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.
Although scholars are uncertain about how and when chocolate reached France, chocolate’s immediate success in France is undeniable (Coe and Coe, 150). Chocolate was a part of daily life for many French men and women during the 17-18th century, so much so that chocolate appeared in several French paintings of the time. In analyzing two of these “chocolate containing” paintings, this post’s purpose is to explain how each painting can be used to uncover the cultural and social importance of chocolate in 17-18th century France.
The first painting to be discussed is La tasse de chocolat (1768) by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier (Figure 1 above). The painting is of the family of the Duke of Penthièvre drinking chocolate and communicates the significance of chocolate in early France in several ways. First, the Duke of Penthièvre was of the French court and known for his wealth, meaning he and his family were of the elite class in society (Poore, 2). This distinction is important because when chocolate was first introduced to France, it was mainly a commodity of the elite or those who could afford it (Coe and Coe, 125). Second, in this painting the family is enjoying chocolate together demonstrating the social aspect of chocolate. At this time, chocolate was often consumed with company, at banquets, and at other social functions, allowing hosts to show off their sophistication and prestige (Grivetti and Shapiro). Therefore, the presence of chocolate in this painting signifies the family’s wealth and status and highlights the social element of chocolate.
The second painting of interest is The Proposal (1736-93) by Louis Marin Bonnet (Figure 2 above). In the painting, a man is proposing to a women in an elegant room full of columns, flowers, a statue, and a chocolatière (chocolate pot). A chocolatière is an instrument used to froth up chocolate drinks and is believed to be a late 17th century French invention (Coe and Coe, 156-157). Since nobility were the most common consumers of chocolate in 17-18th century France, chocolatières were mainly composed of silver or gold, and one can see that the chocolatière in the painting is silver revealing the elite status of the couple (Aaron and Bearden, 67) (Figure 3 below). Moreover, it is hypothesized that the chocolatière appears in this painting because chocolate was associated with love and sex in France (Bush). It was well known throughout Europe that chocolate was an aphrodisiac, and both men and women often gifted chocolate to their lovers for this reason (Doughty). So perhaps in this painting the chocolatière represents the couple’s love, or it could be a proposal gift or dowry. Regardless of why the chocolatière is featured in this painting, the fact that the French created their own chocolate frothing device supports the popularity of chocolate in 17-18th century France.
When looking at both paintings, it is important to note that the women take center stage. This is because aristocratic women were large consumers of chocolate in 17-18th century France (Coe and Coe, 155). Chocolate popularity amongst aristocratic women can be partially attributed to the marriage between Maria Teresa of Spain and King Louis XIV of France in 1660. Maria Teresa was a chocolate drinker before she wed King Louis XIV, so when she came to France she encouraged and inspired aristocratic women to enjoy chocolate (Aaron and Bearden, 67). Moreover, at the time of the marriage, “decent” women were not allowed to consume chocolate in public. Therefore, the new queen and the aristocratic women of the court often drank chocolate together in private and in secret (Coe and Coe, 154). However, ten years after the marriage, aristocratic women were allowed to consume chocolate more openly (Coe and Coe, 154). Another reason chocolate may have been desired by French women was for its proposed medicinal properties. For example, around 1631, Dr. Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma claimed that chocolate increased fertility and eased delivery in his A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate (Grivetti). Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma even created his own famous recipe for a hot chocolate beverage which included chilies, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and other spices, and it can be imagined that this was a popular drink among women (Coe and Coe, 133). Furthermore, since chocolate was an aphrodisiac and often a gift from a lover, French women most likely appreciated chocolate since it increased their sex drives and reminded them of love. Whatever the reason for why women desired chocolate so much, the fact that the paintings above (and several other paintings of the era) portray women with chocolate reveals that chocolate was a crucial part of their lifestyle and demonstrates that there was a gender component to chocolate consumption in early France.
Overall, although only two paintings were analyzed in this post, they reveal a great deal about the social and cultural role chocolate played in 17-18th century France. Socially, the paintings demonstrate that chocolate was primarily the drink of nobility and the wealthy, was often consumed at social functions or shared with guests, and was often given as a gift to a lover because it was an aphrodisiac and associated with love. In addition, chocolate was enjoyed by both men and women, but women were noticeably large consumers of chocolate for various reasons. Culturally, the French enjoyed chocolate to the extent they created the chocolatière to froth their chocolate drinks and even depicted chocolate and the chocolatière in their artwork (ex. the paintings described). Overall, chocolate was a popular commodity in 17-18th century France and was an integral part of cultural and social life as depicted in the artwork of the time.
If you are interested in learning more about chocolate in 17th century France, check out this lecture, “Enslaved to Chocolate: Culture, Commerce, and Gender in 17th Century France”, by Domna Stanton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7JZSA5P2Xs
Aaron, Shara, and Monica Bearden. Chocolate: A Healthy Passion. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books, 2008. Print.
The early Europeans had comparably duplicated the early Mesoamerican use of cacao and chocolate documented in the Mayan book of the Popol Vuh (Book of Counsel) into five main categories:
The first encounter of Europeans with the cacao product can be traced back to August 15th, 1502 when Christopher Columbus’s son, Ferinand Columbus, captured a Mayan trading canoe belonging to the Chontal-Mayal-speaking Putun. This encounter is significant in regards to how Europeans perceived and witnessed Mayan’s use cacao for trade. Ferinand noted that the group, held what he thought were “almonds” as he termed it but was in reality cacao, as a currency traded at great value.
Pictured here are cacao beans covered with a gold rim to symbolize the value of the beans.
On the other hand, Italian colonist Girolamo Benzoni wrote in his book History of the New World published in 1575 that the chocolate drink made from cacao that the Mesoamericans used for spiritual, social, medicinal, trade, and casual purposes was only meant for pigs but nevertheless, it was worthy to him due to its monetary value. (Coe & Coe 110) Therefore, the colonists were bound to use cacao as a currency in their stay in Mesoamerica.
The journey of cacao and chocolate should be described as it is relevant to how the products were used in Europe, not just by Europeans in Mesoamerica. Through hybridization of the Spanish and Mesoamerican culture, a new generation of “Spanish Creoles” were born in a region that was previously known as the Aztec Empire. It was in this context of hybridization that chocolate was taken to New Spain and then transported to the rest of Old Spain as well as Europe as they saw the product had values. (Coe & Coe 113) Spanish chronicler Lopez de Velazco had documented the first shipment of cacao products from La Guaira to Colombia which was a hub for trade with Spain, and then shipped directly to Spain which is important as various Latin American states came into contact with the product. The product which would be a topic of controversy and pleasure of Europe had arrived in Europe.
Cacao and its byproducts had more serious uses as well. Chocolate was used for medicinal purposes by Europeans just as Mesoamericans. It was a Greek born physician who discovered a theory that for diseases which caused a “hot” fever, you needed a “cold” drug and vice-versa. Although the Spanish preferred their chocolate drinks “hot, Spanish Royal Physician Francisco Hernandez discovered that a “cool” chocolate drink would cure a fever and published in 1591; a treatise on New World foods by Juan de Cardenas found that certain chocolate such as “green” chocolate can have negative health effects harming the heart, causing fevers, etc but if toasted and mixed with atole gruel; digestion is strong. (Coe & Coe 121-123) Thus, the European use of chocolate for medical purposes was similar to the Mesoamerican use and more uses for the chocolate. We usually do not think of chocolate as a medicinal pharmaceutical or drug but this video might change your mind, courtesy of Ichan Medical School.
Chocolate soon spread to the British Isles via monks and eventually found its role in Royal Families — where the trend back in the day. (Coe & Coe 115) Chocolate beverages used in the French Royal Courts in the wedding between King Louis XIII to the Spanish Princess of Austria 1615. As it was given the royal honors of being a product of the elite, the common people of Europe started to socially drink chocolate, including in countries such as the mentioned Spain and France but also, Greece, Italy, and Britain. In fact, chocolate became so custom in Britain that there were chocolate coffee shops opened in London during the mid-18th century! Chocolate is indeed sweet and as Sidney W. Mintz writes; “Indeed, all (or at least nearly all) mammals like sweetness.” While there were initial doubts on cacao and chocolate as a fashionable product, this changed later as proven through the European customs of the product in cultural traditions such as weddings of Royal Families as well as casual usage in various forms.
Pictured here is a Chocolate Coffee Shop in London.
The question of the use of chocolate made its entrance into the ecclesiastical sphere related to the religious culture of Europe as well. There were debates among Spanish Catholic Churches if chocolate counted as a food and if it could be consumed during fasts. The end result of this internal debate amount the ecclesiastical community was that chocolate could indeed be consumed as decreed by His Holiness Pope Pious V who was a drinker of the product himself. This decision had a great effect on the religious society of Europe as since it was justified by Catholic religious doctrine, more became comfortable with taking it including religious authorities.
Therefore, the early European use of cacao and chocolate very much resembles what the 5 customs Mesoamericans used it for.
 Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. 108-09. Print.
 Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. 28. Print.
The introduction of chocolate to Europe plays a significant role in the transformation of customs and beliefs that are currently associated with it. As chocolate expands into European countries, it has major implications on matters of class and politics. The development of these beliefs is best viewed through a historical narrative of chocolate’s evolving role in European society.
Until the 16th century, drinking chocolate was an unknown custom to Europeans. Although Christopher Columbus allegedly encountered cacao beans on one of his missions to the Americas, it was Hernan Cortes who was the first European to taste chocolate (Presilla, 2009). Initially, he found the drink “more a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 110). However, through their relations with the Aztecs, the Spanish became aware of the value of cacao beans (Presilla, 2009).
After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate was imported into Europe and quickly became popular among the elite. While it was still served as a beverage, the Spanish altered its taste by adding honey or sugar to reduce the bitterness (Presilla, 2009). This “Hispanicized chocolate” expanded into England, Italy and France quickly after its discovery (Presilla, 2009, p. 25).
Although the taste of the chocolate was slightly altered, Europeans continued to associate drinking chocolate with high social standing (Presilla, 2009). Drinking chocolate was still considered a luxury and was primarily consumed by the elite. This is mainly because it took a great deal of effort to produce the beverage. Furthermore, it was custom to drink chocolate from luxurious utensils, such as the Spanish mancerina and French trembleuse cups and saucers (Presilla, 2009).
These images symbolize the integration of drinking chocolate into elite customs as well as the formal nature by which chocolate was consumed. Thus, the consumption of chocolate in Europe was historically associated with matters of wealth and class that provides meaningful insight into the customs that developed as a result.
While chocolate consumption is Europe became a custom tradition among the elite class, it was also associated with political issues (Coe & Coe, 2013). This is particularly prevalent in England as the chocolate beverage became popular during a time of “political and social upheaval” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 161-162). There were tensions that existed between the king and parliament that were exacerbated by regular meetings that would take place at English coffee-houses. These coffee-houses hold political significance as their popularity threatened the King’s authority and he tried multiple times to have them shut down.
Along with coffee and tea, chocolate beverages were sold at these coffee-houses and all three items were highly valued among the customers. Since chocolate beverages were frequently consumed during political meetings at the coffee-houses, it became symbolic of a democratized England.
In conclusion, a historical analysis of chocolate’s consumption in Europe highlights associations with matters of class and politics. Along the way, its consumption was specified to the elite classes and held certain political affiliations, particularly in England. As a result, certain customs and beliefs became tradition among European societies that have played an integral role in shaping our current fascination with chocolate.
1. Coe, S., & Coe, M. (2013). Chocolate conquers Europe. In The true history of chocolate (Third ed.). New York: Thames and Hudson.
2. Presilla, M. (2009). A natural and cultural history of chocolate. In The new taste of chocolate: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Today’s modern chocolate consumer revels in the extravagance of a society determined to have more than it can ever need, buy more than it can ever afford, and eat more than it can ever want, especially when it comes to chocolate. This newfound availability of a good once regarded as luxury, has now transformed chocolate to what many now consider mere candy. Gone are the nutrition, originality, and reverence once associated with the “food of the gods,” and what is left is nothing more than a sweet treat tainted with excessive amounts fat and cheap additives (Parkin, “What Are You Eating: Snickers”). And although many celebrate the “revolutionary” progression of chocolate from a food of the elite to one now accessible by all, the idea that chocolate is ubiquitous cannot be further from the truth. In fact, chocolate is still exclusive to the highest social classes, a luxury good through and through, and even with the worldwide rise in chocolate production, pure, high quality chocolate – that of which is now labeled as “artisan” or “craft” – is almost solely intended for elite consumption.
While the well-to-do savor their “bean-to-bars,” the general population must settle with the everyday “Hershey’s kisses” or “Milky ways,” poor substitutes that were created to satisfy the masses (Parkin, “What Are You Eating: Snickers”). Nevertheless, the degree to which this dichotomy extends is but a reflection of the past. The social arrangements observed today parallel that of previous societies throughout history, from the Aztec’s strict confinement of chocolate consumption within their social elite to the European’s emphasis on reserving the food for the upper class; the continuation of these previously observed patterns, as embodied by the range of products offered by vendors on either end of the social spectrum, indicates that chocolate still remains the luxury food it has always been, a source of indulgence for the rich and a commodity to strive towards for the poor (Coe, Coe 86-87, 159-160).
One does not need to venture very far into the chocolate industry to experience the glaring disparity between the quality of chocolate offered in the everyday convenience store and that of a gourmet, specialty shop. Here in Boston, the two are represented by the local CVS and South End’s very own Formaggio’s Kitchen, the first of which is a popular retailer across the US whereas the latter exists only in one other location – the elite community of New York City’s urban sprawl. Thus, before the chocolate itself is even considered, the sheer accessibility of these respective markets indicates the type of merchandise sold at each. It is no surprise then that the chocolate products offered at CVS differs not only in composition, but also in price and packaging from the luxury bars organized in neat rows at Formaggio’s.
CVS Caremark is one of the largest pharmacy convenience stores in the country and because it caters to all of society, everywhere, the retailer must offer a wide range of commodities to satisfy their broad clientele. In other words, they must stock their shelves with every type of brand name chocolate produced here in the States; from “Snickers” bars produced by Mars to the iconic “Hershey’s” milk chocolate bar produced by Hershey itself, CVS has it all (Hess, “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA”). However, although the diversity offered at any one of these convenience stores is impressive, the majority of their chocolate shares a single commonality: they are all composed entirely of milk chocolate, often supplemented with a large proportion of butter, unwarranted amounts of sugar, extra flavoring like vanilla, and other fillings such as nougat for the popular “Milky Way” (“Candy and Chocolate Bars Compared: Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars Nutrition Facts”; Parkin, “What Are You Eating: Snickers”). Many would argue that the added contents are what make these products as well-known as they have become, and even more claim that they crave this type of chocolate specifically for the peanut-caramel insides. Unfortunately for these misguided individuals, the reality is that these very fillings are exactly what prevents the typical “Reese’s” peanut butter cup from serving as a healthy addition to one’s life, and instead makes them the cheap, fattening candy that the average consumer can afford (“Candy and Chocolate Bars Compared: Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars Nutrition Facts”). This practice of mixing inexpensive ingredients into chocolate to help make it more affordable is analogous to the origins of chocolate consumption in Mesoamerica, setting the precedent that impure chocolate is associated with lower quality food (Coe, Coe 86-87; Presilla 20). In fact, the Aztecs, in preparing cacao, recognized that “the inferior product…was mixed with nixtamalli and water” to form a “chocolate-with-maize gruel,” but if the mixture was “cheapened by too much corn or thinned with too much water,” then all of the “effort would be for naught” (Coe, Coe 86-87; Presilla 20). The same concept has returned in modern form, and even though society has moved past the practice of combining corn and chocolate, the artificial ingredients used now are both worse and in larger quantity. As such, the brand name chocolate that dominates the market today are not what they all claim to be – rather than serving as energy-boosting power bars, these candies are the epitome of second-rate scraps, the culmination of the industry’s sly advertising and deceit (Hess, “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA”).
The goods offered at CVS can be identified for their lower quality merely by taking a look down the aisle; all of the chocolate is sold in bulk, the wrappings are colorful and meant to entice children, and the price tags that accompany any purchase fail to draw attention as well (Hess, “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA”). Indeed, everything chocolate at the convenience store is affordable and cheap, and it is fitting that the majority of these products are regarded as mere candy. This type of marketing in itself is suggestive of the type of goods advertised to the common shopper. Nowhere in the store will one find pure, gourmet chocolate like that from Formaggio’s Kitchen; instead, Halloween candy, sweets to be given out, and maybe a small treat on the go is all that is offered at CVS (Hess, “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA”). While there is nothing wrong with merchandise that serves these purposes, the chocolate here will never compare to the “craft” chocolate that should be enjoyed at leisure in the quiet luxury of one’s home.
Walking into Formaggio’s Kitchen, one is immediately transported to the most charming little shop in rural France, the quaintest street market in Spain, and the most curious ingredient store in Italy. Everything offered here is exotic, from the slabs of cheese on the wall to the rows of extra virgin olive oil on display. It is every culinary enthusiast’s dream. To top it all off, Formaggio’s Kitchen also boasts an impressive shelf of chocolate, each bar made entirely “bean-to-bar” by some of the most skilled confectioners around. Thus, it goes with saying that these products provide the purest experience of how chocolate should be prepared: made from scratch with the most traditional methods using fresh, unroasted cocoa beans of the highest quality (Williams, Eber 168-170). The finished result consists primarily of cacao and a small amount of cane sugar, and as expected, is simply delicious – anyone missing out is really missing the point of chocolate altogether. By foregoing the daunting list of artificial ingredients that are usually included in commercial products, the “craft” chocolate only offered at Formaggio’s represents the other end of the social spectrum and the true meaning of the saying “less is more,” much like the “unadulterated chocolate fit for lords” in Aztec society (Coe, Coe 86-87; Presilla 20; Williams, Eber 168-170). For these reasons, “chocolate” as a general term applies most suitably to these higher quality foods, and since only the elite are able to enjoy them, chocolate is still very much a sign of wealth and opulence.
With a noticeable increase in quality, there comes a noticeable increase in price as well. In order to pay for the more expensive cocoa beans and the longer, more meticulous method of preparing them for making bars, “craft” chocolate can cost from five times to ten times more than the generic products offered at the local CVS (Williams, Eber 168-170). Moreover, if only the wealthy elite are able to afford these chocolate products, then it must have adequate packaging to advertise to that particular social class; thus, the wrapping for these chocolate bars are ornate and artistically designed – not the cheap plastic bags that are used to attract consumers in the convenience store. Without a doubt, the sophistication of the packaging was far from subtle. From the specific fonts used to spell out each chocolate’s name to the thick paper the words were embossed in, the chocolate products have as much going for them inside as well as outside. This emphasis on serving the rich is a direct extension of the social customs in Europe in the 17th century wherein chocolate was reserved particularly for either royalty or the social elite, albeit the class differences were more publicly enforced back then than the more subtle inequalities today (Coe, Coe 159-160). Nevertheless, the disparity still exists and the steep costs, elaborate packaging, and the upscale district Formaggio’s is located all do their part to reinforce the degree to which this type of chocolate has historically and presently been advertised to the upper class, further distancing these products from their lesser, more generic counterparts.
The drastic market differences within the chocolate industry are manifested in the contrasting qualities, prices, and advertisements of the merchandise offered at that these two distinct locales. Whereas CVS’s modern, “buy-in-bulk” approach appeals to the average consumer in the US, Formaggio’s kitchen’s rustic, almost exotic goods exploit the curiosity – and money – of the rich. However, the sad reality that lies beyond the extensive hierarchy separating the two social classes is the fact that only the wealthy who shop at Formaggio’s kitchen truly experiences chocolate for what the food can offer: its unique taste, clean ingredients, and undiminished health benefits. Everyone else forced to settle with brand name chocolate stuffed with nougat and other fillers are merely duped by the industry itself. And although no change will ever come about from this injustice, due to the immense labor costs intrinsic to cocoa production, it is important for the average consumer to at least recognize what he or she actually walks out with after their everyday trip to the local CVS – or rather, what they’re not walking out with.