The strength of the Catholic Church and their presence in Europe is a commonly known fact, and it’s something that still holds true today. Through the shrewd political tactics during the turmoil of the middle ages, the Catholic Church’s religious influence over western Europe became all encompassing (Hanson, 24-26). As someone who grew up in a religious household, the idea that chocolate would be a point of contention within the church was not just fascinating, but almost incomprehensible without a deeper understanding of what chocolate stood for when it was first introduced.
With the discovery of chocolates that came from the New World, questions began emerging within the church. Was this pagan beverage something that they supported or denounced? Would this beverage be beneficial to their influence or be a thorn on their side? It should be noted that when chocolate’s influence started rising in Europe, the Catholic Church was going through their own upheaval of what we now know as the Reformation, or the religious wars (Coe, 137). They were struggling with the emergence of the Protestant wave and trying to maintain their borders and influence over the members that were unhappy with what the church represented.
This post isn’t to argue whether or not the church’s continuous changes in stance of chocolate was right or wrong, but to highlight how the discovery of chocolate brought about not just socioeconomic changes, but religious changes as well.
Fasting, Women and Poison
While there is no real record of when exactly chocolate reached Europe, but the first appearance takes place in Spain (Coe, 129-128). Making its way through the royal courts and nobility, the popularity of this beverage spiraled. This is also when the questions of chocolate and its relationship with the church began coming into question.
In 1636 Antonio de León Pinelo asked the question, “Where does chocolate fit into our moral and religious system?” (Martin, pp. 23). Looking further back, we see that even before, there was a Dominican friar who had formally asked the pope whether or not chocolate was okay to consume during fast. It is stated that the pope merely had a good laugh with the cardinals regarding this question and did not even bother to write a response. So, why would this have been an issue? The church’s dilemma came from several issues: this was a beverage from a pagan colony that did not believe in their God, this chocolate beverage was often used as a meal substitute, and the products that were mixed in to the chocolate beverages could count as a type of food.
Treatise by Leon Pinelo. Madrid, 1636.
The question about the consumption of chocolate, which was mostly in liquid form at the time, actually became a legitimate debate as time went by. Jesuits, who had wholly accepted chocolate and were already using it as a tool for trades and investments, were for everything chocolate. Yet, the Dominicans who were much more puritanical and traditional, argued that the whole point of fast was to purify the body of food and thirst quenching liquids and thus chocolate should not be allowed (Coe, 148). Despite the fact that chocolate (once with the addition of sugar to subdue the bitterness of it) became a favorite amongst the cardinals and the pope, who declared that it was OK to consume during fast, many puritanical priests still held on to the idea that chocolate was not okay.
There was also the issue that chocolate had such strong ties to women, and the status was women was always a point of contention in the church (Martin, Lecture 3). Since chocolate was prepared by women, the church initially felt that it was almost inappropriate for it to be enjoyed by men, especially during fast. The church also probably felt threatened of their power when European women in Latin Americas, who had grown up away from Europe, did not listen to the sermons that were conducted in these colonies and instead chose to gossip right outside the church drinking chocolate while the priests were speaking (Martin, Lecture 3). It isn’t hard to see why the church began to perceive the presence as a threat to their ideals and their teachings.
“Hot Chocolate”. Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta, 1884-1885.
Also, the idea that chocolate was not a “Gift of God”, but perhaps something more sinister came to be with with the perceived murder of Pope Clement XIV. Because chocolate had become sweeter and the taste was so strong, it was thought as the ideal vessel for poison. When it was rumored that the pope was slowly poisoned to death through his favorite beverage, the consumption of chocolate within the church was also soured. Even though the rumor was eventually debunked, the idea that chocolate could be used as a tool of weapon made people much more wary of it.
The Society of Jesus
However, if there was a group of strong advocates for chocolate within the church, it was the Jesuits. The Jesuits were both feared and disliked by people inside and outside the church. This was mostly linked to their history as the militant arms of the church but also due to their large success in using slavery in the New World for their own profit. They captured and used forced labor on the locals to harvest large amounts of not just tobacco and cotton, but also cacao beans for their own monetary gains (Moss, 29).
The Jesuit missionaries tried to take this success past the Americas and Europe into parts of Asia. They wanted to repeat the success they had found in the New World and expand to China and other parts of the East. While they were mostly unsuccessful, they did find large amounts of success in the Philippines. As the Philippines became a Spanish colony, using the influence of the Catholic religion, they also introduced chocolate as a source of beverage and food as well. The country, still to this day, enjoy copious amounts of chocolate and tend to have a lot of chocolate based food and beverages during the Christmas holidays.
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.
The chocolate prevalently consumed today isn’t the chocolate known to the ancient Mesoamericans, or elite Europeans of the past. What was once a rich, decadent drink of the wealthy has now become a common confection, easily attainable by all members of our society. Due to the many innovations introduced during the Industrial Revolution, now most readily available chocolate is heavily processed and adulterated with sugar.
The chocolate the Mayans and Aztecs sipped was made by a process of grinding roasted cacao seeds until they formed chocolate liquor. This bitter, fatty liquid was mixed with corn flour, a little water, and some spices to add flavor. A similar process was used in Europe when the Spaniards first brought back cacao seeds from the New World in the 1500’s. “For many years cacao beans were roasted and ground into a thick, grainy paste (cacao mass or liquor), by methods differing very little form the pre-Columbian metate grinding…”(Presilla, 2009, p. 30). Pictured below is a metate, the grinding stone that would be heated and used to grind cacao seeds.
Figure 1. A Mesoamerican Metate used for grinding cacao.
As chocolate gained popularity throughout Europe, its target audience remained the same. “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 125). Several inventions in the 1800’s would eventually change chocolate’s status as an exclusive drink, to a low-cost food.
This change was first precipitated in 1828 by Conrad Van Houten from the Netherlands. Van Houten devised a way to use a hydrolyzed press in order to extract the cacao fat from chocolate liquor; leaving both cocoa powder and the cocoa butter. Cocoa powder was quicker to turn into hot chocolate than the traditional method, and the cocoa butter had many uses, such as making soaps. He further invented an alkalizing process which helped to make less acidic, smoother tasting cocoa powder (Presilla, 2009, p. 40).
Figure 2. Modern Melangeur used to mix ingredients.
Pictured above is a modern day version of a machine introduced during the industrial revolution, the Melangeur. This is a large mixer used to combine ingredients into a uniform dough. This added greater consistency and speed to an otherwise laborious process. In 1879 Rodolphe Lindt, of Switzerland, developed a machine to take the smoothing and combing process one step further. With his conching machine all grittiness could be removed and a truly smooth, melt in your mouth, solid, chocolate was created. During that same year another Swiss inventor, Daniel Peter, came up with the process of adding dried milk (Prescilla, 2009, p. 41).
Through trial and error, a self-stable bar chocolate was made from conching cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and dried milk. The end result was a product that could be made inexpensively on a very large scale. As the price went down, the demand rose. This new form of chocolate could not have been mass produced so cheaply without its main ingredient; sugar. Mintz (1987) tells us sugar changed from a luxury of the wealthy to a dietary staple of the poor in Britain (p. 133). Pictures below are sugar cane workers on the island of Jamaica in the 1880s. As sugar consumption increased in staggering rates in Europe and North America, the need for affordable mass labor led to slavery. Even after slavery was abolished, the working conditions of laborers on plantations was terrible.
Figure 3. Jamaican sugar cane works in the 1880’s.
The strong consumer demand in our society for ever more sweet treats has led chocolate manufacturers to look for ways to continue to make mass produce quantities of chocolate for as little money as possible. Of course this has resulted in paying sugar and cacao farmers as little as possible. Historically, before food and drug regulations, this also meant a free for all on adding cheaper ingredients into chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 244). Large scale chocolate making meant, and continues to mean, a reduction in overall chocolate quality.
Before chocolate became the conched bar of sugar, dried milk and cocoa we know of today, the quality of beans used mattered a great deal. The most prized beans came from the variety called Criollo. This name has lost significance outside of niche markets due to the nature of modern chocolate making. Many things can go awry when making cacao ready for eating. Not only do varies varieties, namely forastero, potentially have a less ideal flavor, issues can arise during growing, fermenting, drying and roasting. Van Houten’s alkali treatment and conching can both help salvage imperfect beans (Presilla, 2009, p. 41). The high amount of sugar can also help mask unpleasant flavors. After the Industrial Revolution Priscilla (2009) notes “Even excellent chocolate had become faceless and anonymous, for the great majority of consumers had no way of seeing and judging the cacao from which it was made (p. 41.)
Chocolate was once a fine crafted drink of elite Mesoamericans. Then cacao traveled to Europe, and for many years, was kept in the same tradition of being sipped by the upper class. Innovation, and an unfortunate acceptance of slave labor, allowed chocolate during the Industrial Revolution to be transformed. It became a common, edible food available to all of our society. The origin and quality of the ingredients has become unknown to the average consumer. Today most think of chocolate as a highly sweetened candy. This has not always been true. Chocolate had a different life long before industrialization.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.
Mintz, S. W. (1987). Sweetness and power: the place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin Books.
Presilla, M. E. (2009). The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Throughout its history, chocolate has maintained a relatively stable existence in terms of its functions and production. While there have been periods of change, there have also been long stretches of time where chocolate use stayed consistent. For example, in Mesoamerica from as early as 1800 BCE to as late as 900 CE chocolate was consumed as a beverage and used in a variety of religious ceremonies (C-Spot). However, when brought to Europe in the early 1500s, chocolate went through a period of rapid change. Most significantly, chocolate’s industrialization led to a change in its accessibility, highlighting how advancements in production methodology and advertising of chocolate altered its social standing and class function. Through careful examination of key events in the industrial timeline of chocolate, four stages can be identified that each show a transition in the industrial development, ultimately linked to societal structure and function.
Starting in the 16th and 17th centuries, chocolate was introduced to Europe as a drink for the aristocracy. Over these two centuries, chocolate served a variety of functions, of which some are no longer recognized in modern society. In 1556, the earliest recipe for chocolate was documented in Spain. This recipe, collected by a lieutenant of Captain Hernán Cortés, relates how the cacao beans are ground into powder, mixed with water until foamy, and then stirred with gold or silver spoons until drunk. This was an especially common recipe in Mesoamerica. The entry then declares that this drink is the “most wholesome and substantial of any food or beverage in the world…whoever drinks a cup of this liquor can go thru a whole day without taking anything else even if on a cross country journey” (C-Spot). This account clearly relates cacao’s function as a hearty beverage with a substantial amount of nutritional value. However, the function of cacao changes in the 1580s when it contributes to the humoral theory of medicine in that its “hot” nature combats poison, alleviates intestinal discomfort, and cures a variety of other ailments (Coe 122). This functional form sticks with chocolate into the 1600s where its increasing demand eventually leads to European plantations in the Caribbean that operate to ensure a steady supply of cacao for the European elite. In fact, the elite were so floored by chocolate that in 1657 the first chocolate house was established in London (C-Spot). These houses were the cultural and political hub for society’s elite (Coe 223). To get a historical and social sense of a chocolate house in England, this article by Dr. Matthew Green published in The Telegraph is quite informative. Dr. Green does a great job of capturing the sophisticated nature of these houses, particularly those of the super elite on St. James Square.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, chocolate was served to the elites of Europe in a variety of functions ranging from a medicine to a simple, yet powerful, beverage. However, as the 18th and 19th centuries approached, a more transitional period of chocolate began to take form, in which production was industrialized and the final product was made more accessible to the middle class. Starting in 1764, the first power machinery was used in chocolate production, in the form of a grist mill, used to grind cacao beans by Baker’s Chocolate in Dorchester, Massachusetts (Coe 227). Baker’s Chocolate was founded on the pillars of purity of product, mass production, money-back guarantee, and affordability (C-Spot). These pillars emphasize the shift from the chocolate drink as an item of the elite to a mass produced and advertised product accessible to a range of social classes. This evolution of chocolate manufacturing continued in 1828 when Coenraad Johannes van Houten received a patent for his screw press, used to separate fat from the roasted cacao beans (C-Spot). This method was an inexpensive way of removing fat and leaving behind a cake that could be ground into a fine powder (C-Spot). Later call the Dutch Process, it was promoted by van Houten as “for the rich and poor – made instantly – easier than tea” (C-Spot). It was even thought of as a more suitable chocolate for women and children as this process removed the bitterness found in untreated cacao (C-Spot). The last industrial innovation of note was the first mass-marketed chocolate bar produced by Fry’s Chocolate. In 1847, Francis and Joseph Fry were able to perfect the chocolate mixture in a moldable form, thus forming the first bar (Coe 241). As can be seen in the advertisement below, Fry’s Chocolate consumption was directed at children due to its sweeter taste, and thus more accessible when compared to the 16th and 17th centuries.
Following the development of the Fry’s chocolate bar, many chocolate companies began to follow suit by creating chocolate treats that could be mass produced and bought by the public. This was a time in which “industrial decadence”, or the ability for food to be produced on an industrial level, greatly improved the quality and variety of diets for the middle and working class population (Goody 72). This statement holds true for chocolate production. In fact, the time stretching from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s was a period marked by innovation and branding of different forms of chocolate delights. Below, one can find a timeline of the most popular brands of chocolate introduced during this period. These brands still exist today and mark the beginning of a period of refined
and obtainable chocolate for all social classes. There are a few events deserving specific attention as they highlight the theme of chocolate industrialization and its effects on accessibility, mass marketing, and mass production. For example, in 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé created milk chocolate using Nestlé’s powdered milk, creating a sweeter chocolate to be enjoyed by a wider range of people (Coe 247). Other similar advancements include, Rudolph Lindt’s conche machine in 1879, which created a smoother sensory experience and the invention of the Toblerone in 1908 as a different approach to chocolate involving a mold and filling (Coe 247, 248). These developments, along with the introduction of a variety of chocolate products, ushered in an era of mass production and accessibility.
The last stage of chocolate industrialization is the current one. While the bars and candies discussed above still exist today, there is now a distinction between this “grocery store chocolate” and fine chocolate made by the chocolatier. This term is used to describe a person that uses fine chocolate to create unique creations using machinery but also hand production (Martin, Lecture 4). An example of this process is seen at Taza Chocolate factory in Somerville, MA. Below is a video of their production process, which highlights their hands-on and “bean to bar” practice. It appears that this distinction between fine
and “grocery store” chocolate has arisen due to a change in consumers’ preference for sustainable and fair trade foods. While people occasionally love to get their hands on a Milky Way, many consumers are attracted to the idea of a pure chocolate bar whose ingredients can be traced throughout the entire production process.
Over time, the function and accessibility of chocolate has shifted to mirror the industrial aspects of its production. When first introduced to Europe, chocolate was produced in colonialized islands and intended as a drink for the elite, while also serving a purpose in the medical world. In the 18th and 19th centuries, chocolate underwent a transitional period where industrialization was introduced in the form of mass production and advertising, thus making chocolate accessible to all classes. This period was followed by a rapid expansion of the chocolate industry where chocolate was consumed in solid form and constant advancements were made to appeal to the variety of tastes craved by consumers. Finally, today, we still enjoy a variety of mass produced chocolate candies, but now we strive for a bar crafted with sustainability, purity, and fairness in mind.
The history of chocolate’s movement from the New World of Mesoamerica to the Old World of Europe is as much about the drink itself as it is about the customs surrounding it. When European colonial powers brought chocolate back to their home county to be consumed by the elite, they took the preferred mode of consumption (liquid), the temperature (warm), and process of finishing (foaming). One thing they did innovate with, however, was the vessels that they consumed chocolate with.
In colonial Mexico and South America, chocolate was consumed as the people in Mesoamerica had done: with a jícara. However, the nobles of colonial Spain wouldn’t be drinking from the hollowed and dried squash vessels as the indigenous people would (Ionescu 41)—they instead updated the jicara to reflect their more elegant tastes. The European version of the jícara was to be made of clay in a Spanish method of potterymaking called mayólica (Gavin 254). These ceramic jícaras served a similar function, however, they still had the unfortunate side effects of being mildly clumsy to drink out of. This would require another innovation.
The mancerina had a distinctive shape and two parts – a handle-less silver cup, much like the jícara, and a saucer with a ring in the middle so that the jícara cup could be held in place. While initially the goal was simply to provide a wall on the saucer to “prevent [the cup] from tipping over” (Ionescu 41), eventually these elaborate and beautiful pieces of silver would grow to look like cups in a wide leaf or the seat of a seashell.
The evolution of this drinking vessel for Europeans, like many processes in the movement of chocolate throughout the 17th century, is convoluted. There isn’t just one true story of why it was created. The who of the matter is relatively agreed upon: the man that created it, the Marques of Mancera, gave the new cup its name. There are two versions of the reasons behind the invention of the mancerina that hint at the different places of esteem chocolate held in Baroque Europe.
The first story, as put forth by Sophie and Michael Coe, involves an elegant banquet that the Marques of Mancera held at his property in Peru, somewhere between 1639 and 1648 (Gavin 254). As was custom for the time, chocolate was served and consumed by all the nobles in attendance. To his horror, one of the ladies spilled chocolate all over dress from being unable to handle the jicara (Coe and Coe 135). In order to avoid similar mishaps in the future, the Marquez invented the mancerina.
This origin story points to the close associations between class and chocolate drinking in Baroque Europe and the colonies it spawned. These practices, most prevalent in Spain, France and Italy among royal courts and nobles, are detailed throughout Chapter 5 of Coe and Coe.
The second origin story of the mancerina, one which Coe and Coe do not touch on in The True History of Chocolate, involves the Marquez’s health. The Marquez of Mancera was said to suffer from palsy, or a tremor in his hands; that tremor often prevented him from holding the jicara without spilling any chocolate on himself. Thus, the mancerina may have been created to aid the elderly or ill in consuming chocolate for their health. Most of Europe was still subscribing to Galen’s Theory of Humors as healthcare (Coe and Coe 128) at the time chocolate was introduced in the 16th century. As all of their foods had to be classified according to this system of 4 characteristics, chocolate was naturally also brought into the regime. More important than the classification itself is the immediate intimate relationship chocolate and health had. Chocolate was “prescribed” to nobles and people of ill health across Europe; many ladies in French court began to cling to the positive effects so much that they couldn’t get out of bed without their daily dose of chocolate (Coe and Coe 136). The mancerina (or trembleuse in France) made this kind of dosage in bed easier to administer to high-born ladies as well as the invalid.
The history of the mancerina is an important part of the history of chocolate not only because it is a beautiful piece of European art history and innovation, but also because the confusion surrounding its very invention is indicative of the important role chocolate grew to play in Europe. These stories and their reflection on the involvement of chocolate not only in the noble rituals of the high courts of the continent but also the esteemed place it began to held in the European (albeit misguided) system of medicine. These relationships would shape many discussions about chocolate in the centuries to come.
Baird, Ileana Popa, and Christina Ionescu. Eighteenth-century Thing Theory in a Global Context: From Consumerism to Celebrity Culture. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014. Print.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Gavin, Robin Farwell., Donna Pierce, and Alfonso Pleguezuelo Hernández. Cerámica Y Cultura: The Story of Spanish and Mexican Mayólica. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico, 2003. Print.
Lange, Amanda. “Chocolate Preparation and Early Serving Vessels.” National Museum of American History. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
Branding, perhaps, is the most critical part of advertising and is the crutch to every corporation’s success. It’s everything. Branding determines which consumers you reach out to, what image you want your product to have, and what you want your consumers to remember about your product. Furthermore, branding as a whole, whether good or bad, plays a large part in your consumer base (how many customers you have), your company’s identity (how iconic you are/become), and your profits. The leading players in the world of chocolate, Hershey’s, Cadbury, Nestle, Mars, and Ferrero Rocher are no strangers to this (Martin). Each have carefully calculated, analyzed, and determined what branding their chocolate will take, with not a single detail going to waste. And what they do does matter, considering Hershey, Mars, and Nestle make up 99.4% of the world’s snack sized chocolate market (Martin). After asking fellow classmates about chocolate and cacao I found out an astonishing fact: while all students acknowledged to some extent the role South America has to play in cacao and chocolate history, very few students acknowledged the role Africa has in chocolate production, and every student gave credit to either the United States or a European nation for having the best chocolate.
Why would such a phenomenon occur, especially when most of the largest players dominating the market have their cacao come from African nations like Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, and Nigeria? The secret behind this lies in the branding. Upon examining chocolate bars, one finds that the location of the beans is rarely advertised. Instead, what dominates the bars appearance is the company’s name and logo. In addition, when taking a closer look at chocolate history Africa as a whole has largely been left out of the common and general narrative. From this, it can be deduced that the world’s largest chocolate makers take advantage of the dominant and nearly exclusive European narrative of chocolate to place consumer focus and loyalty on their own individual corporations rather than the origin of the cacao beans used to make their chocolate, in order to ensure better success, recognition, and protection.
(Data table generated from survey responses of seven subjects)
Interested in what general knowledge my classmates had, I interviewed a handful of students in my year, asking general questions such as “Which nations do you associate chocolate with?” and “Where is the most cacao grown?” The main distinction I made in my questions was for simplicity in which chocolate referred to the finished, packaged product and cacao referred to the cacao beans of the tree. Although their overall chocolate knowledge was not extensive or accurate, one trend in particular caught my mind. My classmates consistently associated the “best chocolate” with European nations, cacao and its history with Latin America, and largely left out Africa out of the picture. What was even more interesting was that my classmates identified the nations that had the best chocolate mainly through their own taste—general opinion having minimal influence—citing their favorite brands such as Cadbury, Nestle, Hershey, etc. as the reason for their answer. The results of this survey perplexed me. If my classmates were more associated with and cognizant of larger chocolate brands whose main source of cacao is bulk cacao grown in West Africa, why did they leave West Africa out of the narrative?
One of the answers lies in the general narrative of chocolate. Unfortunately, more often then not, the European narrative of chocolate is the dominant narrative. Few people have been able to experience the voices of Mesoamerica, specifically of those of the Mayan and Aztec civilizations. Among scholars is the false running idea that the Spaniards found chocolate’s taste so appalling and unappetizing they attempted to fix the bad flavor through means of sweetening with spices like vanilla and sweeteners like sugar (Norton, 660). However, this idea is problematic as it portrays the image of sophisticated Spaniards coming down from Europe and taking chocolate, originally a simple, distasteful food of the locals, and making it “better,” more edible, and delicious. This feeds into the superiority complex of Europe in which everything it comes to touch or own is automatically better and greater than the prior product of the natives. Norton sets to correct this idea, stating, “The Spanish did not alter chocolate to fit the predilections of their palate. Instead, Europeans unwittingly developed a state for Indian chocolate, and they sought to re-create the indigenous chocolate experience in America and in Europe…[leading] to a cross-cultural transmission of taste” (660). Norton argues that colonialism and the transfer of food is not one sided, nor is it “something done to someone else”; instead he argues that it is an exchange with the “struggles and endeavors in the periphery change[ing] the society and culture, as well as the economy, of the metrople” (661). So while it should be seen as Mesoamerica playing a huge role in both cacao and chocolate, it is currently seen as Mesoamerica harvesting cacao (the most basic task) and Europe controlling manufacturing and processing the chocolate—the part where chocolate becomes “good”. Because of the prevailing European narrative that saturates the history of chocolate and seeks to promote Europe’s sophistication, power, and superiority, Mesoamerica’s equal role in developing and making chocolate, not just cacao, has been left out.
The same argument can be extended to explain why my classmates did not include African nations in the chocolate narrative. Africa, as a result of the large European narrative, has been left out of the history and story regarding cacao, its cultivation, and its process to becoming the chocolate we know today, even more so than Meso and Latin America due to the emergence of racism and prejudice against Africa, Africans, African Americans, and Blacks to justify slavery and discrimination. As Eric Williams said “slavery was not born of racism; racism was the consequence of slavery” (7). Although the indigenous people of Mesoamerica did originally serve as the first slave labor, due to “their inefficiency and weakness,” deaths from disease, and limited numbers (Williams, 9), African slaves were chosen over them and the poor, white colonists of the region, to become the labor of choice—not because of their skin color but “because [they] were the cheapest and the best,” with “superior endurance, docility, and labor capacity” (Williams, 20). Racial differences observed through “hair, color, and dentifrice and “subhuman characteristics” (Williams, 20) “made it easier to justify and rationalize Negro slavery, to enact the mechanical obedience of a plough-ox or a cart-horse, to demand resignation and that complete moral and intellectual subjugation which alone make slave labor possible” (Williams, 19). Slavery is much easier to condone and perpetuate when viewing the enslaved as immoral, dark, evil, brutish, animal-like, and overall less human, “warranting” degradation, destruction of human rights and liberties, paternalistic oversight/control, and cruel, life-long servitude. Through this racial justification of slavery was the African narrative intentionally left out. The lack of an African narrative plays perfectly into the hands of the large chocolate corporations of the twentieth and twenty first century who Leissle notes “were more interested in selling the flavors of particular candy bars than bean lineage.” This effectively cuts off the link between the cacao growers in Ghana, Cameroon, and Cote D’Ivoire and the consumer, as “most wrappers give no indication that, with a few exceptions, the cocoa in those candies came from West Africa” (Leissle, 22). By making Africa “largely invisible” in regard to chocolate production (Leissle) and separating consumer from bean origin, large chocolate corporations can turn consumer attention to their own specific brands and flavors, which can be easily seen on their bars as most of the space and writing goes to describing and promoting those items, with the company name always being the largest font (observe image 4).
Bill Nesto further explores this occurrence through a direct comparison in the preservation of terroir between the chocolate industry and wine industry. Terroir, according to Nesto, “is the web that connects and unifies raw materials, their growing conditions, production process, and the moment of product appreciation” (131). The terroir regarding chocolate is severely broken and in many cases nonexistent. The consumer knows very little about the source of the raw materials and/or the conditions in which they are grown. And even when they possess knowledge of both they cannot connect the two as the concepts have become distinct and dissociated. The only thing a chocolate consumer of Hershey’s or Cadbury has to hold on to is the name Hershey or Cadbury, not the bean origin, harvest, or processing. Thus the consumer’s terroir and chocolate experience is dominated by company name. Nesto also makes this observation noting “the key circumstance that obstructs the expression of terroir in chocolate is the distance, both real and conceptual, between the farmer growing cacao and the factory that transforms the cacao into chocolate” (132). This is so vastly different from wine where the vineyards are very close to the wineries and the labeling is much more “accurate and advanced” (Nesto, 134). In fact, one could argue that people know and crave wine more by the vineyard and the harvesting process rather than the producer, as the producer is defined by their vineyard and harvesting process. For example, the bottle of wine located above explicitly tells us not just the winery, but also the vineyard (Firepeak) the grapes were grown on and the region the wine is from (Edna Valley). If the consumer so desires, they could explore more wines that come from that vineyard or from that region to further develop their wine terroir and palate. Unlike wine makers, Mars isn’t defined by its cacao plantations or chocolate making process; it is defined by its name .
The current and only bridge between the consumer and cacao beans lies in single source origin bars. Single source origin bars are “chocolate made with beans from a single country, region, or plantation” with the cacao producing distinct, unexpected, and irregular flavors (Leissle, 23). The producers of said bars are also very specific about the process the beans go through and need to know every step of production and processing in order to ensure the product’s quality, authenticity, and taste. All this is revealed in packaging. For example, image 3 shown below displays a variety of Tejas single source chocolate bars from various regions and the percent of the chocolate that comes from there. The company made sure to write fire roasted and stone ground so that the consumer has some knowledge of the process the beans went through, and carefully constructed an image to further connect the consumer to the beans as if taking the consumer on an “exotic” trip to the home of the beans for an enjoyable getaway from everyday life. Much different when compared to the very brand name focused packaging of Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars that don’t advertise cacao content, origin, or geographic location (see image 4).
As good at it sounds even single source chocolate shows similar discrimination towards African cacao like the top five chocolate companies do. The evidence lies in the numbers; there is a huge disparity in the amount of single source bars from West Africa vs. those from South America and other regions of the world. Only 3.8% of single source bars contain cacao exclusively from West Africa (according to Mark Christian’s chocolate database—the largest one in the world). An official reviewer of Britain’s seventypercent.com demonstrates the continued prejudice and racial views against Africa by commenting on one of the few 100% Ghanian cacao bars, stating that the Torres bar has an “ominously dark color, though indicative of its Ghanian origins, evokes an unexplainable fear that these nearly black colors usually do” (Leissle, 27). The “unexplainable fear” reflects the internalized fear and aversion to anything resembling Africa and Black people as it’s dangerous, sinful, and uncontrollable—at least according to society’s false narrative of Black people.
Similarly, top chocolate companies avoid advertising West African cacao due to the negative stereotypes surrounding the region. They don’t want to be associated with the stereotypes of Africa such as “poverty, conflict, human rights violations, HIV/AIDS, debt, lack of urban development and oil (Leissle, 26).” They also don’t want to be associated with the problems and discrepancies regarding worker’s rights, child labor, and working conditions of the 1990s and the 2000s (Martin). Because of the lack of general knowledge regarding the top brands cacao beans used to make their chocolate, the companies can better avoid consumer anger and boycotting of their products since they won’t/can’t connect the working conditions of their farmers to their products. As a result of Africa’s invisible narrative in cacao production and the lack of connection between consumer and farmer, the large chocolate companies of today can avoid labor/processing accountability and giving recognition to West African cacao, holding all the benefits and rewards for themselves.
With chocolate’s diminished terroir, a lack of an African narrative, and almost no connection between the beans of origin and consumer, the world’s largest chocolate corporations can easily brand their bars with complete focus and emphasis on their company rather than the beans or process. Thus their consumers build their loyalty not on cacao bean taste, strand, or origin but on company name and logo. For if consumers knew where the cacao originated, they would no longer be as loyal and focused on say Mars or Cadbury, but much more focused on bean strand and location, seeking out a variety of chocolatiers who source cacao from those locations, decreasing large corporations strength, power, monetary success, and fame. Subject seven nearly had it right when they said, “African cacao isn’t marketed as well (not as widely publicized necessarily) and people don’t know it as well as South America” in regard to what they think of African vs. South American cacao. It’s not that the cacao isn’t marketed well; it’s simply not marketed at all—a huge shame considering it makes up most of the world’s chocolate market.
Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 13.3 (2013): 22-31. University of California Press. Web. 6 May 2015.
Martin, Carla . “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market.” Emerson Hall 210, Cambridge . 9 Mar. 2015. Lecture.
Martin, Carla . “Modern Day Slavery.” Emerson Hall 210, Cambridge . 25 Mar. 2015. Lecture.
Nesto, Bill. “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica 10.1 (2010): 131-35. University of California Press. Web. 6 May 2015.
Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate And The European Internalization Of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.4 (2006): 660-91. Oxford Journals. Web. 6 May 2015.
By walking through the candy aisle of any average supermarket in America today, most shoppers will notice the overwhelming variety of chocolates layered on the shelves. The accessibility to different types of chocolate is a convenience that we often take for granted. In fact, it was only until after the Industrial Revolution that chocolate became a product available for all classes. Not only did technological innovations in the Industrial Revolution make the process of producing chocolate more efficient, but it also influenced chocolate consumption. The lack of transparency in the new chocolate making process after the Industrial Revolution shifted consumer preferences towards choosing chocolate based on advertising and not solely on the taste of quality.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, chocolate was prized as a luxury because people valued the quality and the origins of how chocolate was being made. During the 18th century in Europe, chocolate was strictly for the upper and middle class. In Spain, chocolate was consumed alongside every day meals but was perceived as a luxury because drinking chocolate at social gatherings became a popular custom. The upper class would often attend social gatherings called tertulias or refrescos where guests would gather for conversations and be served cups of chocolate (Coe 209).
In this drawing from the 1760s, the server and the three sitting guests are each seen holding a mancerina cup filled with chocolate. We can assume that these people are in the upper class because of their extravagant wigs and formal attire. The chocolate that is being served was most likely produced by skilled millers of the chocolate trade. In 1772, there were only 150 chocolate grinders in Madrid. These skilled chocolate grinders would have to go through six years of apprenticeship training. Once they’re qualified, they would travel from house to house to serve customers at their homes. Since making chocolate is a time-intensive and detailed craft, drinking chocolate out of a mancerina cup is not very accessible. This drawing further highlights how consumers at this time would choose to drink chocolate because they could afford this luxury. By having chocolate grinders personally come to your own home, this would make the experience more unique. Therefore a larger emphasis would be placed on the source and quality of the cacao beans. Coe and Coe writes that the best chocolate in Spain originated from the “Mojos or Moxos region in the Amazonian drainage of Bolivia, valued for its fragrance and lack of bitterness” (207). By having the chocolate grinders process the chocolate in homes, there is a greater transparency to the chocolate making process, influencing consumers to choose chocolate based on quality and its origins.
The Industrial Revolution brought forth new technology that allowed mass production of chocolate but thereby affected consumers’ preferences for chocolate. In 1828, a Dutch chemist named Johannes Van Houten discovered a very efficient hydraulic process that could produce cocoa, which allowed large-scaled production of cheap chocolate for the masses (234). In 1879, Rudolphe Lindt invented the “conching process” using a machine that could smooth chocolate liquor from its originally gritty texture (247). Inventions such as these during the Industrial Revolution replaced the process of making chocolate by a skilled chocolate grinder to machines that could mass produce chocolate more efficiently. More innovations in the late 1800s into the 1900s eventually led to the development of a mechanized process of manufacturing large amounts of chocolate in a true assembly line operation. Thus, a new trend of mass producing chocolate led to the development of large corporations such as Hershey and the Mars Company that made chocolate affordable and accessible to all classes and not just the elite.
However, mechanizing the process of chocolate in a large factory made the process of producing chocolate more unfamiliar and unknown, compared to eating chocolate that was ground right in your own home. This lack of transparency therefore made consumers more reliant on believing advertisements in order to make a choice on whether to buy chocolate. Hershey’s for example became the best-selling chocolate in America when it was first founded, not because of its quality but for the way they marketed the product.
In this early Hershey’s advertisement, the brand is making claims about this chocolate being “first in favor and flavor” to exaggerate its popularity for its flavor. The ad also makes claim to say “made with RICH FRESH MILK” to make consumers believe in a sense of local origins. Lastly, to write that the Hershey’s bar is “Full of Energy” suggests that there are health benefits to eating chocolate. Although all of these claims could be completely false, Hershey’s is making billions of dollars every year when higher quality chocolate brands with richer cocoa content are not even close to dominating the chocolate industry. Our tastes are being socially influenced by these claims instead of choosing chocolate for its quality. In fact, mass-market chocolate manufacturers like Hershey’s try to minimize the most expensive content of the raw material of chocolate in order to save expenses and gain massive profits (Cidell 2006).
In this recent popular commercial by Hershey, the brand takes advantage of this lack of transparency in the chocolate making process to influence consumers’ preference for Hershey’s. In the beginning of the commercial, viewers are guided through the process of a Hershey’s Kiss being made inside the factory. We see the conveyor belts and the assembly lines, a process that most viewers had already imagined, but towards the end, the commercial glamorizes this mechanized process through the red carpet show, cheering on each Hershey’s Kiss made. Through this commercial, the Hershey’s brand is trying to comfort our uncertainty of where and how this chocolate is made. Regardless of how the Kiss actually tastes, the brand is trying to characterize each piece of chocolate as unique, original and “One-of-a-Kind” even though it is being made in a highly mechanized process.
Although the Industrial Revolution brought about new inventions that made chocolate more accessible to everyone, the lack of knowledge as to how our chocolate or food is made would further suggest that a significant portion of our preferences is socially constructed. Maybe the next time we buy some chocolate, once in a while, we should pretend to be 18th century elite Europeans, who indulged in high quality chocolate and treated the experience as a luxury.
Cidell, Julie L., and Heike C. Alberts. “Constructing quality: the multinational histories of chocolate.” Geoforum 37.6 (2006): 999-1007.
Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe, and Ryan J. Huxtable. The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
In developed countries today, when people think of chocolate, they most likely think of a solid, chocolate bar. However, for many years after its discovery, chocolate was consumed in liquid form and was limited to the wealthy and the elite. So when and why did chocolate change states? And what happened that enabled the general public to have access to chocolate? With a specific focus on consumption trends in England, it will be argued that when chocolate first reached England in the 1650s it was most commonly consumed as a beverage and by the upper class; however, inventions such as the hydraulic press and chocolate bar coupled with mass production and marketing eventually made solid chocolate more convenient, affordable, and available to the masses, making it the most popular way to consume chocolate in England by the early 20th century.
Drinking Chocolate in Early England
Chocolate was formally introduced to England in the 17th century, and it was primarily consumed as a beverage (Coe and Coe, 161). In addition, until the late 18th century, chocolate was time-consuming to produce and complicated to turn into a beverage making chocolate expensive and unappealing to those who did not have the time or tools to make the beverage (i.e. the poor and the working-class) (Coe and Coe, 169). Therefore, as a rare, complex, and exotic commodity, chocolate was primarily consumed by the elite who could have their servants prepare the beverage for them or the wealthy who could afford to purchase a chocolate drink at a chocolate house in London (Figure 1 below) (Coe and Coe, 166-167). However, chocolate would not be an exclusive beverage forever. In fact, by the late 18th century, Industrial Revolution innovations had profound social and economic impacts on chocolate consumption.
Inventions that Paved the Way to Mass Production
Three inventions that transformed chocolate consumption were the steam mill, the hydraulic press, and the alkalization process. The steam mill was invented by Dubuisson around 1776 and was used to grind cocoa beans, which had previously been done by hand (“Discovering Dickens”). The steam mill reduced labor intensity and costs, and thus helped decrease the cost of chocolate itself. Next, the hydraulic press was invented in 1828 by Coenraad Van Houten and was used to efficiently squeeze the cocoa butter from cocoa beans, leaving behind a cocoa “press cake” which could be ground into cocoa powder (Coe and Coe, 234). Van Houten also invented the alkalization process in which cocoa powder is treated with alkaline salts. This process eliminates some of the acidity from the cocoa, increases the powder’s miscibility, and gives cocoa powder a smoother consistency (Presilla, 28-29). Van Houten’s hydraulic press and alkalization process cut chocolate prices even further, reduced processing time, and made chocolate more desirable (“Europeans”). Overall, these three inventions paved the way towards the mass production and eventual mass consumption of chocolate.
The Solid Chocolate and Mass Production
The three aforementioned inventions enabled Joseph Fry (of Fry & Sons in Bristol, England) to create the first chocolate bar in 1847. The bar was made by mixing alkalized cocoa powder, sugar, and cocoa butter into a paste and then pressing the mixture into a mold (Coe and Coe, 241). Two years later, Cadbury of Birmingham, England, was also manufacturing “chocolate for eating” (“The History of Chocolate”). Since both companies used methods of mass production to manufacture solid chocolate, the price of chocolate declined, making it more affordable to the general public of England.
Advertising and the Domination of Solid Chocolate
Even though Fry’s and Cadbury were now selling solid chocolate, they were still selling cocoa mix to make drinking chocolate. However, solid chocolate was more heavily advertised and marketed towards the masses than drinking chocolate, ultimately leading to solid chocolate’s domination in England by the early 20th century.
When Cadbury and Fry & Sons marketed drinking cocoa, their advertisements often included well-dressed men and women who seemed to resemble the upper class (Figures 2-3 above). However, when they marketed solid chocolate, their advertisements often portrayed children or more middle-class looking men and women (Figures 4-5 below). In Figure 4, one can see a boy going through the five stages of receiving and finally eating a Fry’s chocolate bar, revealing how Fry’s was marketing its bar to children as a quick and delightful snack. In Figure 5, one can see a seemingly middle-class man dropping Cadbury chocolate and children swarming to eat it off the ground, revealing that Cadbury also marketed its solid chocolate to kids.
Not only was solid chocolate marketed towards children, but it was also marketed towards the working-class and mothers. Since solid chocolate required no preparation, it was much more convenient than drinking chocolate. Therefore, solid chocolate lent itself well to the British working-class who may have needed a quick energy boost on the job and wives who had little time to cook for their families (Mintz, 147). Mothers were also interested in buying solid chocolate because they enjoyed it themselves, and solid chocolate was now a relatively inexpensive way to satisfy their children (Martin).
In sum, these different marketing strategies revealed that drinking chocolate was historically a luxury of the upper class while solid chocolate was something any person of any age or social class could enjoy. With ads that encouraged the entire British population to try chocolate, solid chocolate popularity surged, and by the late 19th – early 20th century solid chocolate overtook drinking chocolate in popularity (Presilla, 29).
From the 1650s to around the mid-1800s, the British upper class primarily drank chocolate. However, as new industrial innovations facilitated the creation and mass production of solid chocolate, this original consumption trend would eventually wane. By the late 19th – early 20th century, solid chocolate proved to be more convenient than drinking chocolate and more affordable than in the past enabling more of the British population such as the working-class and children to enjoy the commodity. Finally, with the usage of broad-based advertising, Fry & Sons and Cadbury were able to popularize solid chocolate to the masses, eventually establishing solid chocolate’s dominance over drinking chocolate.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013. 161-169, 234, 241.
Chocolate, as we know it today, has drifted far from its Mesoamerican roots and transformed in many different ways since the original Maya/Aztec preparation of the food as a drink. The Late Maya, around the 9th century, prepared a hot chocolate beverage, sometimes adding local flavorings such as vanilla and “ear flower” (Coe and Coe 62). After the collapse of the Classic Maya, the mode of chocolate preparation changed dramatically, as evidenced by the 16th century Spanish accounts of the cold frothy chocolate beverage prepared by the Aztecs. The Aztecs also introduced new flavor combinations to their chocolate beverage, often mixing maize, chilis, a variety of flowers and seeds, and even allspice (Coe and Coe 86-94). However, it was not until cacao traveled to Europe that chocolate became experienced as more than just a drink. As chocolate was being introduced to the masses upon the dawn of the industrial revolution, technological advances and increased access to chocolate spurred individual creativity which led to chocolate permeating cuisine as a primary ingredient, no longer as just an unadulterated frothy drink.
The first recorded evidence of chocolate as a primary ingredient comes from late 17th century Italian recipe books, where it is used in pastries, cakes and even pasta and meat dishes (Coe and Coe 217). Once published, these recipes gained popularity in other parts of Italy throughout the 18th century, though mainly in upper class homes and royal kitchens. Outside of Italy, another savory chocolate dish was developed in Mexico – the mole poblano sauce, which is often paired with pavo (turkey), pollo (chicken)¸ and even enchiladas. Although the stories of its origin are contradictory, some describing the addition of chocolate into the sauce an accident, it seems to have been created sometime in the 17th or 18th century by nuns in the region of Puebla (Coe and Coe 215). This dish is popular even today, and the following cooking tutorial describes the process of making pollo con mole poblano:
Today, the preparation of this dish includes “sweet” ingredients, such as sugar, and chocolate, which we know associate with sweet, as well as savory pieces, like Mexican rice, and chicken (Cadena). Even now, the dish calls for traditionally Old World ingredients, such as a variety of chilis and plantains, a reflection on the hybridization that allowed this dish to come to fruition. Back when this dish was created, chocolate was not yet mass produced, but the fact that the recipe has survived the test of time demonstrates that it was well received enough for cooks to acquire the chocolate and pass down the recipe over generations. Now, this video recommends the use of Ibarra Mexican chocolate, manufactured by Mexican company Ibarra, which is easily purchased throughout the Americas (Chocolate De Jalisco).
Experimentation in the 17th and early 18th centuries was limited, however, due to the limited supply of affordable chocolate that could easily be used in cooking. When chocolate began to be produced using machines, in mid-18th century America, the culture of chocolate completely shifted from being consumed as a luxury drink by high class patrons to being affordable to everyone, of all classes (Bostonian Society). One of the first instances of machine-produced chocolate was a factory in Dorchester, MA, started by John Hannon and Dr. James Baker in 1765. This small water-powered mill would grow to become the Walter Baker Company, a popular provider of baking chocolate in the markets today (Coe and Coe 228).
In the beginning, the Baker Company focused on grinding chocolate to sell to other businesses as well as unsweetened chocolate mainly for the sole purpose of preparing the chocolate beverage. However, as they began to look for new avenues to market their product, they began to experiment. From 1880-1885, the Baker Company distributed 1 million recipe books featuring their chocolate as an ingredient to the American public. The cookbook cover, and a chocolate recipe from this cookbook follows.
These recipes with chocolate as a primary ingredient are reminiscent of cake recipes today, and may very well still taste as good. Besides just guiding the reader through recipes, this book and Baker’s chocolate itself put the power of experimentation in the hands of the everyday consumer. Because chocolate was now widely produced and sold, wives and homemakers, the target audience of this book, were encouraged to try out any of its pre-tested recipes as well as their own, spurring on the chocolate creativity in each individual kitchen.
The development of the chocolate manufacturing industry enabled more people from all social backgrounds to access chocolate, leading to more creativity in the kitchens and was a large factor in the shift from chocolate’s perceived role as a standalone beverage to the primary ingredient it plays in cuisine today.
Chocolate is an international food: the majority of cacao is grown in countries along the Equator, chocolate consumption is highest in “Western” countries in North America and Europe, and today, chocolate is gaining popularity in “Eastern” countries like India and China. However, despite these global origins and destinations, chocolate is still seen as a distinctly Western food with nationalistic attachments to specific countries like America, which creates power differences and censored narratives that emerge when we examine the history of chocolate as it spread from elite Europeans to broader audiences around the world.
The global distribution of chocolate-growing countries (Class lecture slides).
When chocolate first arrived in Europe from the New World, it was a taste that had to be acquired. Europeans took chocolate and “re-branded” it from a drink that was “more a drink for pigs” (Coe & Coe, p. 110) into a luxurious, elite drink central to Western social life and status. By taking chocolate drink and hybridizing and reinventing it for European culture, through interventions like the molinillo technology or the addition of sugar and spices, chocolate was purposely distanced from its Mesoamerican origins and instead valued for its relevance in European religion, medicine, and social life.
The same tendency for Western consumer societies to distance the luxury of chocolate products from the international realities of its origins and production happened with the Transatlantic slave trade and sugar and cacao plantations in the Caribbean and South America. Between 1500-1900, around 10 to 15 million of enslaved Africans survived forced transport across the Atlantic; it was only because of this cheap, enslaved labor that the explosion of sugar consumption – and therefore chocolate consumption – was enabled. Mintz writes that in 1650, only the wealthy in England consumed sugar; by 1800 every English citizen craved sugar even if they couldn’t afford it regularly; by 1900, sugar was “one-fifth of the calories in the English diet” (Mintz, p. 6).
The dramatic rise in sugar consumption over time (Class lecture slides).
However, Western consumers often tried to disassociate their immense demand for sugar and chocolate with the barbarities of slavery that their demand created and perpetuated. Slavery was seen as a “taint” to good taste and was kept out of the narrative of high culture. Thus, anything that came into European society with African origins, like ostrich feathers originally used in African headdresses that were incorporated into European aristocratic fashion, were appropriated by whites as if they were originally, culturally white, and its African roots were purposefully forgotten. Similarly, cacao was displaced from its African associations and the slavery that was used to cultivate it, and instead seen as a Western food. Chocolate’s increasingly availability to people of all classes was painted as a result of industrialization processes; the slave labor involved was rarely mentioned. Thus, the brutal realities of forced labor abroad are ignored, and instead chocolate and sugar are seen as an apolitical “Western” food enabled solely by innovative Western technological advances.
Of course, industrialization did play a part in bringing chocolate to a wider audience. Jack Goody details how the Industrial Revolution and its associated advances in mechanization and technology helped to bring about wholescale changes in how we prepare, package, and consume our food. Salting, canning, and freezing allowed foods to travel farther and last longer, efficiencies in agriculture and processing allowed for more abundance and availability to markets that previously could not afford luxuries like chocolate, and transportation extended global reach of food products. Goody describes how the industrialization of food is beginning to transform countries, like Ghana, that previously only experienced chocolate as a cacao suppliers; now, they are experiencing chocolate as consumers. Goody writes, “these industrial foods of the “West” have now become incorporated in the meals of the Third World” (p. 88). Big Western chocolate producers are fighting for China’s chocolate consumption, as detailed in Lawrence Allen’s book Chocolate Fortunes, as consumers in developing markets are gaining liquid assets to spend on luxury items like candy.
But even as chocolate is no longer confined to Western, elite consumers, it still retains a reputation that is nationally-specific and retains Western associations, even in international markets. Africa produces 75% of the world’s cocoa but consumes only 3% of the world’s chocolate; but, the chocolate consumed is not from local companies that utilize domestic production chains, but instead is imported, internationally-produced chocolate brands like Cadbury. The National Confectioners Association had a campaign in 1928 to make candy a thoroughly American food, successfully branding candy as being fundamentally American. America used chocolate as a form of diplomacy in the candy bombs of Hershey’s that they airlifted into Berlin from 1948-1949; chocolate became integral to American identity abroad and selling that identity as a positive one. Thus, when companies like Hershey’s, Mars and Cadbury sell their products to consumers in developing markets like China, the associations with chocolate are still with particular Western nations or “Western” food and culture in general.
This system, in privileging Western chocolate products and chocolate in general as being a fundamentally Western creation, creates an unbalanced power dynamic. Africa is forced to export raw materials – cacao – at prices mostly determined by international corporations, and then forced to buy back manufactured chocolate from abroad at massively inflated prices; thus, not only does the chocolate become a “Western” food product, chocolate becomes doubly exploitative considering the fact that consumers must buy from Western companies despite the local origins of the inputs into the product.
Ultimately, the entire history of chocolate and its spread is a narrative of forgotten origin stories, disassociated methods of production from patterns of consumption, and the branding of a product as distinctly Western, despite its Mesoamerican origins, internationally-grown ingredients, and increasingly global markets. Instead of thinking of chocolate as a Western food, it should be seen as a global food of multinational significance and origin.
Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association, 2010. Print.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.
Goody, Jack. Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Penny Van Esterik and Carole Counihan. New York: Routledge, 1997. 72-90. Print.
Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Group, 1985. Print.