Tag Archives: french

Changing Opinions of Cacao and Chocolate Through History

The crackdown on sugar and high-calorie foods garnered a lot of media attention in 2010 with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and the proposed ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks in New York and it brought a public health crisis into the spotlight. Chocolate as we know it today is itself an example of a sugary food with high caloric content common in the diets of many Americans. Dark chocolate, which often tastes bitter because it has higher cacao content and less sugar, contains an average of 14 grams of sugar per ounce (USDA). That said, most candy bars that contain chocolate far exceed that amount. Although a number of research studies conducted in the last two decades have highlighted potential health benefits of chocolate consumption (specifically dark chocolate), chocolate is often referred to as a “guilty pleasure” and it is seen in the public eye as something unhealthy associated with weight gain. We know that this was not the case throughout much of history, when cacao and chocolate were considered healthy and, in a few societies, as medicine. I find this shift in public opinion interesting and believe it to be a direct result of the democratization of chocolate and its high sugar content. By winding back the clock and analyzing changing perceptions of cacao and chocolate in different areas of the world with a focus on health, we can better understand when and why this transition happened.

Mesoamerican attitudes towards cacao (c. 600 C.E. – 1500 C.E.)

People in Central America and Mexico during the height of the Mayan and Aztec empires used cacao as an offering in healing rituals, to ensure successful travel, and during social unions such as banquets, baptisms, burials, weddings, and ceremonies to confirm the legitimacy of dynasties (Martin and Sampeck 39). The importance of cacao and its link to the gods can be found in the Dresden Codex, a Mayan book and the oldest surviving from the Americas, where “gods can be seen holding cacao pods, or dishes heaped with cacao beans” (Coe and Coe 42). In addition, cacao had several medicinal uses, including help with indigestion, inflammation, and fertility. Other applications of medicinal cacao used for afflictions can be found in Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams (18th century manuscripts recopied from ancient codices). Cacao was also prepared as a beverage using distinctive tools such as the molinillo, the steep-sided cup, and the spouted pot and ingredients including chile, custard apple, maize, achiote, and more ingredients specific to colonial Mesoamerica (Martin and Sampeck 42). Notably, the amount of sugar was much lower and the list of ingredients is wildly different from that of modern-day chocolate.

This colorized image is a representation of a drawing found in the Dresden Codex. It depicts the Opossum God carrying the Rain God on his back with a caption that reads “cacao is his food.” Interestingly, the scientific name for cacao, Theobroma Cacao, literally means “food of the gods.”

French attitudes towards chocolate (c. 1600 C.E. – 1800 C.E.)

Chocolate was likely introduced in France from Spain as a drug by Alphonse de Richelieu, who, as we learned in class, believed it could be used as a medicine for his spleen. Prevailing theories in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe credited chocolate as being “a generally nutritious, energizing, fortifying beverage” that was also “credited as being an antidepressant, an aphrodisiac, a laxative, an agent to strengthen the heart, liver, and lungs, and a treatment for hemorrhoids” (Cather Studies 285). By 1690, chocolate was a regular offering at Louis XIV’s court at Versailles and was popular among the aristocracy (Coe and Coe 157-60). There were, of course, conflicting opinions about chocolate and its merits, but nonetheless a culture developed around it among the wealthy such that when Thomas Jefferson assumed the role of Minister to France in 1785, he wrote the following in a letter to John Adams from Paris:

Chocolate. [T]his article when ready made, and also the [c]acao becomes so soon rancid, and the difficulties of getting it fresh have been so great in America that it’s use has spread but little … by getting it good in quality, and cheap in price, the superiority of the article both for health and nourishment will soon give it the same preference over tea & coffee in America which it has in Spain.”

RC (MHi: Adams Family Papers). PoC (DLC). Published in PTJ, 9:62–3.
The mancerina, pictured above, originated in Paris and was used to serve chocolate drinks. It is a testament to the chocolate culture that flourished among the nobility in France in the 1690s.

American attitudes towards chocolate (c. 1700 C.E. – 1950 C.E.)

Chocolate, although very rare at the time, had made its way into what would later become the state of Massachusetts, and more specifically onto Judge Samuel Sewall’s breakfast plate, by the year 1697. George Washington was apparently fond of chocolate, and “…connections to the drink have been attributed to patriot luminaries like Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, [and] Thomas Jefferson” (Laiskonis). Notably, however, chocolate was provided to the troops in the French and Indian War. Six pounds of chocolate was offered to each officer by Benjamin Franklin, who “…saw chocolate as a compact, energizing, and tasty food that could be easily carried and boosted morale” (National Geographic Partners 20). By 1800, chocolate was affordable for most colonists (while it was still an expensive drink reserved for the nobility in France) because they (the colonists) imported cacao beans directly from the Caribbean rather than buying them from the British to evade the cost of taxes (National Geographic Partners 18). The cost was further brought down with the rise of mechanization and changes in transportation. Chocolate went from being consumed primarily as a drink to a solid with the development of new techniques, namely pressing and tempering, and became less gritty with the invention of the conch in 1879. Major chocolate companies like Hershey’s, Nestlé, Mars, Cadbury, and Lindt became so successful by standardizing their recipes, scaling up their operations, investing in effective marketing techniques, extending the shelf life of their products, and eventually gaining control of the supply chain. Hershey’s and Nestlé also reaped the benefits of war by providing chocolate for U.S. army rations during WWII (Jacobson). Up until about 1945, therefore, chocolate was still viewed largely the same as it had been by Benjamin Franklin two centuries prior. The idea that chocolate could restore one’s strength, on the other hand, went all the way back to the Maya.

This Nestlé advert from 1942 proclaims that “Chocolate is a fighting food!” It describes specific attributes of the chocolate and plays on American patriotism during wartime. Chocolate has been implicated in the nation’s war efforts since before the American Revolution.


So, what caused the change in public opinion of chocolate after 1950? I believe that it was a combination of wide availability of chocolate back at home after WWII and the heavy advertising that chocolate companies did during the war. Additionally, our lives today are significantly more sedentary, and we consume more food/calories now than before. I would argue that all these factors shifted the focus from the benefits of chocolate to its sugar content as we became more aware of the grip of high calorie foods on our diet. It seems that tide is turning now, with research supporting some potential health benefits of chocolate.  

Works / References Cited

Belluz, Julia. Silhouette eating a bar of chocolate. Vox, 20 August 2018, www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/10/18/15995478/chocolate-health-benefits- heart-disease.

Cather Studies. “Willa Cather: A Writer’s Worlds; Vol. 8 of Cather Studies.” University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. “The True History of Chocolate.” Thames & Hudson, 28 June 2013.

Jacobson, Sean. “”Chocolate is a Fighting Food!” – Chocolate bars in the Second World War.” National Museum of American History (Behring Center), 24 October 2016, https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/chocolate-bars-second-world-war

Jefferson, Thomas. Extract of letter to John Adams. Massachusetts Historical Society of Boston, 27 Nov. 1785, tjrs.monticello.org/letter/1789

Laiskonis, Michael. “In Search of Chocolate in Old New York City.” Institute of Culinary Education, 19 August 2016, www.ice.edu/blog/search-chocolate-old-new-york

Mancerina dish from the Royal Factory of Alcora. Museo Nacional de Ceramica y Artes, 18th century, artsandculture.google.com/asset/mancerina-dish-from-the-royal-factory-of-alcora/lwF_ttm8ODc2Sg.  

Mars, Inc. and National Geographic Partners. “Great Moments in World History: Global Stories Where Chocolate Sparked Discovery, Innovation, and Imagination.” Mars, 2018, www.nationalgeographic.com/pdf/chocolate-ed-guide.pdf

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.bu, DoI: 10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37

Opossum God Carrying Rain God. The Possomery, members.peak.org/~jeremy/possomery/

United States Department of Agriculture. “Chocolate, dark, 45- 59% cacao solids.” 1 April 2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170271/nutrients

Wilbur, Lawrence. “Nestlé’s advertisement; “Chocolate is a fighting food.”.” World War II Advertisements – 1942. WCSU Archives, 9 July 2019, archives.library.wcsu.edu/omeka/items/show/4576

C’est la vie? C’est la guerre! A Comparative Analysis of French and American Haute Chocolate

Sweat condensing on her brow, an American Pasty Chef attempted to balance a crescent moon shaped chocolate centerpiece atop a three-tier cake.  Being observed by a French chocolatier only added to the nerves that steeled into her clenched jaw and stabilized her trembling hands.  Hours of work had gone into this elaborate piece, an expense that would hopefully be passed on to the customer when they purchase this decadent, luxurious and ostentatious celebration of chocolate, craftsmanship and refinement.  It embodied various certifications, testifying to the veracity of the ethical production therein and extending its meaning from its origin, through the artisan, to the consumer.

Just as the bottom tangent of the chocolate piece began to set, aided by a can of spray-able liquid nitrogen intended to solidify the melty chocolate and fasten it into place, the weight of the moon rested at too deep an angle.  It tumbled.  Over the back of the cake, it gashed the bottom layer on its way to the stainless steel table where it shattered, breaking the silent concentration and cutting the tension in the room.  The Pastry chef sighed and began to collect the shrapnel with a towel, slowly scooping it into a pile for re-melting.

C’est la vie…” said the American Pastry Chef.

C’est la guerre.” replied the French Chocolatier.

This semi-fictional scene reflects the dichotomous nature of chocolate in haute cuisine between French and American spheres of distinction. The deft use of fine chocolate is prevalent in both attitudes, both value the origins and efforts of the cacao’s genesis, both have studied and practiced their craft.  However, whereas the American is resigned in the failed effort to express the cumulative value of the product and her skill, the French craftsman is steeled into resolve, determined to win the war. “Such is life, Such is war” is a common French expression that mirrors the approach of French and American approaches to chocolate in haute cuisine.  The American approach is one of collaborative effort, emphasizing the transparency of sourcing to demonstrate the rusticity of the product.  The French approach is one of competitive determination, steeped in refinement and luxury.

This analysis is not intended to present a normative argument.  That is, this is not an examination of which culture has a better or worse approach to haute cuisine in that one way is right or another is wrong.  Rather, these tools seek to explore how haute chocolate can reflect bifurcated levels of distinction. In the interest of flow and concision, the United States is referred to as ‘America’ wholly separate from other North and South American regions.  Additionally, the habitus of other European Nations such as the Netherlands and Austria may overlap with those of the French, however France is selected as grounds for comparison as it offers special distinction via various guilds and the tradition of the chocolatier.  This is also not intended to make over generalizations, it is understood that there are exceptions to trends and the examples herein were chosen to highlight the specific distinctions.

Haute Chocolate

While neither nation produces cacao, the raw ingredient for chocolate, their relative attitudes towards fine chocolate are molded by habitus.  Defined as a collection of culture, history and access to cultural and economic capital, Pierre Bourdieu offers habitus as the foundation of an individual’s foodways. (Bourdieu, 2005) The purpose of this comparative analysis is to explore the similarities and differences in American and French approaches to fine chocolate.  While both nations enjoy a reputation for the production of fine chocolate, they have very different attitudes and approaches to the market.  This analysis intends to contrast these attitudes, provide examples that demonstrate the distinction between distinctions, define the roles of distinction and habitus, and critically analyze how these attitudes are expressed in an effort to better understand the role of nationality and culture in the growth of the fine chocolate market.

Where an individual’s habitus lies is dependent on their perceived cultural and economic capital.  This capital functions as a social currency, lending veracity to their perceived identity, be it as a ‘foodie,’ ‘gourmand,’ ‘conscious consumer’ or other informal title, cementing an individual’s place inside or outside of distinct groups. (Power, 1999)  An individual’s food choices, in this case chocolate brands, reinforce their identity and allow them to explore other, tangential foodways with more comfort and familiarity.  The intersection of economic and cultural capital is particularly informative in an analysis of chocolate brands as each is designed for a particular market.  While the positions of brands along the axis may be of some debate, literature and marketing materials often guide it’s position by utilizing adjectives such as ‘luxury,’ ‘rustic’ or ‘bean to bar.’


For the purpose of this analysis, focus will be placed on the brands and approaches on the left side, High Cultural Capital with varying Economic Capital.  Haute culture, if not cuisine, is by definition high in cultural capital as its purpose is to push the boundaries of sensory experience and offer unique, ephemeral products.  Food choices made accordingly serve as evidence of ‘distinction,’ which “reflects the ability of dominant class factions to legitimate their tastes as superior.” (Johnston & Bauman, 2015) As illustrated, there are many brands that cluster in the top left corner, with High Economic capital.  These products are advertised as expensive and luxurious.  In this context, luxury can be defined as a product whose price exceeds the cost of raw materials, processing and labor. Fine cacao makes up only 5 -7 % of global production. (Martin & Sampeck, 2015)  Its consumption indicates a desire to separate one’s experience from the challenges of the everyday.  Within the world of chocolate, this means a simplification, or complete ignorance, of the harsh realities of cacao production.

C’est la vie…

The American approach to haute chocolate is as diverse as any other.  Foodie culture has elevated chefs to rock-star status. As such, in 2018 one is as likely to encounter an acclaimed chef or chocolate producer who looks a bit different from a traditional, clean cut chocolatier.  Tattoos, long beards and bespoke eyeglasses offer credence to the adept skill and alluring aloofness of urban chefdom.  This approachability, itself a rebellion from rigidly structured hierarchies of French brigade styled kitchens, offers the transparency that consumers demand.  Buzz words such as ‘bean to bar,’ ‘artisanal,’ and ‘chef inspired’ adorn many of commodity products.  The Mast Brothers experience is an exceptional case study of the consequences of betraying this transparency.

In late 2015, a former employee who blogs for dallasfood.org under the name Scott, posted a blog that uncovered a betrayal of transparency by the Mast Brothers, operators of a specialty chocolate company that sold ten dollar bars of chocolate at Whole Foods.  According to the author, commodity chocolate was being melted down and repackaged into luxury advertised bars.  The follow up Quartz article blew the story up and the Mast Brothers became the poster boys for forged identities in the artisanal community.  The placement of the product, in high end grocery stores, themselves suspect of duplicitous marketing, combined with a curated narrative about the ‘hipsterness’ of bar, offered little defense as the supposed transparency on offer became opaque.  The backlash was swift and harsh, eventually leading to an apology and reintroduction of the product.


Right Image: Nick Zukin Twitter @extramsg

Left image: Mast Brothers Facebook

Taza chocolate is a craft chocolate producer based in Massachusetts.  Their branding and sourcing heavily refers to Mesoamerican origins, minimal processing and Fair Trade sourcing.  The chocolate itself remains slightly grainy, an effect usually eliminated in industrial processing, testifying to the rustic nature of the product.  Taza offers a chocolate experience very different from luxury French and European Brands.  Advertised as ‘stone ground organic direct trade’ their products offer a sensorial connection to Mesoamerican chocolate history cementing the consumer’s identity as a thoughtful ‘foodie’ if not a conscious consumer. Taza compounds their commitment to transparency and rusticity with tours of their manufacturing facility, with old timey equipment and informative guides.  This producer is an example of the ‘rustic’ or unrefined American approach.


Image: Amazon.com

In any chocolate culture, Valentine’s Day is a special occasion.  Heart shaped boxes of chocolate for any price point are available for gifting.  It is no surprise that at the highest level of foodie distinction, The James Beard Foundation, would center chocolate consumption for the event.  Enter Staten Island Chef Peter Botros and his team.  Famous for his restaurant The Stone House at Clove Lakes, Chef Botros collaborated with the JBF for a themed titled ‘Dreaming in Chocolate’.  A 7 course dinner for 175$ per person, the evening featured Seared Dayboat Scallop with Chocolate-Chestnut Cream, Potato Crisps, and cocao nibs and other creative chocolate expressions. This event is one of many collaborative efforts between institutions and individuals that celebrate and market the chocolate experience.

Chocolate competitions, courses, books and best practice videos further explore the collaborative nature of American haute chocolate.  Working with certifying bodies such as USDA organics, The Rainbow Coalition and Fair Trade emphasize the transparency and minimal processing that offers a more rustic experience typify the American approach.

C’est la guerre…

French haute cuisine needs little introduction.  France it is often claimed is home to the best wine, the best cheese and the best bread.  An encounter with any Francophile will bear this out.  However, the French approach to haute chocolate bifurcates from the American approach in a number of ways.  Examples of the competitive nature, refinement and luxurious identities offered by French chocolatiers contrast with those of American producers is telling ways.

French chocolate bars and advertisements market the luxury of French chocolate through visceral imagery.  Gold script, royal velvet and dark shiny tones offer justification for the high prices of luxury bars.  An extreme example of this is the famous Jean Paul Hevin chocolate stiletto, featured in BBC production ‘Chocolate Perfection with Michel Roux Jr”.  Produced by hand, in one size and for only the right foot, this chocolate product blurs the line between food and art.  The creation is demonstrative of refined skills of the chocolatier. Its image practically screams ‘SEX’ and its lack of purpose pushes its existence into one of pure ostentation.  This product would be unthinkable using the methods and consistency of a rustic chocolate, such as Taza and pedigreed chefs rely on relationships with the most refined legacy chocolate producers in France.


Refined chocolate producer Valhrona based in Tain l’Hermitage outside of Lyon, France is one of the leading producers of gastronomic chocolate.  Their products offer elite levels of distinction with a legacy dating from 1922.  (Coe & Coe, 1996) A central player in haute chocolate, Valhrona has a robust sourcing plan, has established chocolate schools, and is based in one of the richest wine cultures in Europe.  As such, they were one of the first to offer chocolate in the cru, grand cru, and premier cru varieties, highlighting the value of the terroir expressed in their chocolate.  By using adjectives familiar to audiences with an excess of cultural and economic capital, Valhrona’s refined approach to chocolate typifies the pride and mastery of knowledge demanded by French haute chocolate.  The institutional investment in chocolatiers and their craft is shared with official national recognition.

The Mielleur Ouvrier de France, MOF, is awarded to the ‘best craftsmen of France’ and typifies the competitive nature of French haute chocolate.  Rather than compete against others, this competition invites only French chocolatiers to compete against their own skills.  Preparations take months or years, the winners are selected by former MOFs, and each competition may offer none or many awards.  The award is offered to other craft industries as well, but few are as compelling or tempting as the chocolatiers. This competitive nature, designed to weed out the unworthy, is distinct


As illustrated in the diagram above, French and American chocolate distinctions differ in a number of ways.  The central overlap, that of price, exoticity, specialty and terroir, form core values from which the cultures begin to bifurcate.  These adjectives, among others, describe shared distinctions, realms where haute chocolate is intrinsically valued, fetishized and subject to the highest levels of cultural and economic capital.  An analysis of French and American examples of haute chocolate yields different yet related levels of distinction.

These differences can be juxtaposed to fully illustrate and expose a dichotomy of distinction.  Collaborative vs competitive, rustic vs refined and transparent vs luxurious are just a few of the bifurcated approaches to chocolate and the core values that make up their relative haute culture.  The American approach is market based, placing emphasis on the quality, economic value and artisanal specialization of small ‘bean to bar’ companies who place equal importance on the genesis of the cacao as well as the locality of the producer, collaborating with certifying bodies to enhance the veracity of their claims.  The French models emphasizes a more competitive approach where the chocolatier is subject to communally agreed upon standards, exemplified in the MOF and artisan guilds.  The American ‘bean to bar’ isolates a particular geography, culture and terroir and the artisans strive to express that sense of place through minimal industrialization often to the detriment of texture, color or perceived sweetness.  Conversely, French legacy brands, such as Valhrona, often refine the raw product, blending it with other select varieties of plant and geography to create a specialized flavor, emphasizing the elite-ness, luxury and unique qualities of specialty varieties.

Critically, the transparent and luxurious approaches to haute chocolate may be the most illustrative of the distinct dichotomies.  American chocolate bars often prominently feature recognized symbols of transparency.  Affiliations with USDA Organics, Fair Trade, Free Trade the Rainforest Alliance offer cultural capital to the consumers that reflects their personal core values and communicates to themselves and others that they are concerned with the class struggles and systemic inequities inherent in the cacao trade.  Conversely, French chocolate bars rely much more heavily on images of luxury.  French chocolate production is more closely related to national legacy; one removed from the conflicted history of colonialism and offers a product with a value that exceeds the costs of raw materials and the human labor used to produce it.

Both chocolate cultures have evolved foodways that reflect cultural values inherent in wider social and economic spheres. (Meigs, 1997) The arguments of the analysis herein could very well be extrapolated and transposed onto similar products, such as bread, cheese or wine.  Chocolate holds a special place in this reflection because the raw material, cacao, is not grown in the US or in France.  Both carry with them a burdened class legacy and have had a historic hand in oppressive economic systems that relied on exploitation and enslavement.  Future research could examine how haute chocolate deals with these legacies differ between nations, however both mold the perception of the consumer based on external values already inherent in their respective cultures.


Bourdieu, Pierre.  2005.  “Taste of Luxury, Taste of Necessity.”  In The Taste Culture Reader:  Experiencing Food and Drink, edited by Carolyn Korsmeyer, pp. 72-78.  New York:  Berg

Coe & Coe, 1996. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London p259

Johnston & Bauman. 2015. Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape. p32 Routledge, London & New York

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. 2015. The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. socio.hu. The Social Meaning of Food, Special Issue in English 3: 37-60

Meigs, Anna. 1997. Food as a Cultural Construction. Food and Foodways 2(1): 431-457.

Power, Elaine M. 1999. An Introduction to Pierre Bourdieu’s Key Theoretical Constructs. Journal for the Study of Food and Society 3


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.



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:


“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).

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.


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.



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.







Valrhona’s Commitment to Responsibility: A Case Study

Valrhona Chocolate, created in 1922 by French pastry chefs, has long been committed to producing high-quality chocolates (Coe and Coe 259). They also take pride in projecting a sustainable business plan, which is admirable when considering that chocolate companies are often not held accountable for their actions. Valrhona sources Criollo and Trinitario cacao from Guanaja, Venezuela, Madigascar, Trinidad and Tobago, and most recently the Dominican Republic (Valrhona 4). It has published a Social Responsibility Report for public consumption which outlines the many ways it is committed to its suppliers, employees, consumers, and the community at large. In analyzing Valrhona’s practices in each of these areas in relation to the grander sociohistorical environment of the chocolate supply chain, we can better understand Valrhona’s success and shortcomings. Based on these conclusions, I will argue that Valrhona is on the path to solving many of the ethical problems that come with producing chocolate from the bean to the bar, but also has some room for improvement.

At the Source
First, Valrhona claims that they are committed to their suppliers. They have set up a “Buyer’s Code of Conduct” that encourages buyers to communicate fairly with suppliers, act sustainably and buy ethically (Valrhona 9). While this does not ensure that their buyers will behave this way, it is a step in the right direction. One of the biggest problems facing cacao farmers is how they may be exploited by buyers and not paid fairly, possibly being taken advantage of by both big chocolate companies and the local governments (Lockwood). At least they are attempting to prevent this.

In addition, Valrhona offers programs to teach cacao growers about research, planting cacao, and ways to improve (Valrhona 12). This is all part of their sustainability pledge: to build long-term relationships with their farmers, which is in the best interest of both the cacao farmers and Valrhona itself. I think this is very important because it means that the future of cacao, and of high quality chocolate, is being carefully considered.

Below is a short video created by Valrhona showing an idealized version of their newest plantation in the Domincan Republic, touting great treatment of farmers and high quality cacao:

Child labor is one of the most concerning issues facing the cacao industry today, and is an example of how farmers may also be the exploiters. In the United States, legislation was almost passed that would require a label stating that no child labor was used in the making of the chocolate, but it was heavily lobbied and did not pass. In the end, the Harkin-Engels Protocol was created. This was a voluntary pledge to work toward more ethical and credible standards, but has yet to prove itself as successful because the companies who signed it are not held accountable if they do not meet these standards (Coe and Coe 264).

Valrhona actually did not sign this protocol. They do, however, claim that they are committed to fight child labor on their cacao farms by regularly visiting plantations and otherwise relying on Fair Trade, Rain Forest and UTZ certifications. They also maintain that 80% of their supply chain is 100% traceable, meaning that each part of the supply chain is held accountable (for 80% of its cacao)(Valrhona 15). While this is a great feat, I would argue that it still leaves 20% of its products open to child labor and other ethical oversights, and any chance of child labor is not ideal. This keeps the cacao industry plagued by the same slavery used by early 19th century chocolate companies (Coe and Coe). We are past this as a society, and ideally chocolate companies should settle for nothing less than 100% accountability.

In addition, plantation visits and other certifications are only marginally helpful. For example, to become Fair Trade certified, farmers have to pay more to be a part of a certified co-op, which means that those who are underpaid are unable to be certified and those farmers who are already wealthier are benefitted (Martin). So while Valrhona claims that they are “fighting” child labor, there is still much room for improvement on this front.

The school co-founded by Valrhona in the Dominican Republic opened in 2013 and serves the 15 local cacao growing families (Valrhona)

One area where Valrhona has begun to prove itself is in its community outreach programs for cacao growing communities. They have co-founded a small school in their newest plantation in the Dominican Republic, and built a school on their Madagascar plantation. These initiatives may also help ease chances of child labor by giving children a chance at an education, but seem to be focused more on promoting the future success of their plantations than anything else.

At Home
In addition to promoting sustainable and ethical relationships with cacao suppliers, Valrhona also claims to improve the lives of its employees and community where the chocolate is manufactured in France. In fact, their investment in their employees appears to exceed their interest in those who grow their cacao. They pride themselves on providing extensive training, equal opportunities, and even psychological counseling to their employees (Valrhona 18), all to improve the quality of their product and ensure that the company continues to flourish. They even organize trips for some employees to travel to their plantations and see how cacao is cultivated, likely an amazing learning experience. However they do not offer this same privilege in reverse: farmers are not invited to see the manufacturing process. This alone shows inequality between the farmers who are paid relatively little for doing extremely laborious work and Valrhona’s employees.

Unlike Hershey’s Chocolate in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where an entire town was built to house and service its employees (Coe and Coe 251), Valrhona’s company is relatively small and so it spends its efforts on community outreach outside of itself. Conscious of its impact on its local community, Valrhona donates money and services to develop its surroundings and ensure a minimal environmental footprint (Valrhona 29-30). They regularly survey local residents for feedback on their progress, and prove to be successful in improving the lives of not only their own employees, but those who live in their community.

For the Greater World of Chocolate

One of Valrhona’s high quality chocolate bars, “El Pedregal”, is a single-origin chocolate bar sourced from the finest Criollo cacao in Venezuela (Valrhona)

Since it was established in 1922, Valrhona has primarily focused on producing high quality chocolate for pastry chefs. Even world-renowned French pastry chef Pierre Herme, commonly known as the “Picasso of Pastry”, works exclusively with Valrhona because of their extensive knowledge of chocolate and their ability to consistently produce it well (Williams 176). And with the birth of L’ecole du Grand Chocolat in 1989 and its two newer outposts in Japan, and most recently in 2014, the United States, Valrhona has become synonymous with expertise in the world of chocolate all around the globe. This is unlike any other chocolate company, and shows a true dedication to this unique craft. Valrhona is also responsible for promoting and even creating some of the world’s leading pastry competitions, thereby furthering its reputation as a leader in haute cuisine and promoting an interest in the pastry arts, while also donating sales to charitable causes (Valrhona 25).

While Valrhona has made great strides in ethically and sustainably sourcing and producing its chocolate, there is still room for improvement. One area they do not openly discuss is how much their farmers are being paid and what their working conditions are truly like, so there is no way to know if money is going to the farmers, their co-op, or even into the local government’s pocket. The only mention is that they “encourage local suppliers to support their local economies” (Valrhona 9). This loosely stated policy is likely not the most effective strategy to ensure equal pay.

Once again, their response to the issue of child labor is also lacking – they could take on full accountability and focus more energy on eliminating any chance of child slave labor all together, rather than claiming that only 80% of their cacao is child labor-free. More of their efforts seem to be located in serving their own local communities and pastry chef consumers than that of the farmers who work to grow their cacao, which demonstrates Valrhona’s greater commitment to quality and the future of the industry than to their farming partners.

Valrhona's employees

Madagascar plantation
Which group seems happier? Here the farmers at Valrhona’s plantations (bottom) are compared to Valrhona’s own employees (top) to illustrate Valrhona’s struggle to equally provide for their suppliers (Valrhona)

One more interesting thing to note is that one of their main missions is to meet the stakeholder’s expectations (Valrhona 6), and because they do not delineate what their stakeholder’s expectations are, this may suggest that their primary goal is to make money rather than behave sustainably. (However I cannot fault them for that, as a business should indeed have the goal to be profitable.) Still, there is the sense that because this report was voluntarily released, many of Valrhona’s weaknesses may not be overtly evident.

Having weighed these weaknesses against their strengths, I think it can still be said that Valrhona is on its way to meeting its goal of developing high quality chocolate in an ethically sustainable and consistent way. Of course there will always be room for improvement. But building schools, offering training, donating services and money to local causes and requesting their suppliers to behave ethically are all steps in the right direction. In this way, Valrhona is a leader of the modern chocolate industry – all while producing some of the finest chocolates in the world.


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

Lockwood, Sarah. “Exploiters or Exploited? Cocoa Production in West Africa.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 23 March 2015. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 8 April 2015. Class Lecture.

Williams, P. and Eber, J. “Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate”. Vancouver, CA: Wilmor Publishing Corporation, 2012. Print.

Valrhona. Corporate Social Responsibility Report. 2012-2013. Group Espirit Libre: Tain I’Hermitage, France. Retrived from: http://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/files/Valrhona-CRS-Sept-2013.pdf.