The Arab-Islamic Civilization spread the cultivation and consumption of sugar, changing worldwide habits and trends in food culture and creations to the modern day. Straddling three continents, Islamic empires in the medieval era allowed an intermingling of cultures and traditions, from East to West. “The Arab expansion westward marked a turning point in the European experience of sugar…the Arabs introduced sugar cane, its cultivation, the art of sugar making, and a taste for this different kind of sweetness.” (Mintz, 23) It would change the course of history and affect lands and peoples much far away; laying the foundations of large scale plantations that would eventually be established in the Americas and Caribbean Islands.
In a few centuries, sugar went from being a scarce spice and medicine, to a widely consumed, daily staple product of people of all economic standing, all over the world. The crystallization of sugar first started in India and was used in Persia by the sixth century. After the rise of Islam, the Arabs entered Persia and were introduced to the age-old process of sugar produced from cane, adopting and further developing these techniques. They planted sugar-cane in plantations across their empires, in Mesopotamia, the Levant, Egypt, North Africa, Al-Andalus (Spain and Portugal), and by the tenth century the Arabs were growing the crop in Sicily, all the while perfecting the process of refining it in sugar mills. (Salloum, 4)
Picture 1: Map Showing Sugar Cultivation by Muslims
In the lands of the Mediterranean, Arabs developed agriculture and introduced new crops to the land, such as, orange, lemon, banana, saffron, fig, date trees, and most importantly, sugar cane. Wherever the Arabs went, they brought sugar, the product and technology of its production with them, to the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, Crete and Malta. (Mintz, 25) During the Muslim rule in Spain, there was numerous contributions of irrigation, soil management, and scholarly efforts in farming innovation. (Hughes, 68) These plants were used not only in agriculture, but for pharmacy, gardens, luxury trade, and arts.
For nearly eight centuries, under her (Muslim) rulers, Spain set to all of Europe a shining example of a civilized and enlightened State. Her fertile provinces, rendered doubly prolific by the industry and engineering skill of her conquerors, bore fruit an hundredfold. Cities innumerable sprang up in the rich valleys of the Guadalquivir and the Guadiana, whose names, and names only, still commemorate the vanished glories of their past. (Lane-Poole, vii)
Irrigation and agricultural practices established then has had a lasting impact. “The knowledge, handwork, commodities, and luxuries of the East were brought by caravans to the farther East, and came by shipping from the Levant to the Mediterranean ports of Spain. Seeds and plants were thus transported; thus, came rice and cotton and the sugar-cane”. (Coppee, 397) Sugar was cultivated as far north as Castellon, which is probably the most northerly point of its commercial cultivation. To the south, it was grown in Arabia Felix, Abyssinia, and the islands and the mainland of East Africa from the ninth century. From Arabia Felix, or directly from Oman, the plant was brought to Zanzibar, where it was reported the finest sugar came. From Zanzibar, the plant could have been taken to Madagascar. (Watson, 30)
Sugar was at first regarded an important spice and medicinal component and was consumed in large quantities in the Middle East. It was used by physicians from India to Spain, slowly entering European medical practice via Arab Pharmacology. (Mintz, 80) As early as the eleventh century a treatise on sugar was written by a Baghdadi doctor. (Watson, 27) In addition to the medicinal component, Arabs had a rich development of recipes and cuisine that strongly featured sugar at the time of its movement to Europe. In the Medieval Islamic world, sugar enriched many dishes: sour foods, fish, meats, and stews. Of course, pastries and jams especially were a “paradise of sugar”, using syrups made of white sugar and crystals of colored sugar. Specific sweets using sugar such as stuffed cannoli, squash jam, caramelized semolina, jelly, among others. In Europe, the names of a number of several medieval dishes reveal their Arab origin. (Zaouali, 44)
“The decades that followed the Moors’ conquest of the Iberian Peninsula brought in a dominant Arab influence—in culture, food, and drink, but especially in the introduction of sugarcane-based sweet treats… And there the foundation was laid for sugar-cane based sweet treats of the world as well…In the history of sweet treats, few “events” had the impact on Western civilizations as did the near-800-year occupation of the Iberian Peninsula by Muslim peoples. Their main sweet treat legacy—sugarcane” (Roufs, 304)
There was a further East to West transmission of food culture as well. Figures such as Ziryab, credited with the renewal of the culinary arts in Spain and Europe. In the ninth century, he moved from Abbasid Baghdad to the ruler’s court in Cordoba. He led a renewal of culinary understanding and elegance, introducing low tables, tablecloths, cups made from glass, and the succession of courses in a definite order, ending with a sweet dessert. (Zaouali, 41).
Picture 2: Fourteenth century manuscript document from Ibn al-Bitar’s “Book of Simples” depicting sugar cane.
The dispersal of Arab inspired sweets left a mark especially on Southern Europe, Spain, Portugal, and Sicily; also transmitted to the Americas with later conquests of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Sweet dishes found in Mexico and Latin America such Bunuelos, Alfajores, and Arroz con Leche, were inherited from the medieval Arab chefs in Damascus and Baghdad. (Salloum, 8) The Arab legacy on sweet foods remains in modern day commodities, many deriving their name directly from the Arabic language. The word ‘Candy’ comes from the Arabic qandi, stemming from the Sanskrit khanda (piece of sugar). Sherbet, Syrup and Sorbet derive from the Arabic word shariba or sharab (to drink). The ubiquitous drinks Soda Suwwad (saltwort), Coffee (qahwa), and Alcohol are all derived from Arabic. Other food term that originate from Arabic, include fruits and vegetables such as Lemon, Lime, Orange, Shaddock, Apricot, Artichoke, Spinach, as well as spices such as Sumac, Saffron, Carob, Caraway, and Tamarind. Rice and pasta were also transmitted to Europe via the Arabs (Watson, 23). Marzipan and sugar decorations were documented in the Middle East centuries before its appearance in Europe, especially in festive times such as Ramadan. (Mintz, 88).
Ever since the Spaniards discovered the new world, and along with it, discovered chocolate, chocolate consumption has been associated with medicinal benefits.
In The True History of Chocolate, Sophie and Michael Coe tell us:
“the Spaniards had stripped [chocolate] of the spiritual meaning which it had for the Mesoamericans, and imbued it with qualities altogether absent among the Aztecs and Maya: for the invaders, it was a drug, a medicine, in the humoral system to which they all adhered. It is hardly surprising to find that it was under this guise that chocolate travelled in Europe, from one court to another, from noble house to noble house, from monastery. But it soon became a medicine that was appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation.” (Coe and Coe 126)
We have several early Spanish attestations to medicinal properties of the newly discovered chocolate. Girolamo Benzoni, author of the History of the New World (1575), was among the first to write of chocolate’s beneficial effects on the body, though he did not exactly liken it to medicine or medicinal effects. He writes that chocolate “satisfies and refreshes the body” (Coe and Coe 110). These generalized benefits of chocolate consumption for the body soon developed into medicinal effects, as the Spanish began to encorporate chocolate consumption into their Galenic views of medicine (Coe and Coe 122). In 1570, Philip II had sent his Royal Physician Francisco Hernández to Mesoamerica on what would ultimately be a seven-year expedition to document native plants so that the Spanish might benefit from Mesoamerican medicinal practices, which were far superior to their own (Coe and Coe 122). Coe and Coe describe Hernández’s incorporation of chocolate into the Galenic system:
“Cacao and chocolate naturally attracted Hernández’s attention. The cacao seed is ‘temperate in nature,’ he says, but leaning to the ‘cold and humid’; on the whole, it is very nourishing […]. Because of its cool nature, drinks made from it are good in hot weather, and to cure fevers. Adding the mecaxochitl flavoring to chocolate not only gives it an agreeable taste, but because it, like most cacao spices, is ‘hot’ by nature, it ‘warms the stomach, perfumes the breath … [and] combats poisons, alleviates intestinal pains and colics,’ and so on.” (Coe and Coe 122)
Hernández’s description firmly set chocolate in the medicinal conversation of Europe forevermore.
The use of chocolate as medicine persisted in European history. The medicinal properties of chocolate beverages were cited by Francesco Maria Brancaccio in 1664 as an argument for why chocolate beverages should be permitted during times of ecclesiastical fasting (Coe and Coe 149). Most 18th century authorities believed that, as long as it was not consumed in excess, chocolate was on the whole very beneficial to one’s health.
Though much of the conversation about chocolate as medicine was centered around its physical benefits, people also began to suggest mental benefits of chocolate consumption as well. In his 1591 treatise on New World foods, Juan de Cárdenas asserted that chocolate consumption, among its other properties, could make one “happy” (Coe and Coe 123). Later, in the 1600s, marquise de Sévigné, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, advises a correspondent who was apparently not sleeping that “chocolate will set you up again” (Coe and Coe 155).
These early attestations to beneficial psychological effects of chocolate consumption paved the way for modern beliefs in chocolate’s psychological effects, as a mood enhancer. The public’s belief that consuming chocolate will boost their mood has greatly impacted the modern chocolate market. A recent report by Mintel (2016) “found 24% of British consumers say they have bought chocolate confectionery in the last three months to boost their mood, while 64% of Chinese consumers agree that eating chocolate is an effective way to relieve stress” (Yu). Many chocolate companies advertise in such a way as to capitalize on the mood-enhancing effects of chocolate.
Many people seek out chocolate for its mood-enhancing benefits, but this essay will focus on a group of people who use chocolate for much more than cheering themselves up on a bad day: those diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
For the purposes of this essay, it is useful to give a brief overview of what bipolar disorder, a mood disorder, entails. The International Bipolar Foundation describes:
“Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. […] Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings– from overly ‘high’ and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between. Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression.” (“Learn”)
It should also be mentioned that people with bipolar have low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is considered to be a naturally occurring mood stabilizer (Peeke).
First, I will mention that the reason I picked this topic is because I am, myself, bipolar, and I, like many other bipolar people, have used chocolate to self-medicate. Many others with bipolar also use other, actual drugs to self-medicate (such as alcohol, cocaine, and heroin) and often develop substance abuse problems. I, however, never found comfort in a bottle. Chocolate was my self-prescribed mood-stabilizer, long before I had even received my diagnosis. It is my intention to share a little bit about my own use of chocolate as a mood-enhancer, before delving into the science and explicating why the use of chocolate as medicine, though not treating the same ailments as chocolate beginning in the 1500s, may actually have more clout than a simple urban myth.
I am not exactly sure when my bipolar disorder began manifesting symptoms, but in hindsight, I can definitively say that by junior high, it was definitely in full-swing. My pre-teens through early college life were categorized by all the typical signs: extreme mood swings with intermittent periods of normalcy, ‘bipolar rage’ (blind, irrational, near-violent anger with no traceable cause), crippling anxiety, et cetera. I am not sure at what point my childhood love of chocolate became a realization that eating chocolate helped my mood, but at some point, I began to associate my turbulent moods with a solution: the consumption of chocolate. It made me feel better, especially in the moment, but eventually I would come crashing down, as my mood spiraled downward. I would thus seek out more chocolate to ease that depression, and thus I became as dependent on chocolate as an alcoholic is on alcohol to self-medicate. I became so dependent on chocolate as my self-prescribed mood enhancing drug that I actually developed compulsive-eating and binge-eating disorders (see also a blog about another bipolar person’s experience with this). Even my family recognized the power that chocolate had to improve my moods, and when they saw that I was struggling on a given day, their go-to method of cheering me up was giving me something with chocolate in it.
I was not diagnosed with bipolar disorder until I was 20 years old, and it took until I was 22 to finally be put on the right dosage of the right medication: lithium. Lithium is arguably the oldest psychiatric medication around (in use during Classical times (Angst and Marneros)) and is a mood-stabilizer. Lithium will be very important in the science on chocolate as a mood-stabilizer that I outline below. Still, even though I am now on the right dose of the right medication, I still have mood swings, and when I do, my family still suggests chocolate as a remedy.
Many studies have been conducted on chocolate as a mood enhancer. According to UNH Staff in their article, “2 Chocolate Benefits for Your Brain: Improves Memory and Mood”, “chocolate has been shown to improve depression and anxiety symptoms and help enhance feelings of calmness and contentedness. Both the flavanols and methylxanthines are believed to play a role in chocolate’s mood enhancing effects” (UNH Staff). In addition, the article cites several studies that showed chocolate consumption improved mood, and another study in which participants “felt more calm and contented after consuming a daily dark chocolate drink containing a high amount of polyphenols” (UNH Staff). These studies show that chocolate does indeed have a connection to ‘good feelings’, much as Juan de Cárdenas had asserted that chocolate could make one happy centuries earlier.
Chocolate also contains phenylethylamines, which are a neurotransmitter that “in low levels, is associated with depression […] Phenylethylamines work by releasing endorphins in the brain and promote feelings of attraction and giddiness” (Chitale and ABC News Medical Unit). Between the low levels of serotonin, which cause cravings for carbs and sweets to spark pleasure centers in the brain and elevate mood (Peeke), and the low levels of phenylethylamines, people with mood disorders may actually be self-medicating with chocolate consumption, which compensates for those low levels.
I must here take a slight detour from the discussion of the science-supported benefits of chocolate to set precedent for my conclusion. The American Chemical Society put out a summary of research that was delivered at one of their meetings, in an article entitled “Good Mood Foods: Some Flavors in Some Foods Resemble a Prescription Mood Stabilizer.” The research is exactly what the title suggests: “New evidence reveals the possibility of mood-enhancing effects associated with some flavors, stemming at least in part from natural ingredients bearing a striking chemical similarity to valproic acid, a widely used prescription mood-stabilizing drug” (“Good Mood Foods”). This suggests that some foods, far from simply providing a quick mood boost, could actually be used to medicate mood disorders, even if it were just as a supplement to actual medications.
Nuno Rodrigues-Silva considers the science behind the question: why do we crave chocolate? One view he considers argues that craving for chocolate is a “homeostatic response to nutrient deficiency (e.g., magnesium deficiency)” (Rodrigues-Silva 430). He goes on to explain why someone with magnesium deficiency would crave chocolate specifically:
“Chocolate has one of the highest magnesium levels reported of all foods, approximately 100 mg/g, except white chocolate which contains magnesium in much lower amounts, about 12 times lower than milk chocolate. Magnesium deficiency results in selective depletion of dopamine in the CNS [central nervous system], a major neurotransmitter involved in euphoria, satisfaction, and addiction. Additionally, magnesium deficiency is related to anxiety, and its administration has been related to reduced hyperexcitability in children and attenuated posttraumatic depression/anxiety in rats.” (Rodrigues-Silva 430)
However, Rodrigues-Silva fails to mention an important function of magnesium: magnesium is frequently used as a supplement to aid in sleep for those with sleep disorders (common for people with bipolar disorder), but most importantly, recent studies suggest that magnesium can produce improvements in bipolar disorder similar to the improvements seen in patients who take lithium (Lake). That would put magnesium on the list of mood-stabilizers.
You might remember how I said that the medication that stabilized my bipolar was lithium, and that before that, I was regulating my mood with chocolate consumption. If I, as a person with bipolar, craved chocolate when my moods were out of control, that would indicate that I might have been experiencing magnesium deficiency, according to Rodrigues-Silva. If magnesium, according to recent research, might be a mood-stabilizer, that would mean that when my bipolar disorder reared its ugly head, I was actually cravingchocolate not as a quick mood enhancer but as a medication. I was, in all reality, actually self-medicating my bipolar with chocolate.
It is not just an urban myth that chocolate will boost your mood — chocolate has, now, a firmly rooted place as a medicine, just as the Europeans had claimed centuries earlier, though for different ailments.
So, what does this mean for the future of the chocolate industry? The chocolate industry already markets to and profits from people who believe that chocolate will boost their mood. Taking daily medications to manage mental illness is a hassle at best and impossible to remember at worst– and many people with bipolar simply do not want to take medication. Imagine if chocolate manufacturers began to market chocolate as an alternative or supplement to traditional mood-stabilizers. How many people would buy into that option? A lot of people, I reckon– and they would also need to consume chocolate en masse in order to get enough of a mood-stabilizing benefit day to day, sky-rocketing sales. It could be a great new direction for the chocolate market.
“About Us – Fondant Chocolate.” Fondant Chocolate. Fondant Chocolate, n.d. Web. 10 May 2017.
Angst, Jules, and Andreas Marneros. “Bipolarity from Ancient to Modern Times: Conception, Birth and Rebirth.” Journal of Affective Disorders 67.1-3 (2001): 3-19. Web.
Baker, Kelley Thorpe. “Until I Pop: Emotional Eating and Bipolar Disorder.” Blog post. Bipolar Hope. Bipolar Magazine, 26 May 2015. Web. 10 May 2017.
Chitale, Radha, and ABC News Medical Unit. “You Feel What You Eat.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 05 Mar. 2008. Web. 10 May 2017.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.
Fisher, Carrie. Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill eat chocolate. Digital image. Daily Mail. Daily Mail, 9 May 2014. Web. 10 May 2017.
Fisher, Carrie. Shockaholic. London: Simon & Schuster, 2013. Print.
“Good Mood Foods: Some Flavors in Some Foods Resemble a Prescription Mood Stabilizer.” American Chemical Society. American Chemical Society, 19 Aug. 2012. Web. 10 May 2017.
Krans, Brian. “7 Foods That Help to Calm Your Nerves During Bipolar Mania.” Healthline. Healthline Media, 12 Sept. 2016. Web. 10 May 2017.
Lake, James. “Integrative Treatment of Bipolar Disorder: A Review of the Evidence and Recommendations: Page 2 of 4.” Psychiatric Times. UBM Medica, 03 July 2013. Web. 10 May 2017.
“Learn.” International Bipolar Foundation. International Bipolar Foundation, 2017. Web. 10 May 2017.
Mental Benefits of Chocolate Consumption. Digital image. Fondant Chocolate. Fondant Chocolate, n.d. Web. 10 May 2017.
Peeke, Dr. Pamela. “Mood, Food and Bipolar Disorder: A New Prescription.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 21 July 2014. Web. 10 May 2017.
Rodrigues-Silva, Nuno. “Chocolate: Psychopharmological Aspects, Mood, and Addiction.” Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Ed. Ronald Ross. Watson, Victor R. Preedy, and Sherma Zibadi. Totowa, NJ: Humana, 2013. 421-36. Print.
Thompson, Dennis, Jr. “Sugar and Bipolar Disorder.” EverydayHealth.com. Everyday Health Media, LLC, 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 May 2017.
UNH Staff. “2 Chocolate Benefits for Your Brain: Improves Memory and Mood.” University Health News. Belvoir Media Group, 20 Apr. 2017. Web. 10 May 2017.
Yu, Douglas. “Happiness Factor: Emotional Benefits Are Top Chocolate Sales Drivers, Says Mintel.” ConfectioneryNews.com. William Read, 29 Mar. 2016. Web. 10 May 2017.
We often see varieties of chocolate neatly arranged in so many stores, and the display is so tempting for customers walking by. Every shopping trip to a convenience or drug store is the same – make a rewarding selection between mainstream (and sometimes exotic) chocolate products. The tastings were set up in a way to acquire as much information as possible. The samples I acquired from CVS were: Ferrero Rocher hazelnut truffles (Italian), Hershey’s milk chocolate (American), Cadbury milk chocolate (English), Toblerone milk chocolate with nougat (Swiss), and Brookside dark chocolate with blueberries and almonds (American). The samples I acquired from Cardullo’s were: Niederegger’s Chocolate with marzipan (German), Truffettes milk chocolate covered marshmallows (French), Chuao Milk chocolate with potato chips (American/Venezuelan based), Vivra 65% dark with candied violets (American), and Taza 50% dark chocolate with guajillo chili. I recruited six tasters, and one taster was unable to try the dark chocolate samples, because dark chocolate disagrees with him. I expected that the tasters I shared various chocolate samples with would prefer more generic and familiar brands, such as the brands offered by CVS. However, by analyzing the results of my research done on various flavors of chocolate, it is apparent that my tasters generally preferred the less common chocolate bars without realizing it. This suggests that people do not put as much thought into their chocolate preferences as they really should be.
When organizing tastings for my research, I tried to get as many tasters as possible to taste my CVS and Cardullo’s products by themselves. There ended up being two groups of two, and two lone tasters. I wanted each person’s response to influence another person’s response as little as possible. Furthermore, none of the tasters were enrolled in Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. The students of the class now have an above average level of training for identifying specific tastes and smells in the chocolate, so I decided to test the abilities of non-chocolate scholars. I must admit that the whole tasting set-up was done by having in the back of my mind Barb Stuckey’s self-observation of her tasting skill after spending time working for the Mattson company. Barb excitedly recalls her “newfound skill” explaining that she “could take one bite of a food, consider it for a millisecond, and know exactly what it was missing that would give it an optimal taste (Stuckey 3)”. However, I was delighted to hear my tasters use descriptions for the samples, such as: dry, “varied texture”, “pop rock texture”, generic, “dull ‘thud’ sound”, sandy, “old book taste”, chalky, and/or matte colored.
The chocolate samples came from two different stores: CVS, and Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, both in Harvard Square in Cambridge. Both stores are conveniently located in an area filled with people, some of whom may be hungry for a chocolate snack. Cardullo’s and CVS have their similarities, including the fact that they have their specific chocolate-seeking audiences. However, there is a difference between the chocolate-seeking audiences of Cardullo’s and CVS. Cardullo’s targets consumers of European origin and consumers with an interest in European culture, while CVS targets consumers that are not extremely fussy, and less willing to spend more for chocolate that would satisfy their cravings just as effectively. On a side note: the cost for all of the products between CVS and Cardullo’s totaled $46.34.
CVS’s chocolate is meant to “cater” to the general public. The store manager of the CVS location himself explained the ways in which the companies featured in the store cater to the general public. The confections sold at CVS are internationally recognized American and European brands whose confectionery styles do well with their plain chocolate, but also with commonly added flavors (some additional flavors include: caramel, nougat, nuts, and fruit). Hershey’s is a quintessential product at CVS, and must maintain their consumer loyalty with recognizable packaging, as well as producing creative ideas. For example, Hershey’s has designed resealable packaging to give their consumers a choice to eat some chocolate now and save the rest for later. A better alternative, rather than the consumer being forced to eat the entire product once it has been opened. Chocolate investigator, Kristy Leissle, begins her journal with, “Consider a hershey’s (sic) kiss. At once minimalist and iconic, the twist of silver foil sends a familiar flavor message to the brain, while the wrapper imparts nothing substantial about the chocolate (Leissle 22)”. When we see a chocolate product that is familiar to us, its iconic and memorable packaging prompts us to remember that what the product is. We also can trust familiar looking products to taste delicious if we decide to purchase them, rather than us risking the possibility of feeling like our money has been wasted on a bad tasting product.
The products from CVS have important descriptions that set them apart from the products at Cardullo’s. There were a few products made with dark chocolate, but most of the products sold at CVS were made with milk chocolate. The most popular CVS product was a tie between Toblerone and Ferrero Rocher – all six tasters liked the two products equally. Four out of six tasters especially liked the chocolate center of the truffles. The Toblerone sample was described by four out of six tasters as “better than Hershey’s.” Three out of six tasters did not care for the Brookside product, two tasters thought the product was “okay,” and one taster loved the Brookside product so much that it won CVS over as her favorite store of the two for buying chocolate. Fun fact: Hershey acquired Brookside in 2011 (Schroeder). Hershey’s milk chocolate was the least popular CVS product, and Cadbury’s milk chocolate was described by every taster as “better than Hershey’s,” while Cadbury’s still was not the most popular CVS product.
Most of the products were neatly arranged by brand on the candy aisle. The rest of the products could be found on the end cap of the candy aisle on the side furthest away from the registers. The products on the end cap are known as the “deluxe chocolates.” The Deluxe brands included, but were not limited to Lindt and Chuao. Recall that I bought my Chuao potato chip milk chocolate at Cardullo’s. I had gone shopping at Cardullo’s before shopping at CVS, and was surprised to find the same type of Chuao bar in the Deluxe section of CVS. The Chuao bar was more hidden than the easily seen Cardullo’s Chuao bar, and it was two dollars cheaper at CVS. Perhaps, the Deluxe chocolates at CVS are placed so that the adventurous customers who already know about the products will know where to find them. The specific placement of products could be CVS’s precaution against scaring away most of their customers with expensive, daring flavors of chocolate as the first available chocolate snack.
Cardullo’s confections are meant to cater to people with more sophisticated tastes regarding confections. More specifically, Cardullo’s employees pointed out that the shoppe targets Europeans (and a few other ethnicities) who grew up with their featured products that are hard to find outside of their countries. The store manager of Cardullo’s herself explained that Cardullo’s products are special because they invoke a strong feeling of nostalgia among visitors/immigrants from various countries. You can find a wall stocked with Cadbury products, and Cadbury is one of the few iconic chocolate brands featured in the entire store. There is no chance of finding any products from Hershey when shopping at Cardullo’s. The American products featured at Cardullo’s tend to have avant-garde flavors. For example, Cardullo’s features Vosges, a Chicago based chocolate company. One of Vosges products at Cardullo’s is a chocolate bacon bar. What a combination!
As preferred by five out of six tasters, Cardullo’s was the most popular of the two stores for chocolate shopping. The opportunity to taste new flavors of chocolate was a little intimidating, yet exciting to each of my chocolate tasters. Chloé, the chocolate connoisseur featured in Raising the Bar, voices her concern for a general lack of appreciation for chocolate variety, “[c]onsumers can be fickle and even dismissive when it comes to matters of taste… (Raising 147)”. The tasters were enthralled by the Vivra dark with violets, and this product was enjoyed by everyone that could try it. Four out of six people did not care for the Chuao potato chip chocolate, but the two other tasters enjoyed the sweet and salty combination within it. Niederegger’s marzipan milk chocolate was described by three tasters as “too sweet.” The other three tasters liked the marzipan milk chocolate, especially the consistency of the marzipan. When biting into the Truffettes milk chocolate covered marshmallows three tasters experienced them as “too chewy.” The other three tasters enjoyed the consistency of the marshmallow. Five tasters could try Taza’s Guajillo chili. Four tasters did not care for the guajillo chili infusion with the dark chocolate. One taster said that the Taza sample with guajillo chili was “awesome stuff!”
I would especially like to highlight the presence of Taza products at Cardullo’s. Taza is one of the few American chocolate companies with products for sale at Cardullo’s, and they happen to operate locally in Somerville, Massachusetts. What is special about Taza in comparison to many other American products is that the workers of Taza are interested in traditional, authentic Mexican chocolate-making methods. With a high demand in place for their products, Taza has had to find means of efficient production that would still allow for the presence of a Mexican quality surrounding the chocolate. By producing solid chocolate bars, Taza is aware that consumers are seeking a snack with traditional Mexican flavors, rather than traditional Mexican beverages. Taza’s YouTube channel serves as an efficient tool to connect with their customers on a more personal level than relying only on their website and word of mouth to deliver information to consumers. Taza wants its consumers to remember that there is still care involved with Taza’s chocolate making process, as their YouTube page’s introductory paragraph states that, “we hand-carve granite millstones to grind cacao… (TazaChocolate)”. The introductory video on their YouTube channel is an invitation for all who would like to catch a glimpse of the chocolate making process inside the factory:
It is exciting to learn a little bit about another culture’s specific methods for creating products that are so similar, yet so different from what we are usually exposed to.
It is worth noting that every person has unique preferences for chocolate products, among all other products. There are people who prefer CVS products over Cardullo’s products, as astounding as it may sound to the people who appreciate variance in chocolate. Some people may enjoy every chocolate product presented to them, while others may only accept milk chocolate. Allergies to common foods such as nuts will skew a person’s preferences, because they must work around their health concerns when determining their favorite flavors to have with chocolate. The confections we looked at for this project demonstrate the many creative and culture-specific ideas that so many talented confectioners have cooked up since chocolate became more available around the world. Perhaps, if my tasters were all chocolate connoisseurs that my research would have yielded different results about chocolate preferences.
Williams, Pamela Sue., and Jim Eber. “To Market, To Market: Craftsmanship, Customer Education, and Flavor.” Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Corporation, 2012. 143-209. Print.
To study the history of chocolate in Europe since the 17th century is to study the socioeconomic climate of the time throughout Europe. The introduction of chocolate to the European continent occurred via the Spanish conquistadors who discovered the cacao beans and the chocolate drink made from these beans when they interacted with the indigenous peoples. It is believed that in 1544 Europe got their first taste of chocolate prepared in this way when the conquistadors reported back to the Spanish court with a delegation of Kekchi Mayan Indians who bore gifts for their conquerors, including beaten chocolate (Presilla, 24). From the Spanish court, chocolate made its way into the lives of the elites in Spain, England and France, as well as other European countries, before becoming the staple commodity widely available to all social classes that it has become today. Although the nations of Spain, England and France were distinct and undergoing different social and political climates during the time of the arrival of chocolate in the Old World, the history of chocolate consumption in these countries does share the commonality that in both chocolate began as a luxury affordable only to those of greater means before it became the widely accessible commodity it is known as today.
Mayan vase from Chama. Source: The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised by Marcela E. Presilla
The above image is of a Maya vase from Chama, a region of Guatemala in which cacao is harvested, and shows a chieftain like that of the Kekchi Mayans being carried in a hammock, as was the chief of the Kekchi when he first introduced chocolate to Philip II of Spain.
Spain was one of several European countries to be impacted by the arrival of chocolate from the New World.Although accounts vary as to how it got to Spain, it is known for certain that by the first half of the seventeenth century the same chocolate that the Spanish creole of Mexico were drinking had integrated into the Spanish Court (Coe, 131).The way that it was consumed, however, was much more regal than it had been in present-day Mexico.As it was coveted primarily by the Spanish royals, the way in which this chocolate was consumed became more refined over time.In the mid-17th century the viceroy of Peru, Marques de Mancera invented a device to prevent ladies from spilling their chocolate onto their finery; The mancerina featured a silver saucer with a large ring in the middle into which a small cup would fit snugly and offered a solution for those noble Spaniards who had the luxury of owning valuable clothing worth protecting from chocolate (Coe, 135).In fact, chocolate was so commonplace to these Spanish elites that around 1680 it was common to serve it and other sweets to officials during the public executions of the Spanish Inquisition (Snodgrass, 207).Cosimo de’ Medici of Spain, who later became Grand Duke of Tuscany, was also known to consume chocolate liberally during the public and grand events of the Spanish nobility of Baroque Spain, including while watching a bullfight with the Spanish king, and earned himself a reputation as a “chocoholic” resultantly(Coe, 135).
The origin of chocolate in France is not known with certainty.But its association with nobility was not very different in France than it was in Spain.In Louis XIV’s decadent Palace of Versailles chocolate was a staple served at all public events hosted for the French elite.It wasn’t until the King’s wife died and he married the conservative Madame de Maintenon that the ruler became thrifty and consumption of chocolate in the palace ended (Coe, 156).Like the Spanish, the French had appropriated special vessels for serving chocolate.The chocolatiere, a long vessel with a spout, hinged lid and a straight wooden handle, both poured and frothed the chocolate for serving and was surely made of silver if it was to be used by elites (Smithsonian, 2015).In France, as in other parts of Europe, the drinking of chocolate was at times taboo for women.When the Infanta Maria Teresa married the King of France in 1660, she brought Spanish women to serve in her court but was forbidden from drinking chocolate with them and took to doing so in private, as the act was not permissible for noble French women (Coe, 154).However, this taboo did not last long; In 1671 the marquis de Sevigne wrote to her ill daughter that chocolate would make her well again saying:
“But you are not well, you have hardly slept, chocolate will set you up again.But you do not have a chocolatiere [chocolate-pot]; I have thought of it a thousand times; what will you do?Alas, my child, you are not wrong when you believe that I worry about you more than you worry about me.” (Coe, 155)
During this time, chocolate had a reputation for being untouchable to those of modest means. Recently at Hampton Court Palace researchers discovered a chocolate kitchen, a room in which the King’s personal chocolatier procured chocolate delights for the King and his court on a daily basis. So essential was this indulgence to the King that his chocolatier was known to travel with him to provide him with his sweet supply. As in France and Spain, the luxuriousness of consuming chocolate was not limited to the food itself but also included the means by which the chocolate was consumed. Pots for serving the beverage were often made of silver or gold. In fact, William III is reputed to have used a chocolate pot that was made of gold and weighed 33 oz! Many were employed in the making of chocolate and the associated paraphernalia and these costs associated with consumption meant that the drink was unattainable for many (Historic Royal Palaces, 2014)
The article linked below was published by the Smithsonian Institute and outlines the rise and fall of chocolate as the food of nobility.At one point it details the means by which chocolate eventually became accessible to people of all classes in Europe and the United States.The Industrial Revolution was in large part to thank for driving down the costs associated with chocolate consumption during the 19th century.For example, it was during this time that Coenraad Van Houton invented the cocoa process, which created cocoa powder, a staple ingredient of many chocolate products consumed today.While it is easy to see chocolate today as something that is off-limits to no one, to understand the history of chocolate is to understand that in Europe the commodity began as a luxury to be enjoyed by only those of the highest privilege.
Chocolate has been consumed for over 4,000 years. Yet, it was consumed much differently at the beginning of its History, when it was actually drank as a bitter liquid beverage. Today, most of the chocolate available on the market takes a solid, edible form. The change through chocolate’s History did not only take place from a form of consumption perspective. Indeed, chocolate, in Mesoamerica and throughout most of its History was consumed as a beverage reserved only for the elite because of its exorbitant price. Globalization and mass production of chocolate products led to the spread of chocolate’s popularity; from being only available for society’s elites to becoming an affordable good accessible to members of all social classes.
(Maya God Grinding Coco – Worldstandards.eu)
From its beginnings to the recent centuries, chocolate was reserved for each community’s elites. Klein writes: “The Mayans worshipped a god of cacao and reserved chocolate for rulers, warriors, priests and nobles at sacred ceremonies.” Simultaneously, during the 16th Century, drinking chocolate remained a Spanish secret. Indeed, through its decades and centuries of colonization, Spain was able to bring cacao and chocolate recipes back to the homeland without raising much interest from its neighboring countries. The high cost of transportation and production made it remain a drink for the wealthy. “Although the Spanish sweetened the bitter drink with cane sugar and cinnamon, one thing remained unchanged: chocolate was still a delectable symbol of luxury, wealth and power. Chocolate was sipped by royal lips, and only Spanish elites could afford the expensive import” (Klein). In 1606, the chocolate craze spread out of Spain, and the beverage made primarily of cacao was first introduced in Italy. The craze within the elite community was instantaneous, as chocolate spread among Europe’s nobility in 1615 when the daughter of Spanish King Philip III married French King Louis XIII.
(King Louis XIII – NNDB)
In 1657, the first ever English chocolate house opened its doors to the public. Much like today’s elite café’s throughout Europe, chocolate houses provided with the community’s elites with an opportunity to enjoy a hot drink, discuss political issues, participate in betting games, and socialize. “Chocolate houses in Florence and Venice gained notoriety in the early 1700s. Europeans preferred to drink their chocolate from ornate dishes made out of precious materials and crafted by artisans. Like the elaborate ceramic vessels of ancient Maya and Aztec rulers, these dishes were more than serving pieces: they were also symbols of wealth.” 
(English Chocolate House – Worldstandards.eu)
The second Industrial Revolution started at the beginning of the 19th Century. Through it, much like most industries in Europe and America, the chocolate business was forever changed. Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented in 1828 what is, in a quite original manner, called the Van Houten press. “[He] invented the cacao press, which squeezed out cocoa butter from the cocoa mass. It allowed for the improvement of the chocolate’s consistency and also permitted the separate sale of cacao powder”. Following Van Houten’s invention, many revolutionaries came together for improving the chocolate industry and making the products more accessible to all. Rodolphe Lindt furthered the ease of availability of chocolate products through his invention of the conching machine in 1879. It allowed for a more velvety texture and superior taste in the final product. Through the use of these developments and their implementation within factory assembly lines, chocolate was made more affordable, consistent in its production, and accessible internationally.
In The Prisoner of Azkaban, as Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts to begin his third year at school, his train is ambushed by a group of wraiths. One of them attacks Harry, leaving him cold and shaking at the floor of his compartment. Luckily for the young wizard, a fellow traveler hands Harry a piece of chocolate; Harry then “took a bite and to his great surprise felt warmth spread suddenly to the tips of his fingers and toes” (86).
In a world where wizards and witches travel by broomstick, mend wounds with a wave of a wand, and slay larger-than-life beasts, it is chocolate that heals an ailing wizard? Maybe chocolate’s history has something to bear on this interpretation: might there be clues in the cultural history of chocolate why this substance has special powers of health?
In its first uses by Europeans, chocolate was associated with medicine, credited with healing a variety number of human ailments. Part of this is because chocolate, containing caffeine and theobromine (both stimulants) does have a measurable effect on mood—but its status as an elixir can be traced back to Europeans’ early understanding of the product.
Seventeenth-century Europeans understood their own bodies as composed of four humors; you’re healthy when they’re in balance. In this precarious scale, it was important to know where your foods fit in: were they moist, cold, hot, dry? For sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europeans, chocolate (along with sugar and coffee and tea) presented a profound problem of classification, as they were encountering it for the first time (Coe 128).
Perhaps chocolate was medicine, good for your humors if you took it correctly. Many pages of the 1652 publication “Chocolate: Or, An Indian Drinke,” an English translation of a Spanish text that extols the benefits of chocolate, are devoted to debating the food’s true properties: Is it dry, or wet? Is it hot, or cool? The author concedes that chocolate is sometimes hot and sometimes cool, sometimes moist and sometimes dry. Moderation is key—it’s bound to be good for you under the right conditions. Can you add cinnamon, or would that be too hot? Are there times of the year where it might be more beneficial? In the following passage, he advises the seasons to drink it: “You may take it till the Moneth of May, especially in temperate dayes. But I doe not approve, that in the Dogdayes it should be taken in Spaine, unlesse it be one, who by custome of taking it, receives no prejudice by it” (37). In other words, don’t drink it when it’s hot out, unless you like to drink it when it’s hot out.
As the food historian Ken Albala has pointed out, physicians had financial incentive to promote chocolate as a pharmaceutical: “In thriving competition with those who sold chocolate for mere pleasure, physicians insisted that chocolate is more properly a medicine than a food and they utilized any available explanatory system to bolster their arguments” (Albala 54). Indeed, the mental calisthenics of classifying foods to these categories pushed Nicolas Blegny, the physician to King Louis XIV, to complain about the “useless reasoning of one who comes to the conclusion that chocolate is cold, the arguments of another who sustains that it’s hot, in a word which leads to another pretending to prove that it’s tempered”(quoted in Albala 67). And this problem, combined with the ever-expanding medicinal uses of chocolate and the uptick in its recreational use, would slowly erode the product’s early stature as a powerful medicine.
While medicine may have provided chocolate with a point of entry into the European household, historians point out that therapeutic uses of cacao quickly gave way to recreational ones. Sophie and Michael Coe write, “soon [chocolate] became a medicine that was appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation” (126). Sidney Mintz takes a similarly utilitarian view of sugar—another new, exotic food entering European diets—that can be applied to chocolate as well: “The former medicinal purposes of sugar were now assimilated into a new function, that of a source of calories” (Mintz 108). These historians claim that by the late 17th century, these new, possibly miraculous substances introduced into Europe just decades before had become demystified. Once potential drugs and dangers, they became food.
But can we leave the story there? After sugar became merely a source of calories and chocolate became merely a consumer good, the forces of industrialization and commercialization began to pick up some of the threads where early medicine left off. Advertisements, not physicians, could make new claims about the health benefits chocolate had to offer. In this way, chocolate companies the new physicians, eager to sell exclusive formulas to an audience eager for novel concoctions.
A popular strategy to market chocolate was to promote its contributions to health.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, candymakers made claims about the virtues of chocolate for children, for workers, for women. A 1900 Hershey’s advertisement called their bars “more sustaining than meat.” Another from the early 20th century depicts children climbing chocolate jars on their way to better health. Another advertisement from Baker’s makes the claim that doctors are recommending the chocolate to fight fatigue. Maybe all of these strategies, which now seem wrongheaded, come from the same tradition of promoting chocolate as something to restore our humors, reset our balance, when deployed correctly. They want to draw on the uncertain line between medicine and food.
After all, if chocolate can restore vitality to the world’s most famous wizard, imagine what it can do for us muggles.
Albala, Ken. “The Use and Abuse of Chocolate in 17th Century Medical Theory,” 2007 Food and Foodways, 15:1-2 (2007): 53-74.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013.
Colmenero de Ledesma, Antonio, Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke By the wise and Moderate use whereof, Health is preserved, Sicknesse Diverted, and Cured, especially the Plague of the Guts; vulgarly called The New Disease; Fluxes, Consumptions, & Coughs of the Lungs, with sundry other desperate Diseases. By it also, Conception is Caused, the Birth Hastened and facilitated, Beauty Gain’d and continued. Trans. James Wadsworth. London: John Dakins, 1652. Available from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21271/21271-h/21271-h.htm (Accessed March 10, 2017).
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
We see the articles pop up from time to time – chocolate is the new cure for every health affliction. It lowers this, supports that and treats everything else. This concept of using chocolate to heal isn’t novel. The origins of it’s healing properties date back to Mesoamerica and have evolved over the subsequent centuries. But as chocolate became consumed by the masses thanks to producers who brought chocolate to the masses, the negative effects of consuming the confection have been talked about just as much as the positive effects. Ultimately, is chocolate an elixir or a poison?
Chocolate was ingrained in almost every part of the lives of Mesoamericans. Among many of the uses for cacao, there were a variety of medicinal applications. Cacao was believed to help digestion, aid in inflammation, boost energy and was used as an anesthetic. Application of medicinal cacao used for afflictions found in Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams include 50 ways of curing and healing to address skin eruptions, fevers, and seizures. Remedies were a combination of cacao and other botanical ingredients, like avocado, that are considered to be “superfoods” in modern society. (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the “Food of the Gods” 75-76) Traditional Aztec healers cured many ailments that we consider to be commonplace today with various forms of chocolate. For example, a stomachache for an Aztec would be treated with pure, unmixed chocolate (Grivetti and Shapiro 100), which seemed as commonplace in their society as it might be to reach for Pepto Bismol in our society today.
When the Spanish began noticing the powers of cacao after landing in Mesoamerica, they began adopting it for their own healing uses. They noticed that it boosted energy and saw that Mesoamerican warriors who consumed cacao were made stronger. (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods'” 58) The Anonymous Conqueror said in his description of Tenochtitlan in 1556 that, “this drink [cacao] 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.” (Coe, and Coe, 86-88)
It’s clear that the Spanish saw that cacao was prized by Mesoamericans for a variety of reasons. They began using cacao for their own healing purposes such as improved probability of conception, quality of breast milk, reversing the effects of exhaustion, impotence, vision-quest hangovers, mental illness, fevers, poison, skin eruptions, lung problems, agitation, diarrhea, indigestion, and flatulence. (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods'” 76) Like the Mesoamericans, they used chocolate as a cure-all, further supporting the belief in chocolate’s healing and medicinal powers.
In the 1500’s when cacao made it’s way to Spain, Francisco Hernández & Dr. Juan de Cárdenas began working on incorporating adapting the use of cacao as medicine from
Mesoamerican into “civilized” frameworks. “An apothecary based on Humoral Medicine subscribes that cacao contains healing properties encompassing 3 & perhaps all 4 elements – air (fat), fire (bitter), earth (thick) & maybe water (sweet) – to yield a neutral temperament leaning ‘wet-cool’, thus making it acceptable.” (“A Concise History of Chocolate”) Fifty years later, we saw the first of many flags that will come in the following centuries about whether chocolate is healthy or harmful when Dr. Santiago Valverde Turices published the first guide on chocolate, Un Discurso de Chocolate, in 1624. (“A Concise History of Chocolate”) Almost 400 years later, we still debate this question.
MODERN-DAY PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION
As time progressed, chocolate became more industrialized. Coenraad Johannes Van Houten manufactured cocoa powder in Holland in 1828, followed by Joseph Fry manufacturing of first chocolate bars for consumption in 1847. (Martin, “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal” 42, 44) Chocolate got a bad rap as a “poison” not long after when some companies began tampering with chocolate by mixing in inedible ingredients (like crushed red brick) in order to decrease costs. In the mid-1800’s, consumers’ distrust for processed foods, like chocolate, brought new meaning to the “poison” label. The British government was inspired to pass a number of food adulteration acts to make such practices illegal and to reassure consumers that their food was pure. (Martin, “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal” 18) This distrust of corrupt or poisoned foods, while mostly forgotten after corporations became more committed to ensuring the quality of their products, still endures in our modern society, especially with chocolate and candy consumption.
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Ingredients
Ingredients for Homemade Peanut Butter Cups
While food adulteration has subsided over the subsequent decades, companies have used other tactics to decrease chocolate production costs. Chocolate is rarely seen mass-produced in a simple and pure form. Big Chocolate, such as Mars and Hershey, use additives and have created offerings that use minimal chocolate, relying on the addition of cheaper ingredients to defray costs. Compare the ingredients in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup versus a recipe for a homemade version of the treat in the above. The mass-produced cup includes chemicals and ingredients not usually – if ever – found in a kitchen. When you compare the botanical ingredients Mesoamericans used to mix with cacao and the ingredients that Big Chocolate uses in their production, it’s staggering to see the progression of chocolate product ingredients.
DOES CHOCOLATE HEAL OR HURT?
It’s clear based on many early texts that chocolate in its purest cacao form was believed (without scientific conclusion) that it had healing and strengthening properties. The wide adoption of chocolate as a health elixir during the 1500’s and before leads us to believe that the primitive results that Mesoamericans and Spanish explorers saw when using cacao did cure their ailments.
Modern researchers, such as those at Harvard, claim that “ingredients in cocoa can be healthy, but the high-calorie chocolate bars that contain it aren’t necessarily good for you.” The flavonoids found in chocolate “have beneficial effects on heart disease risks, as well as on blood flow to the brain. Chocolate is the candy that’s made by adding sugar, milk, and other ingredients to cocoa powder. Those ingredients also add fat and sugar, which counteract some of cacao’s health benefits.” (Chocolate: Pros and Cons of This Sweet Treat, Harvard Health Publications) It seems that chocolate in it’s simplest form and in moderation does, in fact, have positive health benefits. The modern research on the food would seem to support the positive response that Mesoamericans saw when they used cacao as a health supplement.
“Chocolate: Pros and Cons of This Sweet Treat.” Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. 86-88. Print.
“A Concise History of Chocolate.” The C-Spot. The C-Spot, 1 Mar. 2017. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
Grivetti, Louis, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. 100. Print.
“Homemade Peanut Butter Cups.” Taste of Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the “Food of the Gods”.” 01 Feb. 2017. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” 9 Mar. 2017. Lecture.
Figure 1: A Traditional Mesoamerican Metate and Mano
In order to create their sacred chocolate drink, pre-Columbian Mesoamerican women kneeled on the ground to pulverize roasted beans with a mano on a curved grinding stone called a metate, which together act as a horizontal version of a mortar and pestle (Mcanany and Murata 12). During this “gendered labor”, women added damp corn masa as well as other spices, “such as chile pepper, vanilla, and annatto”, to the cacao (Mcanany and Murata 12). Originating as early as 7000 BCE, these grinding stones are some of the oldest domestic tools in the Americas (“Metate”). This simple invention spread hand-in-hand with the popularization of cacao in Europe. Due to its involvement in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chocolate production and its persistence as a pillar of Latin American food traditions, its pervasive adoption by Europeans, and its influence on the modern, niche chocolate industry, the metate proves to be one of the most important artifacts in the history of chocolate.
Enjoying “an amazing intercontinental and multiethnic career”, metates rank among the few elements of the chocolate-making process that Europeans did not alter (Presilla 26). In order to appeal to a European audience and “cross the ethnocentric taste barrier” between Mesoamericans and Europeans, chocolate had to undergo a hybridization process (Coe and Coe 114). This hybridization changed or modified nearly everything about the chocolate-making and chocolate-consuming processes. Instead of following Aztec customs of drinking chocolate at cold or at room temperature, Europeans “insisted on taking chocolate hot” (Coe and Coe 115). In regard to the recipe, Europeans regularly sweetened the drink with cane sugar, and invaders introduced “Old World spices”, such as cinnamon, anise seed, and black pepper, in place of native Mesoamerican flavorings (Coe and Coe 115). Europeans even replaced the method of obtaining the greatly desired froth of the drink. While native Mesoamerican women customarily poured the liquid from one vessel to another from a height to achieve frothiness in the drink, Europeans used “a large, wooden swizzle-stick called a molinillo”(Coe and Coe 115). Despite all these changes during the European adoption of chocolate, the metate was embraced by Europeans in the same capacity as it was used by Mesoamericans.
The age of mechanization of chocolate manufacturing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made the metate obsolete, yet the device continued to be used in Latin America as a symbol of tradition and in Europe by artisanal confectioners. Beginning in the sixteenth century the Mesoamerican invention of the metate and the technique perfected by the Aztecs and Maya of grinding up roasted cacao beans on it “travelled everywhere that cacao was turned into chocolate” (Presilla 180). The metate instantly became a popular device in Europe; “The metate became as much at home in Spain, France (where it was called “the Spanish stone”), and the Philippines as in Mexico” (Presilla 26). Figure 2 shows a carving from de Blegny’s 1687 treatise, depicting a European man using a metate to grind heated cacao beans. This depiction is notable because European men took up the craft of chocolate-making in European, which was viewed as a woman’s task in Mesoamerica.
Figure 2: European gentleman grinding cacao beans from de Blegny’s 1687 treatise
The industrial revolution marks a shift away from using the metate in favor of machine processes in the late 1700s, such as M. Doret’s hydraulic machine to grind chocolate and form a paste. However, this transition to machine-based chocolate production took time, and cacao beans continued to be ground by hand (Coe and Coe 227). The “ancient ways of making chocolate” persisted in “isolated pockets within Southern Europe” (Coe and Coe 233). Confectioners in southern France in the 1870s continued to use metates as did the Romanengo chocolate establishment in Italy, which “still had stones to grind the cacao” as late as 1989 (Coe and Coe 233). In fact, the industrialization of the chocolate industry made many consumers distrust the quality of the chocolate they purchased, which bolstered the artisanal chocolate industry and its use of metates as the artisanal chocolate was perceived as purer. For example, Catalan chocolate makers in Spain encouraged observers to witness the chocolate being made with the metate to demonstrate to the buyer “that the chocolate he is buying is true-stone ground chocolate, made according to a procedure which…makes it more difficult to add adulterants” (Coe and Coe 233).
Figure 3: Preparing Drinking Chocolate Near Oaxaca, Mexico
Today, many Latin Americans pay homage to their ancestors by using the traditional metate in making chocolate, and the niche chocolate industry often derives their techniques and tastes from this ancient style of chocolate production. As shown in the video of Figure 3, a Mexican woman from Teotítlan Del Valle makes a traditional chocolate drink using a mano and a metate over a flame. Alex Whitmore, CEO of Taza Chocolate, “brought a taste of Mexico to Somerville”, Massachusetts by making “authentic stone ground chocolate” (Hofherr) (Figure 4). After apprenticing with Mexican molineros and “learning their ancient chocolate-making secrets”, Alex decided to use simple rotary stone mills derivative of the metate to create a chocolate with a “gritty, rustic texture” and be “one of a handful of companies in the country that are bean-to-bar chocolate makers” (Hofherr). Taza and its rival companies symbolize a retreat to the roots of chocolate production and the traditional tools involved in the process.
Figure 4: Taza Chocolate Mission
Ultimately, the metate proves to be one of the most important instruments in the history of chocolate. From its humble origins in the Maya and Aztec civilizations to its widespread adoption all over Europe, the metate enjoyed “an amazing intercontinental and multiethnic career”, transcending vastly different cultures and enduring the test of time (Presilla 26). Due to the longevity and geographical range of its use and to the influence it has on contemporary niche confectioners, the metate helped shape the history of chocolate as we know it today.
In Eric Weiner’s 2008 book, The Geography of Bliss, he states, “ingredients that we consider essential to the hearty sew of happiness: money, pleasure, spirituality, family, and chocolate” (2).
His modern, North American viewpoint may be shared by many, however, as we look back to the origins of one of his “essential” happiness ingredients: chocolate – and more specifically, the sugar that is used to sweeten it – we find that a very high human price has been paid to acquire it.
Focusing on England, where sugar was first introduced in small quantities around 1100 AD, but not commonly acknowledged as a costly medicine and/or spice until the 1500s, it became increasingly more available over the following 500 years. Between 1650 and 1800, consumption rates rose by some 2,500 percent. Known as a rarity by 1650 and a luxury by 1750, sugar was seen as a necessity by 1850 and quickly became “the first mass-produced exotic” basic product. (Mintz)
In order to fuel this change in demand, England “fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system” (Martin “Slavery”). Satisfying the sweet happiness England (and Europe) craved was made possible through the exploitation of Africa and America. As quoted in Volume 1 of J.H. Bernadine de Saint Pierre’s Voyage to Isle de France, Isle de Bourbon, The Cape of Good Hope…With New Observation on Nature and Mankind by an Officer of the King (1773):
I do not know if coffee and sugar are essential to the happiness of Europe, but I know well that these two products have accounted for the unhappiness of two great regions of the world: America has been depopulated so as to have land on which to plant them; Africa has been depopulated so as to have the people to cultivate them. (Mintz, Frontispiece)
Supported by America
The original workforce was supported by the encomienda system. This was a grant implemented by the Spanish crown which allowed colonists to demand tribute from indigenous inhabitants in exchange for care, protection, and Christian education. (Martin “Slavery”). However, due to illness, maltreatment, and excessive overwork, the indigenous population declined from “25.2 million in 1519 to 16.8 million in 1532 and 0.75 million in 1622” (Goucher, 491). As the native populations of entire villages disappeared, Europeans turned to other available sources of labor to toil on their newly claimed lands.
Supported by Africa
To meet the seemingly insatiable demand for sweetness (up to 20,000 tons of sugar produced for English consumers each year), an estimated labor force of 50,000 African slaves was required (Martin “Slavery”). However, the slaves who toiled on English plantations comprised only a portion of the approximately 10 to 15 million enslaved Africans who survived forced transport across the Atlantic from 1500-1900 (for every 100 enslaved Africans who reached the New World, another 40 died in Africa or during the Middle Passage) (Martin “Slavery”).
For those who survived the Middle Passage life was, in the words of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short.” Working conditions were “so extreme that the slave population never achieved a significant growth rate and depended entirely on African importation to sustain production” (Martin “Slavery”).
Beyond Forced Support
Through revolts and legal emancipation, slaves were eventually released from bondage and given back their freedom:
1804: Haiti declared independence and abolished slavery
1807: The slave trade was closed
1834: British Slavery Abolition Act abolished slavery throughout most of the British Empire
1848: Slavery was abolished in all French and Danish colonies
1865: Slavery was abolished in the United States by the 13th Amendment
1886: Slavery was abolished in Cuba
1888: Slavery was abolished in Brazil by Golden Law
However, indigenous populations were never given back their lands, slaves (or their descendants) were rarely repatriated and racism and economic inequality still persist today.
In the pursuit of happiness, it is possible that one cannot have or desire too much chocolate or the sugar that sweetens it, but it is important to know and respect their true cost as it is impossible to reverse history or give back life.
Goucher, Candice, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton. Commerce and Change: The Creation of a Global Economy and the Expansion of Europe. In the Balance: Themes in Global History. Boston: McGraw-Hill. 1998.
In today’s world, racism unfortunately still exists, but to acknowledge why racism is still existent, one needs to pinpoint the relationship between African Americans and slavery, and ask, why Africans in particular were enslaved. Eric Williams, historian & former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago answers this question stating, “The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor.” What he is arguing here is that Africans were not enslaved because they were naturally set to be enslaved, they weren’t enslaved because they were known to be better workers. They were first enslaved because they were the cheapest and easiest population to get at and to quickly and efficiently move to the new world to begin producing these goods (Martin). Racism was a byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade and not the reason for it because it was primarily driven by economic considerations/justifications as illustrated by the encomienda system which was very much structured like the European feudal structures.
The conquerors used Native Americans to farm the land and work the mines to produce wealth, the system of force labor is called the Encomienda System. These activities provided food for the population and products for the trade with Europe and the east. The Encomienda System was similar to The Manor System in Medieval Europe or the Feudal System. Instead of having nobles as lords who controlled the peasants, in this case the Spanish were the lords, and the Native Americans were like the peasants. The Spanish claimed that the Encomienda system would benefit both settlers and Indians. The idea is that they would come with their superior intellect and military might to protect and care for the indigenous people, and thereby save their souls by baptizing them or by making them Christian. In return, the indigenous people would work a portion of their time for Spanish settlers, and give them a tribute of their crops, such as a form of cacao, often 10’s of thousands of cacao beans per year (Martin). The reality played out differently.
The Spanish settlers forced long labor on different crops. They didn’t pay indigenous workers. They failed to protect them, and they also seized their lands as time went on. So indigenous people were unable to pay tribute the Spaniards would claim their lands as theirs. And as a result, indigenous people died from a variety of different diseases in which they didn’t have immunity and experienced harsh living, and working conditions. The Encomienda system really went on until it was clear that demographic collapse was imminent that the clergy protested. So the Spanish clergy in this area of the world protested and the indigenous people themselves revolted against it. However abuses continued (Martin). After the indigenous slave labor proved to be insufficient, Chattel slavery is what the Europeans turned to next.
Chattel Slavery, slavery in which people are treated as the chattel (personal property) of an owner, and are bought and sold as commodities had the greatest result from sugar (Martin). As sugar was a rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, and a necessity by 1850, the enslavement of Africans was disseminated by Europeans who prosecuted and profited from the slave trade for three centuries (Mintz 148). “The institutionalization of slavery in the New World led directly to the Transatlantic slave trade due to the fact that demand for slaves outpaced the growth in supply by natural increase nearly everywhere in the Americas”(Cumo). As there was massive demand for labor, the Europeans looked to Africa. The African’s themselves sold African slaves as a commodity in return for goods such as rum, guns, textiles and other goods to exchange for slaves, and then transported them across the Atlantic to sell to plantation-owners, and then returned with sugar and coffee, also fueled the first great wave of economic globalization (The Economist). By the Africans selling their own people, they enriched their own realms and strengthened them too. This is where the dehumanization aimed at Africans begins.
It was, after all, in the interest of slave traders and slave owners to propagate the myth that Africans were not human beings, or at least not fully human, a species different from the rest of humanity most likely due to the pro-slavery lobby that lived on. Thus, it is the idea of racial hierarchy, developed, refined and disseminated by Europeans over such a spectrum of time where racism really initiated against African Americans. It is not clear why Europeans fixated on the skin color of Africans. Imaginably, they did so simply because the physical appearance of blacks was as markedly different from their own and, regarding themselves as superior beings, most Europeans associated a series of negative characteristics with blacks (Olusoga). Also, it was thought that Africans were said to “be able to need less food, and be able to withstand the elements better than whites”, this here is social and psychological violence falsely generated to dehumanize Africans (Asante). The false claims of blacks that was intentionally imagined preceded slavery and helped to justify it.
In conclusion, without European slave traders, slave buyers, slave insurers, slave sailors, slave auctioneers, and slave owners, there would have been no transport of Africans across the sea for enslavement, and therefore no racism developed. Further exploration on this topic would be to watch the multimedia source below, and see the further developed myth of racism that stemmed from economics and the byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade to this day. Although racism is a myth derived, developed, and changed from generation to generation, the impact of racism is very real to this day.
Asante, Molefi Kete. The Ideology of Racial Hierarchy and the Construction of the European Slave Trade. Vol. 3. 2001. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.
Cumo, Christopher. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1750–1900.” World History Encyclopedia. Alfred J. Andrea. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Credo Reference. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.
International: Breaking the chains; slavery. (2007, Feb 24). The Economist, 382, 64-73. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.
Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.