The Bigger Picture: How did we get here?
“200 years ago, the average American ate only 2 pounds of sugar a year . . . Today, the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year” (Martin 2020). But what contributed to this major uptick in consumption?
As portrayed in my sketch of a graph above, sugar consumption (and consequently chocolate consumption) has always been on the rise. However, the inflection point in the exponential curve was in the late 1700s to early 1800s, precisely the time of the Industrial Revolution. (Martin 2020)
During the Industrial Revolution, various technological developments not only further augmented the supply and demand for chocolate, but also altered the way in which it was consumed, especially among the working class.
More chocolate for everyone!
Several technological advancements drove the industrialization of chocolate (among other foods) via developments in the preservation, mechanization, retailing, and transport of food (Goody 2013). While the production process once required much more manual labor with tools like the molinillo and metate, industrialization led to the automated mechanization of roasting, winnowing, grinding and milling, among many other steps diagrammed below (Coe and Coe 2013).
In 1828, Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten developed an incredibly efficient hydraulic press along with the Dutch process; these particular inventions would forever change the chocolate industry in enabling the large-scale manufacture of both powdered and solid chocolate (Coe and Coe 2013).
As delineated in the production process like the one filmed below, these developments were taken up by Big Chocolate companies like Lindt, Nestlé, Cadbury, Hershey’s, and Mars, further helping to scale up the chocolate industry through the utilization of this machinery (Martin and Sampeck 2016, 49).
Beyond this, the industry giants would continue to cast their net to an even wider consumer base, by introducing even more changes to chocolate production: Fry’s tempering process would lead to the manufacture of the first chocolate bars (pictured below), Lindt’s conching process would enable chocolate to be filled with other ingredients, and Hershey would develop the means of improving shelf life and producing even larger quantities of chocolate (Martin 2012).
With all these developments, the ever-growing demand for chocolate was better supported, and the mass production led to an overall deflation of chocolate prices that allowed it to become more accessible to the masses (Martin and Sampeck 2016, 55). “It was no longer an elite, expensive product primarily consumed as a beverage, but instead an inexpensive cocoa powder to be drunk or low-cacao-content chocolate bar to be consumed as a food by elite and non-elite alike” (Coe and Coe 2013).
The busy consumer
Industrialization not only revolutionized chocolate production, but also created more employment opportunities and expanded the workforce. As a result, many people’s schedules underwent a dramatic shifted in order to accommodate their new work hours. Naturally, this directly affected people’s eating patterns as well; with more limited time came a need for quicker meal preparation.
As nations became “more urban and industrialized” over the next century, they “[changed] eating schedules to meet work schedules, teaching laborers to eat away from home, to eat prepared food more frequently, and to consume more sugar along the way. Managers of such societies recognized the potentiality of workers to increase their own productivity if sufficiently stimulated, and to open themselves to new, learnable needs” (Mintz 1986, 181). In addition, division of labor, in conjunction with familial gender roles, affected eating patterns as well. With more women in the workforce, women were spending less time at home, shifting the traditional reliance on women’s cooking and labor for food production. Therefore, family diets were unequivocally affected (Martin 2020).
The sudden spike in chocolate production, in conjunction with the rise of the working class, changed not only the quantity but the very way in which chocolate was consumed, with the birth of various new recipes. Chocolate provided people with the ability to take “shortcuts while maintaining effective results” and the food industry successfully took advantage of this; for example, through their novel marketing and advertising, “cake and brownie mix producers were able to convince home cooks around the country to purchase their products, while forever altering the American relationship to home cooking and taste” (Martin 2012). Later in the twentieth century, with advancements like microwaveable technologies, products like microwaveable brownies were made possible as well, simultaneously addressing both the need for speed and the growing demand for chocolate.
The developments made during Industrialization indefinitely transformed not only the way chocolate was produced, but the quantity and quality in which it was consumed. In fact, we continue to employ many of the same advancements in the production process and enjoy much of the new eating patterns that came about during that time. The Industrial Revolution is to thank for transforming chocolate to become what we know it as today, and for making it possible for us to even enjoy it.
To many of our delights, most of us have the privilege of consuming chocolate, and on any occasion in present day. Although we have the industrial period to be grateful for, it is worth noting that chocolate has an incredibly rich history extending beyond industrialization as well, and that chocolate consumption still fails to be fully equitable. As contemporary consumers of chocolate, it is important to be mindful of both the sweet and bitter history of chocolate.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Frys Five Boys Milk Chocolate. Wikimedia Commons, 2005. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frys_five_boys_milk_chocolate.jpg
Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine,” 2013.
How Hershey’s Chocolate Is Made and Packaged HD. YouTube, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MytilMhNUq8.
Martin, Carla. “Brownies: The History of a Classic American Dessert,” 2012, http://www.ushistoryscene.com/uncategorized/brownies/.
Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Class lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 2020.
Martin, Carla, and Sampeck, Kathryn. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe,” 2016.
Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
Traynor, Kim. Fry’s Chocolate Enamel Advertising Sign. Wikimedia Commons, 2013. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fry’s_Chocolate_advertisement.JPG.