Tag Archives: European Elite

Chocolate: from Beverage to Haute Cuisine

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).

The Ibarra Mexican Chocolate tablets take the form of the early Spanish wafers, which the Spanish had originally developed in order to transport chocolate across the ocean while retaining the rich taste.

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.

Walter Baker Company Recipe Book, 1880.
Excerpt from Walter Baker Company Recipe Book, 1880.

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.

Works Cited

The Bostonian Society. “Sweet History: Dorchester and the Chocolate Factory.” Boston History. The Bostonian Society, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. < http://www.bostonhistory.org/sub/bakerschocolate/ >.

Cadena3VidayHogar. “Cómo Preparar Pollo Con Mole.” YouTube. Youtube, 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <https://youtu.be/S27gI4r0ePk&gt;.

Chocolate And Cocoa Recipes and Hand Made Candy Recipes. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/coldfusion/display.cfm?ID=choc&PageNum=12&gt;.

Chocolate And Cocoa Recipes and Hand Made Candy Recipes. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/coldfusion/display.cfm?ID=choc&PageNum=1&gt;.

Chocolate De Jalisco. “Chocolatera Ibarra.” Chocolatera Ibarra. Ibarra Chocolate Group, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://chocoibarra.com.mx/productos-ibarra.php?i_d=aW5n&gt;.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Digital image. http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/chocolate/images/ibarra-150.jpg. Lifestyle Direct, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Michigan State University, Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project, February 23 2003. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/html/books/book_61.cfm&gt;.

Chocolate: a “Western” food gone global

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.

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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).

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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.

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Western chocolate brands, like Cadbury, are expanding their market to countries like China (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1063950/Cadbury-recall-chocolate-China-fears-contain-contaminated-milk.html).

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.

References

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.

Chocolate in French Art: How 18th c. French Paintings Reveal the Cultural and Social Significance of Chocolate in 17-18th c. France

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.

Figure 1. “La tasse de chocolat” (1768) by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier
Figure 1. La tasse de chocolat (1768) by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier

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.

Figure 2. “The Proposal” (1736-93) by Louis Marin Bonnet
Figure 2. The Proposal (1736-93) by Louis Marin Bonnet

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.

Figure 3. A close up example of a silver chocolatière
Figure 3. A close up example of a silver chocolatière

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 seeing more examples of 18th century European paintings featuring chocolate check out: https://www.pinterest.com/Masterweaver/tea-coffee-and-chocolate-in-the-18-century/

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

Works Cited:

Aaron, Shara, and Monica Bearden. Chocolate: A Healthy Passion. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books, 2008. Print.

Bush, Barbara. “Review No. 1099.” Rev. of Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Reviews in History, June 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1099>.

Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe, and Ryan J. Huxtable. The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Doughty, Michele. “Chocolate: Aphrodisiac or Euphamism?” Serendip, 2002. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/biology/b103/f02/web2/mdoughty.html>.

Grivetti, Louis E. “From Aphrodisiac to Health Food: A Cultural History of Chocolate.” Karger Gazette, No. 68 Chocolate. Karger Gazette. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://misc.karger.com/gazette/68/grivetti/art_1.htm>.

Grivetti, Louis E., and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Print.

Poore, Benjamin Perley. The Rise and Fall of Louis Philippe, Ex-king of the French; Giving a History of the French Revolution, from Its Commencement, in 1789. Boston: W.D. Ticknor, 1848. Print.

Image Links:

Figure 1. <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_famille_du_Duc_de_Penthi%C3%A8vre_dit_la_tasse_de_chocolat.jpg>

Figure 2. <https://www.pinterest.com/pin/241646336231165727/>

Figure 3. <http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/chocolatiere-en-argent-par-joseph-theodore-vancombert-paris-5602061-details.aspx>

Westernizing Ancient Traditions

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:

  1. Trade
  2. Medicinal
  3. Cultural
  4. Social
  5. Religious

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.[1]

Pictured here are cacao beans covered with a gold rim to symbolize the value of the beans.                               cacaogold

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.[1] 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.

[2]

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.[3] 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![4] Chocolate is indeed sweet and as Sidney W. Mintz writes; “Indeed, all (or at least nearly all) mammals like sweetness.”[5] 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.

17th_century_coffeehouse_england_1-580x400

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.[6] 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.

[1] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. 108-09. Print.

[2] Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. 28. Print.

[3] “Chocolate and Polyphenols in the Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease.” YouTube, 18 Nov. 2014. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5OPDAYRvMg&gt;.

[4] “The History of Chocolate | Blog – ZChocolat.” ZChocolat. N.p., 20 Oct. 2012. Web. <http://www.zchocolat.com/en/the_history_of_chocolate.asp&gt;.

[5] Green, Matthew. “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses.” The Telegraph, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/london/10515620/The-surprising-history-of-Londons-lost-chocolate-houses.html&gt;.

[6] Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. 16. Print.

[7] “History of Chocolate.” Spanish Food, n.d. Web. <http://www.spanish-food.org/spanish-food-history-chocolate.html&gt;.

Chocolate Consumption and its Impact on Historic European Customs

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.

Works Cited

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.

Chocolate as a Luxury throughout the Ages

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 Display
The wide variety of brand name chocolate offered at a CVS Pharmacy

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”).

Snickers Chocolate nutrition information includes many artificial ingredients
Snickers nutrition information includes many artificial ingredients

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.

"Craft" chocolate displayed on shelves at Formaggio's Kitchen in Boston
“Craft” chocolate displayed on shelves at Formaggio’s Kitchen in Boston

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.

Patric Chocolate's (a brand of "craft" chocolate) short ingredient list
Patric Chocolate’s (a brand of “craft” chocolate) short ingredient list

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.

Patric Chocolate's ornate and relatively sophisticated packaging
Patric Chocolate’s ornate and relatively sophisticated packaging

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.

 

 

 

Works Cited

“Candy & Chocolate Bars Compared: Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars Nutrition Facts.” A Calorie Counter. A Calorie Counter, 20 Oct. 2013. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://www.acaloriecounter.com/candy-chocolate.php&gt;.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

“Formaggio Kitchen: Cheese 101.” A Little Bit about a Lot of Things. WordPress.com, 24 Dec. 2013. Web. 5 May 2014. <http://dgrubs.com/2013/12/24/formasggio-kitchen-cheese-101/&gt;.

Hess, Alexander E. M. “Most Popular Halloween Candy in the USA.” USA Today 27 Oct. 2013: n. pag. USA Today: A Gannett Company. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/10/27/most-popular-halloween-candy-in-usa/3274967/&gt;.

Parkin, Johanna. “What Are You Eating: Snickers.” Men’s Health 2013: n. pag. Men’s Health. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://www.menshealth.co.uk/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/ what-are-you-eating-snickers-536760>.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st, Rev ed. New York: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.

Root, Lucas. “Weekend Food Commentary.” Urban Paleo Chef: Making Everyday Food Enjoyable and Satisfying. Urban Paleo Chef, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 5 May 2014. <http://urbanpaleochef.com/ 2013/01/28/weekend-food-commentary-2/>.

“The Spin on Carbs: Think You Are Eating Healthy?” Total Performance Sports: Gym and Athletic Training Center. Total Performance Sports, 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://totalperformancesports.com/nutrition-corner-december-2013-think-you-are-eating-healthy/&gt;.

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor, 2012. Print.

“YUM! Patric Chocolate.” Joy and Sunshine. Joy and Sunshine, 2 Oct. 2013. Web. 6 May 2014. <http://www.joyandsunshine.com/blog/2013/10/02/yum-patric-chocolate/&gt;.