Tag Archives: food

CHOCOLATE WASTED: When Overindulgence Goes Wrong

#ChocolateWasted As We Know It

“Chocolate wasted” was not a hashtag when it first presented itself. As a matter of fact, it was blurted out by a six-year-old actress named Alexys Nycole Sanchez (playing Becky Feder) in Adam Sandler’s Grown-Ups. Per the movie’s storyline, “I wanna get chocolate wasted!” was an appropriate phrase for childlike overindulgence that caught every movie-goer’s attention in 2010 (IMDb). The legendary line even helped Alexys win the “Best Line” category at MTV Movie Awards the following year (IMDb). Soon after, headlines like Los Angeles (LA) Times, celebrities and random college students, like myself, were using the term rather frequently. Still today, there are establishments and products named after the infamous idiom such as a Houston-based ice cream truck and a lipstick shade made by Doses of Color, respectively (Chocolate; Dose of Colors). Amazingly, the power of the Internet allows us to revisit its cinematic origination and locate namesake innovations. But truthfully speaking, the denotation of chocolate wasted is not leading in headlines like its figurative interpretation nor being quantifiable in scholarly publications. Prior to diving into a serious topic, I have several questions that will hopefully heighten your interest to want to learn more.

  • What is food waste (including chocolate waste)? What are the associated impacts?
  • What are direct implications from chocolate waste throughout the supply chain?
  • What qualities does a sustainably certified product uphold? Is waste not included in the sustainability assessment? Does waste not contribute to the overexertion of resources and labor? 
  • How do I avoid chocolate waste in my home? Does chocolate have an expiration date? Is chocolate (or cocoa) mulch safe for pets?

 

reinigung_von_kakaobohnen

By Pakeha [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Läderach Chocolate Factory, a Switzerland-based manufacturer, displays a collection of “cocoa waste” in their in-house museum for tourists’ enjoyment. From right to left there: cocoa with waste materials, extracted waste (like stones, dust, metal or wood), and cleaned cocoa.

 

Food Waste: A Global Problem

On a global scale, 1.3 billion tons of food production meant for human consumption gets lost or wasted annually (FAO). Regarding economic losses, food waste is equivalent to $310 billion in developing countries and $680 billion in industrialized countries with the U.S. leading in food waste and overall wastage than any other country in the world (FAO). Specifically, in the U.S., about 40 percent of food goes uneaten annually which equates to 133 billion pounds with an USD value $161 billion (USDA, n.d.). Conversely, 42 million Americans including 13 million children are facing food insecurity and hunger daily (FAO). Hypothetically speaking, the diversion of 93,000 tons of wasted food could create 322 million meals for people in need and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 714,000 tons (ReFED). This alarming amount of wasted food is not only associated with socioeconomic implications but it also depletes natural resources significantly.

According to Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), U.S. food production utilizes the following: 50% of land, 30% of all energy resources, and 80% of all freshwater (Gunders). Resources consisting of land, water, labor, energy and agricultural inputs (fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides) to produce wasted food are squandered as well, unwillingly inviting resource scarcity and negative environmental externalities. Activating ozone pollution, the misuse of agricultural inputs including irrigated water, pesticides and common fertilizers like nitrogen & phosphorus can cause further damage to ecosystems. Irrigation practices promotes water pollution affecting quality, groundwater accessibility, and potable water accessibility (Moss). Moreover, pesticides are common culprits to human health effects, resistance in pests, crop losses, bird mortality and groundwater degradation (Moss). Other inputs, such as nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, wreak havoc to human health, air quality and aquatic ecosystems (Moss).

The utilization of resources is not the only emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, pertaining to food waste, but also the decomposition of it makes substantial damage to the environment. Postharvest, food waste is the single largest component of municipal solid waste making landfills the third largest source of methane in the country (Gunders). Anthropogenic methane accounts for 10 percent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contributing to a rise in global average temperatures, better known as global warming (EPA, n.d.b). Particularly, landfill methane generates 16 percent of total methane releases compared to carbon dioxide which emits 81% annually (EPA). Although carbon dioxide is the main contributor of global warming, methane carries significant weigh as a pollutant due to its ability to absorb more energy per unit mass than any other greenhouse gas (EPA).

Pinpointing on ecological footprint, the most recent “Earth Overshoot Day” occurred on August 2, 2017 in which the extraction of natural resources exceeded the Earth’s capacity to regenerate in the given year (Earth Overshoot Day). By partnering with Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, Global Footprint Network also reported that a 50% reduction in food waste could push the date of “Overshoot Day” by 11 Days (Earth Overshoot Day).

Chocolate Waste Feeds the Food Waste Problem

The classification of food waste is distinguished by each level of the supply chain including agricultural production, post-harvest handling & storage, processing, distribution and consumption. From a global supply chain perspective, food waste is very difficult to define across countries. The conflicting views of edible versus inedible food waste is one example of cultural variation which impedes the approval of a standardized definition that will cater to all diverse parties and accurately measure waste at the macro level. For instance, the U.S. chocolate market classifies the pulp of a cocoa pod along with the shell of the cocoa bean as inedible products. Thus, cocoa pulp is left at the farmgate level, and at the processing level, cocoa shells are removed and most commonly converted into biofuel or mulch.  Unlike the US, the Brazilian chocolate market produces chocolate with cocoa solids but also makes shell and pulp into sellable products such as loose leaf tea or juice, respectively. Moreover, these value-added practices are present-day testaments of indigenous traditions. The myriad indigenous uses of cacao and chocolate products are analogous to the circular economy that we are yearning for today.

During the Mesoamerican period, chocolate was classified as an esteemed delicacy, a form of payment, ceremonial gift, everyday cooking agent, natural remedy for human health & the environment and so forth. However, during European colonization, the rise of industrialization came with added ingredients, mainly refined sugar, that devalued the quality aspect as well as created a negative image of chocolate over time (Martin, “Sugar”). The health risks of added sugars began to overshadow the medicinal properties of cacao. Even the perception of cacao changed from a specialty crop into a cash crop.  From a socioenvironmental view, terroir of cash crops rose in volatility at the extent of mass enslavement and corruption (Martin, “Health”). At the same time, these characteristic flaws did not stop consumption. Even today, popular chocolate products are sugary, highly processed and in conjunction with unethical sourcing backgrounds. For instance, laborers endure labor-intensive work on a daily basis in top cocoa producing countries, such as West Africa. The average laborer is paid below the global poverty line, uses dangerous tools such as a machete to manually cut down cacao pods, applies fungicides & pesticides typically without the proper protective equipment (PPE) and oftentimes exposed to insects and other dangerous animals. In turn, these hazards can result in serious health complications both physically and mentally.

cocoa_farmers_during_harvest

By ICCFO – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

West African laborers removing beans from the cacao pod. It is a labor-intensive process. 

Nonetheless, the chocolate market has expanded its portfolio over the years, containing commercial chocolate and craft chocolate, in which consumers can be selective among the two categories.  Commercial chocolate is what we usually see in supermarkets in which the supply chain depends on multiple stakeholders (across countries) to meet global demand. Whereas, craft chocolate consists of a relatively small team who produces chocolate in small batches from cocoa bean to bar (Martin, “Haute”). Compared to commercial chocolate, these manufacturers seek to provide quality rather than quantity which typically comes with a higher retail price (Martin, “Haute”).

Once it hits retail, consumers, like myself, are in awe of the multiple offerings, appealing packaging and even sustainability labels that lures us in to help  “save the world” and eliminate any guilt from buying chocolate.  It’s like a race to find the one with the most honorable mentions comprising of Organic Certified (USDA, Non-GMO and an overlap of third-party ethical standards (Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, etc.) However,  after investigating various sustainability standards, retail chocolate waste is not attributable to certifiable requirements nor is it recognized as a concern overall. Based on logical reasoning and what I stated earlier, the primary ingredients of chocolate consisting of refined sugar, cocoa derivatives (cocoa powder and butter), palm oil and/or milk powder that were extracted from its origination to be processed, transported and packaged as a single product. In addition, these ingredients are combined and further processed into chocolate which is then packaged and transported to retail as a finished good. Just imagine the man hours, natural resources and other inputs used within this supply chain. Broaden that imagination to consider the following: consumers discarding “safe-to-eat” chocolate confections due to fat or sugar bloom, retailers not knowing what to do with an overstock of unsold seasonal products, improper storage temperatures ruining a truckload full of chocolate candies, outdated farming techniques producing more waste than yield and slightly related, the packaging of sustainably certified chocolate causing more harm to the environment than conventional chocolate. The latter, wasteful packaging, is another topic that needs assessment and corrective actions. Unfortunately, these scenarios are real-life examples that are being overlooked and emitting an indefinite amount of greenhouse gases.

In actuality, retailers have the potential to be the main change agents for food waste reduction including chocolate waste. However, edible food is commonly thrown away in these spaces due to excess inventory, imperfections, or damaged packaging. A recent study conducted by the Center for Biological Diversity’s Population & Sustainability and Ugly Fruit & Veg Campaign, reported a grade C or below to most of the top ten grocers in the country including Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Publix and Costco (Center for Biological Diversity). The relatively low grades were based on their poor efforts to address and combat food waste in eight focus areas: corporate transparency, company commitments, and supply chain initiatives, produce initiatives, shopping support, donation programs, animal feed programs and recycling programs (Center for Biological Diversity). Both sustainability driven organizations have pronounced a goal for all U.S. grocery stores to eliminate food waste by 2025 (Center for Biological Diversity). Grocers were also pushed to change their current marketing models into sustainable ones by promoting safer handling and lesser stock levels, leveraging new technologies to strengthen inventory management and creating policies on retail spoilage reduction (Center for Biological Diversity).

easter_chocolate_in_suburban_food_store_in_brisbane2c_australia_in_2018

By Kgbo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

A grocer aisle full of chocolate candies wrapped with seasonal packaging.

 

The Rise of Chocolate Production and Waste

Informatively, consumers worldwide indulge in approximately 7.3 million tons of chocolate every year (Sethi). Developing countries, such as India, Brazil and China, are adopting chocolate products that were once inaccessible or unaffordable for their respective populations (Sethi). Since 2008, disposable incomes for each these emerging markets are increasing exponentially due to economic boost from industrialization (Sethi). The rising market of chocolate products equates to a growing demand for global cocoa and sugar production. Industry experts forecasts a 30% growth in demand, from 3.5million tons of cocoa annually to more than 4.5 million in 2020 (Sethi). In consideration, the amount of chocolate squandered throughout the supply chain is currently undetermined or not shared publicly. Based on noticeable discrepancies in definitions and measurements, chocolate waste and even food waste for that matter will continue to intensify and be discussed loosely unless it’s highly prioritized and welcomes a new branch of international cooperation and mutual accountability. A stride that’s executable if all stakeholders collectively build upon a new systematic approach to carbon neutrality, waste diversion and socioenvironmental benefits.

 

Chocolate Commonsense

In the meantime, I’ve provided a list of suggestions below that can help you, as a consumer, avoid chocolate waste or divert it to greener waste streams. 

  • Purchase in moderation.
  • Don’t be alarmed by “Sell By Date”. Depending on care and the type of chocolate (milk, dark or white), chocolate is still safe to consume for longer periods of time.
  • Chocolate bloom, (whether sugar or fat bloom) which gives off a whitish or light coating on the chocolate’s surface, is still safe for consumption.
  • To retain freshness and structure, cool and dark environments are ideal storage locations for chocolate.
  • Have an excessive amount of unopened chocolate? Donate to participating charities like Ronald McDonald House Charities and Operation Gratitude.
  • ONLY FOR CONSUMERS WITHOUT PETS: Add leftover chocolate or raw cocoa shells, particularly organic certified, in compost for home gardening. *Fyi to pet owners, chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats due to its theobromine content. If you have pets, you can distribute waste to a composting facility.
  • Advocate for chocolate waste (and food waste) assessments from involved stakeholders (including local and national governments, non-governmental organizations [Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, etc.] retailers, distributors and manufacturers)

cocoa_mulch_28405161134929

By Leslie Seaton from Seattle, WA, USA – Cocoa Mulch, CC BY 2.0.

Cocoa mulch is made out of cocoa shells (most times organic) which are beneficial to soil health.  Organic cocoa mulch contains nitrogen, phosphate and potash and has a pH of 5.8 (Patterson). There is also a noticable warning sign to keep dogs away due to theobromine content, which is scientifically proven to be very harmful to pets.

 

 

 

Works Cited.

IMDb. Alexys Nycole Sanchez. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3465073/?ref_=nmawd_awd_nm

Chocolate Wasted Ice Cream, Co. About Us, 2017. https://chocolatewastedicecream.com/

Dose of Colors. CHOCOLATE WASTED, 2018. https://doseofcolors.com/products/chocolate-wasted

FAO. Food Loss and Food Waste. http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/en/

ReFED. A Roadmap To Reduce U.S. Food Waste By 20 Percent, 2016. https://www.refed.com/downloads/ReFED_Report_2016.pdf

Gunders, Dana.“Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill”. Natural Resources Defense Council, Natural Resources Defense Council Issue Paper 12-06-B, 2012, https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-food-IP.pdf

Moss, Brian.“Water pollution by agriculture”. US National Library of Medicine

National Institutes of Health, 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2610176/

EPA. Methane Emissions. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases

Earth Overshoot Day. Food demand makes up 26% of the global Ecological Footprint, 2018,  https://www.overshootday.org/take-action/food/

Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 14 Feb 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Health, Nutrition, and the Politics of Food + Psychology, Terroir, and Taste”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 11 April 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Haute patisserie, artisan chocolate, and food justice: the future?”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 18 April 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.

Center for Biological Diversity. Checked Out: How U.S. Supermarkets Fail to Make the Grade in Reducing Food Waste. Center for Biological Diversity, 2018, http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/grocery_waste/In-

Sethi, Simran.  “The Life Cycle Of Your Chocolate Bar” Forbes. 22 Oct 2017 https://www.forbes.com/sites/simransethi/2017/10/22/the-life-cycle-of-your-chocolate-bar/#42eff5bd66d8

Patterson, Susan. “Cocoa Shell Mulch: Tips For Using Cocoa Hulls In The Garden”, 5 April 2018, https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/mulch/using-cocoa-hull-mulch.htm

Pakeha. Reinigung von Kakaobohnen.jpg., WikiMedia Commons.7 December 2017, 17:56:47

Kgbo. Easter chocolate in suburban food store in Brisbane, Australia in 2018.jpg, WikiMedia Commons, 24 February 2018, 10:04:29

Seaton, Leslie. Cocoa Mulch (4051611349).jpg, WikiMedia Commons, 20 October 2009, 15:55

ICCFO. Cocoa farmers during harvest.jpg. WikiMedia Commons, 1 January 2015,

 

 

 

 

Destined for Contention: Chocolate’s Place in a “Healthy” World

Chocolate, and what it means to people, differs across time and space. From its inception as the seeds of a fruit tree to the myriad ways in which it is transformed and eventually consumed by humans, chocolate’s potential variety seems limitless. The history of chocolate merits this variety; it is a fascinating story across multiple continents and cultures. What becomes ever more apparent when studying chocolate’s history as a food, and potentially as a healthy food, is that human obsession with food – in general, but more pertinent to this paper as a source of health – is no new phenomenon. The Western diet has undergone huge transformation since the industrial revolution, chocolate was transformed along with it, and both have not slowed in their development. When chocolate was first encountered by Europeans, the scientific reasoning behind food knowledge was based on a 1500-year-old system developed in Ancient Greece and Rome. Today, modern science allows us to measure the nutritional content of anything and everything we can think of ingesting. But, alas, this technological exactitude has not led to uniform consensus when it comes to which foods are healthy and which are not. Diversity, in both our options of foods and the opinions on which of them we should choose to consume, still reigns supreme. This paper will track chocolate, from its birth place to the continents where it is now most widely and voluminously consumed, and attempt to appraise its value as a beneficial dietary supplement. It will also discuss what effect the perception of chocolate as a health food might have on the industry today. What becomes apparent is that, while Galen’s humours may no longer hold sway in the scientific realm, the Hellenic wisdom from Apollo’s temple that prescribes, “Everything in Moderation,” is as true today as it was two thousand years ago.

According to Michael and Sophie Coe, in their exhaustively well-researched book, The True History of Chocolate, feelings have been mixed about the legitimacy of chocolate as a health food for a long time. The Aztecs, who did not discover or invent the cacao seed and its most valued product, but were controlling the product across its empire with an iron fist, did not view chocolate as a panacea like some Europeans came to do. For the Aztecs, the chocolate drink, as it was consumed then, was taken chiefly as a preferable option to wine – drunkenness being hugely frowned upon (Coe: 75). There were some supposed benefits, that were reported by the Spanish mendicant friars, including increased “success with women” (Coe: 96), and as a cooling drink that could be taken before hard labour to avoid overheating (Coe: 123). But there were also warnings against chocolate, with a myth purporting that chocolate had made Aztecs fat and weak, distancing them from their superior forebears (Coe: 77). In Europe, chocolate arrived as a medicine (but Coe notes, “it soon became a medicine that was appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation, 126). However, the guise under which it came, the now utterly refuted Galenic humoral system, makes its supposed benefits interesting but not pertinent to this discussion. To sum up briefly, chocolate was claimed to benefit a host of ailments including: angina, constipation, dysentery, dyspepsia, kidney disease, liver disease, breast and stomach illness, asthenia, indigestion, fatigue, gout, haemorrhoids, erectile dysfunction, and the list goes on.1 It was not until modern medical research took root in the 19th century that false claims started to become harder to make (though they have never been completely extinguished).

So what claims can be made about chocolate? Unfortunately, because chocolate in the United States only has to be 10% or more made from cacao, very little can be said uniformly about chocolate.2 So it is important to clarify that the only chocolates that can be said to have possible health benefits (at least benefits that derive from the cacao) must be those produced with a significant cacao content. Much has been said recently about the health benefits of dark chocolate, some of it true, some of it exaggerated, and some of it quite misleading. If one googles, “dark chocolate health,” the vast majority of articles one will find will boast of the “superfood” qualities of high cacao content chocolate or of the benefits of adding raw powdered cacao as a supplement to one’s diet.3 The nutritional properties of cacao most touted are its antioxidants – polyphenols and flavonoids – with claims that they are good for cardiovascular health, protection from disease, anticancer properties, lower cholesterol, cognitive health, and lower blood pressure.4 Antioxidants has become a “buzzword” in the health community, especially the health selling community, and so anything that can be provably claimed to contain antioxidants and can also be produced and sold will appear in advertising before long. However, scientific research results have not proved as exciting as the claims of fitness and holistic-living “experts.” The antioxidant immunity boost from chocolate has showed to be extremely short-lived in humans5 and studies have revealed, like that of red wine’s supposed health benefits, that the amount of chocolate (or wine) that would need to be consumed to enjoy the rewards from the antioxidants contained would be such an enormous amount that the damage caused by the fat and sugar (or alcohol) would far outweigh the goodness done.6 Thus, the health benefits of chocolate, if any, must be attainable from a small amount, as its fat content is so high.

So if the antioxidants in chocolate are too small in number, are there any other benefits to eating dark chocolate? In short, yes. Small amounts of very dark chocolate, approximately 85% cocoa content, do boast three important nutrients that, while less glamorous than immortality-inducing antioxidants, are incredibly important to human health. High cacao content chocolate boasts impressive amounts of fibre, iron, and magnesium. While the numbers are not uniform brand to brand, a comparison of eight brands at a Somerville, Massachusetts convenience store (Perugina, Green and Blacks, Jelina, Scharffen Berger, Newman’s Own, Lindt, Chocolove, and Divine) showed enough correlation to warrant discussion. The average fibre content from the eight brands darkest products (ranging from 72%-85%) was 19% of a person’s recommended daily amount; for iron it was 27.5%. Magnesium is generally not listed on FDA required packaging and so product to product this number is hard to acquire. However, Humana Press’s comprehensive compendium, Chocolate in Health and Nutrition, is not vague when it comes to chocolates magnesium content claiming, “Chocolate has one of the highest magnesium levels reported of all foods.” (Watson 430) Are these facts about chocolate’s nutritional profile important? Possibly. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service claims that 57% of Americans do not have enough magnesium in their diet; it also claims, more dramatically, that 92% of Americans do not get sufficient fibre in their diet.7 Magnesium deficiency is not trivial. The American National Institutes of Health claims:

“Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. It has been recognised as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymatic reactions, where it is crucial for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) metabolism. Magnesium is required for DNA and RNA synthesis, reproduction, and protein synthesis. Moreover, magnesium is essential for the regulation of muscular contraction, blood pressure, insulin metabolism, cardiac excitability, vasomotor tone, nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction. Imbalances in magnesium status—primarily hypomagnesemia as it is seen more common than hypermagnesemia—might result in unwanted neuromuscular, cardiac or nervous disorders. Based on magnesium’s many functions within the human body, it plays an important role in prevention and treatment of many diseases. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease (e.g., stroke), migraine headaches, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”8

 

For anyone living in America, sadly, these diseases and afflictions are not unfamiliar. Fiber deficiency too poses health risk with the Harvard School of Public Health claiming, “Fiber appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, and constipation.”9 Iron deficiency is not, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, a seriously prevalent issue among Americans with 89.5% getting enough in their diet. Although the risks associated with iron deficiency, for one in ten Americans,

“can delay normal infant motor function (normal activity and movement) or mental function (normal thinking and processing skills… can increase risk for small or early (preterm) babies. Small or early babies are more likely to have health problems or die in the first year of life than infants who are born full term and are not small, … cause fatigue that impairs the ability to do physical work in adults. Iron deficiency may also affect memory or other mental function in teens.”10

Iron deficiency is not a huge issue at the moment, but with the amount of meat being consumed in the American diet coming under attack, alternative sources of iron might be important to a new generation of health and environmentally conscious consumers looking to eat considerably less meat, and with it the iron it provides.

The number not yet mentioned, but most important when discussing the possible benefits or dangers of high cacao content chocolate is that of the fat, and especially saturated fat, content. The average saturated fat content from a single serving of one the eight brands mentioned previously is 58% of the recommended daily amount, according to the FDA packaging. This number is astronomically high. The dangers of saturated have been widely reported for many decades10 but recently there has been contention within the medical community. The British Medical Journal posted a controversial article in 2017 claiming “Saturated fat does not clog the arteries… Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong.”13 The article came under fire, not for necessarily being outright wrong, but for being misleading.14 Fat is still something that should be monitored, whatever the type is being consumed. So, unlike a food source like a kiwi, which boasts enormous health benefits and can be added to any diet with no known drawbacks (unless one is allergic), chocolate can only be effectively employed as a source of nutrients to a diet low in fat. For many this is bad news. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service reports that only 40% of Americans are staying within the guidelines of consuming 10% or less of their calories from saturated fat.15 Ultimately, this means for a large section of society the only way to employ dark chocolate as a health food is if they restructure their diet to include significantly less saturated fats.

So, if it can be argued that a small amount of high quality dark chocolate can be employed as a nutritious source of food to an already health conscious individual, what could this man for the industry today? One positive effect that has started to occur is that people’s dissatisfaction with the amount of sugar in their diet has caused producers to start making chocolate with much higher cacao content. With cacao content coming under focus, the origin, quality, and ethical standards in production of the cacao have come out of the shadows for mainstream consumers to take a better appreciation of the politics behind what they put in their bodies. Chocolate has a dark past that unfortunately it has not completely shed. But with cacao becoming the star of the show for many selective buyers, attention is increasing, albeit too slowly, to cacaos often third-world origins and the ethics of production in countries like Ghana and The Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, healthy (or at least healthier) chocolate does not mean ethical chocolate. Lindt is a brand that has not exonerated itself with total transparency after accusations of turning a blind eye to the unethical means of production of its chocolate. Yet its 85% bar is a favourite among fitness enthusiasts for its nutritional content and great flavour.16

What is exciting is the recent explosion of craft chocolate in the United States and beyond. Craft chocolatiers are typically willing to pay more for their beans, and as Dr Martin of Harvard University has written, “buyers must pay more for cacao, uncertified and certified. Both practically and morally, consistent cacao farmer poverty in an industry replete with wealth is unacceptable.”17 Craft chocolate is also inherently made from higher quality ingredients, and with an emphasis on a robust amount of cacao per bar. An often reliably healthier option than mass-produced chocolate. The craft chocolate market is still small and producers have for the most part stayed clear of buying beans from West Africa, where the bulk of ethical concerns lie. However, increase in chocolate consumption is rising rapidly according to an article publish recently in Vox, “Chocolate retail sales in the US have risen from $14.2 billion in 2007 to $18.9 billion in 2017, the market research group Euromonitor International found, at a time when candy sales overall have been waning.”18 If demand for craft chocolate increases, perhaps a future where farmers are able to choose to sell their beans to craft chocolatiers over mass-producing corporations is possible.

 

 

Works Cited

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

Watson, RR, Preedy, VR & Zibadi, S 2013, Chocolate in health and nutrition. Humana Press Inc. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-61779-803-0

From Bean to Boom: The Development of Chocolate as an Industrialized Food 


From its journey to Europe from the New World at the beginning of the sixteenth century all the way to its modern-day iteration, chocolate has become an important staple for people all over the world. Provided here is a brief history of its long and fruitful evolution through time – from Europeans first encounter with the substance through its development into an industrialized food. 

anubisinmexico_01_olmecmap
“Olmec Heartland”

The Olmecs (1500-400 BC) were almost certainly the first humans to consume chocolate. They would crush the cocoa beans, mix them with water and add spices, chillies and herbs – thus first creating, “the nectar of the Gods!”

Over time, the Mayans (600 BC) and Aztecs (400 AD) developed their own successful methods for cultivating cocoa. For these civilizations, cocoa was a symbol of privilege and abundance. It was used in religious rituals dedicated to Quetzalcoatl (the Aztec god responsible for bringing the cocoa tree to man) to Chak ek Chuah (the Mayan patron saint of cocoa) and as an offering at the funerals of noblemen. 

moctezuma_ii_cortes

Discovery and Commercialization of Cocoa (16th century) In 1528 Hernando Cortez drank cacao with the Aztec emperor Montezuma and brought it back to Spain.

The Spanish court soon fell in love with this exotic elixir and adapted it to their tastes, adding cane sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and pepper. 

In 1585, the first cargo of cocoa beans arrived on the Iberian Peninsula from New Spain, launching the trade in cocoa, resulting in the establishment of the first chocolate shops and a rapidly growing demand for this mysterious nectar from the new world.  

The expansion of cocoa in Europe (17th – 19th centuries)
During the 17th century, cocoa began arriving in other ports throughout Europe, effortlessly conquering every region’s palate. Chocolate beverages were first embraced by the French court following the royal marriage of King Louis XIII to the Spanish Princess Anne of Austria in 1615.

mv-7716_006
Hot Chocolate in Versailles

In 1650 chocolate beverages first appeared in England coinciding with the arrival of tea from China and coffee from the Middle East. For many years it remained a treat reserved for the upper classes.

In 1659 the first chocolate-confection maker opened in Paris.

In 1720, Italian chocolate-makers received prizes in recognition of the quality of their products. Then in 1765, North America finally discovered the virtues of cocoa. 

chocolate-maid2

Cocoa During the Industrial Era
Industrialization has had a marked democratizing effect on chocolate, transforming it from a rare delicacy reserved for royals, to a widely available and readily affordable treat for the masses. 

Cacao-pur-gif

In 1828, Dutch Chemist Coenraad van Houten invented a process for extracting cocoa butter, allowing for the extraction of cocoa powder. This made chocolate more homogenous and less costly to produce. From this moment on, the history of cacao changed drastically.

 

 

treasure_image_image_file_162_745

In 1847, English chocolate maker J.S. Fry & Sons produced the first chocolate bar. The use of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks easier, but also made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar to create a solid bar.

In 1830-1879 Switzerland, chocolate flavored with hazelnuts was developed by Daniel Peteris followed by milk chocolate developed by Henri Nestlé. 

In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine. This new machine made the process of making chocolate a lot faster, and also helped make chocolate smoother and creamier.

imagesWithin the United States in 1893, confectionist Milton Hershey found chocolate making equipment at the Worlds Fair in Chicago and began production at a factory in Pennsylvania. 

Chocolate followed the French and American infantry into the trenches of the First World War, and effectively all US chocolate production was requisitioned for the military during the Second World War. In France, chocolate sweets appeared between the wars, and French pralines were considered the most fashionable. This further inspired chocolate producers to experiment with new and exciting flavors.

Converting cacao seeds into chocolate has now evolved into a complex, mechanized process. At the factory the cacao blended, roasted, cracked, winnowed, ground, pressed, mixed, conched, refined and tempered into candy bars. A few icons of the early 1900s still survive today, like Hershey, Cadbury and Nestlé. Either hand-made or as a fast food, it is now an established part of the world’s vocabulary and diet. Famous French gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin poetically summed up our universal love affair with chocolate, “What is health? It is chocolate!”

 

In these videos from Bon Apetit! you can see cocoa’s long and laborious journey from bean to bar. 

 

 

 

Works Cited

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

Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

 

Goody, Jack. Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. In Counihan, Carole. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Media

“Olmec Heartland”
http://www.vampiresaragossa.com/02_anubis_mexico.html

Hernando Cortez with Montezuma II
https://www.biografiasyvidas.com/biografia/m/moctezuma_ii.htm

Hot Chocolate in Versailles
http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/hot-chocolate-versailles

Chocolate Maid, Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1744
https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/hot-chocolate-18th-19th-century-style/

Van Houten “Chocolats”
http://lapassionauboutdesdoigts.fr/recettesdessertschocolat/moelleux-chocolat-mascarpone-aux-poires/

Fry’s Chocolate
http://www.oakhamtreasures.co.uk/treasure-of-the-week/?year_week=2016_46

Hershey’s
http://www.artworkoriginals.com/EB5SB8XJ.htm

 

 

 

Trending Chocolate

In my last blog post, I showed how the transformation of chocolate is a reflection of the industrialization of the food industry, as chocolate moved from being a natural, healthy food to a processed item that barely resembles cacao. When we think of modern chocolate, the first thing that comes to mind is often Hershey’s and Mars. The ingredients in these products mark the epitome of highly processed, artificial food. However, there is a whole different market for chocolate out there that counters this type of chocolate. As the food industry has become industrialized and increasingly processed, people have started to become aware of the negative health effects of these foods. They are becoming cognizant of what they are eating and where their food is coming from. This has given rise to a new trend in diet and lifestyle, in which people aim to eat healthier, organic, natural and local foods. Research shows that the rise in organic food production is strongly correlated with knowledge about mass-produced food, including awareness of the public health, environmental and moral risks of the food industry (Guthman). People are looking for something healthy, and Whole Foods has captured this audience, becoming a hugely successful grocery store nationwide. The chocolate selection at Whole Foods is a reflection of this new food trend that directly counters the fast, processed food industry.

The central message of Whole Foods promotes a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. On their website, they claim to be America’s healthiest grocery store and describe eight core values: (1) sell the highest quality natural and organic product; (2) satisfy, delight and nourish customers; (3) support team member excellence and happiness; (4) create wealth through profits and growth; (5) serve and support their local and global communities; (6) practice and advance environmental stewardship; (7) create on-going win-win partnerships with suppliers; (8) promotes the health of stakeholders through healthy eating education. The first thing I noticed when I walked in the store was the emphasis on these values. The signs around the store read: Sweetened by nature, more organic choice everyday, supporting organic and sustainable farming and get more green. This, combined with the imagery around the store, pulls you into their world of health food. There are products for every new fad diet, including paleo, vegan, vegetarian, and most food is labeled as local, organic or natural. The store appears to be the picture of health, ethics and well-being, and it makes you feel like you will be too if you shop there. This plays directly into the mentality of food enthusiasts who oppose the fast food industry. As Guthman describes this consumer, “In contrast to the fast food eater, the reflexive consumer pays attention to how food is made, and that knowledge shapes his or her ‘taste’ towards healthier food” (Guthman). Extensive signs and labeling are intended to draw customers in and help determine which products they want to buy. All of these observations are reflected in the chocolate selection at Whole Foods.

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The first chocolate selection that I came upon was a shelf at the end of an aisle, as pictured to the right. The first thing that jumped out at me was the aesthetic of all the chocolate bars lined up. The bars displayed pictures of food, nature, and highlighted the words organic, natural and various other certifications to prove their quality. I then began to investigate each of the bars individually. For the purpose of comparison, I looked at the basic dark chocolate for each brand.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 7.18.05 PM.pngThe first bar I picked up was the Endangered Species brand, pictured to the left. The first thing that caught my attention was the face of a chimpanzee staring at me. This was not something I expected to see on a chocolate bar. The bar is described as natural dark chocolate with 72% cacao. The ingredient list reads as follows: bittersweet chocolate (chocolate liquor, cane sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla). This is a simple list, adding to the picture of being a natural chocolate. The certifications on the front are Fair Trade, Non-GMO project verified, certified gluten free and certified vegan. It also notes that they donate 10% of their profits, which is described further on the back. It says that by choosing this brand, you are supporting conservation programs worldwide. Each bar pictures a different engendered species, with information on that animal inside. This connects with the consumer on a moral level through the animals and certifications.

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Next, I looked at the Whole Foods brand bar, which did not have plain dark chocolate, so I picked the dark chocolate and almond bar, pictured to the right. What stood out first were the three pictures on the front, one of school children, another of a woman working, and the third of a cacao tree. It was labeled “Tanzania Schoolhouse Project” where “a portion of proceeds helps fund the education of children in the Kyela district of Tanzania.” This connects with the consumer on a moral level, making them feel they are making a difference by choosing this bar. It is interesting that this bar only used the term “a portion,” whereas the Endangered Species bar specifies that 10% of their profits are donated. Whole Foods also specifies their sugar is organic and fairly traded. On the front, they have a Whole Trade guarantee certification, which I had not seen before. Their website explains that the product must meet the following criteria: meet our strict product Quality Standards, provide more money to producers, ensure better wages and working conditions for workers, and care for the environment. They also have the USDA organic certification on the front and on they back specify that is it certified organic by Quality Assurance International. They note that it is a product of Belgium, but do not specify where the cacao comes from. The ingredients in this bar were: organic chocolate liquor, organic cane sugar, organic almonds, organic cocoa butter.

While these are just two examples of bars on the shelf, they show a trend. They market a sense of morality in choosing chocolate. Each company pledges to donate a portion of their profits to make a difference in the world, trying to make their bar unique. All of the bars on the shelf were decorated with certifications, including fair trade, organic, vegan, non-GMO and more. They were also similarly priced, each at around $3 for about 3 ounces. The last thing I noticed were the ingredient lists. They all had few ingredients, many of them labeled again as fairly traded or organic. I did not encounter a single refined sugar or ingredient that I could not pronounce, which speaks to the quality of the chocolate. This chocolate is far from the average Hershey’s bar, as each company has tried to make itself authentic and unique.

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The second section of chocolate in Whole Foods was a bit pricier, though was similar in terms of packaging, ingredients and certifications. One brand of interest was Taza, since it is a local company in Somerville. Having tasted this chocolate, I knew the texture was coarser than typical chocolate. It was labeled as stone ground, which suggests less processing, with more thought and effort put into the process. The bars on this shelf ranged from about $5-9 for roughly 2.5-3 ounces. The one bar that did not seem to fit in with the others was a brand called Mast, pictured above. The bar is simple, and the back lists the cacao percentage and ingredients. The bars contain cacao, cane sugar, sometimes an additional flavor and nothing else. I found this very intriguing, so I went to their website to investigate further. The company is located in New York and is owned by brothers Rick and Michael Mast. The design of the website was similar to the bar in its simplicity and lack of information. They claim to “source directly with regions around the world, looking for the rarest, complex and delicious cacao available. Mast pays far beyond commodity and fair trade minimums and has been instrumental in developing new growing regions.” However, they do not provide any further insight into where exactly they are sourcing their cacao. They do offer tours where you can learn more, so maybe they would reveal this information there. According to Rick Mast, “Our mission statement as a company is to provide locally produced craft chocolate…That’s it. We don’t need to design the packaging or do publicity to make sure people are educated in Singapore. That is the importance of the local food movement in general” (Williams and Eber). This is a unique philosophy in the current chocolate market. This bar stood out the most among all of the other brands that were trying so hard to distinguish themselves with promises or donations and certifications.

While Mast may not believe in them, certifications are definitely trending. The two most common themes were various fair trade and organic labels. Fair trade is a very complicated ongoing debate. Fairtrade is the most common fair trade label in the world (Sylla). While their intentions and values may be good, “It seems that the founders of Fairtrade unwittingly opened a Pandora’s box” (Sylla). After they became successful, many other labeling companies emerged and began competing with one another, each with different standards and no uniformity (Sylla). The actual effectiveness of a fair trade label is also questionable. Research shows that for one American consumer dollar spent on a fair trade product, the farmer in a developing country only makes three cents more than it would have otherwise (Sylla). However, consumers are not aware of all these issues, and thus when they see a fair trade label, assume that they are buying a more ethical product. The organic certification is less complicated but has a similar effect on the consumer. There has been a growth in consumer demand for organic-certified products, and people everywhere are willing to pay more for them (Williams and Eber). This holds true in the market for cocoa and chocolate according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (Williams and Eber). But what does this really mean? Williams and Eber describe this push for organic chocolate as a big misunderstanding. Organic cacao makes up only about .5% of the cacao market (Williams and Eber). There are a lot of hoops to jump through to get this certification, in addition to it being expensive. More than 90% of the cacao is grown by small families who cannot afford to go through this process. This also does not affect the flavor of the chocolate (Williams and Eber). The certifiers do not understand the process of making chocolate and thus do not adjust their standards accordingly. Small cacao farms are not the same as larger farms and use very few pesticides (Williams and Eber). Organic may in fact not matter in the chocolate industry and in some cases can decreases the quality of the flavor. Organic is just a certification that makes people feel better about buying the product, but in reality they are just government standards that may or may not be improving quality.

This trend does not seem to be unique to the U.S. Europe also underwent a similar industrialization of the food industry, as Hershey’s and Mars became the common chocolate (Martin and Sampeck). In order to combat the big companies and processed chocolate, bean-to-bar chocolate began to emerge, focusing on small-scale manufacturing and single origin fine cacao (Martin and Sampeck). To address the labor and sourcing of the cacao, certifications began popping up everywhere. However, certifications in Europe are being questioned as well. This seems to tell the same story that we have discovered in the U.S. Therefore, this issue is not unique to the U.S. but rather is a global issue surrounding the food industry.

The demand for quality in the chocolate industry has ultimately created a surge of certifications. This makes consumers feel that what they are getting is natural and ethical, and they feel better about it. But is this really what they are getting? It is hard to tell, but it seems like simply putting ever more certifications on bars has become a trend but is not necessarily ensuring a better product. However, in comparison to the highly processed chocolates made by Hershey’s or Mars, is is reasonable to assume that these are better quality. There is still more to be done in the market for quality chocolate. The Mast brothers have realized they don’t necessarily need all of these certifications to produce a quality bar, although they could be more transparent about their sourcing. The selection at Whole Foods demonstrated the trend in the chocolate market towards certifications and ethics, which is a worldwide issue.

 

References:

Guthman, Julie. “Fast food/organic food: Reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow’.” Social & Cultural Geography 4.1 (2003): 45-58.

Hsia, Winnie. “What Is the Whole Trade Guarantee?” Whole Foods Market. N.p., 02 Oct. 2012. Web. 05 May 2017. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/what-whole-trade-guarantee.

“Learn.” Mast Brothers. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017. https://mastbrothers.com/pages/learn.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe.” SOCIO. HU 2015.3 (2015): 37-60.

“Our Core Values.” Whole Foods Market. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/core-values.

Sylla, Ndongo. The fair trade scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. BookBaby, 2012.

*Pictures were taken by me at the Whole Foods on River Street in Cambridge.

The Journey of Chocolate

chocolate chip cookies.jpgBoxes of chocolates, chocolate bars, cakes, a hot cup of cocoa, brownies, chocolate mousse, chocolate chip cookies… who doesn’t indulge in chocolate in some form or another? I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people love chocolate. And why wouldn’t we? There have been hundreds of variations of chocolate for every occasion and for many chocolate taste bud preferences. Chocolate seems to be a part of our everyday lives and we have had a long historical relationship with it. The journey of chocolate becoming a commonly consumed food item to enjoy is not only interesting but it is continually developing. Consumption and innovation throughout history have kept chocolate in demand. Different eras have added new and delightful versions and forms of chocolate that we consume today.

When chocolate made it’s way to England in the 1650s it became popular with the royals and aristocrats, but it was only the elite that could afford the expensive Spanish import (Klein, Christopher). Most commonly the wealthy enjoyed chocolate drinks as a celebrated elixir with salubrious benefits (Klein, Christopher). “As the popularity of chocolate grew, so did the number of cocoa growing countries in the world” (Discovering Chocolate). When more cocoa beans became available to a wider population this greatly contributed to the popularization of chocolate, and so “the price of cocoa beans gradually began to fall as greater quantities came onto the market” (Discovering Chocolate). In addition, in 1853, a significant reduction of import duties were made with the Industrial Revolution making transporting the commodity more lucrative (Discovering Chocolate).

It wasn’t until Johannes Van Houten invented the hydraulic press in 1828 that chocolate-making revolutionized. The hydraulic press squeezes the cocoa butter from the cacao beans producing a dry cake that then gets pulverized into a fine powder, or as we know it, cocoa powder. During this progressive time in chocolate’s history, chocolate began to develop from its drinkable form into other forms that we are more familiar with. Johannes Van Houten’s innovation permitted cocoa to be mixed with other ingredients which enabled it to be used as a confectionary ingredient. This development also created a drop in production costs, making chocolate more affordable to the masses thereby increasing demand.

From Johannes Van Houten’s creation came many other developments in chocolate’s journey, like Joseph Fry’s manufacturing of the first chocolate bars for eating in 1847. Henri Nestle mastered the art of powdered milk, which in turn enabled Daniel Peter to create the first milk chocolate bar in 1867. Each of these innovations contributed to the next chocolate transformation, bringing more varitys and ways to consume it.

As chocolate became increasingly more popular chocolate producers were stretching it with fillers to satisfy the growing demand. A scandal in production required the British government to intervene with an enforceable act to stop the chocolate producers from using inappropriate fillers to produce their chocolate products more cheaply. The Food and Drugs Act was passed in 1860. Cadbury’s name in particularly was tarnished when they got caught cutting their products with brick dust, iron filings, and lichen. Unsurprisingly the consumers were not amused. Cadbury came back strong from the scandal by developing improved products with their new slogan “absolutely pure.” The scandal did not prevent chocolate’s journey to become one of the most commonly consumed sweets in the world.

The next major and significant invention in chocolate production was Rudolph Lindt’s conching process in 1897. The conch is a kneading machine which refines chocolate into small particle sizes and creates velvety texture to chocolate with a superior taste (Klein, Christopher).

Chocolate became a mass-produced food product with ever-increasing consumer demand. The chocolate boom in the late 1800s and early 1900s has yet to fade (Klein, Christopher). If anything, chocolate consumption continues to rise. The average American today consumes 12 lbs of chocolate a year, Swedish people consume a whopping 20 lbs a year, and $75 billion is spent annually on chocolate worldwide (Klein, Christopher).

Modern manufacturing of chocolate is very industrialized and commercialized. For example, the most popular chocolate product is M&Ms. M&Ms are a Mars company product that generates $417.7 million in sales annually (The Daily Meal). There are multiple factories that produce M&Ms in a large industrialized fashion, as seen in the following video:

 

Although M&Ms and similar chocolate products are items commonly consumed, home cooked chocolate treats have a special emotional “factor.” Chocolate consumption that is made at home will more than likely be something more similar to chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cakes, or brownies very different from the industrialized M&Ms. With homemade sweet treats there comes an added sense of comfort. In Nigella Lawson’s double chocolate chip cookies recipe seen below, we can only imagine the comfort and satisfaction one might get from bitting into the delicious looking cookies:

The way chocolate is being made is continually changing. We have been making chocolate in a heavily commercial and industrialized way since the mid-1800s. However, now consumers seem to prefer chocolate made a more historic way, which is smaller scale than industrialized production, the slower and more attentive process creates more refined and flavorful chocolate. Fair trade and other alike qualifications are also becoming increasingly important for consumers purchasing choices. As production methods continue to evolve and the innovation of new products enter the market for reasons of price, taste, and now growing ethics, the demand will also continue to increase. It is however the industrialization of chocolate that is perahps the most significant milestone in chocolate’s historic journey which enabled chocolate to reach the masses. Humanity’s most enjoyed and indulgent foods for centuries owes the industrialisation era of chocolate to become a widespread and accessible pleasure to all. Without it chocolate may have remained and indulgent food of the elite. 

References:

“Discovering Chocolate.” Cadbury. Cadbury, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2016. <https://www.cadbury.com.au/about-chocolate/discovering-chocolate.aspx&gt;.
Klein, Christopher. “The Sweet History of Chocolate.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 13 Feb. 1014. Web. 8 Mar. 2016. <http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-sweet-history-of-chocolate&gt;.
“Nigella Lawson Chocolate Chip Cookies.” Youtube. Millionairsrbak, 16 Oct. 2011. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
“#1 M&Ms from America’s 10 Favorite Chocolate Candies.” The Daily Meal. The Daily Meal, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2016. <http://www.thedailymeal.com/eat/america-s-10-favorite-chocolate-candies-0/slide-11&gt;.
“Watch How Mars Makes M&M’s.” YouTube. CNNMoney, 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Marcel, Presilla E. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. 17 February 2016. Print.

Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Pixle1. Chocolate Chip Cookies. 2015. N.p.

The Medicalization of Chocolate

Chocolate has captivated Western audiences since its introduction into the European diet. Early European samplers found that chocolate and cacao had remarkable bodily effects. It lightened moods, revived the faint, and expelled “sorrows” (Graziano 132). Thus, Western culture set out to unlock chocolate’s corporeal, chemical, and psychological effects, using the current cultural medical discourse of the time. But from its earliest days, this food related exploration was couched in pseudoscience and speculation, a practice that continues today.

Chocolate has been medically scrutinized from the moment it entered the European economy and has been unpacked and forced to fit the medical discourse of the time. Upon its entrée into 16th Century, pre-Modern Europe, chocolate was deconstructed and studied to fit into the cultural “humoral system,” the current medical view that built on the Hellenic belief that the body contained four humors—blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile (Coe and Coe 121). Health and well-being were established by maintaining an equilibrium between these humors. Thus, all new food sources entering into Spain from the Americas had to pass “medical tests” to understand “how novelties like tomatoes, chiles, vanilla, squashes and potatoes affected the ‘humors’ of the body” (Presilla 27).

This collection of Pre-Modern cartoons showcases the cultural medical and bodily beliefs associated with the four humors. All four were to be kept in a precise balance, or one would slip into any of the four extreme states—lust, anger, slow response, or depression. Please note that the terms “Mucus” and “Phlegm” were often used interchangeably.
This collection of Pre-Modern cartoons showcases the cultural medical and bodily beliefs associated with the four humors. All four were to be kept in a precise balance, or one would slip into any of the four extreme states—lust, anger, slow response, or depression. Please note that the terms “Mucus” and “Phlegm” were often used interchangeably.

Chocolate was particularly difficult to classify, as it didn’t affect the body in singular or localized ways (Presilla 27). Thus, medical professionals devised complicated and detailed ways to deconstruct the medicinal and health properties of chocolate to fit the medical cultural norms. Dr. Juan de Cardenas proclaimed that cacao in its raw form was damaging, but when toasted or mixed could be medicinal. The fat solids were warm and dry, and the cacao solids were earthy and dangerous. However, one could mix chocolate with other additives like the hoja santa plant or vanilla to “tame the ‘malice’ of cacao” (Presilla 27). Similarly, royal physician Francisco Hernandez believed “the cacao seed is ‘temperate in nature’…but leaning to the ‘cold and humid’; on the whole, it is very nourishing. Because of its ‘cool’ nature, drinks made from it were good in hot weather, and to cure fevers” (Coe and Coe 122). Thus, from its earliest appearance in the Western world, chocolate has been used and studied in attempts to pinpoint the substance’s health risks and benefits, using the medical lens of the time.

Chocolate was melted and molded to fit the medical discourse of 18th-19th Century Europe as well. In an era where medical professionals looked to draughts and poultices as the panaceas to most ailments and diseases, chocolate was branded a health food that could be combined with other substances to better palate and enhance the medical benefits of these additives (Graziano 139).

Ads like these ran regularly in newspapers and other publications of the 1700’s and promoted the message of chocolate as a health food. These widely circulated advertisements widely spread this belief and began the trend for other health and additive infused chocolates.
Ads like these ran regularly in newspapers and other publications of the 1700’s and promoted the message of chocolate as a health food. These widely circulated advertisements widely spread this belief and began the trend for other health and additive infused chocolates.

Sir Hans Sloane developed milk chocolate in 1700’s as a medicine, “primarily to increase the digestibility of the high fat cacao” (Graziano 136). Other chemists began creating “homeopathic chocolates” as well, adding other additives like rice flower, chicory root, albumin, and iron to cure a host of ailments including digestion, menstrual irregularities, and anemia (Graziano 139). During this era, multiple other forms of chocolate hit the shelves including, “amber chocolate, tonic chocolate, binutritibe chocolate of chicken broth, chocolate of pepsonized meat, tar chocolate” (Graziano 139). Thus, like the 16th Century Europeans, 18-19th Century European society adapted chocolate to fit their cultural medical practices as well, melding chocolate with medicinal and dietary supplements.

Today, while chocolate is no longer consumed as medicine or a humor maintaining substance, it has not lost its medicinally captivating qualities. Scientists and medical professionals continue to try and pinpoint the potential health benefits of chocolate, often using what appears to be correlative or circumstantial evidence. Medical News Today suggests that “potential benefits” of eating chocolate include, “lowering cholesterol levels, preventing cognitive decline (Nordqvist). A report in the British Medical Journal concluded, “based on observational evident, levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders. Further experimental studies are required to confirm a potentially beneficial effect of chocolate consumption” (Nordqvist). And a study at the University of Granada simply concluded that, “teens who eat lots of chocolate tend to be slimmer” (Nordqvist). Once again, these conclusions seem to be couched in highly correlative and speculative logic. However, I posit that this nothing new for Western culture. For centuries, chocolate has captivated the Western audience, and the mystery behind its potential health benefits has baffled generations. And since its introduction into European culture, chocolate has been linked to this pseudoscientific study of health and benefits, a practice that has persisted into the modern day.

Video: Dark Chocolate is Good For You

And so the trend continues of attempting to locate positive health benefits in chocolate. However, this practice often seems tied to speculative logic. Try listening for the “mays” and “could” Dr. Oz uses to “substantiate” his claim that “real chocolate is actually good for you.”

Work Cited

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

Graziano, Martha M. “Food of the Gods as Mortals’ Medicine: The Uses of Chocolate and Cacao Products.” Pharmacy in History 40.4 (1998): 132-46. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

Nordqvist, Joseph. “What Are the Health Benefits of Chocolate?” Medical News Today (2014): n. pag. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2000. Print.

“Breaking down” the historical ingestion of chocolate

Many have discussed the path that chocolate took throughout its history in the Aztec Empire of the 15th and 16th centuries, however, this essay will address the ways in which chocolate was ingested and utilized as a method of human consumption as a food and healing property.

It was in his work Historia general de las cosas de Nueva Espana where Bernardino de Sahagun began what we know as one of the first accounts of how chocolate was being consumed among the Aztec elite in the 16th century and prior.

Bernardino de Sahagun

In Historia,  Sahagun had interviewed many Aztec individuals, detailing how they put forth their use of cacao: it was an elite food with a rich taste that was to be drunk by the most powerful and royal. It was also called the “heart and blood” because it was so regarded as a necessity for life, and was only reserved for the gods themselves, godly beings, or supreme royal persons.

Sahagun also noted that the Aztecs had various beliefs about cacao and its influence on one’s health, which led to further applications of the plant (and its variations) in medicinal healing practices.

For example, as depicted in the illustrations below, the medicinal properties of cacao in its liquid and solid forms (as drink and food) bettered different components of the Aztecs well-being in more ways than one:

Cacao Botanical Remedies Cacao Healing Rites Photo

The photo above at-right, for instance, intended to demonstrate the healing rites with cacao for various afflictions that members of the Aztec community may have been affected by. Because cacao had various stimulating properties, it could be used in “incantations” of curing and healing to sooth afflictions such as skin abrasions, fevers, and other troubles that the Aztecs believed were a result of the gods punishing their people.

Consequently, when royal members of the Aztec community became afflicted, cacao was used as an aphrodisiac prepared to emit drug-like qualities, which led to illustrious feelings of grandeur reserved for royal persons or people who could afford large amounts of cacao. Because of this potency, it was seen as a royal food that was used as tribute to the Aztec gods, as well.

The nature of cacao and its texture in comparison with other foods in the Aztec community set it apart as rich and godly/ For example, it is rumored and perhaps exaggeratedly documented) that Moctezuma drank 50 gold cups of liquefied chocolate per day. He also retained his store of cacao not just to eat it, but as a symbol of his wealth compared to everyone else, meaning that the nature of chocolate also extended far beyond just its ingestion and medicinal qualities.

Finally, the ways in which cacao could be formed differing appearances of the “Food of the gods”:

Cacao Aztec Woman pouring chocolate froth

As depicted above, there is a woman frothing chocolate into a rich and creamy drink as opposed to its usual more rigid “beany” form. This made cacao even more alluring because of its flexibility to be prepared and ingested in different forms allowed the Aztecs to never get bored of having it, essentially.

All sources taken from 02/04/15 in-class lecture and notes by Prof. Martin