonies shipped goods such as sugar, tobacco, and other tropical groceries from its plantations back across the pond. Due to Europe’s incredibly high demand for some of these American goods, the slave trade developed to meet Industrialization’s hefty needs for cheap labor (“Trade and Commerce”).
A few hundred years later, significant agricultural technologies spurred from industrialization. By the early 1900s, most American farms were diversified, meaning that various animals and crops were produced on the same cropland in complementary ways. However, specialization was a method which developed in farms at around this same time, used to increase efficiency by narrowing the range of tasks and roles involved in production. This way, specialized farmers could focus all their knowledge, skills, and equipment on one or two enterprises. Furthermore, mechanization allowed for the tremendous gains in efficiency with getting rid of the need for human labor with routine jobs such as sowing seeds, harvesting crops, milking cows, and feeding and slaughtering animals. Within the 20th century only, the percentage of the U.S. workforce involved in agriculture declined from 41 percent to 2 percent (Dimitri et al. 2). This greatly increased the efficiency of the production of ingredients which go into chocolate such as milk, cacao, sugar, salt, and vanilla from their respective farms.
In addition to farming technologies such as specialization, methods such as preserving, mechanization, retailing (and wholesaling), transport, and the growth of the commercial catering business improved the quality of the chocolate product itself and lessened the amount of time many large chocolate companies produced these chocolates drastically (Goody 74).
The mechanism of preserving was spearheaded by Nicolas Appert, who developed a process called canning (“bottling” in English) in response to conditions in France during the Napoleonic Wars, when the preservation of meat was important for feeding on-the-road soldiers (Goody 75). Glass containers were also developed around the same time to preserve wine and medicine. Methods such as artificial freezing as well as salt — which became such a popular form of preservation that a “salt tax” was eventually implemented — also developed to preserve foods. Pickling inside vinegar, as well as sugar, which was used to preserve fruits and jams, were also methods which advanced. This, in turn, also caused the imports of sugar to rapidly increase during the 18th century (Goody 75). With preservation mechanisms highly developed compared to before, chocolate products could finally be distributed from manufacturers and remain on shelves for quite some time — it did not necessarily need to be fresh to be sold and readily available to consumers.
Additionally, the process of mechanization was the manufacture of many processed and packaged foods, and this process was furthered by Ford’s assembly line and interchangeable parts. Through these technologies, packaged foods and products could be produced much more quickly and efficiently at greater quantities. This greatly increased the production efficiency and quantity with which packaged chocolate could be distributed, allowing for the proliferation of the some of the biggest mass-brands in chocolate production, such as Hershey’s and Nestle (Goody 81).
Furthermore, the process of retailing was marked by the shift from open market to closed shop; this process began as early as Elizabethan times. Back in the Elizabethan era, great efforts were made to ensure that there were no middle men in terms of sales and that there was no resale at higher prices. Eventually, however, grocers overtook the import of foreign goods. Just as imported goods became cheaper with the new developments in transport, so too did manufactured goods and items packaged before sale came to dominate the market (Goody 82-3). This allowed many various chocolate products from manufacturers all across the world to hit the shelves of grocers, readily available to consumers of any city in the United States. These products were generally branded goods, “sold” before sale by national advertising. Advertising itself, additionally, led to the homogenization of chocolate consumption, allowing similar brands of chocolate products to be distributed across the U.S. This even led to the eventual homogenization of American taste preferences for chocolate; because the Hershey’s chocolate bar was so heavily distributed and popularized, eventually, Americans were unaccustomed to anything that did not have Hershey’s uniquely sweet and salty taste (“Here There Will Be…” 108).
The final large component of industrialization which greatly increased chocolate production and distribution was the revolution of transportation. Rail transport provided the masses with cheap and wholesome food; in fact, there were certain periods of time during the Industrial Revolution in which U.S. railways were transporting goods more than people (Goody 82). Last but not least, the growth of the commercial catering business led to the decline of the domestic servant. This decline of the domestic servant also allowed English families to explore quick, sweet recipes incorporating chocolate such as brownies, cookies, and cakes.
Bigger-picture progressions in history such as colonization and international trade connected the world economy and allowed for technologies such as preserving, mechanization, retailing, and new transport to grow and flourish. These methods, in turn, caused global companies such as Hershey’s and Nestle to revolutionize the production and distribution of chocolate into a massive, global business. What was once enjoyed by the few and wealthy was now easily accessible by the masses, homogenizing the tastes of Americans to a few specific chocolate brands. None of this impact on chocolate products’ consumers and producers alike would have been possible without the historical and technological developments of the Industrial Revolution.
Alam, M. Shahid. “Colonialism and Industrialization: Empirical Results.” Review of Radical Political Economics, 1998, pp. 217–240., doi:10.2139/ssrn.2031131.
JH Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Industrialization of Agriculture.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, 5 Aug. 2016, foodsystemprimer.org/food-production/industrialization-of-agriculture/index.html.“To the Milky Way and Beyond; Breaking the Mold.” The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, by Brenner Joël Glenn., Broadway Books, 2000, pp. 49–194.
There are few items in the world more universally loved than chocolate. No matter where you go chocolate is usually somewhere close by. Through advertisements, word of mouth and the simple smells of the local bakery chocolate has come to encompass society’s everyday life. The substance has been consumed, advertised and mystified to the point that it is closer to universal concept than food. However, as loved as chocolate is, most people forget (or even do not know) chocolate’s origins and original tastes. This is because as chocolate evolved, popular culture has forgotten the original tastes that chocolate once had and enhanced. A key period in this shift is chocolate’s development from Mesoamerican product to European icon in the 17th century. In an effort to increase popularity and cultivate to European palates the changes made to chocolate stripped away a portion of its original Mesoamerican identity. In analyzing its change in ingredients, recipes and culture, one can see that, chocolate went through an appropriation, brought about by European palates in an effort to make chocolate a European product. This happened to the point that chocolate’s original form and taste became, and still is, barely recognizable as Mesoamerican.
Mesoamerican vs European Recipes
In order to understand the change in chocolate it is
important to first understand its origin and original flavor profile. Before
colonialism, chocolate had begun to reach its peak popularity within the Aztec
empire, being used for a myriad of things, from religion to, celebrations.
However, unlike the tastes of the chocolate known today the Mesoamericans
flavored their chocolate using the ingredients that naturally grew in their
environment like chilis and maize(Martin, Sampeck). This added a
fresh taste to the chocolate; one that was also “earthy” and sometimes spicy due
to the use of plants and natural ingredients in chocolate recipes. This use of
their natural environment can be seen in Mesoamerican recipe’s like Lacandón
Sacred Chocolate Drink, a recipe recorded by colonists after their arrival.
The Lancandón Drink recipe shows the Mesoamerican palate to be focused on extracting maximum flavor from the cacao while enhancing such flavor with natural grown herbs and plants and not being intimidated by chocolates innate bitterness This confectionary style is seen not as often in the present days, as large candy companies like Hershey’s and Mars create chocolate that is focused more on sweetness than enjoying the bitterness of cacao.
In comparison, upon arrival to Mesoamerica, most Europeans found the taste of the chocolate to be too bitter and the drink made from it uncomfortably thick and cold (Martin, Sampeck). This was because chocolate was an acquired taste for European palates, which were not used to the flavorings brought by unknown Mesoamerican plants and fruits. The European palate was more tailored towards sugar and spices. While those in Mesoamerica grew to like the Aztec style of chocolate and chocolate drink, in order to make chocolate profitable in Europe, the Mesoamerican flavor profile of chocolate had to be “translated” so that it could be delicious to European palates and compete with also popular newcomers tea and coffee. This prompted them to make changes to the Mesoamerican recipes so that they were more familiar to the European tastes and therefore enjoyable. Such changes can be seen in the modified recipes such as that of Antonio Colmenero De Ledesma.
As can be seen in Ledesma’s recipe the European chocolate recipes kept a few of the Mesoamerican originating ingredients, like mecaxochitl, and chilis, but also added sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and hazelnuts. This added the sweetness to the chocolate that is craved by European palates. This recipe also came with an advisory not to drink it cold (as he “Indians” did), as it was thought to cause stomach aches (Coe,134). This ultimately led to the concept of hot chocolate that we know and love today.
Modeling Flavor Profiles
are several reasons why these ingredients were added. Such spices were the most
abundant within Europe, while the original Mesonamerican ingredients were less
prevalent. In order to better visualize the difference in flavor profiles between
the two groups two histograms can be seen below which separate the main
ingredients of European and Mesoamerican chocolate.
In comparing these two charts, the only similar ingredients between the two is sugar, which was used in a much larger amount by the Europeans. The Mesoamerican flavor profile features ingredients native to Central America like achiote, a natural food coloring grown in Central America, and xochinacatzli, a highly sought-after flower that is known for its unique spicy odor and taste (Schwattzkopf, Sanpeck 83). An interesting point in the comparison of these two charts is the addition of milk in chocolate as the Mesoamericans did not have access to it before the arrival of the Europeans. This addition is a good example of the Europeans changing the ingredients in order to fit their palates and entice the European market. This translation from Mesoamerican to European palates is not the sole factor in the wandering away from the Mesoamaerican origin. However, over time the translation for European palates became a transition of chocolate being seen as a Mesoamerican substance to a European substance, leading to the subversion of the Mesoamerican flavor profile and ultimately, after colonization of North America by Europe, the type of chocolate we see today.
Importance of Noting Change
This is why the initial difference in flavor profiles is important. It is necessary to understand because the walk away from Mesoamerican ingredients in the 17th century was the beginning of a pattern of people innovating chocolate but failing to remember its origins. This can even be seen today as presently chocolate still mostly models its European modifications but has also added its own modifications. An increase in sugar, preservatives and flavors like mint and caramel, push chocolate even further away from its origins. Today most organizations brand Chocolate that uses Mesoamerican flavors as Aztec or Mayan, not to harken back to the origins of the substance, but to increase its mystic attractiveness (figure above). This is done instead of recognizing that these Mesoamerican tastes were the original methods of chocolate consumption. The idea is not to analyze a single historical context but notice a continuous pattern of society forgetting the origins of the products/events that are around them. While such arguments may not be as dire as other current world problems it is important that we develop a habit of correcting history and giving credit where credit is due to the individuals and groups of people who have contribute to the society we enjoy so much today.
Coe, S. (2007). The true history of chocolate (Revised [and
updated ed.]. ed.). New York: Thames and Hudson. Print
Sampeck Katheryn & Jonathan, Thayn, “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” (2017) pp. 72-99. Web.
Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” 2016 pp. 37-60. Web.
Coe, S. (2007). The true history of chocolate (Revised [and updated ed.]. ed.). New York: Thames and Hudson. Print.
Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” 2016 pp. 37-60. Web.
Chocolate in Europe, brought to Spain originally from Mesoamerica in the 1500s, has amassed into a staple of almost everyone’s diet today. However, the history of chocolate consumption and its social constructs have expanded and changed over the centuries since chocolate’s first venture into Europe. Chocolate began as a drink, medicine, and eventually a snack “among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Coe and Coe, 125). However, as time went on, and the price and availability of chocolate began to expand to beyond the upper circles of Europe, the elitism that surrounded chocolate still existed. Even today, when majority of people consume chocolate—often times in similar forms, for example as a bar or hot beverage—there still is a separation between chocolate for commoners and chocolate for the wealthy. How come even though there have been drastic consumption changes over the centuries, in quantity and form, there is still a strong social tension amongst different types of chocolate? By looking at the history of chocolate, it will become clearer that chocolate has always had societal divisions and it is merely impossible to fully break away from those constructs that are inherent to chocolate.
Chocolate for European Elites
In order to understand how consumption in Europe has and has not changed over the centuries, it is important to start at the beginning of chocolate in Europe. Once chocolate was brought over to Europe through Spain during the Renaissance, it was immediately viewed as for elites only— “it was in Baroque palaces and mansions of the wealthy and powerful that it was elaborated and consumed” (Coe and Coe, 125). While Spaniards more or less “stripped [the chocolate beverage] of the spiritual meaning” attached to it by the Aztec and Maya, they did start by consuming the beverage as a drug or medicine for healing (Coe and Coe, 126). This consumption was often matched with mix-ins custom to Spain and Europe, such as “atole and sugar” for a colder drink or “honey and hot water” for a more soothing hot beverage (Coe and Coe, 134).
However, this beverage was still strictly for the elites of Europe even once it started to spread throughout the continent. As time progressed, the royals started to create more recipes of chocolate beverages to be served to special guest, with a princess in 1679 recalling: “There was iced chocolate, another hot, and another with Milk and Eggs; one took it with a biscuit…besides this, they take it with so much pepper and so many spices” (Coe and Coe, 136). With the spread of popularity amongst chocolate beverages, there also were technical advances to enhance the experience. For example, the Spanish royals invented mancerina, a decorative saucer and small plate that helped avoid spills on fancy clothing (Coe and Coe, 134-5).
Sugar Becomes a Chocolate Equalizer
Skipping ahead, with the addition of sugar mass production, chocolate became a consumable good for almost everyone around Europe and the world, breaking down many original societal barriers. During the early 1800s, the British “national consumption [of sugar] was about 300 million pounds per year,” rising to over a billion pounds in 1852 as prices continued to drop (Mintz, 143). The addition of sugar allowed for chocolate to more easily become mass produced, creating more affordability and accessibility throughout Europe. By 1856, “sugar consumption was forty times higher than it had been only 150 years earlier,” allowing for everyone—wealthy and poor alike—to enjoy such treats in different forms (Mintz, 143).
1885 Cadbury advertisement markets towards the “public,” claiming their cocoa is “exhilarating, comforting, and sustaining” as well as “guaranteed absolutely pure.”
Sugar was a major success in creating access to chocolate throughout history, giving way for major chocolate companies such as Lindt and Cadbury to become the “producers of majority of the world’s chocolate” (Martin and Sampeck, 49). For the first time in history, chocolate was being consumed in similar forms at similar price points by both the wealthy and poor because of these large manufactures—arguably stripping away many societal differences inherent to chocolate by creating a consistent form of chocolate everyone could enjoy. However, as the prices decreased, the quality of chocolate also decreased, with many large manufacturers “even cutting out…the substance that gives quality to superior chocolates: cacao butter” (Coe and Coe, 257). As lower quality chocolate created by major companies became a staple of poorer and working-class citizens, the elites often would opt to fly to specific regions of Europe—such as Switzerland or Belgium—to indulge in their high-quality chocolate from chocolatiers (Coe and Coe, 258). Therefore, even though sugar allowed for some narrowing of the social constructs surrounding chocolate, there was still a market for superior forms that are only accessible for a wealthier audience.
Still a Divide with Chocolate Today
Today, chocolate still holds of great importance to many peoples’ lives, with chocolate consumptions estimates for 2018/2019 at 7.7 million tons globally (“Consumption of Chocolate Worldwide,” Statista). However, even with the advances in chocolate consumption over the many centuries, there are still similar societal constraints around chocolate. While the different forms of chocolate are often times similar amongst upper and lower classes—ranging from hot beverages or bars to baked goods—the quality and price ranges can heavily vary, instilling a separation and exclusivity in societal groups that existed even in the 1500s when chocolate was introduced to Europe. For example, the range in quality of chocolate products is vast: there exist fair trade chocolate sourced in more humane manners, specific species of cacao pods with better characteristics and richer flavors, granulated texture differences, and even different percentages of cacao in chocolate mixtures. One can go to a deluxe chocolatier shop somewhere in Switzerland or Belgium and purchase extreme, rare examples of certain types of chocolate—frequently at higher prices. However, these levels of chocolate are often inaccessible to others of not a higher social class because they require having more money and the ability to reach the areas where superior-quality chocolate is created—such as expensive regions in Switzerland. For these other social groups, the desire for chocolate could still be just as strong, but the more realistic options are to purchase mass-produced chocolate, such as Hershey’s chocolate bars or M&Ms, that are often associated with quick, convenient snacks that are affordable.
This social distinction around chocolate exists even in Harvard Square today, where one could purchase a quality, single source hot chocolate at L.A. Burdick from specific locations such as Ecuador (with an “earthy finish”) or Madagascar (with “fruity notes”) at a starting price of $5.50 (“Single Source Drinking Chocolate.” L.A. Burdick). On the other hand, one could instead go to CVS in Harvard Square and purchase a 10 pack of Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa Mix for $2.79, averaging $0.28 per serving (“Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Flavor Hot Cocoa Mix.” CVS). There is clearly an audience for both choices, but the more accessible version is at CVS because it is drastically more affordable and easily accessible at any CVS around the world, while L.A. Burdick is a specialty chocolate shop with a much higher price point and only a few locations. So even though there have been major advances in chocolate and the levels of consumption over the last few centuries—including the expansion of different forms of consumptions and the spread of accessibility beyond the upper-class nobilities—there still persists a divide when it comes to chocolate today.
Based on the history of chocolate, it seems unlikely that societal constructs around chocolate will ever completely disappear because there will always be a market for better quality, more elaborate chocolate consumption as well as affordable, accessible chocolate. However, as the interest in “fine flavor” chocolate continues to grow in more recent decades, then more “small-batch chocolate companies” will begin to come around “with a heavy focus on batch production, flavor, quality, and perceived ethical sourcing of raw ingredients,” creating more access and maybe eventually lower prices of higher quality product for everyone to enjoy (Martin and Sampeck, 54). While the future is uncertain, one steadfast is that chocolate will still be present in most peoples’ lives because of its unifying, joyous, cherished qualities that impact people on a daily basis—no matter one’s social rank.
Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True
History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Before the colonial encounter, Mesoamericans commonly consumed cacao as a chocolate beverage in ritualistic, medicinal, and social contexts. Ingredients, such as flowers, spices, and honey, were added to diversify the flavor of the beverage. Specifically, honey is the oldest sweetener known to man in the world, although its exact date of origin is unknown. However, humans did begin to use honey at least 10,000 years ago, as was demonstrated by a cave painting found in the early 1900s in Valencia, Spain.
This painting is at least 8,000 years old and shows a honey seeker, and in ancient times people in the Middle East, Roman Empire, and China collected honey to use as a sweetener, currency, and medicine (Nayik et al., 2014). When the Spaniards first encountered the Mesoamerican chocolate drink in the 1500s, it was too bitter for their palates and thus they relied on the principal spices or honey to consume the beverage comfortably (Coe & Coe, 2013). Although the intake of honey as food and medicine provided many nutritional and therapeutic benefits, soon after the Spaniards encountered chocolate, the Mesoamerican chocolate recipe was transformed in that cane sugar replaced honey as the sweetener. The sugar cane plant was a novelty to the Maya and the Aztecs when the Spaniards introduced and began to cultivate it in Mesoamerica after the Conquest (Coe & Coe, 2013). Honey as a sweetener could not satisfy the European sweet tooth, which was accustomed to the cane sugar that was introduced during medieval times in the western part of the Old World (Coe & Coe, 2013). In addition to the enhanced sweetness cane sugar offered, the chocolate recipe transformation occurred due to the increase in the perceived medicinal and nutritional properties and the source reliability that cane sugar also offered. In the modern context, however, this transformation may have not been for the best.
Despite honey’s ancient history, cane sugar quickly gained nutritional and medicinal popularity first among the wealthy and then most households in Europe. Cane sugar was first introduced to Europeans around 1100 AD, but it was classified as a spice rather than as a sweetener (Mintz, 1986). Around this time, cane sugar began to replace honey for medicinal purposes. Medical figures declared that cane sugar was more “soothing and solving” than honey (Mintz, 1986). Due to its perceived heightened medicinal properties, cane sugar was reserved for the wealthy while honey was delegated to poorer patients (Mintz, 1986). However, as cane sugar became more commonplace, honey became more expensive (Mintz, 1986). All around, cane sugar replaced honey, and this transformation was not limited to medicine. By the middle of the thirteenth century, cane sugar began to replace honey as a sweetener in wealthy households. Cane sugar came to replace honey in the diets of Europeans because of the perceived nutritional benefits it provided. It became a source of calories for the often undernourished working class. With the rise of coffee and tea, both of which lacked calories, cane sugar provided much-needed calories (Mintz, 1986). Also, cane sugar provided a cheaper alternative to other calorie-rich, but expensive, food items. Lastly, cane sugar was a better preservative than honey, as it contained the more effective sucrose (Mintz, 1986). Therefore, Europeans could save perishable foods, such as meats and fruits, for longer periods of time, which was also cost-effective. The perceived medicinal, nutritional, and financial benefits of sugar over honey led to the shift of honey as a sweetener to cane sugar as a sweetener, which played a part in the Spaniards altering the Mesoamerican chocolate recipe.
Another factor that influenced the shift from honey to cane sugar in Spaniards’ chocolate recipes was the source from which cane sugar is extracted compared to that of honey. Comparable to cane sugar’s source, honey’s source is variable and more biologically expensive.
The video above describes the process of producing honey from the nectar of flowers via bees. Considering that a single bee must drink from thousands of flowers to fill its honey stomach, then serially transfer said nectar into the mouth of other bees before fanning their wings to create an air current that evaporates and thickens the nectar, the honey-making process is labor intensive on the part of the bees. Furthermore, for just one pound of honey, more than 10,000 bees will together fly three times around the world and drink from 8 million flowers. In contrast, the source of cane sugar is much more reliable and the biological cost is lower, as it is not an organism that must travel back and forth and rely on the movement of other organisms.
The video above demonstrates the cane sugar manufacturing process, starting from the sugar cane plant. This plant is a tropical grass that can grow up to 20 feet high. When sugar cane is ready for harvest, the tops of the grass are cut, and the base stocks are left behind so they can grow into the next crop. Due to this harvesting style, sugar cane is a renewable resource as it does not have to be replanted to produce a new crop. This is one benefit that cane sugar provides over honey, as bees must reproduce to continue the lines of queen bees and forager bees. After harvest, the sugar cane is transported to a mill and washed and cut into shreds. The shreds are crushed by rollers before they are placed in separators that remove the fibers and send the juice to evaporators. The resultant syrup is boiled to remove water, and then cooled before crystallization. More steps follow, but despite the complex extraction of cane sugar from the sugar cane plant, this source is more reliable than bees who are subject to climate change, infertility, and diseases. This reliability was summed up by Alexander the Great’s Admiral Nearchos around 300 BC, who referred to the sugar cane plant as “‘Indian reeds that make honey without bees’” (Nordic Sugar A/S, 2019) . Even during ancient times and without modern sugar production technology, the juice from the sugar cane plant was pressed out and boiled to produce crystallized sugar (Nordic Sugar A/S, 2019) . Since cane sugar production primarily relies on a renewable resource and man-made technology, it is more constant and not as biologically expensive as honey production, which makes cane sugar more readily available as a sweetener.
Although cane sugar was perceived as providing more medicinal benefits and nutritional benefits to the diets of Europeans than honey, research today discounts this belief. According to a study published in the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, since honey is denser than cane sugar, one tablespoon of honey carries more than one tablespoon of cane sugar (Anonymous, 2011). Also, honey offers some nutrients that cane sugars does not, such as antioxidants (Anonymous, 2011). Therefore, this research overrides the notion that cane sugar is medically and nutritionally superior to honey. In hindsight, replacing honey as a sweetener with cane sugar does not appear to have been the healthiest choice, as honey does provide more calories and nutrients. However, cane sugar was and still is a better preservative and its taste more enjoyable, comparable to honey.
Overall, the honey to cane sugar transformation in chocolate recipes ultimately served to sweeten the beverage at the expense of healthier consumption. Although sugar cane is a more reliable source for sweetener than flowers and bees, nowadays humans are relying on an insubstantial added sweetener. Even though honey is also an added sweetener, it is nutritiously and medically superior to cane sugar. However, cane sugar was integral to the rise in popularity of chocolate, as its sweetness and taste could not be matched by honey in the palates of Europeans.