Cacao and chocolate had a wide variety of uses and associations in pre-Columbian society, as it was a highly multifunctional good that was respected and coveted. Cacao first originated in Mesoamerica and was used for religious purposes, as a luxurious food item, as currency, and as medicine. These uses were often interconnected and posed a variety of implications, ranging from economic, social, cultural, and/or political.
Cacao has many origin stories rooted in religion. The Theobroma tree, also known as the World Tree, was believed to be the center of the universe and the source of life (Martin, 2020). It was thought to connect the realm of the sky, earth, and the underworld. In addition, religious gods and figures were often portrayed as trees, transforming into trees, or born from trees (Martin, 2020). Some even believed that by drinking chocolate, one could obtain god-like qualities or wisdom (Dreiss & Greenhill, 2008). For example, the two figures below provide representations of gods portrayed as cacao trees or wearing elements of the tree:
Cacao was also used in various religious rituals and ceremonies, such as baptisms, marriages, and rites of births and death. The Maya people would often baptize children with a mixture of cacao, virgin water, and crushed flowers (Dreiss & Greenhill, 2008). In addition, Frier Bernardino de Sahagún reported that Aztec fathers would often instruct their sons to offer a cacaoatl drink to God as they entered religious school (Dreiss & Greenhill, 2008). Cacao was also incorporated into marriage ceremonies. According to the Codex Zouche-Nuttall, the groom often offered cacao (beans or a drink) to the woman they were marrying. It is interesting that cacao was often used to signify the significance of a certain ceremony or ritual, almost as if documenting authenticity and serving as a symbol of religious respect. The figure below depicts a Mixtec ceremony where Lady Thirteen Serpent offers a bowl of cacao to Lord Eight Deer to solemnise their marriage (Dreiss & Greenhill, 2008):
Moreover, the Maya people were often buried with some form of cacao, whether it cups or vases or bowls. These pottery items were often personalized, containing the Primary Standard Sequence – the name of the deceased and the type of cacao the cup contained (Seawright, 2012). It was thought that chocolate energized and eased the soul’s journey to the underworld (Martin, 2020). It is interesting that chocolate was often viewed to have some sort of “superpower” or healing quality for both the living and the dead. Below is a figure of relatives offering the deceased individual cacao for his journey to the underworld/afterlife (Seawright, 2012):
Cacao was also involved in religious sacrifice rituals. Human sacrifices were often made to various gods or deities to show respect and honor, and they were first signaled by offering chocolate (Dillinger et al., 2000). Extracting the cacao beans from the pod was also viewed as symbolically similar to the extraction of the human heart during a sacrifice (Dillinger et al., 2000). This is just another example proving the high regard that chocolate held, especially in a religious sense. It was truly viewed as a sacred item, and using it in a sacrifice showed generosity and reverence.
Besides its religious purposes, cacao had always been widely recognized as a delicious food item to be consumed. In the Pre-Columbian era, it was typically consumed as a beverage and limited only to the very elite or royal. The beans were often used to prepare a drink called Xocoatl, which was a very bitter drink made of roasted and ground beans mixed with water and spices (De Maré, 2013). Maya ruins often depicted cacao as being associated with the god of abundance and wealth, which helps to explain cacao’s restriction to the very elites – priests, royals, distinguished warriors, and military officers (Dillinger et al., 2000). It was also believed that cacao was an intoxicating substance, and thus not appropriate for women and children (Dillinger et al., 2000). This had implications for social structures of the societies that included cacao, as cacao served as a hierarchical catalyst that enforced a disparity between the elites and the commoners.
Moreover, cacao was used as a form of currency. It may be strange to think of a food/beverage as a form of currency, but this helps to explain why only the rich and royal elite were consuming cacao. These people were essentially swallowing money, which lower-class people could not afford to do. When the Aztecs, who at the time were one of the most advanced societies, captured the Maya people and their land, they also seized their economy. This included cacao, as the land in this area was most suitable for growing the pods (De Maré, 2013). The Aztecs entered trade, assisted by cacao beans as a form of commodity money (De Maré, 2013). Cacao beans soon became one of the most common means of exchange among pre-Columbian people for simple, low-value transactions. In a letter Cortes wrote to Charles V, he stated: “This seed was being used as currency for daily exchanges” (De Maré, 2013). The number of seeds used was proportional to relative worth – for example, one rabbit was 10 cocoa beans, while one slave was 100 cocoa beans (De Maré, 2013). Cacao beans soon became the main currency of the Empire, and its value was officially fixed in 1555 when a decree stated that one Spanish real equaled 140 cacao beans (De Maré, 2013). This currency even spread to countries that are now in present-day South America, and it was in use until the start of the 19th century.
Lastly, cacao was utilized as a form of medicine. It was believed to have digestive, anti-inflammatory, anesthetic, and energy-related applications that would assist in healing. People often believed illnesses were connected to the gods, and due to the fact that many also believed cacao to be a powerfully divine item, cacao was used as a healing agent. Evidently, these applications of cacao began to become interrelated. In terms of evidence of cacao’s medicinal properties, there were many documents and manuscripts that recorded its uses. The Badianus Codex indicated that cacao flowers may be used to alleviate fatigue, while the Florentine Codex took note of a recipe of cacao beans, maize, and the herb tlacoxochitl to relieve fevers and shortness of breath (Lippi, 2009). It also cautioned against excessive consumption of cocoa from unroasted beans but approved it in moderation to help replenish and invigorate the body (Lippi, 2009). Later, manuscripts like Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams recorded over a hundred uses and instructions for medicinal cacao. There were several themes of cacao’s healing properties found within these records – it was often used to treat emaciated patients to gain weight, to address exhaustion and stimulate patients’ nervous systems, and to aid digestion. Besides these common uses, chocolate had a variety of other health issues it was prescribed to treat, such as poor appetite, anemia, kidney stones, etc. (Dillinger et al., 2000). Likely due to the fact that chocolate was believed to have divine origins and thus god-like properties, it was utilized to treat a large variety of illnesses. This provides support for the idea that the various uses and applications for chocolate were often intertwined and circled back to one another, thus rendering chocolate as one of the most dominating forces in the Pre-Columbian society.
Dillinger, T. L., Barriga, P., Escárcega Sylvia, Jimenez, M., Lowe, D. S., & Grivetti, L. E. (2000). Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate. The Journal of Nutrition, 130(8). doi: 10.1093/jn/130.8.2057s
With the rise of food media in the modern age, there are countless avenues through which we are exposed to the most avant-garde of gastronomy. From the massive influx of visual information on platforms like Instagram and Facebook to the constant features of shows on Netflix and The Food Network, food has captured attention far beyond its functionality utility of nourishing and sustaining the human populace. This effect has only been reinforced with the globalization of certifications for the most prestigious of restaurants and businesses in the world. The moment that Michelin adjusts its stars, San Pellegrino announces its 50-Best list, or the James Beard Foundation names its honorees, the modern media swarms to cover stories around these businesses to highlight what distinguished each establishment from the huge field of competitors. Given the increased emphasis on food within the modern media age, food occupies an extremely powerful point of influence for pushing specific agendas.
Historically, chocolate has always occupied a controversial space in terms of media representation. Since chocolate first emerged in Europe as a highly sought-after commodity and then became a delicacy appreciated by the masses, there have been a fair share of scandals experienced by chocolate producers, despite the global addiction and appreciation for the product. Given the complex process and numerous entities which chocolate production requires, chocolate producing companies are under incredible scrutiny for the ethics behind their product production, and this sentiment has largely continued into the modern media age. Furthermore, while chocolate has yet to shed its historical baggage in terms of its production process, there are numerous agendas committed to improving upon this practice that aim to shed a more positive image of the product, while bringing about tangible change in the chocolate industry. Therefore, chocolate serves as the perfect case study for an examination on the historical role of media and the development of the practice into the modern age. Despite its immense history, the narrative of chocolate is still being written.
Early Media History of Chocolate
There are limited written records that can commentate on the history of cacao associated with its endemic regions in Latin and South America. However, there are several artifacts that serve as “media” in terms of documenting the significance of the ingredient and the practice. Due to modern archeological techniques, the Rio Azul vessel has been characterized to contain certain compounds present within cacao such as theobromine, while also having the Mayan hieroglyphics for cacao (Stuart 2009, Coe 2013). This piece constitutes historical media as the hieroglyphics displayed on the vessel would be presented for ceremonial events (Stuart 2009). However, as other forms of historical media are still being discovered or were not preserved, it is difficult to assess the extent to which media associated with cacao propagated the indigenous populations, but there was media for the sake of documentation and ceremonial purposes.
While Hernan Cortes is commonly attributed with the movement of cacao and thus chocolate to Europe in the 16th century, there appears to be a lack of media documentation during this time period (Coe 2013). This lack of documentation is likely related to limited accessibility to sources in this time frame and thus cannot be thoroughly examined within this essay. Starting in the mid-17th century, an abundance of media sources became accessible in terms of disturbing the preparation of a wide array of exotic foods such as chocolate, coffee, and tea. Within France and Spain, chocolate consumption appears to have become a ubiquitous practice as it is represented in many texts that were released (Coe 2013). These texts purported the health benefits of cacao and chocolate, while also presenting numerous methods of preparation that would make it more palatable (Colmenero 1640).
As these texts represent early presentations of chocolate within Europe, there is a focus on emphasizing the exoticism of these products through imagery and descriptions of their indigenous use cases (Dufour 1671). Additionally, as the media was intended to encourage further consumption of cacao and chocolate, these articles encourage the literate population to partake in the exotic goods as there are innumerable benefits from coughs to indigestion (Colmenero 1640, Dufour 1671). However, as addressed by Coe, chocolate consumption took substantially longer to become normalized within Great Britain (Coe 2013). This can be clearly observed within the texts are it is clearly indicated the original documents for these media pieces were translated media from Spain and France (Crook 1685). Therefore, through following the translation and distribution of media within the Europe, the popularization of chocolate can be followed in a precise manner.
Drama in Chocolate Paradise
As chocolate became increasingly popular within Europe, there were numerous innovations that allowed for its rising accessibility. With innovations such as the Dutch process by Van Houten, conching by Lindt, and milk chocolate by Peter, chocolate was mass producible and thus while still a luxury, was consumed by a substantial proportional of the population (Coe 2013). Accompanying the rise in chocolate availability, numerous social movements emerged in Europe such as the abolition of slavery, which subsequently resulted in increased awareness on ethical business practices (Satre 2005). Through the increased interest in business morality, cacao farms and chocolate factories became a focal point for media scrutiny.
The most infamous case of media involvement was introduced by Henry Nevinson through an article and subsequent book on slavery-like conditions observed in São Tomé and Príncipe on cacao farms (Nevinson 1906). These cacao farms were primarily managed by the Cadbury chocolate company, which was founded on morale Quaker values, so the cries of possible slavery on their farms was incredibly problematic. As the article and book by Nevinson circulated throughout Great Britain, where Cadbury was headquartered, there were countless cries for Cadbury to stop sourcing their chocolate from São Tomé and Príncipe or risk being boycotted by the general populace (Satre 2005). To exacerbate the issue, Portugal which owned São Tomé and Príncipe had banned slavery in the islands earlier and therefore insisted that the report did not accurately reflect the conditions labeled on the island (Higgs 2012). In response to these circumstances, Cadbury deployed their own reporter, Joseph Burtt, to assess the situation, under slightly different pretenses as he was instructed to amicably engage with plantation owners (Satre 2005, Higgs 2012). As this scandal increased in intensity, Cadbury sued newspapers such as The Standard for libel but ultimately did stop importing cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe (Satre 2005). Regardless of the actual reason Cadbury decided to boycott this cacao, it demonstrates the immense power of media and chocolate on a national and international scale.
While media played a role in terms of maintaining accountability of the Cadbury cacao farms within São Tomé and Príncipe, there were additional instances of media playing a supplementary role in facilitating advertising and sales for chocolate purveyors. The rigid but benevolent life of Milton Hershey and the Hershey chocolate company demonstrates the possibility of positive media reinforcing the narrative behind a product. Hershey was a disciplined and compassionate individual who sought to provide for those less fortunate in his environment (D’Antonio 2007). As part of his personal quest, a model town was constructed in Hershey, Pennsylvania to accommodate the needs of the factory and provide a safe and hospitable environment for the local community. Furthermore, when Hershey expanded sugar facilities into Cuba, the company was praised immensely for the quality of the development and the sustainable business practices (The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer 1920). Through features in numerous periodicals, the model town in Hershey, Pennsylvania and the Hershey’s chocolate factory became nationally and internationally recognized as the gold-standard for effective operations (Young 1923, Times 1928, Times 1933). The success of this positive media campaign can be observed during the peak of the Great Depression as demonstrated by an increase in profit margins, due to the unique advertising strategy of relying on word of mouth and media coverage (Allen 1932). Essentially, this indicates that through leveraging the media, the Hershey’s Chocolate company was able to forego substantial advertising, while retaining premium status of its products. The media played a crucial role not only in maintaining business ethics but also in establishing positive agendas within the chocolate industry during its development.
Chocolate in the Modern Media
Moving into the modern age, there is almost an overabundance of media that is available, which presents a unique challenge as the user can curate their own opinions regarding products like chocolate. Therefore, the utilization of media must be strategic and diverse to appeal to specific interests of users but also be sufficiently applicable that a wide array of viewers could be drawn in. Despite the excessive number of media options, chocolate remains at the focal point of food media as numerous individuals within the field are leveraging their positions to improve the state of the cacao and chocolate production.
Chocolate Smudges on Pen and Keyboard
Following in the footsteps of Nevinson and other chocolate journalists, cacao and chocolate have remained at the forefront of food writing. Articles that feature chocolate and cacao are often highlighted on major media outlets such as The New York Times and Washington Post, which demonstrates a continued interest for a broad audience. Furthermore, the creation of boutique food magazines such as The Lucky Peach and online food platforms like Eater have made accessing musings about the guilty pleasure even easier. However, that is not to say that the issues surrounding chocolate and cacao have deviated immensely from the past.
Given the global nature of the chocolate industry, historically, it was difficult for journalists to fully engage with every party involved. Therefore, while certain situations such as the Cadbury situation in São Tomé and Príncipe were exposed, many others likely slipped beneath the radar. As the world has become more interconnected and accessible, many of the problems that plague cacao and chocolate production have come to light. Starting from the beginning of chocolate production on the cacao farms, numerous media outlets have exposed that horrific conditions that workers often experience alongside issues with child labor (Romero 2009, O’Keefe 2016). Despite numerous instances that have raised these problems in the past, the chocolate industry has yet to address these problems in a constitutive manner. However, through raising awareness of these issues on a broader scale, the hope within media is to inspire groups to act and address these problems.
Alongside the continued discussion on labor concerns within the chocolate industry, another vestige of the chocolate past is discussions on the purported health benefits associated with chocolate. The healthy discussion surrounding chocolate has continued in the modern age as various “experts” with the field attempt to leverage their authority for the sake of pushing their respective agendas. Media outlets basically constantly contradict themselves through the slew of articles published in both support and dissent for the health benefits associated with chocolate (Oaklander 2014, Drayer 2018). Therefore, while the narrative has shifted from the historical perspective that cacao and chocolate having almost magical therapeutic properties, the jury is out on the current state of the field. Due to the immense amount of media content that is available, there is the unfortunate consequence that the true nature of chocolate is diluted. While each viewer has the privilege of establishing their own opinion towards chocolate and cacao, it becomes increasingly more challenging to distill the truth.
Ready, Set, Chocolate!
While traditional forms of media such as newspapers and journals remain influential, newer forms of visual media have become increasingly prominent and preferred to primarily text-based articles. From TV shows to documentaries and from Youtube series to Netflix features, the number of video-based chocolate media has also reached incredible levels with the profound advantage of providing a glimpse into the reality behind situations beyond words. Even after disregarding the innumerable recipes and delectable showcases of chocolate, videos and visual representations play a pivotal role in highlighting the production process and issues that surround the chocolate market.
In line with written media, video content has been utilized extensively to challenge the chocolate industry and condemn problematic practices of cacao farming. Numerous documentaries have been released that demonstrate instances of child labor and abuse on cacao plantations, but also reveal the context for why the practice occurs. In Brazil, while cacao farming is relatively smaller in scale, it is apparent that the use of underage labor stagnates the progression of youth within the state (Papel Social 2019). Within numerous African countries, the child labor problem within the cacao industry is even more rampart as there are further indications of abused and forced labor (Romano 2010, O’Keefe 2016). However, this issue presents a conundrum because child labor is almost necessitated in both of these situations to provide sufficient income for the families at large. As these pieces of videography highlight the labor issues surrounding the chocolate industry, it demonstrates the prominence of this issue, while providing a more visually compelling argument for the viewer.
The Cocoa Route from Papel Social on Vimeo.
While many negative aspects of chocolate production have been revealed through video media, through visualizing the whole process of cacao farming, there are numerous movements by leading chefs and food personalities within the world that aim to inspire change through chocolate.On Parts Unknown, the enigmatic chef, Anthony Bourdain, explored the reaches of indigenous Peru and was inspired by the discovery of white cacao beans (Bourdain 2013).
By engaging with these local purveyors, Bourdain and Eric Ripert, head chef of Le Bernadin, collaborated with Eclat chocolate to create the “Good and Evil” chocolate bar, based on sustainable production of a unique ingredient (Eclat Chocolate 2013). Other prominent chefs have taken advantage of their media opportunities to promise similar movements for the chocolate industry.
Anthony Bourdain & Eric Ripert discuss Good & Evil Chocolate Bar from Eclat Chocolate on Vimeo.
Joan Roca, the head chef of El Celler de Can Roca, spoke regarding compassionate cooking and mentioned his goal to build a sustainable chocolate company within Spain (Roca 2017). As his family restaurant remains number one in the world on San Pellegrino’s 50-best List, Roca is leveraging his position at the pinnacle of food to improve the chocolate industry further (Jenkins 2018). Given the profound interest in food video media, it is reassuring that numerous prominent figures chose chocolate as their method of instigating change within the world.
Chocolate in Focus
Chocolate is one of the world’s most intriguing topics for media coverage due to the complex nature of its production and ubiquitous appreciation around the world. Through a historical and modern examination of media representations of chocolate, it is apparent that chocolate serves as a controversial platform for raising awareness to sociopolitical issues. Despite its ambivalent history and problematic present, chocolate will always be in the media spotlight. In this modern media age, there is a surplus of information for each user to establish their individual stances on chocolate, but effective media efforts have pushed the narrative towards making the chocolate industry more ethical and sustainable.
Allen, E. E. (1932). Hershey Chocolate’s Success: Turning Smaller Volume Into Increasing Profits–This Year’s First Quarter Not So Good. Barron’s (1921-1942); Boston, Mass., p. 22.
Central Hershey. (1920). The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer (1888-1924); New Orleans, 64(7), 108–111.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate (Third edition). London: Thames & Hudson.
Colmenero de Ledesma, A. (1640). A curious treatise of the nature and quality of chocolate. VVritten in Spanish by Antonio Colmenero, doctor in physicke and chirurgery. And put into English by Don Diego de Vades-forte. Imprinted at London : By I. Okes, dwelling in Little St. Bartholomewes, 1640.
Colmenero de Ledesma, A. (1652). Chocolate: or, An Indian drinke. By the wise and moderate use whereof, health is preserved, sicknesse diverted, and cured, especially the plague of the guts; vulgarly called the new disease; fluxes, consumptions, & coughs of the lungs, with sundry other desperate diseases. By it also, conception is caused, the birth hastened and facilitated, beauty gain’d and continued. / Written originally in Spanish, by Antonio Colminero of Ledesma, Doctor in Physicke, and faithfully rendred in the English, by Capt. James Wadsworth. London, : Printed by J.G. for Iohn Dakins, dwelling neare the Vine Taverne in Holborne, where this tract, together with the chocolate it selfe, may be had at reasonable rates., 165.
D’Antonio, M. (2007). Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s extraordinary life of wealth, empire, and utopian dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
Dufour, P. S., Colmenero de Ledesma, A., & Chamberlayne, J. (1685). The manner of making coffee, tea, and chocolate as it is used in most parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America / newly done out of French and Spanish. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/6km558
Anywhere you go in the world, you can find people enjoying various brands of chocolate with a smile on their face. With chocolate being so widely consumed, nobody ever thinks about how a market was actually born from the universal enjoyment of chocolate. It originated in the Pre-Columbian times as a ritualistic treat for Mesoamericans. Chocolate was not as sweet back then, but they nonetheless added sweeteners to try to improve the taste. Nowadays, much more complex ingredients are used to obtain the sweet, rich, and creamy goodness that is chocolate. Chocolate can be found in grocery stores and homes all over the world; it’s so commonly seen that if you went to a check out line in any store and they weren’t selling chocolate bars, you might actually question the legitimacy of their business. For as long as many of us have been alive, chocolate has been bought and sold abroad but it wasn’t always so widely industrialized.
Chocolate first arrived in Spain in the early 16thcentury. It took some time to become widely accepted, as many Spaniards were initially skeptical of the foreign, bitter drink (Norton 2004). Eventually, acceptance of chocolate became widespread in Spain as the Spanish royal court began to develop a growing taste for it and certified it as an elite delicacy. From then on, all of Europe had a different respect and interest for chocolate.
Until 1828 when a technique was developed to separate cocoa butter from cacao solids, chocolate was something you could only drink. Casparus van Houten created the cocoa press method and his son, a Dutch Chemist by the name of Conraad Johannes van Houten, perfected it. In an attempt to make chocolate more soluble, Houten was able to effectively separate the cacao butter from cacao solids by adding alkaline salt. This would make it so that chocolate could be made in the home fairly easily and therefore would be more accessible to the common man. With the invention of the cocoa press method, chocolate became more than something you could just drink; people were for the first time able to eat it as a snack (Cox 1993). Chocolate as a solid bar caught the attention of the entire continent and eventually became more prevalent than its previously enjoyed liquid form. The chocolate that results from the cocoa press method is now referred to as Dutch-Process cocoa. Dutch-Process cocoa is one of the standard ingredients in most of the chocolate we consume today.
With the European chocolate industry growing rapidly throughout the 19th century, people continued to try to find new ways to optimize the taste of it and make it more marketable. In 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle invented milk chocolate by blending milk with chocolate. Milk chocolate boomed in Europe, but the growing market for chocolate was increasingly more crowded. As more and more people got into the market and tried to develop better chocolate than their competitors, the quality of chocolate inevitably improved. With inventions like the conching machine in 1879 by Rodolphe Lindt, the texture of chocolate became much smoother and was able to be made much faster, pushing further industrialization. In order to attack a new market that had never seen the type of chocolate they specialized in, Peter and Nestle brought their product to America and created Nestle’s Chocolate Company in 1905. From the invention of milk chocolate and the introduction of it to the American market sprung the industry we are most familiar with today. Major chocolate companies today would not be so profitable if it weren’t for Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle.
Since 1905, a few (and I do mean a few) other companies have also gotten in on the mega-market that the sale of chocolate has grown to produce. The top companies that make close to all of the brands of chocolate sold around the world are Nestle (who is till the biggest company), Cadbury, and Mars. These companies drive what has turned into an ever-growing market that we all are guilty of contributing to on a regular basis.
Chocolate has come a long way from the time when it was first consumed on Earth to the much more marketed chocolate we are familiar with today. It went from being a hand made commodity to being produced through a much more mechanized process and from being consumed in one particular part of the world to being consumed worldwide. Chocolate is and will always be a part of our lives, as our love for it seems that it will never fade. Hopefully this Food of the Gods, as it was once regarded (Presilla 2009), will be waiting for us in the afterlife.
Cox, Helen. 1993. “The Deterioration and Conservation of Chocolate from Museum Collections”. Studies in Conservation, vol. 38, no. 4.
Norton, Marcy. 2004. “Conquests of Chocolate”. OAH Magazine of History, vol. 18, no. 3.
Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
In 2017, consumers in the United States spent over $22 billion on chocolate and ate an average of 12 pounds of chocolate per person. That chocolate is consumed in many forms: mass-market Hershey’s Kisses, melted chocolate covering a strawberry, chocolate powder warmed up with milk to be drunk, or an artisanal cacao bar, just to name a few. Chocolate has become so desirable and pervasive in our society that Kay Jewelers even has a collection of chocolate diamond rings.
In understanding the history of chocolate, it is important to consider early Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Aztecs and Mayans. In the interest of brevity, I will focus exclusively on the Mayan civilization below. My hope is that by examining a traditional Mayan chocolate recipe, and the societal context of chocolate in classical Mayan society, one will better understand both the evolution of chocolate and also Mayan society itself. At the risk of sounding dramatic, chocolate can be an incredibly powerful way of comprehending history.
The Classical Mayan Civilization
I begin with a map of the general location of the Mayan civilization (below). I have chosen to include this map for two reasons. The first is that in understanding Mayan cacao, it is necessary to think about environmental factors that dictate nuances such as the characteristics of the Mayan cacao trees and pods. For instance, cacao can only be grown in certain ranges of latitude, but even within that range, temperature and climate differences dictate the nature of the cacao pods in a given location (Coe and Coe, 2007). But the map is also worth keeping in mind when considering the spatial relation of cacao to other civilizations. From its origin in the Amazon Basin, cacao spread to Mesoamerican civilizations, and gradually to continents far and wide through institutions such as colonialization. In understanding how civilizations engaged with cacao, it is useful to keep a mental image of a map so as to understand how other cultures then created their own cacao recipes as it moved geographically around the world.
Although the so-called classical Mayan era occurred over a millennium ago in the years of 250AD through 800AD, historians have nonetheless been able to piece together aspects of the Mayan civilization through various means: artifacts, linguistics, and written documents, to name a few. Among these methods have been the work of epigraphers such as Yuri Knorosov which has allowed for historians to be able to read texts from the era such as the Dresden Codex (Coe and Coe, 2007). Being able to read books such as the Dresden Codex have in turn shed great insight into how the Mayan civilization engaged with cacao.
Mayan Engagement with Cacao
From the Dresden Codex, for example, historians have been able to conclude that cacao had a place in ritualistic spheres of the Mayan civilization, with descriptions of the gods engaging with cacao (Coe and Coe, 2007). From the Madrid Codex, historians have learned of a powerful connection between human blood and chocolate in Mayan civilization (Coe and Coe, 2007). And from chemical analysis of residue on artifacts, researchers have been able to learn about the vessels through which cacao was enjoyed. While cacao thus held several ‘uses’ of sorts, whether for rituals or consumption, a common misconception is that cacao in Mayan civilization was solely enjoyed in pure form as a drink. Instead, as Coe describes, “pre-Conquest chocolate was not a single concoction to be drunk; it was a vast and complex array of drinks, gruels, porridges, powders, and probably solid substances, to all of which could be added a wide variety of flavorings” (Coe and Coe, 2007, p48). This serves as a nice segue into thinking about a Mayan recipe for cacao.
Mayan Chocolate Recipe
To modern-day Americans, a foodstuff recipe typically consists of a list of ingredients described in precise quantities and orders that result in an end-product ready for consumption. However, the use of the word recipe for the Mayans is much broader (Hull, 2010). From a Mayan recipe for chocolate, we can gather information such as the contexts in which cacao was consumed, the methods of preparation, and characteristics of a society-at-large.
Consider the chocolate recipe of sorts that was deciphered by David Stuart and others. In scenes depicted on vases, we can see the process by which Mayans frothed the chocolate beverage. The very act of frothing the beverage shows us a specific, integral feature of the Mayan chocolate. We concurrently see writings that mention flavorings that were added, such as chilli (Coe and Coe, 2007). The types of ingredients added to cacao help us to imagine flavor profiles of the Mayan diet, but also to then compare to later iterations of chocolate found in countries such as England with high levels of added sugar (Mintz, 1986). Finally, vocabulary related to chocolate are an integral part of the recipe. For instance, the term ‘tac haa’ related to fathers’ of a future married couple meeting and discussing the prospect of a wedding over chocolate (Coe and Coe, 2007). A vital component of the Mayan recipe was thus the social aspect of consumption of chocolate.
The image included below summarizes some of the above components of the recipe. For instance, the depicted drinking cup would be placed on the ground and have chocolate poured into it from an above height for the purposes of frothing. It also has elaborate depictions on the outside of the cup which are one of the many ways that historians and researchers have been able to piece together the very ‘recipes’ of the ancient Maya.
Lessons from the Recipe
A great deal can be learned from what may appear above to be a simple recipe. For instance, we can think about how different recipes reflect the broader nature of a civilization. The Mayan recipe seems to focus on cacao as a social experience rather than a commodity. Sidney Mintz’s observations on how sedentary civilizations over time demand more complex carbohydrates in their diets then allows us to understand how recipes evolved to include more sugar and other such ingredients (Mintz, 1986).
While the classical Mayan civilization may have fallen more than a millennium ago, the idea of Mayan chocolate has been both idealized and profit-ized; it has become synonymous with chocolate from a past era, eliciting feelings of more natural and wholesome cacao. The included National Geographic video (below) for instance, profiles a chocolatier in Guatemala who is claimed in the video to employ a present-day version of Mayan chocolate making. While the authenticity may be disputed, the genuine interest in understanding distant cultures and societies persists nonetheless.
Ultimately, learning about the Mayan recipe has also made me want to be more cognizant of the deliberate choices that are made in the preparation of foodstuff. For instance, it is not only the ingredients that are selected that matter, but also the exacting methods (such as frothing of chocolate for the Mayans) that go into the final presentation.
Coe, S. (2007). The true history of chocolate (Revised [and updated ed.]. ed.). New York: Thames and
Hull, K., Staller, J., &
Carrasco, M. (2010). An Epigraphic Analysis of Classic-Period Maya Foodstuffs.
In Pre-Columbian Foodways: Interdisciplinary
Approaches to Food, Culture, and Markets in Ancient Mesoamerica (pp. 235-256). New York, NY: Springer New
Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and power : The place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin Books.
When you think of warfare, you probably think of soldiers, tanks, or guns; you probably do not think of chocolate, however, chocolate played an integral part in World War II. The military in the first half of the 20th century had a problem. Men were fighting on the front lines were in conditions where field kitchens could not be established. Sustenance would have to be shipped in and it would have to be compact and portable. It was to this end that Captain Paul Logan, of the office of the U.S. Army Quartermaster General, turned to chocolate. He met with William Murrie, then president of Hershey Chocolate Corporation, and Sam Hinkle, his chief scientist, in 1937 about developing a chocolate bar emergency ration that could stand up to the rigorous military standards required for field rations. Chocolate was uniquely qualified as a choice for rations as it is not only lightweight and portable but it is also is a stimulant, provides a quick burst of energy and is fairly nutritious. There were, however, some technical issues that need to be dealt with before chocolate was ready for duty on the front lines.
As anyone who has left a chocolate bar in their pocket on a summer’s day knows, chocolate tends to melt in moderately high temperatures. This gives chocolate its wonderful mouthfeel but also makes it a challenge to transport it hot climates. This is due to one of chocolate main ingredients; cocoa butter, which has a melting point of 78 degrees Fahrenheit, turning any chocolate above that mark, whether in your mouth or in your pocket, from a solid bar to a mushy mess.
Furthermore, as it was to be an emergency ration, this chocolate couldn’t be the tempting treat you usually think of when you think chocolate bar. According to Sam Hinkle, chief scientist at Hershey at the time, “Captain Logan said that he wanted it to taste not too good, because, if so, the soldier would eat it before he faced an emergency and have nothing to eat when the emergency came,” Hinkle said. “So he said, ‘Make it taste about like a boiled potato.'”
Hershey scientists and the US Army Quartermaster Corps set out together to engineer a chocolate that could stand up to the military’s exacting standards. As Joel Glenn Brenner states in her book, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, “The result was the famous Field Ration D, nutrition-packed “subsistence” chocolate made from a thick paste of chocolate liquor, sugar, oat flour, powdered milk and vitamins …it could withstand temperatures of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and contained 600 calories in a single serving.” (Brenner 8). That was all well and good but the military needed to make sure that these Ration D bars could stand up to the challenge of the harsh environment of war. According to the Hershey Community Archives, “The first of the Field Ration D bars were used for field tests in the Philippines, Hawaii, Panama, the Texas border, and at various Army posts and depots throughout the United States. These bars also found their way to Antarctica with Admiral Byrd’s last expedition in 1939. The results of the test were satisfactory and Field Ration D was approved for wartime use.”
Once assured of these chocolate bars being up to snuff, the military put them into production. In her book, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, Anastacia Marx de Salcedo describes the packaging process: “The finished bars were sealed in foil and then paper-wrapped in sets of three, for a total of 1,800 calories, enough to sustain a man for a day. (Later, when foil became scarce during World War II and the use of chemical weapons seemed imminent—mustard and chlorine gas had been used frequently in World War I—waterproof cellophane and wax coated boxes were used [to prevent any deadly chemicals from leaching into the soldiers’ food]). By the end of 1945 Hershey was producing 24 million bars a week.
As for what the soldiers thought of them, their thoughts can be seen in the nickname they gave it; “Hitler’s secret weapon”. In his article, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”, Terry W. Burger interviews John Otto, a platoon leader in Company A of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 505th Parachute Regiment, for his experience with the Ration D bars, “They were awful,” “They were big, thick things, and they weren’t any good. I tried ’em, but I had to be awful hungry after I tried them once…. Whatever they put in didn’t make them taste any better.” Nevertheless, the Ration D bars kept the soldiers alive on the battlefield and in other precarious situations. Not only that, because chocolate contains stimulants such as theobromine and caffeine, it kept the soldiers awake and alert, which was vital to their survival and success, especially in hostile territories like Nazi-occupied France. Some of the soldiers dislikes of the bar may have stem from their quick consumption; the instructions clearly stated the bars are to be eaten slowly (in about half an hour the label says), so a soldier on the move who consumed his Ration D bar a little too quickly may have experienced quite a bit of gastronomic distress.
Either way, the Ration D bars served also as a diplomatic tool, turning many starving Europeans into friends of the United States, as described by 82nd Airborne Veteran John Otto, “People wanted them, You’d give them to kids. In some places they were very hungry. And they sure helped relax people about American soldiers.”
Chocolate has been part of the military ever since. In 1943, Hershey created the Tropical Bar, the Ration D’s ever-so-slightly better tasting cousin, for consuming in the hot and humid Pacific. This bar saw action during the Korean War (1950-53) up through the early days of the Vietnam War. In 1990 Hershey created the Desert Bar, which tasted like an original Hershey bar but could withstand temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Not that Hershey was the only game in town; Forrest Mars introduced M&M’s in 1940; just in time for the chocolate candy that “melts in your mouth, not in your hand,” to be added to soldiers rations. Today soldiers receive chocolate in a variety of places, whether it’s in a MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) ration or a care package that boosts their spirit and gives them a little taste of home.
 Terry W. Burger, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”
 Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, page 87
 Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, page 87
 Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 10
 Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 46
 John C. Fisher and Carol Fisher, Food in the American Military, page 183
Marx de Salcedo, Anastacia. Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat. Penguin. 2015.
Brenner, Joel Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey And Mars. Random House, Inc. 1999.
Fisher, John C., and Carol Fisher. Food in the American Military: A History. McFarlan & Company, Inc. 2011.
Burger, Terry W. “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!” America in WWII, Feb. 2007, p. 36+. General OneFile, libraries.state.ma.us/login?gwurl=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GPS&sw=w&u=ntn&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA400957701&asid=4593f3eb2321afb7732288b7e5322620. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.
In an episode on the TV show, Mad Men, ad executive Don Draper is sitting across the table from Rachel Menken, a woman he is dating and talking to her about the meaning of love. He says to her, much to her chagrin, “Love doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by people like me to sell Nylons.”
While Rachel might disagree with him and even be right in pointing out that his is a pessimistic way go through life, there is a certain truth in Don’s words. Today, like in Don Draper’s 1950s when the modern age of advertising began, advertisements wield an unparalleled amount of power over how we feel, think, and perceive ourselves (Monbiot 2011). At its core, an advertisement makes a promise. That promise makes us think that by buying a product we can be transformed, we can become the “ideal woman,” the “sexy husband,” the carelessly laughing beauty taking a vacation in the sun. All we need to do is mimic the person on the television screen. And this is Don’s point. While advertisements might be influenced by culture, they have an immensely powerful role in in creating culture: in influencing tastes, preferences, and identities, and in doing so creating people who are “ideal” modern consumers.
Chocolate advertisements are one area in which this influence is particularly clear. Today, we associate chocolate with women, sex, femininity, and love. In fact, while women are generally underrepresented in advertisements, in almost all cases where they are present, they act out their femininity exclusively as wives, mothers, and sexual gatekeepers (Collins 2011). Often, they are shown wearing provocative clothing and rarely portrayed as professionals (Collins 2011). Images like those below, for example, are found in nearly all chocolate advertisements, centering on women divulging in chocolate, looking oddly sensual, and deeply satisfied by what they are eating.
In fact, most chocolate advertisements today either present an idealized woman, who is most often white, skinny, with perfect hair and makeup, consuming chocolate (either entirely happy or entirely sexualized while doing so) or focus on how all women cannot resist the powers of chocolate, a treat that somehow singularly calls out to them, that they need for their emotional well-being in a way that men do not. In an example of the former, the commercial below not only shows chocolate as being inextricably tied to female sexuality, it draws a distinct link between chocolate production and sex (which is separately problematic because of the realities of chocolate production, though there is not enough space to delve into that here). The woman in this ad is portrayed as being flawless: she has flowing hair and perfect skin, and she is supposed to be everything one might want to be in a woman.
In another ad, it is similarly only women who are consuming the chocolate product, though they are no longer sexualized, but have voracious, unbridled appetites instead. The ad shows hordes of women who are running and screaming to get their hands on the low calorie chocolate product. Instead of linking chocolate with sex, this ad portrays chocolate consumption as a distinctly feminine activity and one that is irresistible – the thought of the chocolate product makes all of the women almost irrational. The female appetite as presented here can only be satiated by chocolate, though of course, chocolate that is low in calories because the ideal woman is also obsessively concerned about her weight.
These associations are so deeply embedded in our cultural imagination that we have come to see them as biological fact: we have come to believe that there is something physically different about women that draws them to chocolate. These theories, such as one that posits that menstruation causes a chocolate craving, have been, unsurprisingly, debunked (Bratskeir 2014). In fact, other research has shown that while 60 percent of American women surveyed crave chocolate pre-menstruation, only about 24 percent of Spanish women do, showing that “chocolate cravings” are culturally constructed, and in our culture, it is almost exclusively women who are shown to consume chocolate, though often men who buy it for them. (Zelner et al 2004; Osman 2006).
While it may be no great surprise that advertisements have shaped how we think about chocolate, what is surprising is that chocolate was not always a distinctly feminine product in the American psyche. In fact, before the 1950s chocolate was not shown to be consumed by women any moreso than men. In this ad from 1901, the woman is actually feeding the man a piece of chocolate as a sort of peace offering. While chocolate is still associated with pleasure and intimacy here, it is a role reversal from what we see in advertisements today.
Similarly in this ad from 1913 while the main focus is on an image of a woman, she is not indulging in the chocolate herself, rather she is presenting it to others, completely counter to today’s association between chocolate and feminine consumption.
Another advertisement from the early 1920s shows what is presumably a couple looking longingly at a box of chocolates. While the image is somewhat sexualized, with both of them standing close and implying a certain sort of intimacy, it does not single out the woman as the center of sexual attention as we might see today.
Even in 1927, chocolate was not shown as being uniquely feminine. On the contrary, as can be seen in this ad, it was advertised as a post-workout treat which, although serving to reinforce the notion of woman as homemaker, did not focus on woman as chocolate consumer.
So how did we get from this :
The answer: Valentine’s Day. Specifically, the commercialization and transformation of Valentine’s Day from an ancient fertility festival to a day in which men shower women with gifts (namely flowers and chocolates) as a token of their love, in exchange for physical and emotional affection. Some scholars posit that Valentine’s Day first started as an Ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia where naked men would “swat women with raw hides to increase their fertility” (Reese 2015; Seipel 2011). Though these ancient origins are somewhat contested, the transformation of Valentine’s day into a celebration of love in the late 18th century as a result of the mass production of Valentine’s cards is not (Reese 2015). These greeting cards entirely catalyzed the commercialization of Valentine’s Day making it a holiday that carried tremendous profit potential for companies, though it was not until the 1950s that Valentine’s Day had been fully transformed into a gendered holiday – where men were, and are, expected to show women affection in a sort of one-way relationship. The greeting cards and advertisement show below, for example, are from the early 20th century and capture the relatively gender-neutral focus of Valentine’s Day at that time. The flower advertisement, in fact, actually shows a woman purchasing flowers.
In the post-war era, however, as men returned home from war, women were relegated to domestic tasks (PBS, The American Experience). Advertisements in this era, like the one shown below, perpetuated the idea of the woman as a homemaker and her husband as the only person who held the key to her happiness.
It was in this sociocultural environment, where women were expected to raise children and take care of the home and men expected to provide them with physical and emotional satisfaction, that Valentine’s Day acquired a new meaning. This advertisement, unlike the one shown above, targets men who are presumably traveling on business, reassuring them that they can still make their wives happy with the gift of flowers.
It was in this era of female domesticity and idealized masculinity that chocolate came to be associated with Valentine’s Day and this association forever changed the lens through which Americans view chocolate consumption. While the first heart-shaped chocolate box was created by Richard Cadbury in Great Britain 1861, it was not until the consumerist post-war era that the idea gained popularity in the United States (Henderson 2015). During that time, companies like Russell Stover (which owned Whitman’s) began to market their chocolate as a Valentine’s Day gift, like flowers, that husbands could (and should) buy for their wives. The link between chocolate and Valentine’s Day necessarily centered on female consumption of the chocolates because women were the consumers of all things Valentine’s Day that their husbands bought for them.
Advertisements like the one below tapped into this domestic relationship between spouses, where women rarely worked, and instead were provided for. The advertisement here makes a promise to men, that by buying chocolate they will be able to “remember the way to her heart,” because female happiness and love is tied entirely to chocolate consumption.
In another post-war advertisement we see one of the first instances in which a woman is eating chocolate alone and has a huge smile on her face as she indulges herself, an image that has been since duplicated hundreds, if not thousands of times.
This image of the woman who enjoys the gift of chocolate slowly led to the development of the image of the woman who was constantly craving it and could not resist it when offered to her. In the 1960s, chocolate was advertised as not only the path to female happiness but also the path to sexual satisfaction for men. In 1967, Brach’s advertised, “Free kisses with every box of Brach’s Valentine Chocolates you give to her” (LeBesco and Naccarato 2012). In these ads, chocolate is shown as a sort of investment for men, as Kathleen Parkin, author of the book, Food is Love, explained in a recent Slate interview, because it carries with it the promise of sex (Anderson 2012). Women, simultaneously, were shown as giving themselves or being given permission by others to indulge in the chocolate (partially because in the 1970s Americans grew more health consciousness and chocolate was seen as unhealthy), whereas men do not require that same sort of permission (LeBesco and Naccarato 2012).
While in its origin, this link between chocolate and love was influenced by the culture of the historical era, over time, it also played a substantial role in cementing and perpetuating notions of idealized femininity. All advertisement campaigns rely on repetition and pervasiveness because through these methods they become embedded in culture and are no longer questioned by audiences (Monbiot 2011). The pervasiveness of advertisements which pair chocolate with female sexuality and appetite have triggered our expectation that all woman want chocolate and cannot control themselves if it is given to them. This pattern has acted, and continues to act, as a positive feedback loop, whereby the more we see women associated with chocolate on TV the more we associate chocolate with certain types of femininity and the stronger that association, the more likely advertising agencies are to run ads affirming that notion.
While our modern era has complicated this image in some ways, as the rise of feminism has called certain representations of women in the media into question, and women entering the workforce has allowed them to purchase gifts, not only receive them, in many respects the traditions surrounding Valentine’s Day, borne out of post-1950s domesticity, have not changed. This ad below, for example, aired just 4 years ago on Valentine’s Day. The ad’s focus on women wanting to be gifted chocolate by men (as opposed to buying it for themselves or buying chocolate for their partners) is nearly identical to those from the 1950s.
It is not unusual today to hear people talk about how much women love chocolate or to see this association shown on TV shows and in advertisements. The association however, is based on a deep-seated history of sexism which idealized a certain type of woman who acted out her feminity in accordance with prevailing gender expectations. As shown above, chocolate advertisements continue to present women in this unequal way today and in doing so contribute to a wider culture of gender stereotyping and the unnecessary feminization of chocolate.
Works Cited (Including both multimedia and scholarly sources)
“1950s Ads/commercials Aimed at Women.” Technologies of the Family. N.p., 31 July 2011. Web. 06 May 2015.
The American Experience. “Women and Work After World War II.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.
Anderson, L.V. “What’s Up with the Stereotype That Women Love Chocolate?” Slate. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 06 May 2015.
“Be Mine over Time.” Hallmark. N.p., n.d. Web.
Bratskeir, Kate. “This Is Why Women Crave Chocolate, Men Want A Burger.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Nov. 2014. Web.
Collins, Rebecca L. “Content Analysis of Gender Roles in Media: Where Are We Now and Where Should We Go?” Sex Roles 64.3-4 (2011): 290-98. Web.
“Don Draper’s Best Quote.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.
Henderson, Amy. “How Chocolate and Valentine’s Day Mated For Life.” Smithsonian. N.p., 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 06 May 2015.
LeBesco, Kathleen, and Peter Naccarato. Edible Ideologies: Representing Food and Meaning. Albany: State U of New York, 2008. Print.
Monbiot, George. “Advertising Is a Poison That Demeans Even Love – and We’re Hooked on It.” The Guardian. N.p., 24 Oct. 2011. Web.
“Oreo Cakesters 100 Calorie Mini Cakesters TV Commerical.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.
Osman, Jamie L., and Jeffery Sobal. “Chocolate Cravings in American and Spanish Individuals: Biological and Cultural Influences.” Appetite 47.3 (2006): 290-301. Web.
Reese, M R. “Day of Love – the Complex Origins of Valentine’s Day.” Ancient Origins. N.p., 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 06 May 2015.
“Russell Stover 2011 Valentines Day-“Men Should Go with the Heart Shaped Box”” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.
Seipel, Arnie. “The Dark Origins Of Valentine’s Day.” NPR. NPR, 11 Feb. 2011. Web. 06 May 2015.
“Sexy Chocolate Commercial.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.
Zellner, Debra A., Ana Garriga-Trillo, Soraya Centeno, and Elizabeth Wadsworth. “Chocolate Craving and the Menstrual Cycle.” Appetite 42.1 (2004): 119-21. Web.
Chocolate is a delicious commodity enjoyed throughout the world. However, chocolate tastes and consumption patterns vary from region to region. For example, chocolate produced for Americans is often made very sweet, contains less cacao and cocoa butter, and many times becomes an impulse buy or guilty pleasure. Chocolate is also heavily marketed towards children in the United States, and most of the chocolate consumed by Americans is from Big Chocolate companies such as Hershey. However, in many European countries, chocolate is often more luxurious and rich, is complemented with a variety of fruity and spicy flavors, and is marketed more towards the adult population. In addition, European chocolate is often more expensive given its target audience and higher cacao content. It is important to note that each country within Europe makes chocolate slightly different and has its own unique consumption trends, but in general, most European chocolate is made with more sophistication and higher quality ingredients when compared to American chocolate which is often heavily corporatized and mass-produced. The differences between American and European chocolate are so stark that we can even witness them when comparing the chocolate found in international stores in the United States to the chocolate sold in American grocery stores. For the purposes of this paper, the chocolate sold in Cardullo’s and CVS will be compared and contrasted in order to demonstrate the differences between European and American chocolate. It will be argued that variations in ingredients, target audiences, and packaging are what influence and distinguish European and American chocolate tastes, advertising, and consumption trends.
Cardullo’s is a gourmet shop in Harvard Square that sells food ranging from fresh deli meats to jams to dried pasta. Many people, including myself, believe that the store is meant to be reflective of a European shop or cafe because the store sells mainly imported brands and gives off an international vibe with its rustic and crowded interior. What is interesting is that the only thing I have ever purchased from Cardullo’s has been chocolate, and when I revisited the store this past week I realized why: their chocolate selection is outstanding! Moreover, four out of the five times I bought chocolate from Cardullo’s, the chocolate wasn’t even for me, it was meant to be a gift for someone else.
When I think about why I chose Cardullo’s for the chocolate gifts, it was because I wanted my present to feel unique, luxurious, and thoughtful. I was not about to buy someone special a plain Hershey’s bar or a bag of Reese’s. I knew that Cardullo’s sold European chocolate brands and felt that European chocolate was high quality. I feel that this is a common perception, that European chocolate is more luxurious and better than American chocolate. This bias may be based on the idea that European chocolate often contains more cacao and cocoa butter than American chocolate, which is considered a sign of quality. This is because the United States only requires its chocolate to contain 10% cacao, while in Europe to be considered “chocolate”, a bar must be at least 20% cacao (Gourmet Boutique). Many argue that American chocolate producers care more about cost than quality when it comes to their chocolate which is why they use lower quality ingredients and mass-produce their chocolate unlike many European companies (Alberts and Cidell, 224). American chocolate companies using less cacao in their bars dates back to the beginnings of the Mars Company. Frank Mars tried several times to create a popular chocolate bar and eventually ran himself into debt (Brenner, 53). However, once he and his son invented the Milky Way in 1923 (which is chocolate nugget covered in a thin layer of chocolate) the company’s costs of production fell drastically because the bars contained less cacao (Brenner, 54-55). The bars immediately became popular because they were larger and cheaper than the other current chocolate bar at the time, Hershey’s (Brenner, 55). It was partially Mar’s usage of a cheaply made filled bar that led other American chocolate producers to try to use less cacao in their bars. The fact that the Hershey company mass-manufactured and got people habituated to milk chocolate with less cacao may be another reason why Americans accept chocolate with a lower cacao content today.
Getting back to the matter at hand, the imported chocolate at Cardullo’s did contain a significant amount of cacao, the lowest cacao content I saw being 23% in a standard chocolate bar. Most of the imported European chocolate also highlighted the cacao percentage on the front of their packaging, which is something I do not recall being included on most American-produced chocolate wrappers (see Figure 1 below). This marketing tactic enables European chocolate producers to tout the high levels of cacao they are using (Wolke).
I remember that selecting the chocolate gifts at Cardullo’s was extremely difficult because of the wide variety of chocolate brands and flavors they sold. On one occasion, I had trouble deciding and ended up buying five bars each with a different flavor: chili with cherry, dark milk, 88% dark, orange, and sea salt caramel. Upon revisiting the shop, I re-discovered some of these specific chocolate bars whose brands were Chocolat Bonnat (France), Valrhona (France), and Dolfin (Belgium). What enticed me about these particular bars were their intriguing flavors, some of which I had never seen before. Most of the flavors in Cardullo’s chocolate include nuts, spices, or fruits, which is actually common for European chocolate and contrasts with American chocolate which is usually complemented with caramel, nugget, and other sugary fillings. These more savory flavors used in European chocolate tie back to the Mesoamerican origins of chocolate. In fact, several scholars believe that “Europeans developed a taste for Indian chocolate, and they sought to recreate the indigenous chocolate experience” (Norton). These scholars also claim that this “cross-culturalization of taste” led Europeans to develop an appetite for spices and vanilla (Norton).
I also chose the bars because they had intricate and fancy wrappers that made the chocolate look expensive. These fancy wrappers are probably a marketing ploy, again to promote the perception that European chocolate is higher in quality and more glamorous. This perceived quality is also probably factored into the price of the chocolate because the chocolate bars were not the cheapest. The price of chocolate sold at Cardullo’s ranges from $5-$65 with the pricier chocolate items being gift baskets and large boxes of chocolates. To me, the prices are justified by the fact that the chocolate is imported and because of the customer base of the shop. Whether Cardullo’s intends to attract older people or not, their clientele is mainly working men and women and arguably international students. It is understandable that middle aged and older people visit this store: they can afford the food and have more singular tastes. It is also interesting to note that chocolate is mainly marketed towards adults in Europe which may be why it is more expensive and takes on a more sophisticated look (Graham).
European chocolate has not always been luxurious or marketed in this way, especially in France. Today, France creates some of the most artistic, romanticized, and well-known chocolate in the world, but this was not always the case (Terrio, 10). Until the 1970s, French confections were very traditional and quite plain. But towards the 1980s, French chocolatiers wanted to re-brand their chocolate and make it more of a specialty item. In order to do this, they began distinguishing themselves from pastry makers and confectioners, created a new taste standard for bitter dark chocolate, worked with the government and local authorities to establish themselves, and looked to the past to make sure their chocolate had cultural authenticity and didn’t appear mass-produced (Terrio, 12-15). Finally by 1990, French chocolatiers were being recognized as craftsmen and artisans for their authentic and creative work. The French chocolatiers were ultimately able to establish themselves because they placed a tremendous amount of time and effort into making small-batch chocolate which contrasted the mass-production and lower quality work conducted at larger chocolate factories and companies at the time (Terrio, 30-35). Nowadays, there are several fine French chocolate makers such as Valrhona and Bonnat.
Some of my concluding observations about Cardullo’s were that the store mainly sells its chocolates in single bar form as compared to in bulk, but also sells several chocolate confections such as bonbons and truffles. During my revisit, I also made sure to check the sugar content, fat content, and cacao content of many of the bars in the shop in order to compare them to the chocolate bars in CVS. Finally, on my way out, I asked an employee what chocolate he preferred, European or American. He quickly replied, “European of course! It is much more creamy and rich, and I am pretty sure it doesn’t contain weird ingredients like those used in Hershey’s”. Another employee chimed in saying, “It is definitely the smoothness that distinguishes the two”. This smoothness probably derives from the European’s use of extra cocoa butter, or can be attributed to the fact that Europeans (especially the Swiss) prefer smoother chocolate so they conche their chocolate for longer (Presilla, 126). Studies have found that American chocolate companies typically conche their chocolate for 18-20 hours, whereas Western European chocolate companies conche for 72 hours (Alberts and Cidell, 222).
Now onto CVS. CVS is a large drug store chain that offers everyday use items from beauty supplies to medications to snacks. When it comes to chocolate, American CVSs have a surprisingly decent selection. However, most of the chocolate sold is from Big Chocolate brands such as Mars, Nestle, and Hershey, which can be found in most convenience stores. CVS also carries some semi-luxurious brands such as Lindt and Godiva (both European brands), but on a small scale. Walking down the candy aisle at CVS was a much different experience than at Cardullo’s. For one, I actually felt quite overwhelmed by the bright packaging of the chocolate (a common color theme was using yellow or red). I also noticed that most of the chocolate brands used animated lettering on their wrappers. This eye-catching color scheme and lettering clearly contrasted Cardullo’s calm and intricate chocolate packaging and is most likely to attract children (see Figure 2 below). To reiterate, in the United States, chocolate companies often target children in their advertisements. As a side note, chocolate marketing towards children is actually a highly controversial topic, as it takes advantage of children’s developmental vulnerabilities and may be contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic (Martin).
Moreover, just like at Cardullo’s, the price of the chocolate at CVS is probably influenced by its targeted population and the type of people who visit the store. Since American chocolate is mainly marketed to children in the US, and CVS seems to be a weekly stop for the average person, it makes sense that their chocolate prices are extremely reasonable, ranging from $1-$15. This affordability allows the chocolate to be an impulse or everyday purchase. Another thing that somewhat differed between Cardullo’s and CVS chocolate was its placement in the store. The Cardullo’s chocolate was on the wall sort of close to the register as was the CVS chocolate, but CVS also had a row of chocolate bars right under the register to entice impulse buyers. Chocolate is considered to be more of a guilty pleasure or impulse purchase in America versus in Europe where people eat chocolate more regularly. This is because in Europe chocolate is viewed as a food rather than an indulgence (Alberts and Cidell, 224). This is also revealed in reports showing that Europeans consume about half of the world’s chocolate whereas the United States only consumes about 20% (CNN’s “Who consumes the most chocolate?”). This trend is possible because many European countries consume more chocolate per capita than the US (see Figure 3 below). Furthermore, in CVS the chocolate treats were mainly in bar form, were often sold in bulk, and did not come in luxury forms such as bonbons or truffles, again speaking to the target audience’s tastes and trends. This yet again reveals that American chocolate producers value cost over quality.
Finally, when examining the nutrition labels, it was evident that the chocolate in CVS contained more sugar, less fat from cocoa butter, and less cacao altogether. For example, a Cadbury Milk Bar from Cardullo’s contained 23% cacao, while a Hershey’s Bar from CVS only contained 11%. What was even more striking was when comparing the same Cadbury Milk Bars, an imported one from Cardullo’s and one from CVS, the nutrition facts and packaging were not equal (see Figure 4 below for a video of a family comparing the British Cadbury bar to the American one). It is also interesting to point out that the chocolate sold at Cardullo’s was mainly dark chocolate while CVS was capitalized by milk chocolate. This may be because children prefer sweeter milk chocolate to bitter dark chocolate which is a more acquired taste, or that dark chocolate is truer to the origin of chocolate which is why it is produced more often for European audiences. Regardless, this finding is not a coincidence in that Americans prefer lighter milk chocolate and Europeans prefer darker chocolate (Presilla, 119).
Figure 4: Video of a Family Trying a Cadbury Milk Bar from the UK vs. the US
In summary, I found Cardullo’s European chocolate and CVS’s American-produced chocolate to be radically different. What I discovered was that European chocolate contains more cacao, is occasionally complemented with unique spices and flavors, has more sophisticated packaging, and targets a more mature population. Moreover Europeans tend to prefer dark chocolate and consume chocolate more regularly than Americans. On the other hand, American-produced chocolate is sweeter with less cacao and more sugary fillings, utilizes bright and animated wrappers, is often mass-produced, and is marketed more towards children. With these differences in ingredients, packaging, and target audience, it is no wonder that European and American chocolate tastes, consumption trends, and advertising differ.
There is a common chef’s maxim that states: people first eat with their eyes. The visual aspects of experiencing, tasting, and consuming food have been an important consideration of food culture for centuries. Within this landscape, chocolate and desserts have played a significant role in the evolution of the visualization of indulgence. From the laborious construction of marzipan hedgehogs and elaborate sugar structures of the 16th century to the highly technical making of contemporary chocolate commercials, the emphasis on the importance of visual perfection has remained constant, though motivations and meanings have evolved and expanded alongside technology.
Today, the term “food porn” has emerged as a way to describe the pervasiveness of images of food in media and the fascination with capturing images of what we eat. The Urban Dictionary entry for “food porn,” created in April 2005 defines the term as: “Close-up images of delicious, juicy food in advertisements” (Urban Dictionary). The term, first coined in feminist writer Rosalind Cowards’s 1984 book Female Desire, was vastly ignored until the early 2000s when it exploded in the media with Flickr’s “Food Porn” category in September of 2004 (Atlantic). Since then, food blogs, Pinterest boards, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages have more frequently been including pictures of food. Within these pages, chocolate and chocolate desserts capture special attention as objects of indulgence that play on historical associations with lust, sex, and romance (Robertson, 30). Even the very name, “food porn,” has obvious connotations and references to the satisfaction of one’s desires through a visual outlet. But why do people enjoy viewing and sharing mere images of food? Do these mouthwatering images induce cravings or, rather, act as a substitute for the actual experience of eating?
Unfortunately, when one looks to science for an explanation of this visual phenomenon, the research can be contradicting. Some studies, such as this one published in 2012, found that just looking at images of food could be enough to trigger an increase in the hunger-hormone ghrelin (Schussler et al., 2012). Other studies, including this 2013 study out of Nature Neuroscience, suggest the brain’s reward centers may not respond as much to visual “food cues” when the brain signals the stomach is full (Labouebe et al., 2013). Clearly, more research needs to be done in this complex arena to fully understand the visual, psychological, and neurological underpinnings of taste and food. Thus, in my opinion, a more interesting and ripe avenue for analysis lies in the social and historical influences that have shaped the pursuit of food’s visual perfection. By first tracing the history of displaying lavish desserts as a marker of social status and power through the contemporary phenomenon of televised, dessert-centered competitions, food blogs dedicated to chocolate, and finally the influence of social media, I hope to illustrate a common thread of food as an important part of the culture of social currency, as well as an evolving motivation for the visual perception of food as whole through the lens of chocolate and other examples of indulgence.
Today, we can share food with the snap of an iPhone and a few clicks. However, food sharing and the pursuit of visual perfection was historically a much more physical undertaking motivated by the desire to exhibit class, wealth, and power. In the introductory chapters of Sweetness and Power, Sidney Mintz describes the connection between food and sociality as, “food and eating have not lost their affective significance, though as a means for validating existing social relations their importance and their form are almost unrecognizably different” (Mintz, 5). However, a historical analysis confirms a great amount of care has always been paid to the visual perception of food.
For example, Mintz identifies several examples of significant effort put into perfecting the visual appeal of desserts. During the height of the 17th century, marzipan confections were meant to be admired before eaten and often molded into animal-like forms to adorn the tables of the wealthy (Mintz, 93). Cookbooks from the eighteenth century included instructions for elaborate displays, “graced with as many as ten different dessert items,” to transform sweet delicacies into a form of bourgeois entertainment (Mintz, 94). The video below illustrates how elaborate structures of sugar, spices, and even gold were transformed into symbols of power and privilege. In the nineteenth century, however, these grand confections lost their association with the high-class, because sugar as a commodity had permeated to the lower classes. While these examples may seem extreme, the historical motivations of food sharing and the importance of visual perfection serve to illustrate the origin of more contemporary meanings, and can help explain why the way food looks remains a primary concern in contemporary culture.
Fast-forward to recent years and the obsession over making indulgences appeal to a visual appetite has evolved. However, the cultural capital and social currency that is gained through the exhibition of visually astounding sweets remains. For example, the spirit of competition is embodied in the various cooking competitions aired on television that are for dessert commodities. Ace of Cakes, Baker’s Dozen, Chocolate with Jacques Torres, Cupcake Wars, DC Cupcakes, Dessert First, The Dessert Show, Kid in a Candy Store, Last Cake Standing, Passion for Dessert, Sugar Rush, and Sweet Genius, are a handful of The Food Network’s television offerings, and all of them are exclusively focused on desserts or sweets. Even Top Chef has created its own sweet division, Top Chef: Just Desserts. Clearly, America enjoys visually indulging. Sugar, chocolate, and even buttercream frosting are ingredients available to the vast majority of Americans; thus the thrill of watching these competitions focuses more so on the talent and attention to detail exhibited through the construction of such elaborate desserts. Though the on screen judges obviously taste the desserts prior to voting on the winner, I would argue that the visual perception and attractiveness of the desserts is much more important, as the show is designed primarily for the distant audience at home. They must be able to “taste” with their eyes.
Another example of conveying taste through visualization is illustrated in the design and production of commercials for chocolate and other desserts. Gü Puds is a British brand of desserts introduced in the early 2000s, and they sell a wide variety of chocolate and fruit desserts in small, single-serving “puds.” The video above details the highly technical labor that goes into the making of their commercials and illustrates the importance of creating exactly the right visual effect. The directors and producers used a Photron BC2 High Speed camera recording at nearly 2000 frames per second in high definition to capture the slow motion image. The time, resources, manpower, and technology involved in the creation of this commercial (lasting less than a minute!) clearly exemplify the importance of the visual identity of foods, and more specifically, desserts. When customers feed their cravings to indulge, they value the visual appeal as an insight to how the product may taste, and therefore marketing campaigns use this association to their advantage.
In addition to commercialized exploitations of the visual appetite with profit and sales in mind, food blogs have also become an interesting component of food culture from a different sector of the popular. Rather than relying on the published food critics in the New York Times, people looking for an excellent dining experience can check one of a plethora of blogs online. This article illustrates how the restaurant experience is being shaped by these food bloggers, armed with iPhones and not afraid to kneel on the ground to find the best angle from which to snap a shot of an orange infused chocolate soufflé. Mark Jahnke, who, along with his wife, started the food and wine blog, F. Scott and Zelda says, “A lot of our friends are foodies, and we just wanted to let people know what we had tried over the weekend and whether it was good” (La Gorce, 2010). While food is typically the highlight, the restaurant atmosphere is often communicated through the images, and illustrates the importance of context within food blogs. In addition to restaurant recommendations, most food and dessert blogs also highlight recipes and at-home suggests via posted images. For example, the Tumblr “Mostly About Chocolate” features recipes, restaurant recommendations, and newsworthy links to articles about chocolate related topics. While scrolling through the blog one can find two adjacent entries, one of an image of a freshly baked dessert and the other of a freshly purchased chocolate croissant (images below). This comparison illustrates the value of both types of visual representations and social currency that can be gained by sharing images of our food. On one hand, the blogger has asserted his or her culinary expertise, and on the other, a well-rounded knowledge of the best bakeries.
This clearly “homemade” dessert (Curly Wurly brownies) reflects the talent and ability of the baker. The blogger also noted she needed to “let them cool down before cutting then I’ll take proper pictures that look decent.”
In this post, the blogger gave a shout out to a local bakery. Compared to the homemade dessert, this image represents a refined taste and a well-traveled consumer offering expert selections from only the best.
Beyond televised cooking shows, visual marketing campaigns, and structured food blogs however, the culture of the visual appetite has permeated even deeper into the facets of society through a contemporary culture centered on technology used for every day tasks, especially through social media. Because social media is a ubiquitous platform for sharing content, the meaning of sharing food has drastically expanded to encompass the casual sharing and the capacity to do so extends to anyone with an iPhone. Most individuals have the technological capacity to snap a photo of a mouthwatering chocolate torte and share it via Instagram, Pinterest, or simple as a picture message to a friend. Rather than physically sharing a meal over a table, people can share their thoughts and experiences regarding food to anyone in the world, in seconds. This brings a new dimension of the capacity of food to unite people.
Today, the meaning of sharing visual representations of food has clearly expanded. Rather than an indication of class and power exclusively, as was common in earlier centuries, visual representations of food now represent a social currency of taste in many forms. From Food Network episodes, to million-dollar Super Bowl commercials that make our mouths water, to the picture posted on Facebook of the chocolate birthday cake baked for a friend, capturing and consuming images of food marks us as highly visual consumers and illustrates the importance food has beyond simply feeding our bodies, that of cultural connections and multi-faceted social currency.
We all know the guilty pleasures of chocolate: its alluring qualities, tempting taste, and irresistible sweetness. And how could we not, for commercial upon commercial highlights the benefits of “giving into desire,” “treating ourselves,” and “pleasuring our palate.” However, what we don’t realize is that chocolate’s original nature was far from sexual. Chocolate was very much viewed as a necessity and a daily snack rather than a taboo indulgence (Coe & Coe, 238). Upon examination on advertisements and social media, however, we find that over the years chocolate has gone from being promoted as a sweet, daily food to a naughty sexual experience to which women are extremely vulnerable to.
As mentioned above, chocolate was originally seen as an innocent food meant for women and children. This view is due to the division of labor at home where men were the breadwinners and thus needed the “hardier” meals in order to provide for their families, consuming most of the meats and grain (Martin). Women and children ate food with added sweets in order to make up for the loss of many grains and meats in their diet. This dynamic reflects our gendered perspective on sugar and chocolate as items primarily consumed by women and children (Martin). Thus early marketing was accordingly geared towards both groups, depicting sweet, modest, innocent women focused more on preparation for chocolate for others than themselves.
Therefore, one must ask how did chocolate become something so dirty and perverse?
Chocolate’s naughtiness emerged during the 20th century when health concerns arose around sugary and fatty foods, and when moralists associated with the temperance movement saw chocolate as a vice that lead to other sinful activities such as drinking and gambling (Martin). As a result chocolate changed from something that was consumed everyday as a normal part of one’s meal to an item that one could only occasional partake in. This was reflected in ads that were increasingly telling women to indulge themselves and to take a bite (instead of taking their daily dosage of chocolate as in earlier ads), noting how little harm a small bite could do.
However, chocolate’s transformation did not end there. The major change seen in this century in regard to chocolate was chocolate’s transition to sexually pleasurable item irresistible to women. This transformation was not unnoticed at all by chocolate producers who rapidly took advantage of these changes to promote their product. Many also took advantage of women’s more sexual appearance in media to sell their chocolate products, calling for women to “indulge their obsession with chocolate,” noting women’s hypersensitivity to chocolate as filthy yet exciting, titillating, and necessary to their being.
Commercials were not immune to this change either. As seen by the latest DOVE commercial a woman wearing a sensual look (enticing eyes, red lips, slightly disheveled hair) attempts to lure in a man, piquing his interest by encouraging him to explore a mystery, “take a leap,” and “live his fantasies,” noting how things are “heating up” as he gets closer to her. The scene ends with the woman taking a seductive bite out of the chocolate as the man finds her behind the books–all while slow, seductive piano music plays in the background. This commercial largely plays on sexual innuendos and focuses on letting go of one’s inhibitions and succumbing to desire, with the woman first to fall prey to the chocolate’s “magic.”
The Axe Men’s dark chocolate temptation commercial is no different as women are seen pouncing and devouring a man who has turned into chocolate, the lust and need evident in their bites and touches.
Chocolate’s sexualization, however, hasn’t only been seen in advertising: social media has taken up on it as well. A public account called “It’s Food Porn” recently tweeted a picture of chocolate covered strawberries, something that is universally (within the US) deemed delicious. This account is significant not only in its tweets but also in its own name. The title of Food Porn suggests that some foods can mirror the effect of pornography, creating cravings deep as sexual ones, hinting that orgasmic pleasure and euphoria can also be derived from food. Thus this tweet shows that the author of the account sees chocolate covered strawberries as an organismic worthy food that provides much pleasure and believes that enough people will agree (and thus retweet the tweet) to post it. In fact, the predominant amount of images on the account relate to chocolate foods, further supporting the idea that chocolate is seen as a sexual and pleasure-filled food.
As we can see, chocolate has undergone a large transformation from the innocent meal-time favorite to overwhelming sexual vice for women. Yet several man questions still remain. Was this sexualization of chocolate a societal one or did chocolate manufacturers begin the wave and society followed? Did chocolate commercials have anything to do with the sexualization of women in media or were they a byproduct of it? Finally, how do women across the board view these images and representations of their thirst and need: do they mutually agree or is there dissent?
Bui, Quang. Filthy Chocolate Ad Campaign. Digital image. Https://m1.behance.net/rendition/modules/10328493/disp/3fddea0fd5e88799dc06db43246b8505.jpg. 22 May 2011. Web.
In Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews sang a song about how “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” and in the case of chocolate, she was most certainly correct. Medicine has historically been reputed to have a bitter taste, so it makes sense that as far back as the Aztecs (and possibly the Olmecs), chocolate has been attributed as having all sorts of healing properties and positive effects on the body. In this essay, we will explore the use of chocolate as a health remedy along with how and why these uses have changed over time.
Historically, cacao consumption is believed to have started in Mesoamerica.Cacao was consumed by Aztec elites as an after dinner treat, and cacao consumption was featured in certain Aztec rituals .However, from European historical accounts by both Bernal Diaz del Castillo and the Franciscan friar, Bernadino de Saharan, we know that the Aztecs used cacao as a sexual stimulant as well as for a variety of health problems including heart trouble, infections, respiratory illness, and hemorrhoids .In Chocolate as Medicine: A Quest Over the Centuries, Mesoamericans are described as using cacao to treat snakebites and to strengthen their warriors for battle .While the consumption of cacao was seen as spiritual amongst the Maya, they were also known to use cacao in order to treat skin ailments, epilepsy, and fever .With so many amazing healing properties, colonial Europeans must have believed cacao to be a medical marvel.
Cacao was transformed when it was brought to the European continent.Cacao went from a drink that was mostly used by Mesoamericans for ritualistic purposes to a drink that was used primarily for medicinal purposes . The Church played a large role in relegating European chocolate consumption to medical purposes.This was due to the fact that chocolate was seen as a mind altering substance, a euphoria-inducing experience, and its consumption potentially went against Church fasting rituals .In order to get around Church skepticism, many scholars wrote about the medical uses of chocolate, and they tried to make chocolate fit into the “humoral system” .Using Galen’s theory, early European physicians tried to classify chocolate as hot or cold and wet or dry based on their own observations and most likely their personal taste preferences .In the end, colonial Europeans used chocolate to treat hysteria, melancholy, thinness, fatigue, chest pains, kidney disease, stomach ailments, anemia, fainting, STDs, blood circulation, hypochondria and respiratory ailments .
Today, chocolate consumption in the mass quantities seen in Mesoamerica and Europe is considered part of an unhealthy lifestyle.This has led big chocolate companies like Hersheys and Mars to fund research into the health benefits of cacao in order to reclassify chocolate as a superfood and widen their market shares.Therefore, many studies have been done in recent years in order to prove that regular cacao consumption will improve a person’s health.Modern studies have shown that dark chocolate improves heart health, suppresses cough and improves respiratory function, is good for mental health, improves cognitive function, and helps with gastrointestinal disorders .
In conclusion, moderate dark chocolate consumption is beneficial for a person’s health.However, it is important to understand that historically medical science has been used to promote the consumption of chocolate and that this tradition continues to this day.Many of the chocolate health studies are funded by those who have a financial stake in the results, and it is difficult for people to understand that milk chocolate will not confer the same health benefits as dark chocolate.Therefore, it is fundamentally important that one consume his or her chocolate responsibly.
Coe, Sophie D.; Coe, Michael D. (2013-06-28). The True History of Chocolate (Kindle Location 1210). Thames & Hudson. Kindle Edition.
 Thompson, H.Smithsonian Institute.“Healers Once Prescribed Chocolate Like Aspirin”. February 12, 2015.Retrieved March 2015.