Tag Archives: France

Chocolate, Religion and Hierarchy: Chocolate’s Religious Symbolism in Pre-Columbian Mayan Culture and its Evolution under Colonialism

The widespread availability of chocolate today hardly hints any relation to hierarchical systems. The mass production of it as a confection and how it readily available for consumption at different quality levels reveals little about its rich history. Long before the European settlement in the Americas, chocolate, or rather the fruit it is borne from, symbolized wealth, and social and religious status in Mesoamerica societies. Here, I will briefly discuss how its hierarchical symbolism with respect to religion evolved in Mayan societies before and during colonialism.

The hierarchical symbolism of chocolate in Mayan culture can be traced through an ethnographical study of Mayan celebratory rituals. In his essay “The Language of Chocolate”, David Stuarts writes about how such ethnographical studies from Central Mexico reveal that chocolate was enjoyed by the elites (Stuart 184). Feasting rites among the elite, in particular, in Mayan Yucatan were heavily documented in chocolate vessels, which describe chocolate’s involvement in extravagant gift-giving formalities in its cacao bean form (Reents-Budet 207). This was viewed as a method for forging sociopolitical alliances among the elite (Reents-Budet 209). In its drink form, cacao was consumed during “ceremonies to seal important social contracts and confirm the legitimacy of dynasties” (Martin et al. 39). Moreover, the use of cacao beverages did not only exist in worldly rituals. Mayan glyphs and art show that the Gods also used cacao beverages to honor guests in divine rituals such as seen in figure 1. Thus, it is apparent that the use of cacao in Mayan rituals reflects how chocolate itself was a symbol of extravagance and hierarchy. 

Figure 1: Mayan God L with Hero Twins, servant behind the God pouring a chocolate beverage.

However, cacao beans and chocolate also possessed religious symbolism that contributed to their hierarchical symbolism. Evidence from Mayan vessels reveal in their hieroglyphs that the Maize God is often embodied as a cacao tree (McNeil 155). Gods in the Mayan tradition are portrayed as trees to show a celestial cycle of death. The roots are in the underworld, the trunk in the middle world and the branches in the heavens. The Maize God is highly regarded in that maize is a staple Mayan crop, thus the association between the Maize God and the cacao tree shows a highly esteemed religious connection and divinity that is possessed by cacao. Beyond representation in religious glyphs, the religious symbolism of cacao can be extended to the notion of “court dwarfs” in Mayan culture. Christian Prager writes that dwarf figurines were placed in Mayan courts to symbolize social power and religious authority (Prager 279). This is rooted in the pre-Mayan Olmec belief that four dwarfs were tasked with propping up heaven. Moreover, dwarfs were seen as companions of the Sun and Maize Gods, thus further solidifying their divine symbolism. Hence, these dwarfs were placed in Mayan courts to further this symbolism. However, it is important to note that these dwarfs would sometimes be sculpted as carrying cacao pods, as seen in figure 2. This further displays that cacao possessed divine value and reflected a type of religious symbolism so that it can be manifested in Mayan society as a hierarchical instrument. 

Figure 2: A Mayan figurine of court dwarf bearing a cacao pod.

This religious symbolism of cacao did not end with colonialism but only transformed under it. The initial European interaction with cacao upon their settlement in Mesoamerica was through the introduction of the cacao bean as a form of currency (Martin et al. 40). However, with the spread of Catholicism by the European settlers in Mayan territory, specifically Mexico, cacao beans soon crossed over into the realm of religiosity. The conversion of indigenous Mexicans led them to create offerings to Jesus. These offerings were often in the form of cacao beans, as was done to indigenous God (Aguilar-Moreno 276). A prominent example is the statue of “Christ of the Cacao” in Mexico City as shown in figure 3. While these offerings were not consumed by Christ, but by the priests of the cathedral, they were converted into wealth, such as in the case of seventeenth century friar in Mexico and Guatemala Thomas Gage (Aguilar-Moreno 276). Here, we see that the symbolism of cacao is multifaceted: it showed a relationship to Jesus and also remained a symbol for wealth. 

Figure 3: Christ of the Cacao: A 16th century colonial Mexican sculpture in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City.

However, does the link between colonial Catholicism and symbolism in cacao extend beyond the borders of the colony? In 1577, Dominican friar in Chiapas did write to the Pope asking for some guidance as to whether chocolate could be appropriately consumed on days when oen is fasting. The Pope never offered a written reply but it is told that he simply laughed with his cardinals. The link to Catholicism in Europe extended beyond this lone interaction, the status of chocolate has long been debated by Catholic scholars in the 1620s and 1630s, with reservations appearing on how to incorporate this seemingly pagan product into the Catholic Church. While here there is a recognition of religious value, it is hard to determine whether or not this religious value was accepted by the Catholic Church in Europe. Nevertheless, the role of chocolate and cacao as a status symbol did cross over into the European continent: it is told that Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were prescribed chocolate by their physician to consume daily during breakfast, seemingly due to chocolate’s energizing benefits. The heavy royal consumption of chocolate and its high regard within the royal court deemed it a luxury item, showing that it did remain a status symbol beyond the Mesoamerican realm. 

Nevertheless, it is important to note that beyond colonialism, Mesoamerican cultures still regarded chocolate highly. Their reverence of cacao beans and their products shifted and adapted to the colonial influences that were introduced into their territory. While it failed to have the same religious symbolism in Europe, chocolate did enter the continent as an item symbolizing social hierarchy. Thus, one can say that the evolution of chocolate as a religious symbol remained within Mesoamerica but its hierarchical symbolism was able to cross the Atlantic into the European continent. 

Bibliography

  1. “Dwarf Figurine.” Wikimedia Commons, Baltimore, MD, 25 Mar. 2012, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mayan_-_Dwarf_Figurine_-_Walters_20092036_-_Three_Quarter_Right.jpg.
  2. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck, University of Texas Press, 2017, pp. 72-95.
  3. Anagoria. “ El Señor Del Cacao.” Wikimedia Commons, Mexico City, 22 Dec. 2013, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2013-12-22_El_Señor_del_cacao_anagoria.JPG.
  4. Lacambalam. “Tonsured Maize God and Spotted Hero Twin.” Wikimedia Commons, 25 Sept. 2014, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hero_Twins.JPG.
  5. Manuel, Aguilar-moreno. “The Good and Evil of Chocolate in Colonial Mexico.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 13.
  6. Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37-60., doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.
  7. Martin, Simon. “Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion: First Fruit from the Maize Tree and Other Tales from the Underworld.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 8.
  8. Prager, Christian. “Court Dwarfs – The Companions of Rulers and Envoys of the Underworld.” Maya: Divine Kings of the Rain Forest, by Nikolai Grube, Konemann, 2001, pp. 278–279.
  9. Reents-Budet, Dorie. “The Social Context of Kakaw Drinking Among of the Ancient Maya.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 10.
  10. Robicsek, Francis. “God L with the Hero Twins.” Wikimedia Commons, Princeton, NJ, 31 Oct. 2009, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:God_L_with_the_Hero_Twins.jpg.
  11. Stuart, David. “The Language of Chocolate: References to Cacao on Classic Maya Drinking Vessels.”Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 9.

Sugar in French and Haitian Cuisines

Sugar consumption had a dramatic rise tied directly to the expansion of the Triangle trade and shifting eating habits. Over time this simple substance became a cornerstone in European food. We can see just how cemented sugar is in modern cuisine by the sheer amount that we consume on a daily basis. In the U.S. the average person consumes a staggering 126.4 grams per day, followed by Germany and the Netherlands at 102.9 grams and 102.5 grams, respectively. England, who we’ll discuss again in this post, consumes a whopping 93.2 grams.

Infographic from the Washington Post

We’ve discussed this meteoric rise before in class, in particular the way sugar uses our instinctual love of sweet things to work its way into our everyday cuisine. But sugar hasn’t fully invaded all cuisines. France, even with a recent rise as processed foods enter common everyday consumption, consumes only 68.5 grams of sugar each day placing it 3rd to last among European countries for sugar consumption. Haitians consume even less, averaging about 41 grams each day or a third that of the average american (Helgilibrary). Why is this? Surely a craving for sweetness is a universal trait, but how have these cultures resisted the temptation so well? In this post, I posit that the low sugar consumption in France and Haiti can be tied directly to the cuisines in each country. As we’ll explore, there are peculiarities in each cuisine that bring about cooler relationships with sugar than that of other nations like England and the U.S. who heavily rely on processed and refined sugars.

The unusual health of the French people is a widely recognized phenomenon. In particular, their low intake of sugar is touted as the source of their lean statures. Diet blogs have published numerous articles on “How to Eat like the French,” which suggest cutting sugar and leaving high-fat foods like butter and cheese in one’s diet. We know that the French eat significantly less sugar per-capita than other European nations and the United States, but how did a country so complicit in the sugar trade through the 17th and 18th centuries keep such an indifferent relationship with the substance? The answer may lie in the French cuisine itself, a collection of fatty and savory tastes that, while leveraging sugar occasionally (primarily in baking), doesn’t have any central role for sugar to take on. In England, for example, we can see sugar taking on a central role as English tastes favored heavily sweetened tea and sugar-rich desserts both at meals and as snacks (Sweetness and Power, 189). With a heavy reliance on sugar for even everyday dishes, we can see why England consumes as much sugar as it does: it’s simply part of the cuisine now. In the case of French cuisine history, sweetened teas never supplanted wine (or coffee, for that matter), and dessert is dominated by cheeses (Sweetness and Power, 189). With both of these niches filled, sugar had little room to enter French cuisine outside of baked goods which have little influence on the everyday life of the average French person. Compare this with English daily tea practices and we can already see a source for the disparity in consumption. For these reasons, sugar hasn’t played a dominant role in French cuisine until more recent times as processed foods enter the everyday eating habits of everyone, including the French.

We’ve explored how France could avoid sugar despite owning sugar colonies, but what if you were a sugar colony? How could a place like Haiti maintain such a low reliance on sugar despite still farming and exporting sugarcane products? In some ways, fault may still lie with the French. Claimed by Spaniard Christopher Columbus in 1492, Haiti existed under sole Spanish influence until Saint-Domingue came under French control in 1625. With the treaty of Ryswick in 1697, these influences effectively split Haiti in half, setting up a century of heavy French influence until the Haitian Revolution that resulted in independence and the first Black Republic in 1804. With such a long period of influence from the French, it would naturally follow that Haitian cuisine would have strong similarities to French cuisine, but the low sugar-per-capita consumption remains an interesting quirk considering the history of sugar in the country. We know from reported statistics that Haitians consume almost a third less sugar than the French, despite whatever similarities might have been developed between their cuisines.

This could, in part, be attributed to economic pressure and poverty leading to difficult access to the sugar products that are produced in the country. However, there is also a unique and vibrant relationship to sugarcane in Haitian cooking that upon closer inspection can give us the ability to explain these statistics. It has much to do with the usage of non-processed sugarcane in dishes. For example, it is common practice to use sugarcane directly in Haitian cooking in the form of sugarcane juice to sweeten beverages or raw sugarcane as an ingredient to stewed dishes. Even rum produced on the island uses sugarcane juice as opposed to the traditional molasses, giving a unique flavor and name (Rhum) (Food by Country). What we see in Haitian cooking is a healthy relationship with sugarcane, not processed and refined sugar. By using sugar in a raw form as opposed to the concentrated and densified version in processed products, Haitians can actually consume less sugar than their European and North American counterparts.

A popular Haitian dish, Pate Kòde (Fried Haitian Patties)

Despite a growing reliance on processed, sugar-heavy foods that skew more recent statistics, France and Haiti have a rich culinary history that, in their own ways, resist an over-reliance on sugar compared to other cultures. While some of these resistances are habitual in nature, like in the case of France and their relationship with wine and cheese in place of tea and sugary desserts, others are more intriguing. I particularly found Haitian usage of sugarcane in cooking to be an interesting characteristic of their cuisine, similar to sources of sweetness in other cuisines like piloncillo in Latino and Mexican cuisine or palm sugar in Thai cuisine. In a way, there are many ways in which we incorporate sugar and sweetness into our foods, and while refined sugar is a convenient metric, it doesn’t always capture the depth of traditional dishes and sources.

Works Cited:

Europe Conquers the New World, Chocolate Conquers Europe

To study the history of chocolate in Europe since the 17th century is to study the socioeconomic climate of the time throughout Europe.  The introduction of chocolate to the European continent occurred via the Spanish conquistadors who discovered the cacao beans and the chocolate drink made from these beans when they interacted with the indigenous peoples.  It is believed that in 1544 Europe got their first taste of chocolate prepared in this way when the conquistadors reported back to the Spanish court with a delegation of Kekchi Mayan Indians who bore gifts for their conquerors, including beaten chocolate (Presilla, 24).  From the Spanish court, chocolate made its way into the lives of the elites in Spain, England and France, as well as other European countries, before becoming the staple commodity widely available to all social classes that it has become today.  Although the nations of Spain, England and France were distinct and undergoing different social and political climates during the time of the arrival of chocolate in the Old World, the history of chocolate consumption in these countries does share the commonality that in both chocolate began as a luxury affordable only to those of greater means before it became the widely accessible commodity it is known as today.

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Mayan vase from Chama.  Source: The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised by Marcela E. Presilla

The above image is of a Maya vase from Chama, a region of Guatemala in which cacao is harvested, and shows a chieftain like that of the Kekchi Mayans being carried in a hammock, as was the chief of the Kekchi when he first introduced chocolate to Philip II of Spain.

Spain was one of several European countries to be impacted by the arrival of chocolate from the New World.  Although accounts vary as to how it got to Spain, it is known for certain that by the first half of the seventeenth century the same chocolate that the Spanish creole of Mexico were drinking had integrated into the Spanish Court (Coe, 131).  The way that it was consumed, however, was much more regal than it had been in present-day Mexico.  As it was coveted primarily by the Spanish royals, the way in which this chocolate was consumed became more refined over time.  In the mid-17th century the viceroy of Peru, Marques de Mancera invented a device to prevent ladies from spilling their chocolate onto their finery; The mancerina featured a silver saucer with a large ring in the middle into which a small cup would fit snugly and offered a solution for those noble Spaniards who had the luxury of owning valuable clothing worth protecting from chocolate (Coe, 135).  In fact, chocolate was so commonplace to these Spanish elites that around 1680 it was common to serve it and other sweets to officials during the public executions of the Spanish Inquisition (Snodgrass, 207).  Cosimo de’ Medici of Spain, who later became Grand Duke of Tuscany, was also known to consume chocolate liberally during the public and grand events of the Spanish nobility of Baroque Spain, including while watching a bullfight with the Spanish king, and earned himself a reputation as a “chocoholic” resultantly  (Coe, 135). 

mancerina

The Mancerina. Source: http://www.ascasonline.org/newsGENNA104.html

The origin of chocolate in France is not known with certainty.  But its association with nobility was not very different in France than it was in Spain.  In Louis XIV’s decadent Palace of Versailles chocolate was a staple served at all public events hosted for the French elite.  It wasn’t until the King’s wife died and he married the conservative Madame de Maintenon that the ruler became thrifty and consumption of chocolate in the palace ended (Coe, 156).  Like the Spanish, the French had appropriated special vessels for serving chocolate.  The chocolatiere, a long vessel with a spout, hinged lid and a straight wooden handle, both poured and frothed the chocolate for serving and was surely made of silver if it was to be used by elites (Smithsonian, 2015).  In France, as in other parts of Europe, the drinking of chocolate was at times taboo for women.  When the Infanta Maria Teresa married the King of France in 1660, she brought Spanish women to serve in her court but was forbidden from drinking chocolate with them and took to doing so in private, as the act was not permissible for noble French women (Coe, 154).  However, this taboo did not last long; In 1671 the marquis de Sevigne wrote to her ill daughter that chocolate would make her well again saying:

“But you are not well, you have hardly slept, chocolate will set you up again.  But you do not have a chocolatiere [chocolate-pot]; I have thought of it a thousand times; what will you do?  Alas, my child, you are not wrong when you believe that I worry about you more than you worry about me.” (Coe, 155)

During this time, chocolate had a reputation for being untouchable to those of modest means.  Recently at Hampton Court Palace researchers discovered a chocolate kitchen, a room in which the King’s personal chocolatier procured chocolate delights for the King and his court on a daily basis.  So essential was this indulgence to the King that his chocolatier was known to travel with him to provide him with his sweet supply.  As in France and Spain, the luxuriousness of consuming chocolate was not limited to the food itself but also included the means by which the chocolate was consumed.  Pots for serving the beverage were often made of silver or gold.  In fact, William III is reputed to have used a chocolate pot that was made of gold and weighed 33 oz!  Many were employed in the making of chocolate and the associated paraphernalia and these costs associated with consumption meant that the drink was unattainable for many (Historic Royal Palaces, 2014)

The article linked below was published by the Smithsonian Institute and outlines the rise and fall of chocolate as the food of nobility.  At one point it details the means by which chocolate eventually became accessible to people of all classes in Europe and the United States.  The Industrial Revolution was in large part to thank for driving down the costs associated with chocolate consumption during the 19th century.  For example, it was during this time that Coenraad Van Houton invented the cocoa process, which created cocoa powder, a staple ingredient of many chocolate products consumed today.  While it is easy to see chocolate today as something that is off-limits to no one, to understand the history of chocolate is to understand that in Europe the commodity began as a luxury to be enjoyed by only those of the highest privilege.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/

References:

Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver (photographer).  (2012). Mancerina.  [digital image].  Retrieved from: http://www.ascasonline.org/newsGENNA104.html

Baker, Mary Louise. (Photographer). (1926).  Rollout watercolor of the Ratinlixul vase from Guatemala.  [digital image].  Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Coe, M. & Coe, S. (2013).  The true history of chocolate.  London, UK: Thames & Hudson, Ltd.

Historic Royal Palaces.  (2014, September 3).  The making of the chocolate kitchen [Video file].  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QslIjfi_-I

Righthand, J. (2015).  A brief history of the chocolate pot.  Smithsonian Institute.  Retrieved from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/

Presilla, M.E. (2009).  The new taste of chocolate revised: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes.  Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Snodgrass, M.E. (2004).  Encyclopedia of kitchen history.  New York, NY: Fitzroy Dearborn.

Containing Chocolate and Culture

The instruments used to hold chocolate reveal more about the history and culture of the time period than one might first assume. Chocolate consumption began with the Olmecs, a civilization who lived along the Gulf Coast of Mexico between 1500 BC and 400 BC (Presilla, 46). Around 500 AD, the Mayan people also embraced chocolate as a drink and as part of traditional rituals like marriage, funerals, and religious ceremonies. Over 1000 years later, chocolate had made its way to Europe as a luxury enjoyed by the elite members of society (Coe and Coe, 158). The transformation of chocolate from a religious food to an indulgence for the wealthy is reflected through the vessels used to contain cacao. The culture and beliefs surrounding chocolate are reflected by a vessel found in a Mayan tomb discovery and the French silver chocolatière.

 

THE MAYANS AND TOMB DISCOVERY

In 1984, archeologists uncovered a Mayan tomb from the late 5th century containing 14 decorated vessels. This tomb was found at Rio Azul, a Maya city located in Guatemala (Presilla, 46). Specifically, one artifact found in this tomb helped researchers to discover Cacao’s importance in Mayan funeral traditions. In their book, Michael D. Coe and Sophie D. Coe describe the artifact:

mayachocolatepot

“There was a single example of an extremely rare form, a stirrup-handled pot with a screw-on lid. This strange object had been surfaced with stucco and brilliantly painted with six large hieroglyphs, including two which read ‘cacao.’” (Coe and Coe, 46)

Kakaw_(Mayan_word).pngFigure 1:  A close up of the glyph that helped identify this vessel. This symbol meant “cacao” in the Classic Maya period. 

Figure 2 (on left): The pot found at Rio Azul that Coe describes.

 

For the Mayans, chocolate was more than just a substance to consume. Chocolate held spiritual power. This connection between religion and chocolate is clear when we take into consideration the location of this pot. This artifact was found in a tomb, surrounding the body of the deceased ruler. When tested in a lab, this screw-top jar had traces of caffeine and theobromine—the two trace compounds found together only in chocolate (Martin.) This discovery confirmed that the ruler was buried with chocolate. For further proof that the vessel contained chocolate, researcher David Stuart decoded the glyphs along the outside to read “a drinking vessel for witik cacao, for kox caco” (Coe and Coe, 46).

Funerals and chocolate were also linked in Mayan scripture.  The Mayans believed that chocolate eased the journey to the underworld. Chocolate is mentioned in conjunction with different religious rituals in the Dresden Codex, a Maya text that still exists today (Martin).
choco_pour1.jpg

Not only does the Rio Azul discovery reveal the connection between religion and chocolate, it also clues us into the consumption process. Some of the other vases are tall and narrow. They were picked up and poured into other pots to increase the foam.
Figure 3: This image is found on the Princeton Vase, and it depicts the process in which people made the chocolate drink. The chocolate was poured from one jug to the other to add froth, as the foam was considered the most important part. 

 

 

Luxury in the 18th century France

In France in the 17th and 18th centuries, the vessels used to contain chocolate also reflect the attitudes towards chocolate and the way it was imbibed. Chocolate was heralded as a beneficial delicacy with many health benefits. The French “are usually credited with the invention of the chocolatière, the chocolate pot ”(Coe and Coe, 156). Many of the elite took chocolate daily to cure a number of ailments (Coe and Coe, 156). The vessels from which hot chocolate was poured reflect the extravagance of the segment of society who embraced chocolate.

METmet2

Figure 4 and 5: This chocolatière, currently on display in the Metropolitan museum of art, was made in the 1760s and  is typical for the time period.

 

 

 

 

“The French innovation seems to have been fix a straight wooden handle to the metal pot at right angles to the spout; this handle was usually unscrewed clockwise so that it would remain tight while pouring from the pot in a counter-clockwise motion. At the top was a hinged lid, with a central hole under the swiveling (or hinged) finial to take the handle of the moussoir (“froth maker”), as they called the molinillo.… Of course, this would have been in silver, as would the chocolatiers of all the nobility.” – Coe 

 

The extravagance of this pot highlights how only the wealthy had access to chocolate at the time. The average citizen would have never been able to afford such an intricate piece of silverware (Righthand). Chocolatières were also used as gifts between royalty. Coe cites the first appearance of a silver chocolatières in France as a gift from a Siamese mission. “It was not that the Thai had suddenly turned into chocolate drinkers (they never did so), but [the minister to the King of Siam] had obviously instructed the royal metalsmiths to turn out something that would appeal to the French court.” And the metalsmith’s idea of what would appeal to the French court was an extravagant set of chocolatières. The chocolatières given to the French court incuded “two chocolatières in silver, one with golden flowers and the other Japenned” as well as another “entirely in gold” (Coe and Coe, 158). Chocolatières were brought as a gift and to signify diplomacy. This incident establishes the way chocolate was viewed in society—something for only the elite to enjoy for pleasure.

 

painting

Figure 6:  “La Famille du duc de Penthièvre en 1768” a painting by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier illustrates how chocolate was for the wealthy.

 

Same food, different cultures

For the Europeans of the 17th century, chocolate was a status symbol. As the price was still expensive, only the wealthy could afford to take chocolate. The intricacies of the chocolatières highlight their function in society. For the most part, chocolate no longer held any spiritual affiliation. While the Mayan pots were decorated with glyphs and drawings depicting what was inside and religious rituals, the chocolatières were ornately decorated illustrating the wealth and class of those who used them. Although both pots hold chocolate, their uses and sociological function were very different, illustrating the adaptation of chocolate as it spread to Europe as a secular delicacy, rather than a religious artifact.

 

Works cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Class Lecture.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot.” Smithsonian.com. February 13, 2015. Accessed March 10, 2017. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009 Print.

Multimedia:

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/200368

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_famille_du_Duc_de_Penthi%C3%A8vre_dit_la_tasse_de_chocolat.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kakaw_(Mayan_word).png

http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/images-6/688_09_2.jpg

http://www.chocoguatemaya.com/content/mayan-ingredients

Coffee vs. Chocolate: A Battle between Classes

The middle of the seventeenth century brought many foreign luxury goods to Europe, as coffee, tea, tobacco and chocolate made its appearance into the European courts. Drinking coffee and chocolate became fashionable, and no member of the nobility wanted to be left behind in the new trend and the display of elegance, grace and high refinement that came with drinking these beverages. Both beverages were at first praised for their therapeutic value and for their ability to cure most any disease or ailment and both beverages came with a range of new fashionably crafted tableware (You p.17). But despite many similarities, chocolate found its way to the masses much later, and for a long time coffee and chocolate became integrated parts of two very different, if not total opposite, ideologies of eighteenth century Europe. As argued by Wolfgang Schivelbush in his work Tastes of Paradise, coffee became the symbolic drink of the northern, protestant, bourgeois order while chocolate was cast as its southern catholic counterpart drank merely by the elites (Schivelbush p. 87). How did this crucial distinction between two seemingly similar beverages arise? One of the most important factors in explaining the dichotomy that existed between coffee and chocolate in the seventeenth and eighteenth century in Europe is the differential effect the beverages were believed to have on the body; while coffee’s stimulating effect made it emblematic for the Protestant work ethic in England, chocolate, praised for its nutritional value, was an essential beverage during lent in Catholic Spain, Italy and France.

xocolatada_-_madrid
Image 1: Painted tile from the early eighteenth century in Valencia, Spain. The tile depicts a chocolatada (chocolate party). The saucer held by the servant in blue, is called a mancerina, and was a European invention for drinking chocolate without spilling it.

Chocolate: Catholic beverage or Aphrodisiac                                                                   

Although it’s unclear when exactly chocolate arrived in Spain, the first European port of entry, it can be said with certainty that it became a staple in the Spanish courts and among the elite during the seventeenth century. Due to its nutritional value and nourishing nature, however, the Catholic Spanish nobility began to wonder whether consuming chocolate, although it being a beverage, broke the ecclesiastical fast. The argument went back and forth many times, but it was finally settled by Pope Gregory XIII who said it did not break the fast. Many of his successors were asked the same question, but they all seemed to be in agreement and as such, chocolate became the perfect fasting drink for the nobility of Spain and Italy. Toward the end of the seventeenth century, Spain began to lose its trend-setting reputation, and France began to reign supreme as the ultimate role-model for the European aristocracy. Chocolate had made its way up to France by way of the marriage between Anne, the daughter of Phillip III of Spain, and Louis XIII of France, and away from the Spanish court, the beverage began to lose its connotations to lent and became for purely secular enjoyment. Chocolate was a beverage mostly consumed during breakfast and many aristocrats preferred to be served in the bedroom, as portrayed by many artists in the late Baroque age. The nature of the R
ococo art reinforced chocolate’s reputation for being an aphrodisiac, a belief that dated back to the European conquest of Mexico, and as such chocolate became the ultimate symbol of riches and indulgence, and the status beverage of the ancien régime.

LaCrainte
Image 2: La Crainte by Noel Le Mire (1769) – A young woman reaching for her morning cup of chocolate. The painting reflects the erotic air chocolate held in France during the seventeenth and eighteenth century

Coffee: A working-class beverage                                                                              

Interestingly, coffee was initially introduced to the European elite in much the same way chocolate was. Nonetheless, coffee made its descend to the masses much quicker and even became symbolic of the Protestant work ethic of the bourgeois order. Schivelbusch argues that this is due to the fact that the aristocracy only enjoyed coffee for the form of it, while the bourgeois actually valued coffee for its mentally stimulating effects. He states:

‘Coffee appealed to court society of the seventeenth and eighteenth not only as a exotic drink, but also as occasions of self-display. The exquisite service and the young blackamoor who served it were basically more important to aristocratic taste than the items consumed. ‘(Schivelbusch p. 20)

In contrast, the bourgeois attributed many qualities to coffee, that to this day have not been scientifically proven. Besides its supposed sobering effects of th
e inebriated, it was also seen as an antierotic drink that reduced sexual energies and as such, was often recommended to those who lived in celibacy to curb their sexual urges. Sobriety and abstinence were ideals that fit perfectly within the protestant ideology, and coffee was made the beverage of the working class. Coffee’s popularity however, wasn’t solely based on pharmacological myths. As modern medicine has pointed out, the caffeine in coffee does truly effect the central nervous system and thus allows for enhanced mental activity. This was a welcome novelty in an age in which the labor had become less physical and more mentally straining. While the medieval man did mostly physically laborious work outside, the seventeenth century middle class spent more of his time stationary and indoors. Another aspect that made coffee the perfect people’s beverage is the fact that coffee was initially only available to the middle class in coffeehouses, making it a beverage that was only to be consumed in public. In England, where coffee arrived slightly earlier than chocolate, these coffeehouses fostered communication and discussion, and soon became the meeting spot for businessmen. Although chocolate was also served to those who could afford it in the coffeehouses in England, coffee had a stronger stimulating effect than chocolate and therefore gave the wallet-conscious middle class clientele a bigger bang for their buck, which is why these houses were called “coffee-houses” and not “chocolate-houses”. The ability for the middle-class to buy chocolate however, marked a key difference between England and France. While drinking chocolate was being advertised in the English newspapers, Louis XIV of France had granted a country-wide royal monopoly for chocolate to David Chaliou, granting him the exclusive privilege to make and sell chocolate throughout the kingdom (Coe p. 166). This monopoly ensured that chocolate in France was strictly for the aristocracy, while in England, land of shopkeepers and businessmen, chocolate was made available to whoever could afford it. The video below shows a reconstruction of one of the most popular coffeehouses in London during the 17th century. Lloyd’s Coffeehouse was opened in 1688 and was frequented by ship captains, ship owners and insurance brokers, and thus people went to Lloyd’s to hear the latest trade news. The coffeehouse was so popular that it evolved into the largest insurance brokerages in the world (start at 0:52).

Coffee vs. Chocolate                                                                                                                              

As the brief mention of the coffeehouses pointed out, both coffee and chocolate were served publicly to the bourgeois order and privately to the elites, albeit that the proportions varied per country. As pointed out by Morris, it would be overly simplistic to cling to a stark division between the consumers of coffee and chocolate (Morris p.207). That being said, it cannot be denied that chocolate and coffee had vastly different centers of influence, that initially stemmed from the beverages’ effects on the body. While chocolate was mostly associated with the Spanish aristocracy, the Catholic church, embodying the erotic spirit of the late baroque age, coffee was associated with quite the opposite. Coffee became the sobering, mind-sharpening, nonerotic beverage of the bourgeois order, that epitomized the protestant work ethic. And although these beverages are now enjoyed by many, regardless of class or religion, one can certainly imagine where these images come from, based on how a cup of coffee or hot chocolate make us feel today.

References

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Morris, Jonathan. “Comment: Chocolate, Coffee and Commodity History.” Food and History 12.1 (2014): 201-09. Web.

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. Tastes of paradise: a social history of spices, stimulants, and intoxicants. New York: Vintage , 1993. Print.

You, Yao-Fen, Mimi Hellman, and Hope Saska. Coffee, tea, and chocolate: consuming the world. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 2016. Print.

Multimedia Sources

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Xocolatada_-_Madrid.jpg

Image 2: The Clark Museum, Williamstown MA (http://clarkart.edu/Collection/10328)

Video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gt8WCS3hN8&t=29s)

Jews and Chocolate: From the Inquisition to the Land Flowing With Milk, Honey and Chocolate

Beginning as early as 1500 BCE with the Olmecs, cacao spread throughout the world, becoming a luxury enjoyed by everyone from Mayan Ajaw, to Aztec Tlahtohqueh, from Spanish friars to French courtiers and English noblemen, to the chocolate loving throngs in the supermarkets of the world today. While chocolate was brought to the old world primarily by exploring Catholic Spaniards, many cultures and religions played vital roles in the development of the “food of the gods”. In this post, I will concentrate on the historical involvement of the Jewish people in the cacao trade throughout the centuries, and examine how, as a result of Jewish contributions that continue to this day, the holy land came to flow not only with milk and honey, but chocolate as well.

While some, including famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, believe that Christopher Columbus was actually Jewish (Wiesenthal), and others believe there exists a connection between the Maya and the Israelite ancestor Eber (“The Mayans And The Jewish Midrash”), it seems most likely that Jews discovered cacao along with the rest of the old world sometime after it was introduced to Spain by the various early Spanish explorers of Mesoamerica (many accounts of Jews and chocolate from the time appear to back this up).

In 1478, fourteen years before Columbus set sail for India (which turned out to be the Americas), King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I of Spain, the very same people who helped to fund the exploration of the new world, established the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, commonly referred to as the Spanish Inquisition. The
inquisition’s aim was to wage war on any non Catholic denominations in order to protect t

Maimon-Marrans.jpg
Depiction of crypto-Jews conducting a  seder in secret. Public domain.

he Church’s majority. With the Spanish Alhambra declaration in 1492, hundreds of
thousands of Jews were forced to either convert to Christianity or face expulsion from Spain. Those who converted were called Conversos or Marranos, and many of them converted publicly, but continued practicing Judaism, with this latter group being called crypto-Jews (Marcus 51, Pérez and Hochroth).

 

At the time that Jews were being expelled from Spain, King John II of Portugal, seeing an economic opportunity, offered Jews asylum in return for one ducat (gold or silver coin) and one-fourth of the wealth they carried into the country from Spain (Marcus 53). It’s estimated that 120,000 Jews fled to Portugal to seek asylum despite the economic extortion, however within six months the King had declared that any Jew remaining in Portugal would be enslaved. Despite several recent Jewish expulsion orders from France, some of the Jews were able to get out of Portugal and settle in nearby Bayonne, France, and it is in this city that we get our first whiff of chocolate (“Bayonne | Jewish Virtual Library”).

While chocolate historians are unsure as to how exactly cacao was introduced to France, in “The True History of Chocolate,” Sophie and Michael Coe present three theories: First, it was introduced by the daughter of Spanish royalty, Anne of Austria when she was married to Louis XIII of France. Second, Spanish monks gifted cacao to the French. Third, it was imported as a medicine (Coe and Coe, 150-152). While any of those three theories could be the true portrayal of events, a fourth theory exists. Over the course of the inquisition, chocolate drinks imported from the new world grew in popularity with the Spanish elite (i.e., monarchs, nobles, and well-to-do merchants), and while Jews were never considered members of the elite in most countries at that time, they were often quite well off, and could have possibly afforded cacao drinks themselves, or handled the product in the course of their business trades. Additionally, later on in the inquisition period, various sources mention that those being held for investigation (often times crypto-Jews who later escaped Spain), were given chocolate drinks, so one could assume that many Jews had contact with the substance in Spain (Coe and Coe, 135). While supporting evidence is minimal, some believe that the Jews escaping Spain and Portugal brought cacao with them when they migrated to Bayonne, France. The city became a center for chocolatiers over the course of the 16th century, and although France subsequently expelled the Jews again in the 17th century, to this day the residents of Bayonne honor the Jewish contribution to chocolate in their city (“France Thanks Sephardic Jews For Chocolate, 500 Years Too Late”).

Whether or not the introduction of cacao to France can be attributed to Jewish refugees, the inquisition certainly assisted in the spread of chocolate. In addition to Portugal, Jews fleeing Spain also sought refuge in Holland, until persecution against Jews there began to rise as well. While King Edward I of England had expelled all Jews from the country in 1290, by the mid 17th century, Oliver Cromwell, an English political leader, assisted in the return of Jews to England, most of whom came from Holland (Coe and Coe, 164). Those coming from Holland were used to drinking coffee and tea, and in 1650, a Jewish businesswoman opened up the first coffee-house (many of which later went on to serve cacao drinks as well) in Oxford (Coe and Coe, 164). According to Jean-Baptiste Labat, a Dominican priest who lived in the Portuguese controlled island of Martinique for two years, there existed a Jew by the name of Benjamin Dacosta who was the first person to plant cacao on the island, although he was expelled and deported from the territory a few years later (Coe & Coe, 194).

While Jews continued to appear in reference to chocolate in various contexts throughout the next few centuries, they began appearing more frequently with chocolate in the mid-20th century. After World War II, several stories emerged about how various holocaust survivors had come to view chocolate as a symbol of hope. One holocaust survivor, Eva Kor, said that when Auschwitz was liberated, survivors were given chocolate and hugs by their Soviet army liberators (“Voices Of Auschwitz”).

Credit: Human

Already pre-World War II, but even more so after, Jews from all over the world began emigrating en masse to their new homeland, Israel. It is in these mass emigrations following centuries of oppression and persecution that we find the roots of the modern Israeli chocolate industry — I would argue that Jewish history is the reason Israeli’s are so driven to create and innovate in their own land in all industries, including the chocolate trade. In 1933, a Russian-born Jew by the name of Eliyahu Fromchenko left his home in Latvia and made his way to Ramat Gan, Mandate Palestine (at that time, all inhabitants, including Jews and Arabs alike, were “Palestinians” — the country would later become Israel). Fromchenko founded “Elite,” the company that would dominate the Israeli chocolate and confectionery market in the coming decades with their highly popular para (cow) chocolates, with a heifer adorning each square (“Strauss Elite”).

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Public Domain.

While Fromchenko and para chocolate might have popularized chocolate consumption in the New Jersey sized country, chocoinovation didn’t stop there, with dozens of boutique and specialty chocolate shops and factories opening up across the country over the past few decades. Each chocolatier, influenced by his or her respective lineage and culture has brought forth a new spectrum of flavors and combinations. One such chocolate artisan is Ika Cohen, who runs a small chocolate shop in Tel Aviv, where she produces chocolate with a variety of interesting flavors, such as a Za’atar (a savory Middle Eastern spice mix) infused ganache (which won two gold medals at the International Chocolate World Final in Italy). Another company, Baracke, founded in 1983 by a government-sponsored collaboration between Israeli and Arab entrepreneurs, began producing halva (a Middle-Eastern sesame based, sweet and flaky treat) with cacao nibs sprinkled throughout (http://baracke.co.il/חלבה-לכל-המשפחה-שאמיות-חלבה-קקאו/).

 

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Public Domain.

Holy Cacao operates as the only fully bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the country, producing their Ecuadorian and Peruvian sourced cacao bars in Pnei Hever, Israel. Put simply, the Israeli affinity for chocolate has grown tremendously in recent years, with consumers eating up everything from chocolate rugluch (a pastry of sorts) produced throughout the country, to a chocolate craft beer produced by a kibbutz in Southern Israel (http://www.ketura.org.il/ViewArticle.aspx?articleID=189).

 

 

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Public Domain.

However chocolate production in Israel hasn’t been entirely conflict free in recent years, with the Israeli public boycotting Strauss (now the largest Israeli chocolate manufacturer), in protest against the high price tag their chocolate fetches, and the discrepancies between prices in Israel and abroad for Israeli made chocolates (Winer). With chocolate bars ranging in price from $1.50 to $5, the food that has become just as essential as coffee or tea to some Israelis, is beyond their reach price-wise. While the boycotts did cause Strauss to lower their prices some, chocolate still remains a pricey product in a country with primarily large families, where consumers might have to choose between a chocolate bar or a $1 large loaf of bread.

Additionally, despite various chocolate festivals held in the country (including Chocolate Week, and the 2013 International Chocolate Awards National Competition), and the many offered tours of chocolate factories and workshops across the country, the Israeli public is little aware of the labor and wage issues ingrained in the cacao trade. There is little-to-no public push for increased Fair-trade or Direct Trade cacao sourcing — this in contrast to the US where Fair-trade, Direct Trade and Utz certifications have become commonplace.

The burgeoning Israeli chocolate industry is certainly a boon to worldwide chocolate development, with it’s rich history, delectable palate of new tastes, sensations and products to offer. That said, I would certainly like to see the Jews persecuted history taken into account when sourcing cacao for Israeli made chocolate, so the holy land can flow with milk, honey, and ethically produced cacao.

Works Cited:

  • Wiesenthal, Simon. Sails Of Hope; The Secret Mission Of Christopher Columbus. New York: Macmillan, 1973. Print.
  • “The Mayans And The Jewish Midrash”. Realbiblecodes.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 May 2016.
  • Pérez, Joseph and Lysa Hochroth. History Of A Tragedy. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007. Print.
  • Marcus, Jacob Rader. The Jew In The Medieval World, A Source Book, 315-1791. Cincinnati: The Sinai Press, 1938. Print.
  • “France Thanks Sephardic Jews For Chocolate, 500 Years Too Late”. The Times of Israel. N.p., 2013. Web. 10 May 2016.
  • “Bayonne | Jewish Virtual Library”. Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 May 2016.
  • Coe, Sophie D and Michael D Coe. The True History Of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
  • “Voices Of Auschwitz”. Edition.cnn.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 May 2016.
  • “Strauss Elite”. Strauss Group. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 May 2016.
  • Winer, Stuart. “Boycott Threat Aims To Sweeten Chocolate Prices”. The Times of Israel. N.p., 2012. Web. 10 May 2016.

The Evolution of the Chocolatière: From French Innovation to Retirement in Museums

As the 16th century cultural exchange between the Old and New World progressed, the consumption of cacao beverages transitioned from being a ritualistic foodstuff among the ancient populations of the Americas to a new, European luxury. It is alleged that in 1606 chocolate was brought to Italy from Spain by a traveler and, from this point on, began to spread to other major European nations such as France (“A Concise History of Chocolate,”). In 1648, France emerged from the Thirty Years’ War and was beginning to enjoy a period of political and economic stability; thus, French citizens had the economic capability and the social curiosity to invest in new luxury trends such as the production and consumption of cacao beverages (Perkins 89).

Joseph-Théodore_Van_Cauwenbergh_-_Chocolate_Pot_-_Walters_571802-1
A traditional French chocolatière pot made of silver and amaranth wood. This pot was made in 1774 by Frenchman Joseph-Thèodore Van Cauwenbergh.

When cacao spread to Europe, the French hybridized ancient Mesoamerican techniques with new and refined values to create a Europeanized production of cacao beverages. A physical result of this hybridization is the chocolatière pot, a French invention that encompassed both efficiency in making and serving the beverage and a sophisticated aesthetic. This pot did more than supply a vessel in which chocolate beverages could be produced and consumed; it created a distinctly French niche within the international chocolate production scene. The French were motivated to making up for their late arrival as participants in the international chocolate industry by fashioning sturdy, sophisticated cookware. Commonly, a traditional chocolatière pot is a pear-shaped vessel made out of metal- usually silver or gold- that features a hinged or removable lid. The lid contains a hole to place the handle of the “moulinet,” which is normally made of wood and is used to rapidly froth the beverage before serving. Although the chocolatière itself was French, it combined the basic shape and idea of ancient Mesoamerican gourd vessels and the wooden frothing instrument of the colonial Spaniards, the molinillo (Perkins 90). The chocolatière experienced a rise in popularity, particularly among the elite and the royal, until its decline and ultimate disappearance from the French household after the Industrial Revolution (Righthand).

The legacy of chocolate in France begins with the marriage between Anne of Austria and Louis XIII in 1615 (Coe and Coe 150). Austria had already been introduced to the chocolate making process and it is likely that chocolate was exchanged as wedding gifts between the newlyweds. France’s earliest, most notable supporter of chocolate products was Alphonse de Richelieu who promoted the consumption of cacao for medicinal purposes (Perkins 90). Chocolate was quickly gaining popularity with the elite- by the start of the reign of Louis XIV in 1643 chocolate was served daily in Versailles. This new trend necessitated innovations for more efficient self-production; resultantly, the French chocolatière was created. Although the origin of the chocolatière is not completely known, Sophie and Michael Coe support the theory that it was a French invention (158). Records show that chocolatières were given as gifts to French royalty from foreign nations in the late 1600s, yet it is hypothesized that the invention predates these records and evidence of such has not been found or preserved (Coe and Coe 158). The first substantial reference to a chocolatière pot is dated to 1671, when Marquise de Sévigné laments about the tragedy of her daughter not having access to a chocolatière (Coe and Coe 154).

“But you do not have a chocolatière; I have thought of it a thousand times; what will you do? Alas, my child, you are not wrong when you believe that I worry about you more than you worry about me,” (Coe and Coe 155).

As chocolate gained popularity, the chocolatière pot was mentioned in most chocolate-related literature for the rest of the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of the most notable works include Nicolas Blégny’s 1687 work of Le bon usage du thé, du cafféet du chocolat and François Massaliote’s Nouvelle Instruction pour les Confitures, le Liqueurs, et les Fruits in 1734  (Perkins 90-92). The pot became a physical symbol of France’s involvement in this international trend.

But by the end of the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, chocolate production practices had began to change and progress. Chocolate became a more widely available product and small volume production equipment such as the chocolatière was becoming less desired. In 1828, the cocoa press was invented by Conrad Johannes Van Houton (Righthand). The press allowed for quick production of cocoa powder which could easily be mixed with water to create chocolate beverages- thus, the

François_Boucher_002
One of the most famous pieces of art that features chocolatières and chocolate serving table pieces is “Le Dejeuner,” by François Boucher.  A viewer can notice the chocolatière pot featured in the center background of the piece.

chocolatière pot was becoming archaic in the presence of the new technology. By the conclusion of the 19th century, new technology had revolutionized chocolate manufacturing and lessened the demand for the chocolatière pot.

The 19th and 20th centuries experienced the disappearance of chocolatières due to their low demand; however, an increased interest in antiquities for gift giving is fostering a revival of the pots. Traditional chocolatières and any associated artwork are now popular attractions in museums and pricey investments in modern antique shops.

Here is an interactive “exploration,” of a traditional chocolatière pot held in the Walters Art Museum. The animation only allows the viewer to zoom in/out but it has clear quality for observing details such as lid engravings: http://art.thewalters.org/detail/5934/chocolate-pot/

 

 

Works Cited:

“A Concise History of Chocolate.” C-Spot. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Boucher, François. “Le Dejeuner.” 1739. Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Perkins, Suzanne, Grivetti, Louis, Yana Shapiro, Howard. “Introduction: The Chocolatière and the Refinement of Aristocratic Manners in Early Modern France.” Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009. Print.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot.” History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian. Smithsonian Magazine. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.