Tag Archives: health claims

Health and Hyperbole

How Chocolate Companies Contruct and Distort the Public Understanding of Healthy Food

Chocolate in its generic form occupies an archetypal position within the American diet. Complete with a palatable mixture of milk, some type of fat, and sugar – it is appreciated as a classic form of indulgence. And within the healthy/un-healthy binary thinking that permeates the American perception of food, chocolate has traditionally fallen in the latter category. Beginning in the late 20th century, the public became increasingly aware of the role of everyday diet in determining health, and more consumers sought to understand the nutritional value of the food they purchased. Chocolate companies, in order to capitalize on consumer interests, began to look for ways to rebrand their chocolate products as health foods. As what is considered “healthy” has changed over time, chocolate in America has evolved in response. A case study of two brands, Skinny Cow and Righteously Raw, demonstrates how what companies chose to market as “healthy” changed in response to an evolving understanding of health. The marketing strategies of these chocolate companies have generated more conversation about what makes food nutritious and perhaps given chocolate a more complex position within the diet. However, chocolate companies have continually failed to provide the whole truth to consumers, and their marketing claims, which cherry-pick information from scientific studies, fuel public misconceptions about what constitutes healthy food.

Skinny Cow and The War on Fat

When cardiovascular disease became the leading cause of death in America in the 20th century, scientists and health care providers scrambled to find a cause. From their efforts emerged the war on fat. Fat, especially in its saturated form, became the most vilified nutrient as scientific studies warned others about its high caloric density and ability to build up in the form of plaques within the cardiovascular system (Keys et al.). In 1977, a Senate Committee led by George McGovern published the “Dietary Goals for the United States”, which advised Americans to eat less high fat foods and obtain more caloric intake from grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fat was deemed guilty for causing the cardiovascular health epidemic (Oppenheimer and Benrubi).

What transpired in the food industry was the reduction of fat across almost all grocery store items. “Low-fat” labels started to appear on peanut butter jars, potato chip bags, and granola bar boxes. Chocolate was no exception. In 1991, Silhouette Brands Inc. launched Skinny Cow, which produced and sold low-fat, low-calorie ice cream. Soon, Skinny Cow’s product line expanded to include truffle bars and chocolate clusters. One of the brand’s advertisements is shown below.

The premise of this advertisement was that Skinny Cow chocolate tastes just as good as other generic chocolate bars while also being healthier. Throughout the advertisement, Skinny Cow emphasized the low-calorie content of their chocolate. Furthermore, on their boxes, they highlight the calorie and fat content by printing the numbers in bolded font and boxing them in color. While there was not necessarily an explicit heart-healthy claim in how Skinny Cow marketed their chocolate, their chocolate still capitalized on closely related consumer concerns

Skinny Cow, just like many other brands at the time, conflated low-fat and low-calorie with healthy. While the health dangers of excessive consumption of fat and calories have a scientific basis, what transpired in the market presented an oversimplified view of nutrition. Fat is essential for the human development process, especially at an early age, and is crucial for satiety and vitamin absorption. However, consumers pounced at the idea of a healthy chocolate, and Skinny Cow became very successful in the market. In 2004, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of Nestle, bought Silhouette Brands Inc. for $70 million (Dreyer’s Purchases Silhouette Brands – LA Times).

Righteously Raw and The War on Sugar

Statistics showed that heart disease rates declined from the 1980s to the 2000s, although at least half of this decrease has been attributed to improvements in medical and surgical treatments rather than risk factors (Ford et al.). Furthermore, heart disease continued to remain the leading cause of death in America, and obesity rates continued to climb at a steady rate.

The war on fat caused Americans to eat more carbohydrates, primarily simple carbohydrates and sugars, in place of fat (Aller et al.). Entering the 21st century, more and more people began to question the supposed “unhealthiness” of fat. Review articles criticized the poor correlation found in many studies between fat consumption and body weight (Tobias et al.). An increasing number of studies started to probe another nutrient, sugar, instead. The public response shifted to focus on reducing sugar consumption. In 2012, New York City’s Board of Health voted to ban restaurants from selling sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 oz. In 2014, an article titled “Ending the War on Fat” and written by Bryan Walsh was published by Time Magazine (Fat Is Good for You | Time.Com).

“New research suggests that it’s the overconsumption of carbohydrates, sugar and sweeteners that is chiefly responsible for the epidemics of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Refined carbohydrates–like those in “wheat” bread, hidden sugar, low-fat crackers and pasta–cause changes in our blood chemistry that encourage the body to store the calories as fat and intensify hunger, making it that much more difficult to lose weight.”

Chocolate companies responded similarly. In the 2000s, a number of chocolate brands, which marketed their chocolate on cacao content rather than fat or calorie content, sprang up. One of these companies was Righteously Raw, which was independently founded in 2004 by business woman Audrey Darrow. A picture of a packaged Righteously Raw chocolate piece is included below. The “Raw” part of the company’s name refers to how the company attempted makes its chocolate from raw cacao beans to increase the amount of antioxidants in the bar. The company claims that their beans are raw because they are not roasted. The “Righteous” part refers to how the ingredients of the chocolate are ethically sourced, meaning that cacao beans are only purchased from farms and growers who provide ethical working conditions for employees.

Different from how Skinny Cow marketed its chocolate, Righteously Raw, as seen on its packaging, emphasized the cacao content of its chocolate and the absence of refined sugar. From the nutritional information provided by Skinny Cow and Righteously Raw, it is evident that the fat content per serving increased by 3 grams while the sugar content fell by 8 grams.

Nutrition Facts for Skinny Cow Chocolate Bar
Nutrition Facts for Righteously Raw Chocolate Bar

Interestingly, the calorie content when serving sizes are equilibrated does not change significantly, meaning that the energy which was provided by sugar in Skinny Cow chocolate was substituted for by fat in Righteously Raw chocolate. Other components, such as sodium and cholesterol, did not change significantly either. This change in nutrition comes from the change in ingredients used to make chocolate. As shown on the ingredients list for Skinny Cow chocolate, sugar was the highest quantity ingredient in the bar. Looking at the ingredients listed for Righteously Raw’s 83% Pure Dark chocolate, cocoa butter is the highest quantity ingredient followed by cocoa powder.

Righteously Raw has defined “healthy” chocolate to mean chocolate that is dark and minimally processed. They manufactured their chocolate in a way which capitalized on recent popular studies that have explored the antioxidant content of red wine and cacao as having heart protective properties. In the 1990s, antioxidants began to draw public attention as scientific studies suggested they could protect against heart disease by preventing the buildup of free radical species (Antioxidant Vitamins and the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease – American Family Physician). In terms of chocolate, people were led to believe that the darker a chocolate is, the healthier it must be. This claim does have some scientific merit to it. Studies by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have reported that even the small amount of antioxidants present in chocolate have been found to have a heart protective effect in observational studies. However, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has been much more cautious in advising an increase in chocolate, even dark chocolate, consumption (“Study Strengthens Case for Heart Benefit in Chocolate”). Dr. Elizabeth Motofsky reported that

“Eating excessive amounts of chocolate is not recommended because many chocolate products are high in calories from sugar and fat and could lead to weight gain and other metabolic problems. But moderate intake of chocolate with high cocoa content may be a healthy choice.”

Thus, while Righteously Raw seems to correctly assert the benefits of antioxidants, it’s incorrect in its implicit claim that increasing its brand’s chocolate consumption will improve health.

Righteously Raw also runs into trouble in claiming that it has a higher nutritional value from the rawness of its ingredients. By definition, raw food is not heated to temperatures exceeding 118 degrees Fahrenheit in its preparation. The exact “rawness” of its cacao is questionable given that all cacao beans must first be fermented, a process which often exceeds temperatures of 125 degrees Fahrenheit. And whatever the case, farms, not companies themselves, control the bean fermentation process. Righteously Raw claims that roasting the cacao beans destroys many beneficial polyphenols within the beans. However, this claim has not been supported by scientific studies. The roasting process itself does not necessarily destroy antioxidants and in some cases can even make antioxidants more bioavailable (Scapagnini et al.) Furthermore, both the fermentation and roasting process help kill harmful pathogens that would otherwise pose a new, separate problem to consumer health. Overall, Righteously Raw in creating and branding its chocolate selected different parts of scientific studies which fit the company’s story. Despite there being scientific support to some aspects of its claims, its claims in their overall entirety remain problematic.

Beyond Health

Beyond the scope of nutrition, both Skinny Cow and Righteously Raw address and are themselves implicated in different social issues. Skinny Cow, as demonstrated in the video advertisement and as evidenced in their femininely packaged items, specifically markets to women. The cow mascot features a measuring tape around its waist, and the company’s marketing scheme promotes the gender-specific expectation that women need a slim waist to be appealing. Righteously Raw on the other hand has arguably less gendering in its advertisements. However, its unit price is significantly higher than that of Skinny Cow and generic chocolate brands, such as Hershey’s. On the its company website, one bar of chocolate, which is 57 grams, sells for $5.99. By contrast, Skinny Cow costs around $1.85 per 60 grams of chocolate and Hershey’s costs around 80 cents for the same amount. Such a steep price difference, whether justified by ethical practices and ingredient quality or not, raises the issue of who is able to afford to eat healthy. Is healthy chocolate something that everyone has the chance to enjoy, or is it just a fashion statement for America’s well-off? While it would take several more blog posts to explore these issues in depth, these questions serve as a reminder of the limitations beyond having sound scientific studies and transparent marketing in terms of helping people eat healthy.

A Grain of Salt

America continues to have a health problem, and consumers, especially those endowed with the time and financial resources to do so, have demonstrated interest in how they can adjust their diets based on recommendations from public health officials. In the midst of massive cardiovascular health concern, there has been a dream that there exists food which consumers can eat the same way they might take pills as a cure. Chocolate, in its indulgent splendor, was and continues to be an especially appealing target for a miracle food. Companies have tried to sell this dream of a healthy, guilt-free chocolate. However, as with almost all food fads, this chocolate dream falls prey to common sense and the moderation mindset. Ultimately, while companies have been pushed by nutrition regulations and consumer interest to report more on their nutritional content, they have also cherry picked from studies and fueled misconceptions about what constitutes healthy food. Their explanations often suffer from oversimplification and generate misconceptions about nutrients, such as sugar and fat. Perhaps one good thing that this discordant conversation has produced is a more complex understanding of chocolate and its health value in the diet. For chocolate lovers and companies alike, it is likely for the better that chocolate is not strictly in the unhealthy category of food. And as for when and how much to consume of chocolate, it seems wisest with the current body of knowledge to continue to enjoy it as an occasional snack or dessert.

References

Aller, Erik E. J. G., et al. “Starches, Sugars and Obesity.” Nutrients, vol. 3, no. 3, Mar. 2011, pp. 341–69. PubMed Central, doi:10.3390/nu3030341.

Antioxidant Vitamins and the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease – American Family Physician. https://www.aafp.org/afp/1999/0901/p895.html. Accessed 3 May 2019.

Dreyer’s Purchases Silhouette Brands – LA Times. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2004-jul-27-fi-dreyers27-story.html. Accessed 3 May 2019.

Fat Is Good for You | Time.Com. http://time.com/2863227/ending-the-war-on-fat/. Accessed 3 May 2019.

Ford, Earl S., et al. “Explaining the Decrease in U.S. Deaths from Coronary Disease, 1980–2000.” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 356, no. 23, June 2007, pp. 2388–98. Taylor and Francis+NEJM, doi:10.1056/NEJMsa053935.

Keys, A., et al. “The Seven Countries Study: 2,289 Deaths in 15 Years.” Preventive Medicine, vol. 13, no. 2, Mar. 1984, pp. 141–54.

Oppenheimer, Gerald M., and I. Daniel Benrubi. “McGovern’s Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs Versus the: Meat Industry on the Diet-Heart Question (1976–1977).” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 104, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 59–69. PubMed Central, doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301464.

Scapagnini, Giovanni, et al. “Cocoa Bioactive Compounds: Significance and Potential for the Maintenance of Skin Health.” Nutrients, vol. 6, no. 8, Aug. 2014, pp. 3202–13. PubMed Central, doi:10.3390/nu6083202.

“Study Strengthens Case for Heart Benefit in Chocolate.” Harvard Gazette, 23 June 2017, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/06/study-strengthens-case-for-heart-benefit-in-chocolate/.

Tobias, Deirdre K., et al. “Effect of Low-Fat vs. Other Diet Interventions on Long-Term Weight Change in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” The Lancet. Diabetes & Endocrinology, vol. 3, no. 12, Dec. 2015, pp. 968–79. PubMed Central, doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(15)00367-8.

The Relationship Between Class and Nutrition as Evidenced by Chocolate

Cambridge, Massachusetts presents consumers with a number of different retailers from whom to buy chocolate. And within and across these retailers, consumers are presented with a number of different options of flavors and brands of chocolate. I visited four stores in the Cambridge area that sell chocolate: CVS, Cardullos, Cambridge Naturals, and Formaggio Kitchen. After my visit to each of these stores, as well as spending time on each one’s respective website, I noticed an interesting dynamic surrounding the implied social class of each expected consumer base created through the selection of chocolate within each store. Helping to situate these findings are a number of academic sources that aided my discovery of this dynamic. By looking at the varying role of chocolate across markets, as evidenced by price and quantity, packaging and marketing, and surrounding retail items, one is able to use chocolate to determine the underlying social dynamics that connect contemporary ideas of nutrition and consumer class.

Price and Quantity

The price of food has an important impact on the quantity and quality of consumption for the global population. As Robert Albritton points out in his book “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”, price and quantity inextricably link nutrition and class. One quarter of the population suffers from a price point on food that is too high and are malnourished as a result of insufficient quantity (Albritton 342). A second quarter suffers at the hands of the price point in relation to quantity being too low, driving up their consumption and causing high levels of obesity (342). While the first example seems intuitive, the second deserves more exploration.

It seems counterintuitive that a corporation, created to profit from its sold goods, would provide a surplus of food to consumers at a low price. Why would these corporations not either reduce the amount of food they sell or raise prices? Why would consumers pay for more food than they need, and not spend the equivalent amount of money on appropriate portion sizes? The answer to the first question is that these corporations, often denoted as fast food companies, compete with each other for business, so it is in their interest to provide consumers with the most food at the lowest price, so as to win business. This works because of the incredibly low costs of production of this kind of food (344). The profit margin of cheap food is barely lowered by the addition of one more patty on a burger or a few more chicken nuggets in a meal. Therefore, the competition among fast food corporations results in lower prices and larger quantities of food, in a way that is not present in other types of restaurants that have the higher costs of production associated with a higher (and often times healthier) quality of food. As for consumers, the psychology of taste reveals that this type of food leads to over consumption as a result of its better taste and lack of the kinds of nutrients needed for a person to feel full (Benton 211). Lower classes that may be priced out of consistently eating healthy must turn to alternatives that are not only unhealthy but psychologically addicting. This means income not only affects material possessions, but health as well, which is much more concerning. While the example used above was fast food restaurants, a similar problem is visible today in the industry of chocolate consumerism.

An important example is the comparison of the chocolate selections in two stores in the Cambridge area, CVS and Cardullos. When comparing the average prices of similar quantities (as measured in ounces) of chocolate between the two stores, CVS appears to average .58 cents per ounce, while Cardullo averages .75 cents per ounce. Additionally, while the costs of CVS bars were lower on average, the average number of calories from each CVS bar was higher than Cardullos’ bars, with the majority of the caloric difference coming from a higher sugar content in CVS chocolate. While these are rough estimates I calculated by hand, the significant difference between them, along with what we know about the price and quantity relationship for cheap goods, is in line with what is to be expected from a store like CVS, known for its everyday items, and Cardullos, which prides itself on its “Gourmet international and local chocolates” suitable for the “chocolate connoisseurs” of Cambridge (Cardullos Web).

A second example of nutrition and class and how its relationship is demonstrated through the economic factors of price and quantity is found in chocolate’s role as a gift. Cambridge Naturals, a health and wellness store just outside of Porter Square, displays chocolate in a manner that provides evidence of the problematics of this relationship. The store sells chocolate mostly in small quantities meant for individual consumption. The chocolate is marketed alongside self-care products such as cbd oils, moisturizers and lotions.

Cambridge Naturals

Of note though, is the larger quantities of chocolate, which come packaged in a mock gift wrap, as if to say that while the buyer of the gift would never purchase such a quantity of chocolate for himself or herself, he or she would if it were to be given as a gift. It shows the consumers personal commitment to health, while also demonstrating their ability to pay more for a larger quantity of chocolate that will be given as a gift. The individual chocolate only exists in unornamented wrap, while the larger exists, with few exceptions, in decorative packaging. From this, the store seems to imply negative social connotations around both the giving of a single bar of chocolate as a gift as well as the purchase of a large quantity of chocolate for oneself. One could also make the argument that Cambridge Naturals is trying to balance the image of health it hopes to be associated with, with the higher profit margins that come from selling a larger amount of chocolate at a more expensive price. The store offers the consumer the ability to purchase the larger box of chocolate under the pretense that it is a gift, as the consumer would be remiss to indulge in such a quantity of chocolate by himself or herself.

Marketing and Packaging

This point segues nicely into what the packaging and marketing of chocolate say about the connection between class and nutrition. As discussed by Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens in their blog “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies,” many corporations, especially those selling goods with potentially detrimental effects to consumes’ health, have an incentive to put profits above human well-being. The most effective way they have done this in the past is through targeted marketing campaigns that address the controversial aspects of their business. The Sugar Association, which faced potential regulation from the FDA in the 1960s, spent millions on convoluting the idea that sugar was unhealthy. The crux of their argument was that “there was no conclusive evidence” sugar had negative effects to a person’s health (Taubes par. 3). Of course, no study is infallible, and the exercise of picking independent details off as inaccurate in order to invalidate an entire study feels like a reprehensible strategy. The Sugar Association shifted the burden of proof off of themselves and onto other agents, meaning they did not have to prove sugar was healthy, rather, until it was proved definitively by these outside agents that it was categorically unhealthy, no judgment could be made (par. 8).

While Taubes and Couzens focused on how marketing fought against the idea their products were not nutritious, Emma Robertson’s analysis of marketing in “Chocolate Women and Empires” shows how companies would reinforce social stereotypes through their ads depicting idealized consumption. There has been a long standing class separation between industrialized chocolate as that of the working class and craft as that of the sophisticated intellectuals (Robertson 3). Robertson focuses on the example of Rowntree’s attempt to associate their various chocolates with different social classes based on price and quality. For example, Rowntree depicted a sophisticated woman consuming one of their more expensive bars of chocolate (26). This not only targeted people within a certain class, but also those of a specific gender. Rowntree attempted to idealize all the classes in their activities. By doing so, they maintained an appeal to all markets across price points. Those in the lower class saw an idealized version of themselves eating a Rowntree chocolate bar. This type of advertising would have been more realistic, and therefore more appealing, than if they saw a wealthy person consuming chocolate. The message of Rowntree was not that if a person ate this chocolate they would elevate their social status, this would have been difficult to be convincing for obvious reasons. Instead the message was that if one eats this chocolate they become a better version of themselves. When the only difference between a person and the idealized version of that person was a bar of chocolate, that idealized version became more attainable. With this type of marketing, Rowntree bucketed people by social class and reinforced social inequity through expectations of the type of chocolate that person was consuming.

Coupled with Taubus’s and Couzens’s argument on nutrition, Emma Robertson’s analysis of marketing in “Chocolate Women and Empires” evidences how advertisers have pushed narratives in nutrition and class for the benefit of their own sales. These narratives have continued into contemporary society. Returning to the four chocolate stores, there are again two prime examples that can be explored. The first compares the packaging and marketing of CVS products with that of Formaggio Kitchen. These two stores share the largest discrepancy in price point of the four, which makes for a good comparison around how each advertises and packages their respective chocolates. CVS sections all of their chocolate under one category, arranged by increasing quantities, not by brands. In doing so they focus more on quantity than quality. The below image shows the increase sizes in quantity. The movement from right to left in the store is reflected in the below image moving top to bottom, with the right corresponding to top and far left corresponding to the bottom.

CVS Chocolate Selection

Consumers are expected to search by consumption and price. Formaggio Kitchen on the other hand, arranges their chocolates by brand, reflecting a consumer base that knows the kind of chocolate they want to purchase, with the quantity being of secondary consideration. CVS retails producers who package their chocolate in wrappers with larger amounts being encased by plastic bags. Formaggio Kitchen also uses wrappers for individual bars, but a comparison of the touch of the wrappers of those bars retailed by Formaggio Kitchen and those retailed by CVS exhibit’s a noticeable different in quality of wrapping. Many of the chocolates in Formaggio Kitchen contain thicker, smoother wrappers than those in CVS. While small, it is noticeable and enhances the experience of the consumer as he thumbs through the potential chocolate for purchase. Finally, nearly all of CVS advertises the price of their chocolate as being on sale, be it buy one–get one free, or a markdown from the original price. Formaggio Kitchen,on the other hand, is not as concerned with letting their consumer know the price, subtly displaying it below the bar. The differences in presentation of chocolate in these retail stores affirms who each store is trying to market to. Consumers who buy their chocolate at CVS are expected to be concerned with how much they want, and where they can get the best deal. Formaggio Kitchen consumers need to come in with more knowledge of the chocolates they are presented with, as traditional name brands are absent from the selection. Consumers are also expected to be less concerned with the price, a quality of those with higher incomes. The contrast between these two retail stores highlights contemporary class distinctions that markets, such as chocolate, attempt to capitalize on.

A second comparison is the online presence of these chocolate companies. Most notably is the prevalence of Cambridge Naturals Instagram page.

Cambridge Naturals Instagram

It is full of pictures of healthy, largely white, millennials holding Cambridge Natural products. The Instagram feed is linked at the bottom of every page one could visit within the Cambridge Naturals website, often with their most recent posts displayed. For context, all three other stores in this comparison do have Instagram’s, but the link is confined to the home page and only appears as a small icon at the bottom. And each Instagram appears to cater to a consumer base that is much more diverse than the one Cambridge Naturals hopes to attract. Through a handful of posts, Cambridge Naturals reinforces stereotypes that those who enjoy its craft chocolates are wealthy, white, healthy millennials. This depiction of the ideal consumer is dangerous. It shows a disregard for thoughtful advertising that can appeal to a consumer base without excluding a social class or body type. Again through these examples, as situated by scholarly articles, the link between nutrition and class becomes increasingly problematized through the chocolate industry.

Surrounding Retail Items

Finally, the last example I would like to present here is the importance of the experience for consumers, and the role it plays in connecting nutrition and class. Julie Guthman provides a good example of this with the consumption of organic salad mix by the noveau riche of San Francisco in her book, “Fast food/organic food: reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow.’” Organic salad was first introduced as an organic food in restaurants that provided its consumers with the experience of dining with other sophisticated members of society who could also appreciate the importance of organic food (Guthman 503). The markups in restaurants made the salad mix inaccessible to the common people, and the idea of organic food as healthy caused body weight to be used as a measure of separation between social classes. Peter McNeil and Giorgio Riello also write about the importance of consumer experience and the role it played for members of various classes in “Luxury a Rich History.” Those who can afford to do so, have shifted their preferences away from brands as a measure of luxury and focused more on achieving the extraordinary through paid experience (McNeil 235). For retailers, the challenge is to create an environment that convinces the consumer of the value of their product. They can no longer rely on brand name and recognition, so the selection of the various kinds of products the retailer includes in the store is what creates the environment.

For CVS, their store has everyday items, ranging from school supplies and cleaning products to other snack foods. They aim to capture the everyday consumer who stops by to grab supplies in small amounts, such as laundry detergent, a snack, or shampoo. In many ways it is a better stocked, convenient store. The surrounding environment to the chocolate situates it as a low cost, everyday item that fits in with the overall consumer environment created by CVS. They hope to move product in large quantities, and their chocolate selection reflects this. The environment does its best to cater across classes by being accessible to the lowest one. Its food selection captures this approach, and as a result, explains why much of that food is not fruit or vegetables, but highly processed foods, including chocolate made by companies with an eye toward profits.

Cardullos, on the other hand, advertises a quintessential New England experience. The store contains a deli restaurant, wine selection and even “New England” goods. Their chocolate selection is meant to both benefit and enhance this environment for the consumer. Catered to those looking to experience New England, the store appears to appeal to tourists visiting Cambridge. It provides a place to get lunch, as well as purchase souvenirs in the form of wine or chocolate.

Cardullos

Those who can afford to travel are often in the upper echelons of society, and those who eat fresh deli food are at least somewhat health conscious, especially given the other food options they would have passed over in the square, such as Flat Patties and Felipe’s. By marketing the deli as quintessentially New England, an identity appealing to those who do not spend extended amounts of time in New England regularly, the chocolate is selected to reflect healthier and wealthier consumers. This deduction on its own may seem contrived, but given the large amount of evidence of such connection existing between nutrition and class, this assertion is well founded.

As mentioned previously, Cambridge Naturals selects products and brands that will collectively create an experience to appeal to their target demographic. Outside of chocolate, there are no other food products sold at Cambridge Naturals. The majority of the store is focused on self-care products, arranged cleanly in rows of the store. Given mainstream knowledge of chocolate is that it is generally unhealthy, seeing it in the store might seem somewhat out of place. Yet it is one of the three FCCI retailers that sells fine cacao, which minimizes additional ingredients to chocolate outside of cacao and sugar (Martin 4). As a healthier version of non-mainstream chocolate, the target consumer base of wealthier millennials can rely on the qualities of craft chocolate as an explanation for why it is marketed along health products. The variety of chocolate offered also indicates this approach has worked. Craft chocolate now comprises a significant part of the store and the brands have carved out a place among the consumerism of healthy, wealthy millennials.

Finally, the environment of Formaggio Kitchen is the most upscale. They market cheese, wine, and chocolate. The pairing of fine cheese and wine is known to be a practice engaged by the upper echelons of society. Formaggio Kitchen must feel then that their selection of chocolate would correspond to the type of luxurious environment those searching for wine and cheese would like to experience. In addition to food, Formaggio Kitchen also offers tasting classes that range from $40 to $100. Access to these classes being restricted to those with the desire and ability to pay for a class focused on learning about finer foods. The dynamics surrounding these types of classes are important, unlike cooking classes, Formaggio Kitchen does not teach you a skill but rather a knowledge. This knowledge can only be further utilized through the continual purchase of these more expensive foods one has learned about. So while the price of the class can be between $40 and $100, there are undoubtedly continued expenses to allow the student to utilize this knowledge.

Formaggio Kitchen

This upper tier and what it says about nutrition and class are important. Unlike CVS, consumers are not purchasing chocolate based on cost, and unlike Cardullos and Cambridge Naturals, consumers are not even consuming healthier chocolate for the purposes of better nutrition. Formaggio Kitchen situates itself in a class of people that consume its product solely for the experience. Cheese, wine, and craft chocolate do not contain many of the essential calories needed for a complete meal. They are not consumed for their nutrition but rather for their taste, demonstrating how in the most elite parts of society, consumption of food may transcend nutritional value if it presents the consumer with an experience of luxury.

In conclusion, the versatility of chocolate makes it a very interesting food that is consumed across classes for a number of different reasons. As a result, an analysis of how it is retailed gives insights into the connected role class plays with nutrition. Those most worried about nutrition often seek to maximize their caloric intake with minimum price. Those seeking healthier chocolate often do so because they are able, and willing to pay more. And then those simply searching for the modern luxury of experience do so through chocolate, which has found a place alongside wine and cheese as a fine food that can provide such an experience.

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. 2012[2010]. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” pp. 342-354

Benton, David. 2004. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” pp. 205-218

“Cardullo’s Gift Baskets and Fine Wines.” Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, cardullos.com/.

Guthman, Julie. 2012[2003]. “Fast food/organic food: reflexive tastes and the making of‘yuppie chow.’” pp. 496-509

McNeil, Peter and Giorgio Riello. 2015. Luxury: A Rich History. pp. 1-10, 225-293

Martin, Carla, “Sizing the craft chocolate market,” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (blog),

August 31, 2017, https://chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/.

Taubes, Gary and Christin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.”

Image Citation

“Cambridge Naturals” https://www.cambridgenaturals.com/

“Cardullo’s Gift Baskets and Fine Wines.” Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, cardullos.com/.

“CVS” https://www.cvs.com/

“Formaggio Kitchen.” https://www.formaggiokitchen.com/

Chocolate Representation and Marketing in Boston’s Italian Market, Eataly

Upon entering Boston’s Italian market, Eataly, one can immediately feel the pervading sense of luxury. Starting with quality wines, cheeses, meats, and small bites, customers begin their mini Italian journey. After passing through sections of delicious selections of appetizer-like foods, customers move through the center of the marketplace where restaurants and food stands create a complete sensory experience analogous to the main meal in a gustatory journey. Throughout the entire experience, the Italian market presents itself in a very raw and natural form, turning away from luxury in the form of material wealth and focusing the customer on what people commonly associate with Italy to be a certain luxury of life. In fact, although one could easily see how expensive all of the products were in the market, the wealth required to lead this sort of “Italian” lifestyle is hidden behind the fact that it does not present many directly obvious or glaring forms of material luxury. However, the one place where it failed with this consistency in the representation of Italian luxury was, surprisingly, in the chocolate section.

The first important aspect to note about the section of the market that sold chocolate was that it came at the very end. A customer would have to travel through the rest of the store in order to reach this final area. This works for Eataly in the sense that it is logical to structure the market in the same way that a typical meal is structured. Chocolate and desserts come at the very end, clearly serving as an indulgence to finish off a gustatory experience in a perfect way. It is one last peek into paradise.

Throughout the journey up to this point, the experience and the luxurious ambiance has stayed fairly consistent. The customer is reminded of a simple, farmer’s market style of Italian life, and the luxury is communicated through quality of life rather than quality of material ownership. This is a crucial strategy that appeals widely to consumers given the new, developing concept of luxury, as Peter McNeil and Giorgio Riello describe in Luxury: a rich history

“… ‘luxury is today more a condition than an object’. In other words, luxury is not just about acquiring an object, but is rather a way of living, of thinking, and of aspiring. Luxury aims to recover its uniqueness … by providing an experience that is unique in the acquisition and enjoyment of such goods … that might not necessarily be exceptional per se,” (McNeil and Riello 235). 

However, there is a sudden shift from that environment when approaching the chocolate section. In fact, the brands and types of chocolate displayed convey two different messages to the customer, both of which distinguish themselves from the marketplace as a whole. 

The first of the two atmospheres is one of material luxury, appealing to the artisanal quality of a product. These chocolates exhibited common packaging themes of shiny gold and silver labels, dark backgrounds, and text like “premium chocolate”, “product of Italy”, or “classic”. Many included obscure and unreadable Italian words in an attempt to appeal to consumers through use of smooth, sophisticated sounding words. Additionally, on signs that describe the brands, the customer can read various quotes that generally embody this appeal to Italian artisanry:

“Since 1826, Caffarel has been making chocolate in the traditional Piemontese way.”

“Baratti & Milano is part of the history and tradition of Italian confectionery.”

“Novi’s passion for chocolate stems from the ancient confectionery traditions of Piemonte.”

An example of chocolate packaging with gold labeling.
Baratti & Milano chocolates, whose labeling and packaging uses themes of gold.

These bars and products were almost entirely pure dark chocolate products and the most commonly added ingredients (if any) were “Italian” additions like whole hazelnuts, coffee, or lemon. Price points were incredibly high, with products costing, for example, $55/lb, $44/lb, $36/lb, or $77/lb, to name a few.

An important aspect to note is that these brands that appealed to the artisanal and “pure Italian” quality of chocolates often failed to connect their story to the rest of the chocolate supply chain. As elaborated upon by McNeil and Riello: “A great deal of the national appeal of brands is created by cultural associations cemented through the clever use of advertising at a global level. Globalization, however, creates at the same time a sense of brand displacement. The ‘country of production’ of a product is often different from the ‘country of origin’ of the brand …, ” (McNeil and Riello 283). These companies are clearly seeking to appeal to a national identity in advertising their products, but consequently end up obscuring the entire supply chain and ignoring the regions and people that play a crucial role in the farming of cacao.

Unsurprisingly, these brands thus did not often cite any sort of certification or effort to integrate their chocolate production story with the rest of the supply chain. The focus was restricted to chocolate’s journey in Italy. This seems to be a characteristic that plagues smaller and more specialized chocolate producers in general: 

“In the small, specialty chocolate maker category, there is some transparent trade, but in general the information about amount of specialty cacao purchased and price paid for that cacao provided by individual companies is minimal, and the burden thus falls to producers, consumers, or researchers to seek it out for themselves, an often impossible task,” (Martin). 

The entire journey of cacao before reaching the hands of Italian chocolate manufacturers is nonexistent. This phenomenon is most often characteristic of nations that have been able to establish an international chocolate reputation. As Kristy Leissle states in Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate:

“… somewhere along the way, the place of manufacturebecame more important to appreciating chocolate than the place of origin of the beans. ‘Belgian chocolate’ has more purchase than ‘Ghanaian cocoa,’ because chocolate eaters have become accustomed to the particular styles preferred by a handful of national palates…,” (Leissle 22).

So, clearly, while the rest of the market exudes a raw form of lifestyle luxury, these bars communicate a very different message. They create an association with material wealth – that of an elite and distinguishing sense. 

However, this is not the only theme established in the chocolate market in Eataly. There exists another subset of chocolates that seem almost completely removed from the Italian artisanal quality of chocolate. These brands instead focus all of their energy in promoting an exotic image. The packaging is smaller, squarer, and rarely employs dark, luxurious colors. Packages are white or colorful, made with plastic or thin cardboard. They do not frequently employ gold text or luxurious images. Yet, almost all of the chocolate sold remained dark, with few products dipping below 60% dark chocolate.

These brands add various unique ingredients like Sichuan pepper, matcha, passionfruit, goji berries, ginseng, and more into their products. The choice of ingredient addition tends to go along with what is commonly associated with Western perception of health or medicine in foreign (particularly Eastern) countries. Western culture has adopted exactly these ingredients (tropical fruits, Asian spices, and more) as a part of a new, hipster health fad. The fact that these “healthy” ingredients were chosen to be added to chocolate makes it clear that these brands are trying to appeal to chocolate’s exotic, fantastical quality: that is has “magical” health benefits. Other brands on the shelves made an even more obvious appeal to this common conception of chocolate, associating specific bars with arbitrary qualities such as “health”, “beauty”, or “leisure”.

T’a Milano chocolates, with various exotic flavors added.
Giraudi chocolates with added ingredients such as matcha and goji berries.
Sabadìchocolates that are associated with qualities such as health and leisure.

This is an interesting characteristic of these brands, since they seem to advertise more strongly the idea of “quality of life/condition” as described by McNeil and Riello: “[f]ood, but also wine, spirits, and confectionery, are appreciated not just because of their price or intrinsic taste but because of their lifestyle association,” (McNeil and Riello 240). This would seem to be consistent with the ambience of the rest of the market. However, the aggressive attempt to mash together the rest of the world under the single label of “exotic” in order to distinguish their chocolate makes it difficult to see how it connects to the apparent Italian authenticity of the rest of the store or even to the regions of world that it is trying to represent. 

Maybe because of this appeal, these chocolates also have very high price points. Prices included $40/lb, $60/lb, $74/lb, and even reached $180/lb at times. Yet, we can see that none of these brands have truly succeeded in representing the world for what it is through chocolate; thus, they justify their price points through an incomplete image of the world and the consumer’s role in the supply chain. Evidently, the mixing of ingredients from various nations that are known to have an exotic appeal to western customers is a testament to the fact that these chocolate brands may be choosing to oversimplify the gastronomical complexity and value of other cultures and nations, choosing instead to group it under a single category meant to entertain western customers more than educate them. 

As an example of this, the brand “Domori” focuses very seriously on the origin of the cacao bean used to produce each bar, making that the focus of the packaging on their chocolate products. However, taking a closer look at this “origin conscious packaging” reveals a slightly different story. For example, for chocolate from Venezuela, one can see that the center of the image on the packaging is that of a sloth on a tropical tree. However, sloths have absolutely nothing to do with cacao besides the fact that are both present in Venezuelan ecosystems. 

Domori’s Venezuelan chocolate packaging.

On another packaging, the focus is on criollo cacao, with the central image being a cacao tree and a single pod broken open to reveal the inside. Yet, the cacao pod is represented poorly, with seeds looking more like dry nuts loosely packed in the pod than the real, dense, fruit covered seeds.

Domori’s criollo cacao chocolate packaging.

From all of this information, it appears that the brand appeal to the Italian craft of chocolate provides a more accurate and consistent story than the exotic brands. Although they may not present a complete representation of Italy through their chocolate products either, the other exotic brands fall more easily into traps of misrepresentation. As Leissle states, “Packaging aesthetics range from whimsical … to sober … but the primary lure is nearly always an exotic representation of chocolate’s origins,” (Leissle 25), and this is exactly what can be seen in the products presented at Eataly. 

As another example, the brand donna Elvira’s chocolate packaging includes winding and twisting tree branches, with cacao pods growing not from the trunks of these trees, but from the ends of flimsy, almost twig-like branches, which is known to be inaccurate. Cacao grows on the trunks of the tree as well as on the lower, thicker, and sturdier branches. Additionally, climbing through these branches are figures that appear to be half monkey, half human, with facial features reminding one of blackface. As Robertson says, 

“The use of black people in advertising has a long history. As Jan Pieterse demonstrates, products made available through the use of slave labour, such as coffee and cocoa, often used, and many still use, images of black people to enhance their luxury status,” (Robertson 36). 

So it is not surprising, given this information, that we find a brand that egregiously and unacceptably exploits this same advertising scheme that has been used since the times of colonialism. Moreover, 

“… images of Africa in U.S. media fall generally into one or two categories – Africa as ‘trouble,’ which includes poverty, conflict, debt, and HIV/AIDS, and Africa as ‘curiosity,’ which involved tribal people wearing colorful clothes and beads, hunting, gathering, and living close to nature,” (Leissle 26). 
From this, it is evident that the brand donna Elvira has appealed strongly to the second stereotype, depicting black people as wild, silly monkeys in a natural environment gathering cacao pods. Not only does this packaging serve as a misrepresentation of cacao farming, but of an entire race and region of the world. 

An example of donna Elvira’s chocolate packaging.
A closer look at the design shows cacao pods growing off of tropical trees and monkeys with what appears to be blackface harvesting them.

Additionally, these brands appealed to exoticism through modes of production, truly extending their attempts to distinguish themselves in every manner possible. Chocolate brands advertised modica chocolate, cold pressed chocolate, or handmade chocolate. In fact, as Leissle writes, “ … images are powerful, because they generate an escapist fantasy, inviting the shopper to experience a place more wonderful and tropical than wherever they are (probably) standing when buying the bar … Unusual, seductive words – Sambirano, Dos Rios, Esmeraldas – localize the chocolate in a mysterious place, always far distant,” (Leissle 25). 

Therefore, when one looks close enough, it is quite obvious that these brands are looking for an exotic appeal, trusting that their customers will not pay too much attention to the details (or overlooking them themselves). This basic exotic appeal avoids a truly in-depth connection between the customer and the journey of the cacao bean to the chocolate bar.  The goal is to create a fantastical world for the customer, not to represent the reality of the regions and cultures that it is taking advantage of.  

On the other hand, those brands appealing to luxury and quality fell into another trap with these exotic brands of associating quality with perfection, sustainability, and success. “Even more, it is not uncommon to encounter the dangerous idea that quality of chocolate is directly linked with quality of life of cacao producer. That a cacao sample is of superior quality does not imply that those who produced it have better lives. Flavor is insufficient evidence,” (Martin). It seems like this is the mistake that many customers of Eataly could potentially be making, thinking that quality of chocolate is directly associated with a perfect brand engagement with all aspects of the supply chain.

It is clear that the chocolate section of Eataly presents an inconsistent image with regards to the rest of the marketplace, and the various messages that it attempts to communicate obscure many aspects of the cacao supply chain. It attracts people with claims of luxury and exoticism that end up creating a false sense of “chocolate consciousness”. This is not to say that the chocolates are of poor quality. In fact, they are very likely to be delicious. However, this is to say that whether or not these brands are aware of it, they appear to still fall victim to common stereotypes and marketing strategies, overlooking the complete impact of their products on the way they represent the chocolate supply chain and their actions to consumers.

Works Cited:

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” University of California Press, vol. 13, no. 3, 2013, pp. 22–31., http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22.

Martin, Carla D. “Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market.” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, 31 Aug. 2017, chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/.

McNeil, Peter, and Giorgio Riello. Luxury: a Rich History. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press, 2009.

So, is chocolate REALLY good for you or is it all a hoax?

TO BEGIN…

People love chocolate. Three words that may not *technically* be a proven scientific fact, but are, at least in my own opinion, pretty valid for those living in today’s society. It is a line that I know I hear, and even find myself saying, quite often: someone is sad or feeling down and the response comes to “get them some chocolate and they will definitely feel so much better!” What I think people often forget is that chocolate truly does have a number of health benefits, dating back to its start and discovery and leading its way into the current society that we live in. Of the many health benefits that the consumption of chocolate has been linked to in both the past and present, I would like to briefly examine its use as a positive health benefit in the past and then relate that to my main focus on our current society, where chocolate has certainly taken the name to have medical benefits that continue to grow and become more supported through scientific evidence and research.

While discussing the past and present findings and beliefs on the medical benefits of chocolate, I also hope to draw conclusions of my own on the matter based on the evidence and research that is currently available. I think this topic is certainly one where all the facts and pieces of evidence need to be considered before a conclusion can be drawn.

THE PAST

Chocolate consumption has been associated with medicinal benefits for several years. In an article written by Donatella Lippi, she talks about how the evidence of cacao that was used for medicinal purposes dates far back to Mesoamerican civilizations (Lippi).  Looking back to the past, there were notions presented on how chocolate refreshes and satisfies the body (Coe and Coe, p. 110). The Coes also talk about how texts dating back to the 1500’s showed how the Emperor had a process of keeping botanical plants to experiment with, having the hopes of finding some sort of medical connection among them. Eventually, cacao appeared as one of the successful ones, showing that it could cure infections, control cough, and lower fevers among other things (Coe and Coe). The Mesoamericans spoke of chocolate as if it were a “food of the Gods” (Martin, Lecture).  For this reason, chocolate was often times included in traditional Mesoamerican rituals. Mayan documents, often written in Dresden Codex, showed cacao being depicted by Gods during ritual activities, including marriage and death rituals (Coe and Coe, 41). Additionally, Donatella Lippi went on to talk about

 

chocolate as a Mesoamerican medicine and stated that it dates back to Montezuma and his high levels of chocolate beverage consumption in the hopes that he would remain as masculine as possible (Lippi, 2017). In general, Mesoamericans certainly recognized how cacao was a medical benefit, often believing that those who consumed chocolate would be able to live longer than those who were deprived of consuming the treat (Coe and Coe).

 

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Cacao as a “bean of the Gods”

Through the readings and lectures we have gone over in class, we have also seen how the Spaniards and Europeans believed in chocolate and its overall positive effects on mood. In The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe state that the Spaniards thought that chocolate was a “a drug, a medicine” (Coe and Coe, p. 126). This idea focused on the fact that once the Europeans brought chocolate overseas, they linked it to humoral medicine as a drug and medicine (Coe and Coe).

The link between chocolate and its effects on health started in fairly general terms; however, eventually this evolved into a long stretch of scientific studies and research that really tried to examine the specifics between chocolate and its physical and mental health benefits. In the article “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food”, Donatella Lippi opens up by talking about how “throughout history, chocolate has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments, and in recent years, multiple studies have found that chocolate can have positive health effects, providing evidence to a centuries-long established use” (Lippi, 2013). She then goes on to talk about how simply the belief of chocolate being linked to health was not enough; breaking it down to the properties of chocolate that allowed it to have positive health effects was key in understanding (Lippi, 2013). For example, dark chocolate is known to be rich in iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and flavanols (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). The flavanols are most important when it comes to the health benefits.

THE PRESENT

To open up and introduce this section, I would like to start off by proposing a question. I hope to draw some sort of conclusion on this question by the end of this blog post. Because the debate about chocolate’s actual health benefits continue to go back and forth and are still not completely determined, I think it is rather important to consider the following matters:

Is the idea that chocolate bars have positive health benefits for a person’s health really supported by actual research or is this just a bunch of hear-say with no scientific evidence to back it up? Is this claim something that people just have an idea about or is there actual proof to support its validity? What kinds of chocolate are best to consume in order to obtain these positive health benefits?

In today’s society, one thing that is essential to remember is that the link of chocolate to medical and health benefits primarily focuses on the dark chocolate variety, which contains at least sixty percent pure cacao and high levels of flavanol content, though it is noted that consumption for the purpose of health benefits should be focused on chocolate that has at least seventy percent pure cacao. Often times, this high level of flavanol content does cause the chocolate to be more bitter in taste (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). In an article written by Dr. Robert Shmerling, Faculty Editor at Harvard Health Publishing, he brings up this key point and notes that not all chocolate is the same. Dark chocolate is high in flavanol content while milk chocolate and white chocolate have much lower levels of flavanol (Shmerling, 2017). Additionally, it is important to note that “even a chocolate bar that is 70% cacao can have varying levels of flavonoid compounds, depending on how it was processed” (Storrs, 2017). Furthermore, author Carina Storrs comments that any kind of chocolate that goes through a chemical process known as “dutching” would basically lose all traces of flavonoid compounds; this frequently happens in Dutch chocolate (Storrs, 2017).

As seen in both of the figures above, “raw” chocolate decreases blood pressure and assists in the improvement of blood circulation in a person’s body. The graphic to the right lists out health benefits of dark chocolate, some of them including slowing signs of aging, reducing the risk of diabetes, and reducing stress levels. Additionally, Sophie and Michael Coe state that “dark chocolate does not cause diabetes, cavities, or acne”, which is something that people often times believe and is part of what allows people to link dark chocolate to having health benefits in general (Coe and Coe, 31). Furthermore, Sophie and Michael Coe say that there has been no direct correlation between developing heart disease and consuming chocolate (Coe and Coe, 30).

When considering the link between chocolate consumption and, specifically, brain health Dr. Robert Shmerling talks about how both short-term and long-term consumption of chocolate can be beneficial. In various completed research studies, it showed that adults who consumed dark chocolate with high flavanol content had better performances on tests of memory and reaction time (Shmerling). Studies have also found that chocolate can be a key provider of antioxidants that are beneficial for the body. Another article posted on the pros and cons of chocolate also states that “a team of researchers at Harvard Medical School found that older adults who drank two cups of liquid chocolate a day for 30 days had improved blood flow to the parts of their brain needed for memory and thinking” (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014). It seems that chocolate’s link to brain health mainly focuses on the ability of flavonoids to improve mental function and speaking ability. It is important to note, however, that there has not been any proven scientific research that shows that chocolate consumption can prevent dementia or other diseases that bring about a “mental decline”. Dr. Owais Khawaja, a cardiology fellow at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Ohio, says that “chocolate is a good antioxidant. It has a good effect on inflammation” (Storrs, 2017). Dr. Khawaja also states that some additional benefits as a result of chocolate’s anti-inflammatory properties include that it might help to reduce the risk of cancer and dementia.

In the video attached here, we can see a listing of the top ten benefits of dark chocolate on a person’s health and well-being. The video touches on the positive effects of dark chocolate on cardiovascular health, weight loss, and lowering levels of blood pressure, to name a few. In general from sources that are widely available, it does seem that dark chocolate has links to perhaps living a healthier lifestyle. Self-medication and stress relief are two additional items that dark chocolate has a link to when it comes to levels of improvement. Score!

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As seen in the figure to the right, dark chocolate is the form of chocolate that is known to have health benefits. As noted in the figure (and stated previously), the pattern appears to be that a cacao content of over at least sixty percent in a given chocolate item is most beneficial for a person’s health. Additionally, I believe it is accurate to conclude that heart health seems to be the most commonly affected aspect of a person’s health benefits from chocolate consumption.

In an article published in Harvard Women’s Health Watch, it was stated that ingredients in chocolate can be healthy, but “the high-calorie chocolate bars that contain it aren’t necessarily good for you” (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014). The three flavonoid compounds in chocolate that are known to help improve cardiovascular functions in the body are catechin, epicatechin, and procyanidin (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014). These flavonoid compounds assist with lowering cholesterol rates, reducing inflammation that may be present in the body, and preventing blood clots from occurring at all. Dr. Eric Ding, a scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has completed 24 studies on the effects of flavonoids in chocolate on cardiovascular risks. In his findings, it was reported that flavonoids in chocolate reduced blood pressure rates and levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol. Additionally, rates of healthy HDL cholesterol increased, while improved levels of blood flow and and lower levels of insulin resistance were also displayed (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014).

OKAY SO, WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS ACTUALLY MEAN?

After researching and seeing the scientific evidence that is available regarding chocolate and its effects on health, it is definitely shown that consuming the right kind of chocolate with the proper characteristics can have positive health benefits for a consumer. As with anything, intake moderation is definitely significant and rates of consumption should be exercised with caution. Monitoring levels of sugar intake (i.e. selecting chocolate bars with lower levels of sugar added) is certainly important in order to limit any adverse health effects from taking place on the body. Additionally, people should proceed with caution when depending on chocolate (of the dark variety, of course!) to lower health risks. The public should recognize that researchers have been able to confirm that chocolate does have short-term benefits on heart health and other health issues but, for example, as stated by Dr. Eric Ding, “the jury is still out in terms of actual direct heart attack prevention” (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014).

THE FINAL VERDICT…

So, what do I think as a result of all of this? I do believe that chocolate can have positive health effects on the body. It is important to limit intake (eating ten chocolate bars a day is still not a good idea, sorry!) and mainly consuming dark chocolate is best due to the fact that it contains the highest percentages of pure cacao. Additionally, choosing chocolate bars that are also low in sugar and fats is very important, as these two things can actually cause adverse health effects as I am sure we all know.

 

 

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100% support for this claim! 

Some scientists have recommended that the best way to get the health advantages of the flavonoids in chocolate without consuming all the negative elements as well is to purchase chocolate products that are more concentrated, such as cocoa supplements.

 

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Dark chocolate and its positive effects on health

If consumed properly, and in moderate levels, chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, does have positive health effects on a person’s health including the improvement of cardiovascular health, decreased levels of stress, and more. I know I will definitely continue eating chocolate – it is just time that I make the switch over to dark chocolate more often.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

“Chocolate: Pros and Cons of This Sweet Treat – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health Blog,

Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Feb. 2014. Web.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames

and Hudson, 2013. Print.

“Dark Chocolate.” The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Lippi, Donatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food.” Nutrients, 5 May

2013, pp. 1573-1584., doi: 10.3390/nu5051573. Web.

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food”. Lecture 7: Modern Day

Slavery. 2018.

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods”. Harvard University, AAAS

E-119. Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

Schmerling, Robert H. “Your Brain on Chocolate.” Harvard Health Publishing. 16 Aug.

2017, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/your-brain-on-chocolate-2017081612179. Web.

Storrs, Carina. “Is Chocolate Good or Bad for Health?” CNN, Cable News Network, 25 May

2017, http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/10/health/chocolate-health-benefits/index.html. Web.

 

Cacao-Chocolate Industry and Sugar Addiction

Chocolate is one of the most consumed products in the world. The industry has been extremely successful in marketing chocolate as a healthy product. The industry relies on advertising chocolate as a healthy product. In recent times, researchers have proven that sugar has a negative impact on health. The effect of sugar on health continues to be a controversial topic because the industry has consistently misled the public, creating a perception that its products are healthy. The reality, though, is that a majority of chocolate products have more sugar additives than cacao content.

The global chocolate industry was worth $98.3 billion in 2016. Currently, the U.S. industry is worth $22 billion. The industry has been growing steadily for the last four decades. Chocolate is popular because of its rich, unique and sweet taste. In addition, ever since ancient times, chocolate had been used in a variety of different ways to treat different medical conditions as demonstrated by the image below taken from this class’s lecture.

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Image 1: Historical Medical Uses of Chocolate/Cacao

The perceived health benefits of chocolate products continue to drive the growth of the industry today. The problem though is that these products contain added sugar which plays an important role in making them palatable and tasty. Sugar is also the ingredient that makes chocolate problematic for the long-term health of consumers. The consumption of chocolate is closely associated with the development of conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes because of the sugar in it (Stanhope 52). The industry has spent vast amounts of resources in promoting the healthy aspects of chocolate. Advertising plays an important role in creating consumer awareness but it can also be used to mislead consumers about the nutritional and health value of a product. Deceptive advertising has been used to promote the nutritional value of chocolate and to obscure the negative consequences of sugar additives.

Contemporary State of the Cacao/ Chocolate Industry

Chocolate is one of the most consumed products in the world. The industry is driven by innovation because of intense competition. There are numerous chocolate products and brands that are available for different market segments. In the chocolate market, the quality and richness of a chocolate product is usually defined by the cocoa content. For example, milk chocolate contains 10% cocoa and dark chocolate contains a minimum of around 60% cocoa. With the exception of dark chocolate, any other “chocolate ” product actually contain large amounts of added sugar. Think Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s Buttercups, Nutella. All of these aforementioned famous “chocolate” products contain a higher sugar content than cacao content. The pictures below are from the lecture slides found here. They outline the ingredients found in the Hershey’s Kiss and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. By convention, the first ingredient listed is the most occurring in the substance, and it is no surprise to find that sugar is at the top of the list of ingredients for both chocolate products. What is important to notice as well is that the other ingredients present in these chocolates such as milk is primarily made up of a sugar itself, lactose.

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Image 2: Hershey’s Kiss Ingredients

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Image 3: Reese’s Cup Ingredients

The perceived health benefits of chocolate products continue to drive sales. The Chocolate Industry has spent vast amounts of resources to promote the healthy aspects of its products. Chocolate is marketed as a healthy product that keeps consumers looking young, lowers blood pressure, and makes people feel good. Marketing campaigns have claimed that chocolate delays the onset of heart disease. Ultimately, dark chocolate is popular because the industry has succeeded in managing consumer perception through effective branding.

The advertising of products plays an important tool for chocolate makers to market their products. It is no longer adequate for chocolate makers to produce high-quality products because there are many strong competitors and many channels of distribution. Besides, chocolate competes with many other confectionaries. As such, advertising is a critical success factor in the industry because it creates consumer awareness and provides information about the benefits and uniqueness of the products.

Manufacturers of chocolate have used branding with considerable success. Branding has been focused on managing the perception of chocolate in the minds of consumers (Emari, Jafari, and Mogaddam 5692). The industry has taken advantage of consumer interest in health and wellness in order to position its products. For decades, chocolate brands have made well-targeted health claims. The industry has also succeeded in making their products ubiquitous. The products are readily available to consumers in drug stores, supermarkets, high-end stores and the internet. There are many products that have chocolate in them and are chocolate flavored.

Manufacturers of chocolate products have developed sophisticated targeting strategies. They have developed a universal demographic by targeting every category with different products. The product is universally appealing and is consumed by people of all ages (Shekhar and Raveendran 306). Psychological segmentation plays a critical role in the positioning of chocolate products. For example, marketers target impulse buyers with well-placed products near the supermarket check-out counter. Looking at the local CVS and you notice the many different chocolate and other confectionary products placed near the check-out counters.

Packages additionally play an important role in the marketing of chocolate products because they have nutritional claims that influence consumer decision-making (Shekhar and Raveendran 303). Apart from nutritional claims, visual cues also play an essential role in shaping consumer choices.

Big Chocolate and Health

Global chocolate production has been on a consistent upward trend from the 16th century. Chocolate is rich in cocoa which contains flavonoids which are important because they lower both cholesterol and blood pressure (Drayer n.p.). Dark chocolate has the highest amount of flavonoids. The presence of flavonoids is the basis for the health claims that are made by chocolate companies (Drayer n.p.). The challenge that chocolate companies face though, is that flavonoids have a bitter taste. Bitter chocolate does not appeal to many and the most used way to make chocolate palatable and more flavorful is to add sugar.

In the 1960s, the sugar industry withheld research findings that revealed the negative health effects of sucrose. The industry’s largest companies worked tirelessly to prevent public awareness about the harmful effects of added sugar that linked excessive sugar consumption to heart disease. Through the Sugar Research Foundation, the industry used funding to divert public attention from the negative consequences of sugar (O’connor n.p.). Scientists, such as Harvard’s Frederick Stare were paid to blame saturated fats for heart disease (O’connor n.p.). In hindsight, the unethical conduct of the industry and researchers prevented an early debate about the links between sugar consumption and heart disease. For decades, the public was unaware that excessive sugar consumption could harm human health.

Excessive consumption of sugar has been linked to the development of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes (Stanhope 52). The consumption of added sugars leads to insulin resistance and hyperuricemia. Also, the metabolism of fructose causes liver lipid accumulation and decreased insulin sensitivity (Stanhope 52). Researchers have also established that fructose consumption leads to reduced energy expenditure and increased energy uptake.

Excessive intake of sugar has also been linked to obesity. People who consume high amounts of sugar are more likely to be overweight or obese (Stanhope 52).   For a long time, the public has been misinformed that sugar has nothing to do with obesity. The popularity of sugar products has contributed to the obesity epidemic. Sugar constitutes a significant portion of the daily diet of most people (Stanhope 52). Obesity is a risk factor for the most severe chronic conditions including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Furthermore, sugar consumption is a risk factor for metabolic disease. Indeed, excessive consumption of fructose leads to the deregulation of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.

Sugar Addiction

Sugar addiction is a serious condition that is caused by excessive consumption of sugar. Scientists have proven that sugar has an addictive character that is harmful to human health and wellness. Experimental research on both humans and rats has confirmed that sugar is addictive (DiNicolantonio, O’Keefe, and Wilson 1).  Sugar stimulates the same parts of the brain that cocaine and heroin do. In addition, sugar has a significant impact on the mesolimbic dopamine system and activates the reward system of the brain that causes the release of dopamine (Stanhop 52). Some people find it hard to resist chocolate because of the cravings that can only be satisfied through rewarding by the high sugar content. Sugar also alters the mood by inducing reward and pleasure (Danicolantonio et al. 2).  Excessive sugar consumption creates dependence and should be considered as a public health problem. A YouTube video, albeit a pretty long one, by Ashley Gearhardt, Yale and Rudd Center for Policy and Obesity, demonstrates the complex science of sugar addiction here.

Increased sugar consumption leads to sugar tolerance. Repeated consumption of sugar leads to increased demand because the reward system adapts to the frequent stimulation. Consumers take in more sugar because the body needs more intakes for the same reward (Danicolantonioet al. 2).  Therefore, sugar consumers experience the same tolerance that is experienced by drug addicts (Danicolantonio et al. 2). Cutting sugar from the diet is not easy because of addiction and the deceptive advertising tactics of the industry.

Deceptive Advertising

Deceptive advertising refers to the use of false, misleading, and untrue statements while marketing a product. It describes marketing practices that mislead and misinform (or fail to inform) prospective buyers about the nutritional value or ingredient composition of the product they are looking to purchase.The Big Five chocolate manufacturers have engaged in deceptive advertising to obscure the health consequences of sugar products.

In 2012, Ferrero paid a California mother a total of three million dollars for false advertising (Tepper n.p). The company had depicted Nutella, a chocolate product, as healthy. The case exemplifies the misrepresentation of chocolate products on mass media, and the video here shows a Nutella ad where they intentionally neglect to mention the high sugar and fat content in it and simply present it as a mixture of cacao, hazelnut, and skimmed milk.

Marketers use words commonly associated with health and fitness and specifically gear their ads to a certain target audience. These companies have targeted women with specifically tailored messages that tie sugary products to self-worth (Union of Concerned Scientists n.p.). Children, moreover, have also been the target of customized messages and advertisements by chocolate marketers (Union of Concerned Scientists n.p.) Research indicates that children are vulnerable to advertising and failure to regulate marketing to children has been one of the shortcomings of the Federal Communications Commission.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the corn sugar industry to stop deceptive advertising by using the term “corn sugar” instead of high fructose corn syrup, a product found in many household products. The industry has invested in a marketing campaign aimed at portraying “corn sugar” as natural sugar that is safe. Scientists have argued that high fructose corn syrup is more damaging than regular sugar. The corn industry has been misleading consumers that the added sugar, the high fructose corn syrup, is natural sugar.

Aggressive and misleading advertisements have contributed to the increased consumption of sugar. Most products have “hidden sugar” in their ingredients. In the current environment, it is not enough to rely on the information provided on the label. Sugar-free labels are often misleading (Reichelt n.p). In some cases, sugar-free simply means that there is no added sugar (Reichelt n.p). In other cases, it is that the product is manufactured with sugar substitutes (Reichelt n.p). Products that contain artificial sweeteners are usually labeled as sugar-free. Moreover, sugar-free products may contain carbohydrates or fruits which have sugar components (Reichelt n.p). Most sugar-free products contain naturally occurring sugars such as lactose and fructose.

Deceptive advertising by the sugar industry targets low-income populations. A disproportionate amount of advertising for sugary products is aimed at African-Americans. These low-income areas are less likely to be aware of the harms sugar-free or sugar substitutes, such as high fructose corn syrup, actually cause.   Another method to lure people in these low-income areas to purchase sugary products is by retail outlets providing coupons and discount offers for them.

Government Regulations

The advertising of food products is highly regulated because of safety and health concerns. False or deceptive advertising is unethical and illegal. The Federal Trade Commission Act contains regulations that define false advertising. The federal trade commission (FTC) is charged with the mandate of protecting consumers from deception in the marketplace. Section 5 and 12 of the FTC Act prohibit misleading advertisements. The FTC has made clear statements about the misuse of corn sugar instead of high fructose syrup in advertisements on the internet.

The Food and Drug Agency (FDA) protects consumers by ensuring that chocolate manufacturers comply with labeling regulations. Chocolate manufacturers are expected to comply with specific labeling requirements. Chocolate product labels have to label the quantity of natural sugar and added sugar. The FDA uses warning letters to inform industry players that they are breaching labeling regulations. The regulator has already warned against the use of corn sugar instead of high fructose syrup. Also, the FDA has strict regulations governing the claims that can be made by advertisers on product labeling. Health claims can only be made if they are supported by scientific evidence. The FDA has stated that science experts must support such evidence.

Government regulations provide a basis for legal action by consumers. Chocolate makers have been sued because of deceptive advertising. Consumers who are victims of misleading advertising can contact a lawyer and take legal action. Ferrero and Nestle have settled claims out of court because of misleading advertisements. Youth targeted marketing has been one of the challenges posed by deceptive advertising tactics. However, both the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission have failed to address the marketing of chocolate to children (Union of Concerned Scientists n.p.).

What To Do With What We Know?

The chocolate industry has continued to experience growth because of the popularity of its products. Its products have been marketed as healthy and there is an increase in the amount of sugar-free or healthier foods that keep popping up on the market. It is a fair conclusion to come to that most chocolate products have more sugar additives than actual cacao. Also it is fairly evident that sugar is an addictive substance, and their presence in these chocolates makes them more desirable and more addictive.

Despite all the evidence that correlates increased sugar consumption with an increase in diabetes and fueling of the obesity epidemic, the debate about the ill effects of sugar is still ongoing.  However, due to the ever-increasing restrictions and stricter rules by the government, consumer’s rights are finally being protected. Chocolate companies are culpable to sanctions and lawsuits if they are guilty of deceptive advertising and neglectful labeling . Consequently, consumers are better protected and educated to make their own choice, whether they opt for a healthy option or not. By having the proper information available to them, whether that is understanding the names of sugar substitutes (high fructose corn syrup, etc.) or being skeptical about what is meant by sugar-free, consumers are now able to understand the harms of what it is they would be consuming. Having this information, awareness and healthy skepticism allows consumers to understand how these sugary products are being advertised to them, what is in them , and the potential effects of consuming them.

The big question that we face now though, despite the information at our disposal, is this: the next time you are at your local supermarket/CVS, will you grab a chocolate or sugary product from by the counter?

 

 

Continue reading Cacao-Chocolate Industry and Sugar Addiction

From Producers and Consumers to Producing Consumers: Nestlé and the Weaponization of Brazilian Women

In a dense Rio favela or small Amazonian village at current day, you might meet someone much like Celene da Silva, who at 29 manages her own small business. This is no small feat for a woman from one of the most impoverished areas in the world. Armed with only a pushcart, da Silva travels door to door, selling infant milk products, candy bars, puddings, and cereals to her many clients.[i]

In the small town of Vevey, Germany (now Switzerland) at the turn of the 20th century, you might have stumbled upon Henri Nestlé, also a small business owner. Using his pharmaceutical background, Nestlé invented a milk alternative known as infant formula by combining cow’s milk, flour, and sugar.[ii] What, then, links a modern-day Brazilian entrepreneur to small-town German pharmacist? What if I told you they worked for the same company?

Da Silva, along with thousands of other Brazilian women, has been recruited and trained as a door-to-door vendor for Nestlé–the world’s largest food conglomerate with some of the most aggressive marketing practices in history. Vendors are dispatched throughout Brazilian cities and countrysides, offering “nutrient-rich” processed foods from a selection of over 800 products.[iii] Even in hard to reach areas, where geography or social stigma prevent women from vending, Nestlé has found a strategy. Pictured below is a Nestlé-sponsored boat, which travels remote Amazonian tributaries as a floating supermarket offering products to “isolated” consumers.[iv] Clients are often only interested in a handful of these products, however, with foods like Kit Kat bars, Nescau 2.0 (a sugary chocolate powder), chocolate pudding, and cookies being ordered the most.[v]

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What complicates matters is Brazil’s tortured history with chocolate–once one of the top producers of cacao, the country has faced severe drought in recent years.[vi] Look at the country’s historic disconnect between production and consumption, namely due to slavery, and Nestlé’s door-to-door program appears particularly menacing. The anthropologist Sidney Mintz most accurately encapsulates this divide in his 1985 seminal work Sweetness and Power, writing of 20th century “It is not ironical to point out that the white migrants would soon be eating more sugar, produced by the nonwhite migrants at lower wages, and producing finished goods at higher wages to be consumed by the nonwhite migrants.”[vii] Many of these “finished goods” are now sold by Nestlé, who while relying on the labor of cacao farmers in countries like Brazil then dilutes products with sugar and milk to sell them at a profit. While Nestle’s door-to-door vendor program has disrupted the feminization of poverty, its attempt to turn sites of production into sites of consumption has come with devastating health effects.

Nestlé’s strict hiring quotas have allowed it to conceal its aggressive marketing efforts under the guise of gender equity. By employing over 7,000 saleswomen and 200 microdistributors,[viii] all women with little to no previous job experience, Nestlé has established a strong relationship with the Brazilian government and managed relatively little international oversight. In fact, in 2014 alone food companies donated a total of $158 million to Brazil’s National Congress.[ix] For women on the ground like Celene da Silva, the program has also brought much-needed economic empowerment. As the New York Times details, “With an expanding roster of customers, Mrs. da Silva has set her sights on a new goal, one she says will increase business even more…’I want to buy a bigger refrigerator.’”[x] Da Silva’s strong relationship with the women in her neighborhood, coupled with Nestlé’s one-month layaway plan timed to match the government-funded food stipend program, has stabilized her income.[xi] Despite the fact that she herself is 200 overweight with high blood pressure, da Silva, like many vendors, believes in her employer’s commitment to health. The question then becomes, however, the limit to employing women whose life spans will be shortened by their own products.

Nestlé’s marketing practices rely on notions of their products as healthy in order to attract the support of governments and consumers alike. Along with lobbying and employing women as door-to-door vendors, the company aligns its brand with nutrition and exercise to garner attention. As consumers in the U.S. have given up sugary chocolate products in favor of healthier foods, Nestlé has moved to introduce these same products to even the most remote parts of the Amazon by adding commonly deficient vitamins and minerals. The chocolate powder Nescau 2.0, for example, claims to be “packed with calcium and niacin.”[xii] As Professor Susan George writes in “The Limits to Public Relations,” Nestle is one of the only companies to so publically document these efforts. She says, “Very rarely do multinational corporations provide details of their activities in underdeveloped countries. Nestle is an exception.”[xiii] This distinct tactic is what has strengthened the trust between vendors and their company. As da Silva explains, “Everyone here knows that Nestlé products are good for you.”

Brazil serves as a case study in the transformation of a country from cacao producer to chocolate product consumer. The public health effects of Nestlé’s aggressive marketing campaigns are only beginning to be studied, as are alternatives. As one Nestlé consultant points out, “If I ask 100 Brazilian families to stop eating processed food, I have to ask myself: What will they eat? Who will feed them? How much will it cost?”[xiv] Processed foods have undoubtedly provided a solution to the issue of overpopulation, but have failed to nutritionally benefit consumers. The story of Nestlé and Brazil has often been one of deceit, in which sugar-laden chocolate products are billed as nutritional through women’s empowerment programs in an effort to target communities with poor records on gender equity and public health. The question then becomes how to balance demand with accessibility, affordability, and nutrition–without exploiting vulnerable populations.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

[ii] Owles, Eric. “How Nestlé Expanded Beyond the Kitchen.” The New York Times, June 27, 2017, sec. DealBook. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/27/business/dealbook/nestle-chocolate-milk-coffee-history.html.

[iii] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

[iv] Garfield, Leanna. “Nestlé Sponsored a River Barge to Create a ‘floating Supermarket’ That Sold Candy and Chocolate Pudding to the Backwoods of Brazil.” Business Insider. Accessed March 20, 2018. http://www.businessinsider.com/nestl-expands-brazil-river-barge-2017-9.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] “Chocolate Has New Latin King as Ecuador Overtakes Brazil.” Bloomberg.Com, January 21, 2014. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-01-20/cocoa-has-new-latin-america-king-as-ecuador-beats-brazil.

[vii] Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. Penguin, 1986.

[viii] “Door-to-Door Sales of Fortified Products.” https://www.nestle.com. Accessed March 19, 2018. https://www.nestle.com/csv/case-studies/allcasestudies/door-to-doorsalesoffortifiedproducts,brazil.

[ix] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] George, Susan. “Nestle Alimentana SA: the limits to public relations.” Economic and Political Weekly (1978): 1591-1602.

[xiv] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

Chocolate Demonization and the Growth of Sexualized Chocolate Marketing in the Western World

Chocolate has had romantic and sexual connotations essentially since its birth, or at least dating back to “the European conquest of Mexico,” which was dually a conquest of the Aztec Empire (Coe & Coe, 29). Even in ancient use, chocolate was seen as both an aphrodisiac and a necessary facet of marital ceremonies. Such an association has accompanied chocolate to the modern world, though not without undergoing transformations in its exact manifestation in social customs and thus marketing. These transformations are not unfounded; instead, they took place alongside and were the result of historical change. One such change, which substantiates the focus of this paper, is the demonization of obesity which consequently led to the demonization of chocolate. Chocolate entered the Western world as almost a healthy option, which doesn’t come as a surprise given that it was considered a medicine in both ancient and early European societies. This thought survived only until the 17th century, when William Harvey’s work advanced knowledge of the cardiovascular system which disproved the Galenic medical model in which chocolate was included. But even after that, chocolate was revered for its ability to sustain and give energy. Take, for example, its role as a “fighting food” in World War II.                    warman.pngChocolate enjoyed this favorable role until around the mid-twentieth century, when chocolate and candy were exposed for their role in weight gain during a post-WWII stigmatization of obesity. The unhealthy aspects of chocolate were brought to light, and public attitudes toward it were fundamentally changed. And although a focus on women had always been congenital to the marketing of chocolate, this shift brought with it a change in exactly how this focus was manipulated. Women in chocolate advertisements went from being depicted as wholly domestic and in charge of family matters to being depicted as overly sexual and out of control. This shift was made in order to overcome chocolate’s newly immoral image by equating it to sex, which is socially acceptable but also technically sinful. But since women remained central to chocolate marketing, this pairing exudes deeper implications about women in relation to chocolate and sex, which are ultimately unfounded and yet have profoundly impacted public sentiment.

I was brought to such a conclusion through an interview regarding chocolate that I conducted with a good female friend of mine at Harvard College. We sat down in a café and had the following conversation.

Q: What is your favorite kind of chocolate?

A: Mostly white chocolates, but I also love the Cadbury Curly Wurly and Reese’s in particular.

Q: What kind of chocolate do you consider high quality?

A: Dark chocolates, or I guess specific brands like Lindt, or Lindor truffles…definitely not Hershey’s or Snickers. Do you know Milka? I think that’s European and it’s different but I’d probably consider that nice. The kinds that people give as gifts are usually nice.

Q: To whom do you gift chocolate, if ever?

A: You! Haha. But also my little sisters and anyone I feel bad for. It’s a nice quick way to make someone feel better. It’s easy, convenient, and everyone likes chocolate.

Q: Do people ever give you chocolate?

A: My family at holidays, and sometimes guys.

Q: In what situations do you eat the most chocolate?

A: Holidays and if I feel bad or upset about something. Chocolate is nice because it makes you feel happy. I think there are studies on that, that it makes you feel happy because of the sugar. Some people are addicted to it I think.

Q: Understandable. Lastly, in what context do you see chocolate most often advertised?

A: Oh! Wait. This is something I can really go on about because it’s so weird to me, and so interesting. Advertisements use women and eating, and sexualize the women eating it, which makes it seem doubly attractive because of both the woman and the chocolate.  It makes you think of sex and like, sinning, because chocolate’s unhealthy and sex is associated with sin. Not that sex is something to be ashamed of, but they’re associated. If you’re writing a paper on this you should do it on that!

My friend’s influence on my topic is pretty evident from my last question, which excited her to the extent that she insisted I use the interview to highlight that correlation. But even her answers to other, non-explicitly gender-based questions contribute evidence to the sexualization of women in chocolate advertising, its exact form, and the misconceptions it generates even to someone so obviously aware of it. To elaborate, her responses demonstrate how higher quality chocolate in particular is gifted to women by men or by other woman, but rarely to men. Furthermore, she clearly buys into the indulgent role of chocolate, and its ability to make her feel better instantly. This thought, unbeknownst to her, is also partially the result of chocolate advertising. But the advertising does not function this way arbitrarily; it acts on associations which, despite having morphed over time, are in fact grounded in chocolate’s roots.

Chocolate’s ancient romance-based role as an aphrodisiac and a factor in betrothal may be the starting point of the focus on women in particular since these connotations include heteronormative and monogamous assumptions. Women are therefore necessarily involved. In Mayan culture, kings purportedly sent messengers equipped with beaten chocolate out to found them wives (Coe & Coe, 61). And at the ceremony itself, the bride and groom would give each other five grains of cacao (Coe & Coe, 61). The first instance clearly illustrates that chocolate would, in that case, be expected to woo such a bride. Thus, chocolate’s supposed love-inducing power on women is seen even here. This concept was somewhat exempt from some of the early to mid-twentieth century chocolate advertising campaigns, which had other intentions, but it resurfaces in the current environment.

The aforementioned campaigns, which took place in the first half of the twentieth century, lack this concept because they sought to situate women and chocolate in the domestic realm. They were particularly prolific following the First and Second World Wars, due to the fact that women had worked traditionally male jobs in place of men who had been drafted. Female empowerment and the beginnings of an understanding of equal ability regardless of sex had emerged, and a heady effort was made to re-establish gender roles and thus reduce any competition with women for jobs. One way of doing this was to trumpet the image of the “housewife,” generally in an overwhelmingly positive light, so that women understood that this was still their primary role. Naturally advertising campaigns are an efficient way of making public statements, and so it isn’t surprising that cocoa and chocolate ads in this era worked to this end. Instead of focusing on women in a sexual manner, they focused on them in their roles as “the main shopper of the family, or at least the coordinator of the all the family shopping” (Robertson 23). A Rowntree poster depicts a woman carrying cups of cocoa for her children while they play with her outfit, which is starkly reminiscent of a maid’s uniform. This design is purposeful, and is included to insinuate that the purpose of wives and mothers is directly comparable to that of a maid. And a 1937 Baker’s Chocolate ad shows happy children and, separately, a woman eating dessert with her husband with a description that exclaims, “Gee, Mother’s a parent with swell ideas! (She’s smart, too, to make her soufflé with Baker’s Chocolate.” Ultimately, this illustration of women gives them some kind of power, even if it comes from a distinct “feminine knowledge” which was gleaned through being relegated to full-time housewife status (Robertson 23). rowntreebakers.png

In the 1940s and 50s in America, however, nutritional health concerns suddenly became paramount and obesity was increasingly stigmatized. Although being overweight was viewed as unappealing in previous decades, “psychiatrically-oriented postwar medical thinking about obesity was more stigmatizing…newer biomedical theory linked fatness to the already stigmatized condition of addiction and authorized attribution of moral blame to the fat” (Rasmussen 880). This new psychiatric attitude also directly blamed mothers for the obesity of children. Hilde Bruch, a New York psychoanalyst claimed that the “key element of a family environment promoting obesity…was a domineering mother too invested in mothering…this overmothering involved overfeeding” (Rasmussen 883). Given this blame-oriented reaction to unhealthiness and fat, chocolate advertisements naturally needed to alter their methodology and move away from the idea that smart mothers feed their children large amounts of chocolate and cocoa. Because although chocolate served as a sustainer, in its most popular form it also contained large amounts of sugar and fat. But the question then became one of what the new appeal of chocolate would be. This was an especially difficult issue, for the reason that unhealthy foods like candy and chocolate were not only stigmatized…they were essentially demonized (Lecture note, 8. March 2017). This is largely due to timing and grouping— “addiction and fatness attracted widespread popular stigma at about the same time—and for the same set of reasons based in a Protestant morality strained by the abundance of industrial capitalism” (Rasmussen 881). Opiate and cocaine addiction came to the forefront of societal concerns at the beginning of the twentieth century, and addicts were gradually seen as incurable and even criminal (Rasmussen 881). And those involved in the temperance movement which was in full swing until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 continued to condemn alcohol consumption largely for the addiction it was so disposed to cause. Now that obesity was also thought to be the result of addiction, but to food, the overweight were similarly denounced and eating junk food was, through this parallel, equated to committing a sin.

The best way to conquer this new face of chocolate was ultimately to embrace this idea of sin by pairing it with sex and lust. This pairing made sinning out to be a good thing, grounded in the understanding that sex is technically a “sin,” or morally perverse, and yet people engage in it regardless and with pleasure. If chocolate had instead been paired with a sin that has virtually no nuance and which is inhumane as opposed to immoral for religious reasons which not all people agree with, such as murder or theft, such a method would plainly fail. Needless to say, no advertising agency would assume this position—the comparison seeks only to elucidate how the choice of lust is one of few ways to save a name which had been thrust into the realm of immorality. From the pairing of sex and chocolate, emerges a concept of dual indulgence in both. The thought is that although eating chocolate is wrong for health reasons, it is addictive and pleasurable and understandable in the eyes of modern society, as is sex. This manifested itself in commercials and posters of beautiful women eating chocolate in a notably seductive fashion, and acting as though the chocolate itself is as pleasurable as sex. Some advertisements even make a point of acting as though the women are so drawn to the chocolate that it makes them irrational and out-of-control. This idea is pervasively linked to romance, where women are also stereotypically (albeit unfairly) thought to be irrational when inextricably involved with men. And sex in particular is thought to be a cause of this irrationality. The other common form of chocolate advertising features men gifting chocolate to women with “implied meanings of gratitude and sexual submission” (Robertson 33). Random gifting takes on the insinuation of seduction, or of chocolate’s ability to literally seduce a woman both in its intrinsic role as an addictive delicacy and in its role as reasoning to be grateful to a man and therefore be willing to indulge him. And in another chocolate-gifting trope, chocolate is given to appease a woman who is angry with her significant other. In these scenarios, the woman “overcome[s] such faults as a bad temper…the man is never really bad and there is a reason for his moodiness” (Robertson 30). Therefore, here too is the idea that women are inherently irrational, and that they can be either “subdued by the gift of chocolate” or simply seduced by it (Robertson 32). Regardless, they are often portrayed as out of control through images of them being both driven crazy by and placated by chocolate. It is important to note that this type of advertising was originally restricted mostly to nice chocolates and chocolate assortments—Emma Robertson qualifies that “at least until the 1970s, the link between sex and chocolate had become circumscribed according to the type of chocolate being marketed” (30). Cocoa powder and chocolate geared toward children remained innocuous. This is still the case on some level, which is why my friend equated nice, dark chocolates with the kinds one would gift. But this is a qualifier mostly only when concerning gifting—modern advertisements such as those first described tend to link women and sexiness regardless of quality. The sexual connotation now comes across in most marketing of chocolate.

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Clearly, even before the health revolution of the 1950s, women were a focus of advertising efforts. Marketing is often gendered—commercials for traditionally “masculine” commodities such as cars and razors and cologne focus conversely on men to promote a masculine association with their product. An example of this which ironically coincides with gendered chocolate marketing is this Axe commercial. While still primarily featuring a man, it insinuates that the passion women ostensibly have for chocolate and the passion they will have for men that wear Axe deodorant are equivocal. For this to be appealing to men, this passion is necessarily sexual.

Aside from highlighting the toxic masculinity that emerges in advertising from companies such as Axe, this campaign functions for our purposes on two levels. As previously touched upon, it proves that chocolate has been shaped into something that the public feels women are literally attracted to in a sexual manner. The man is happy because, in his role as a man made entirely of chocolate, he is a recipient of the sexual desire men crave. Secondly, the fashion in which women respond to him is intentionally almost animalistic, so crazed are they by chocolate. While this implicitly lends proof to the earlier idea that gifted chocolate is meant to elicit a sexual response, it also speaks to the broader theme of female irrationality and impulsiveness at the hands of both chocolate and sex.

This theme can be proven to be artificially manufactured, however, at least in terms of chocolate. Societal views on female irrationality regarding sex are more nuanced and deserve to be more deeply analyzed separately. The trajectory of chocolate and a lack of control began when chocolate and other junk foods, after being caught up in the wave of altered medical and psychiatric thought of the mid-twentieth century, were classified as addictive. But the chocolate industry clearly decided to use this to their benefit. By subsequently linking chocolate to sex, the addictive classification was exacerbated. Sex is also considered classically addictive—Jamal Fahim notes that we “typically associate addictive behavior with drugs, alcohol, or sexual behavior” (13). So the link to sex compounded the addictive label and implied that chocolate can elicit reactions similar to those elicited by drugs and alcohol—chemical and unnatural. This made chocolate into a necessary indulgence, which is one way of increasing sales. Advertising is therefore necessarily involved, since it is the realm in which the association grew. It is also interesting to note that, in an age where addictions to such substances were under heavy criticism, “tobacco and alcohol are socially deemed masculine luxuries” (Fahim 12). Thus, it appears that the addictions plaguing the public were largely those associated with masculinity. It is therefore convenient that a new addiction emerged which was almost concretely linked to women through the media. Though it cannot be stated with any certainty, it is possible that likening chocolate to an addiction and then placing it in the female realm redistributed blame for a societal problem which previously had more of a male affiliation. After all, women were also targeted in Hilde Burch’s aforementioned concept that the overfeeding mother is responsible for child obesity. Regardless, claims of the addictive properties of chocolate are for the most part unsubstantiated— “studies on chocolate have indicated that the amounts of these mood-enhancing chemicals, such as alkaloids or Phenethylamine, are at such a low level that it is unlikely that they are the reason behind the euphoria one feels when they consume chocolate” (Aaron and Bearden 2008:169, as qtd. in Fahim, 14). Yes, chocolate tastes good and the alkaloids that it contains (caffeine and theobromine) may have some positive effects on mood and stimulation, but it is not addictive in the same way that drugs and sex are. Research that portrays it in such a manner in order to “validate a deeper relationship to sex [is] so negligible and trivial that one must conclude that it is only chocolate marketing that perpetuates chocolate’s association with love and sex and its implied special relevance to women” (Fahim 15).

The lack of scientific evidence to back chocolate addiction theories doesn’t change the fact that the stereotypes crafted by the advertising world have genuinely imbedded themselves in society. This is evident in the interview with my friend. For example, the gender-based one-way gifting is validated by her anecdotal evidence, in that she recalls giving gifts to me and her sisters alone, while receiving them from men. She also has a little brother, and so it is significant that she didn’t mention him while describing giving chocolate to little siblings. The history of chocolate’s public image makes the gifting of chocolate to boys and men seem almost outlandish. She also touched upon her tendency to eat chocolate when she’s upset because it makes her feel happier, even adding that this is why some people are possibly addicted to it. This made me realize that misconceptions put forth by the marketing of chocolate have been widely accepted by the public, because her description of chocolate betrays a belief that chocolate has powers similar to that of a drug in enhancing mood. And this notion has been strongly influenced by advertising’s exaggerated depictions of the female reaction to chocolate.

There is, however, probably some validity to the natural mood-enhancing capabilities of chocolate. Recent years have yielded an abundance of literature heralding positive effects of chocolate on maladies such as depression, blood pressure, and inflammation. It is important to keep in mind that, in such research, “reported results are based upon dark rather than milk chocolate” (Coe & Coe, 30). But since entirely dark chocolate is not sweet like milk chocolate, it has not been incredibly popular with the public. Thus, even if such research is valid, it wouldn’t apply to the vast majority of the mainstream chocolate onto which the media projects its fabricated claims.

What is most interesting to me about the marketing of chocolate is its loyalty to a feminine focus. When the basis of the domesticity-based chocolate and cocoa campaigns was uprooted by the obsession with thinness and the stigmatization of obesity of the mid-twentieth century, marketers of chocolate turned to sex in connection with women in particular to make chocolate similarly alluring and deserving of indulgence. The link to sex also purposefully deepened chocolate’s addictive connotation, so that consumers would feel chocolate was a necessary purchase. But the new methodology didn’t fail to maintain the strong feminine association of the domestic campaign. Although men are implicit in the sexually-tinged gifting policies, it is women that appear in almost all advertisements and often alone with their chocolate, being seduced by it and also seducing the viewer. This propensity to preserve the pairing of women and chocolate, combined with what appears to be growing acknowledgement of dark chocolate and its health benefits, leads me to wonder what kind of marketing we can expect to see if chocolate’s image shifts again. One might think that the focal point of its advertising strategy would simply revert back to domestic life as in the early twentieth century and earlier, but I would argue that the economic equality of women, although not complete, has advanced to the extent that this would not be the new structure. Instead, I think it would be based on the modern focus on women and a societal expectation that they will maintain their health and their body image. For example, I can picture marketing similar to that of this Special K commercial, but trumpeting mental health or blood pressure as opposed to weight loss.

Because unfortunately, it appears that the marketing of chocolate is insistent on keeping a gendered focus. But we can at least hope that, if dark chocolate’s health benefits become fact and are widely understood by the public, chocolate consumption will lose the connection to immorality which likens it to sex, and that women in chocolate advertising will thus cease to be over-sexualized. Granted, this could be replaced by the gendered double standards of health maintenance, but I consider those to be the lesser of two evils. Lastly, needless to say, in the best case scenario the gendered focus of the advertising would be eradicated entirely—but given no guarantee of this, I aim only to predict a slightly better alternative.

                                                                        Works Cited:

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

“Chocolate Advertisements.” Slate Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2017.                      <http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slideshows/double_x/doublex/2012/02/13/chocolate-advertisements/jcr%3Acontent/slideshow/6/images%252Fslides%252FChocolate_7.jpg >.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Manchester and New York: Manchester U Press, 2009. Print. Distributed in the United States exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan.

Elsey, Brian. Retro Image, Rowntree’s Chocolates and Cocoa. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://www.historyworld.co.uk/retroimage.php?opt=retro&pic=123&gt;.

Rudolph, Janet. “Dying for Chocolate.” Thanksgiving Weekend: Baker’s Vintage 1937 Ad & Recipes. N.p., 27 Nov. 2011. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://dyingforchocolate.blogspot.com/2011/11/thanksgiving-weekend-bakers-vintage.html&gt;.

Rasmussen, Nicolas. “Weight stigma, addiction, science, and the medication of fatness in mid-twentieth century America.” Sociology of Health & Illness 34.6 (2012): 880-95. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

Lecture Notes: information recorded in class, provided by Professor Carla D. Martin.

Bmt27. N.d. YouTube. YouTube, 19 Oct. 2006. Web. 01 May 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcbhHOZZXnI&gt;.

Elliott, Stuart. “Godiva Rides in a New Direction.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Nov. 2009. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/16/business/media/16adnewsletter1.html&gt;.

“BLACK MAGIC CHOCOLATE ADVERTISEMENT 1939.” Flickr. Ed. Star1950. Yahoo!, 17 July 2008. Web. 01 May 2017. <https://www.flickr.com/photos/castlekay/2678319672&gt;.

Matheuscp. N.d. YouTube. YouTube, 30 Jan. 2008. Web. 02 May 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZK7HS9J46Y>.

Fahim, Jamal, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing” (2010). Sociology Student Scholarship. http://scholar.oxy.edu/sociology_student/3

Johnklin. N.d. YouTube. YouTube, 29 Sept. 2009. Web. 04 May 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPJpkgqLQ_M&gt;.

 

 

 

Chocolate: Healthy or Health-Free?

With an overwhelming flux of information sitting at our fingertips, it has become increasingly important to be able to decipher marketing motives and assess the scientific validity of the health claims presented by news platforms, online sources, social media, and word of mouth. Chocolate, in particular, has been a frequent featured topic in the discourse surrounding health during the past two decades. Headlines, ranging from “Chocolate Can Boost Your Workout. Really.” to “Chocolate is good for you? Sure, and the Easter bunny is real, too”, highlight the competing claims between health reports. Considering chocolate’s role as a driver of mass consumption in our society, it is essential to differentiate between the medicinal properties of crude cocoa goods and the highly-processed chocolate products advertised to consumers.

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An Instagram account sharing recipes for healthy chocolate treats.

Theobroma cacao, food of the Gods, has had a longstanding association with health and medicine. Its incorporation into the customs and rituals of the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs document the myriad of medicinal properties that the substance possessed. The adoption of chocolate by the Spanish and other Europeans recognized these health-related benefits and continued the tradition of consuming chocolate for medicinal purposes among other uses (Coe and Coe, 1996). By the mid-twentieth century, however, chocolate had transitioned from a food, drug, and currency to a guilty pleasure that was beginning to be associated with health problems. Only over the past few decades have the purported benefits of chocolate resurged, this time with substantial backing from the scientific community. This led to products, such as low-fat chocolate milk and heart-healthy dark chocolate treats, flooding the market, their promises of lower blood pressure and younger-looking skin buzzing in our minds. These promises about chocolate’s healthy properties are even promoted by some of the biggest names of popular fiction. J.K. Rowling’s protagonist, Harry Potter, was offered a chocolate as a restorative measure after encountering a Dementor.

More than anything, however, these alluring chocolate products swarm us with questions.

  1. To what extent are the health benefits of chocolate substantiated by scientific research or are they simply marketing ploys?
  2. How do the production processes increase or compromise the nutritional value of the chocolate?

Tracing the health accounts involving chocolate from the Mesoamerican civilizations, through European transformation, to present-day scientific literature emphasizes many health benefits, and more notably, reinforces the importance of moderation, a value too intentionally veiled by a market that profits from a population driven to excess.

Cacao in Mesoamerican Medical Practices

Chocolate’s reputed medical prospects can be traced back to ancient times, long predating the use of scientific research to verify the product’s proposed health benefits. The early civilizations of the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs valued cacao as a source of energy, strength, fertility, and restoration. Aztec sources, in particular, have been extremely useful in helping us better understand the role that cacao played in ancient remedies. The Florentine Codex, complied by Bernardino de Sahagun, presents extensive details about the dietary, health, and medical practices of the Aztecs, as well as many other aspects of their lives and culture (Dillinger et al., 2000). The document noted the use of cacao to treat stomach and intestinal problems, fatigue and fevers. Accounts also described the stimulant and aphrodisiac effects of chocolate as well as the use of cacao as an additive to make other medicines more palatable. One clear example of the medicinal use of cacao during ancient times is the prescription for childhood diarrhea, which required five cacao beans to be ground and served as a beverage to the sick child (Dillinger et al., 2000). Particularly important to recognize is the emphasis of cacao consumption in moderation. Sahagun’s informants made a clear distinction between the benefits conferred by moderate consumption of cacao and the side effects of excessive cacao intake (Dillinger et al., 2000).

“[Green cacao] makes one drunk, takes effect on one, makes one dizzy, confuses one, makes one sick, deranges one. When an ordinary amount is drunk, it gladdens one, refreshes one, consoles one, invigorates one. Thus it is said: ‘I take cacao. I wet my lips. I refresh myself’” (Sahagun 1590, Part 12: 119-120) (Dillinger et al., 2000)

These words of caution demonstrate that overconsumption of the even the purest form of cacao—clearly unsweetened and unprocessed, unlike most popular chocolate products today—is unhealthy and leads to undesired side effects. Therefore, documents detailing Mesoamerican medical practices highlight the widespread use of cacao as a treatment and additive for various ailments; these records, however, also caution against excessive consumption of this natural product, a lesson that must be recognized and practiced in our society today.

Chocolate Integration into European Medicine

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Advertisement for milk chocolate includes that the product is physician recommended and helps with intestinal problems.

The incorporation of chocolate into European culture and practices involved the hybridization of the product in many different respects. One such hybridization required crossing the medical barrier. The Spanish stripped away much of the spiritual significance that the Mesoamericans associated with chocolate; instead, they promoted chocolate as a drug with medical purposes. Their intent was to integrate chocolate into their humoral system, which they used to understand health and medicine (Coe and Coe, 1996). Thus, chocolate became popular in Europe first as a drug and treatment. Anecdotes about the effects of chocolate quickly spread, peaking the interest of physicians and other intellectuals in the health effects of these products. In addition to treating ailments, much to the same effect as the Mesoamericans had described, chocolate was often prescribed to European sailors and people traveling long distances as a form of sustenance during their voyages. Chocolate was recommended for three main reasons: to help individuals gain weight, to stimulate the nervous system, and to improve digestion (Dillinger et al., 2000).

William Hughes, who authored a book including information on all the ways to make chocolate, advocated for the use of chocolate in a medical capacity. “It is the most wholesome and most excellent drink that is yet found out. . . it is good alone to make up a breakfast, needing no other food, either bread or drink, is beneficial to the body, and without exception, may be drunk by people of all ages, young as well as old, of what sex or what constitution so ever and is very good for women with childe, nourishing the embryo, and preventing fainting fits, which some breeding women are subject unto: it helpeth nature to concoct phlegme and superfluous moisture in the stomack; it voideth the excrements by urine and sweat abundantly, and breedeth store of very good blood, thereby supplying the expence of spirits, it expels gravel, and keepth the body fat and plump, and also preserveth the countenance fresh and fair: it strengthens the vitals, and is good against fevers, cattarrhs, asthmaes, and consumptions of all sorts” (Dillinger et al., 2000). Hughes was simply one among many who praised the use of chocolate as a healing and restorative substance, its benefits affecting many levels of human health, spanning the developmental stage and beyond adulthood. Prescribers, however, were guarded against excessive consumption of chocolate, even for medical purposes.

“[Chocolate] produces good Effects, when used moderately, it also … [produces] bad ones when taken to Excess, or mix’t with too many sharp Drugs…because its exalted Principles cause too great a Rarefaction in the Humours” (Paoletti, and Paoletti, 2012)

This recurring emphasis on moderation demonstrates that even though chocolate has been considered a healthy substance for thousands of years, it has never been a product intended for excessive indulgence.

The Science Underlying Chocolate Health Claims

European manuscripts from the seventh century to the twentieth century described over one hundred medicinal uses of chocolate, corroborating what the Aztecs had known and practiced with chocolate. During the twentieth century however, chocolate garnered an unfavorable reputation following the split of dietetics from medicine (Watson et al., 2013). The support for the purported medical benefits of chocolate offered by oral tradition and anecdotal evidence was no longer sufficient to convince the public. Therefore, during the late 1900s, experimentally derived biomedical evidence came to the forefront of our discussions about chocolate and became the basis of many marketing campaigns. Finally, the effects of chocolate documented by the Mesoamericans and by Europeans centuries earlier could be explained by biochemical properties and mechanisms elucidated by modern science.

There are more than 200 compounds in cocoa that could potentially be playing a role in the relationship between cocoa consumption and health outcomes. However, these substances may only be present at a negligible concentration in finished chocolate products or may have low bioavailability in humans; therefore, not all the different substances in cocoa produce meaningful benefits for people (Paoletti, and Paoletti, 2012). Most of the health benefits conferred by chocolate consumption are due to cocoa’s high polyphenol content. In addition to cocoa, polyphenols and flavonoids can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, red wine, and other plant-based sources (“Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled”). Flavonoids, which are a polyphenolic compound, constitute approximately twenty percent of cocoa, making cocoa a rich source of antioxidants (Crichton et al., 2016). For Americans, chocolate serves as their third highest daily source of antioxidants (Latif 2003). As shown by the table below, when compared to other sources of these compounds, chocolate contains a much higher flavonoids content as well as higher antioxidant activity (Steinberg et al., 2003). Antioxidants mount important defenses against free radicals that can accumulate as a result of normal bodily processes. The buildup of free radicals and increase in oxidation can lead to damage to the body and subsequent health complications; for example, increased oxidation can lead to plaque formation on artery walls (“Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled”).

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Table from Steinberg et al. 2013 shows high flavonoid content and antioxidant power of chocolate compared to other sources of these compounds.

The most significant association between chocolate and a disease outcome has been the correlation between increased chocolate consumption and a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Dr. Eric Ding at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed 24 different studies along with a team of researchers to examine the effects of cocoa flavonoids on risk for cardiovascular disease. They found that “flavonoids reduced blood pressure and unhealthy LDL cholesterol, increased healthy HDL cholesterol, improved blood flow, and lowered insulin resistance” (“Chocolate: Pros and cons of this sweet treat”). Despite these positive effects, it is unclear whether cocoa consumption can actually prevent a heart attack or if it simply mitigates factors that contribute to one.

Dark Chocolate Facts

In addition to heart health, studies investigating the effects of cocoa consumption have also observed antidiabetic effects (by increasing nitric oxide bioavailability to ameliorate insulin resistance), anti-stress effects (through the release of serotonin), anti-obese effects, anti-inflammatory effects and anti-tumor effects (Latif 2013). Studies tracing the effects of cocoa in the brain noted an increase in cerebral blood flow, as well as improved information processing and memory after a high dose of flavonoids for an eight-week period (Crichton et al., 2016). While these positive correlations in many different domains of human health are promising, much more research is required to better understand the mechanisms by which cocoa achieves these effects as well as to better anticipate long-term effects.

Misconceptions in the Market: What You Read vs. What You Eat

After decades of bearing the brunt of chocolate’s bad reputation, chocolate companies boomed as the increasing scientific evidence of chocolate’s health benefits gave producers new angles from which they could draw in consumers. New products, such as heart healthy dark chocolate treats, flooded markets and old products, such as chocolate milk, returned to stores, this time with a scientific stamp of approval.

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Over-eager customers are enticed by buzzwords, such as “heart healthy,” on chocolate products, not realizing that understanding the nutritional value of advertised chocolate products requires not only knowledge of the science behind effects of cocoa but also insight into the production processes that transform cocoa into the final product advertised on shelves. Firstly, it is important to differentiate between the types of chocolate. Dark chocolate contains a much higher amount of flavonoids that milk chocolate (Latif 2013). Products like milk chocolate have a much lower cocoa amount and instead contain many additives, such as sugar, fat, milk, and other ingredients that diminish the potential positive effects cocoa consumption can have on human health (“Chocolate: Pros and cons of this sweet treat”). Secondly, purchasing chocolate with high cocoa content, such as dark chocolate, does not necessarily mean that the final product contains a high concentration of polyphenols because of the significant effect that processing has on the nutritional value of chocolate (Paoletti, and Paoletti 2012). Cacao beans initially have a very strong bitter taste due to the high amount of polyphenols present in the raw fruit; this taste can be so potent that cacao beans can be inedible. Thus, the post-harvest processes of fermenting, roasting, alkalizing, sweetening and others are intended to diminish the original flavor. The consequence of this extensive processing is a loss in the antioxidant power of chocolate. “As much as 90% of the flavonoids may be lost due to cocoa processing” (Latif 2013).

Therefore, even though the two products advertised above emphasize the science-substantiated health benefits of chocolate, the processing significantly lowers the nutritional value of the final products. Companies tangentially brand the science behind their processed chocolate products, even though their products are hugely different from the raw cocoa used in studies. “The average dose of flavonoids in the studies Dr. Ding reviewed was 400 milligrams a day. ‘The problem is, that’s about the equivalent of eight bars of dark chocolate or 30 bars of milk chocolate,” he says. “When you eat these actual chocolate bars, all the calories and sugar come with them.’” (“Chocolate: Pros and cons of this sweet treat”). Today, even with backing from modern science, the recommended consumption of chocolate is still a moderate portion, typically around one ounce a few times a week (Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled”).

Tracing the perceived health benefits of chocolate over the centuries demonstrates that the purported healthy effects of cocoa consumption have always been recognized and substantiated by a powerful medium, whether it be oral tradition of the Aztecs, the anecdotal evidence of Europeans, or the biochemical research of modern societies. More importantly, analyzing the reception of chocolate by different peoples and cultures reveals the emphasis on moderation that has persisted. In a society with chocolate companies that profit from excessive indulgence, it has become crucial for individuals to be careful about the quality and quantity of chocolate they consume.

Works Cited

“Chocolate: Pros and cons of this sweet treat.” Harvard Health Publications. Harvard University, n.d. Web. 01 May 2017.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Crichton, Georgina E., et al. “Chocolate Intake Is Associated with Better Cognitive Function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study.” Appetite, vol. 100, 2016, pp. 126–132.

Dillinger, T L, et al. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 130, no. 8S Suppl, 2000, pp. 2057S–72S.

“Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled | Cleveland Clinic: Health Library.” Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, n.d. Web. 01 May 2017.

Latif, R. “Chocolate/Cocoa and Human Health: a Review.” The Netherlands Journal of Medicine, vol. 71, no. 2, 2013, pp. 63–8.

Paoletti, and Paoletti, Rodolfo. Chocolate and Health. Milan, Springer, 2012.

Steinberg, et al. “Cocoa and Chocolate Flavonoids: Implications for Cardiovascular Health.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 103, no. 2, 2003, pp. 215–223.

Watson, Ronald Ross; Preedy, Victor R.; Zibadi, Sherma. Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Vol. 7, Totowa, NJ, Humana Press, 2013.

Image Sources

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2017. <www.chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/sloanechocolate.jpg?w=483&h=379>.

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2017. <http://333oee3bik6e1t8q4y139009mcg.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/CACAO_DarkChocolateFacts.png&gt;.

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2017.<www.behance.net/gallery/6533023/Hersheys-Special-Dark- Chocolate-Kisses-Campaign>.

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2017.  <www.adnatomy.files.wordpress.  com/2013/03/my-after-22workhorse22.png>.

Chocolate – Elixir or Poison?

We see the articles pop up from time to time – chocolate is the new cure for every health affliction. It lowers this, supports that and treats everything else.  This concept of using chocolate to heal isn’t novel.  The origins of it’s healing properties date back to Mesoamerica and have evolved over the subsequent centuries.  But as chocolate became consumed by the masses thanks to producers who brought chocolate to the masses, the negative effects of consuming the confection have been talked about just as much as the positive effects.  Ultimately, is chocolate an elixir or a poison?

MESOAMERICAN MEDICINE

Chocolate was ingrained in almost every part of the lives of Mesoamericans.  Among many of the uses for cacao, there were a variety of medicinal applications.  Cacao was believed to help digestion, aid in inflammation, boost energy and was used as an anesthetic. Application of medicinal cacao used for afflictions found in Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams include 50 ways of curing and healing to address skin eruptions, fevers, and seizures.  Remedies were a combination of cacao and other botanical ingredients, like avocado, that are considered to be “superfoods” in modern society. (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the “Food of the Gods” 75-76) Traditional Aztec healers cured many ailments that we consider to be commonplace today with various forms of chocolate. For example, a stomachache for an Aztec would be treated with pure, unmixed chocolate (Grivetti and Shapiro 100),  which seemed as commonplace in their society as it might be to reach for Pepto Bismol in our society today. 

EUROPEAN ADOPTION

When the Spanish began noticing the powers of cacao after landing in Mesoamerica, they began adopting it for their own healing uses.  They noticed that it boosted energy and saw that Mesoamerican warriors who consumed cacao were made stronger. (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods'” 58) The Anonymous Conqueror said in his description of Tenochtitlan in 1556 that, “this drink [cacao] is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else.” (Coe, and Coe, 86-88)

It’s clear that the Spanish saw that cacao was prized by Mesoamericans for a variety of reasons.  They began using cacao for their own healing purposes such as improved probability of conception, quality of breast milk, reversing the effects of exhaustion, impotence, vision-quest hangovers, mental illness, fevers, poison, skin eruptions, lung problems, agitation, diarrhea, indigestion, and flatulence. (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods'” 76) Like the Mesoamericans, they used chocolate as a cure-all, further supporting the belief in chocolate’s healing and medicinal powers.

In the 1500’s when cacao made it’s way to Spain, Francisco Hernández & Dr. Juan de Cárdenas began working on incorporating adapting the use of cacao as medicine from

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Galen’s Humoral Scheme

Mesoamerican into “civilized” frameworks. “An apothecary based on Humoral Medicine subscribes that cacao contains healing properties encompassing 3 & perhaps all 4 elements – air (fat), fire (bitter), earth (thick) & maybe water (sweet) – to yield a neutral temperament leaning ‘wet-cool’, thus making it acceptable.” (“A Concise History of Chocolate”)   Fifty years later, we saw the first of many flags that will come in the following centuries about whether chocolate is healthy or harmful when Dr. Santiago Valverde Turices published the first guide on chocolate, Un Discurso de Chocolate, in 1624. (“A Concise History of Chocolate”)  Almost 400 years later, we still debate this question.

 

 

MODERN-DAY PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION

As time progressed, chocolate became more industrialized.  Coenraad Johannes Van Houten manufactured cocoa powder in Holland in 1828, followed by Joseph Fry manufacturing of first chocolate bars for consumption in 1847. (Martin, “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal” 42, 44)  Chocolate got a bad rap as a “poison” not long after when some companies began tampering with chocolate by mixing in inedible ingredients (like crushed red brick) in order to decrease costs.  In the mid-1800’s, consumers’ distrust for processed foods, like chocolate, brought new meaning to the “poison” label. The British government was inspired to pass a number of food adulteration acts to make such practices illegal and to reassure consumers that their food was pure. (Martin, “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal” 18) This distrust of corrupt or poisoned foods, while mostly forgotten after corporations became more committed to ensuring the quality of their products, still endures in our modern society, especially with chocolate and candy consumption.

While food adulteration has subsided over the subsequent decades, companies have used other tactics to decrease chocolate production costs.  Chocolate is rarely seen mass-produced in a simple and pure form.  Big Chocolate, such as Mars and Hershey, use additives and have created offerings that use minimal chocolate, relying on the addition of cheaper ingredients to defray costs.  Compare the ingredients in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup versus a recipe for a homemade version of the treat in the above.  The mass-produced cup includes chemicals and ingredients not usually – if ever – found in a kitchen.  When you compare the botanical ingredients Mesoamericans used to mix with cacao and the ingredients that Big Chocolate uses in their production, it’s staggering to see the progression of chocolate product ingredients.

DOES CHOCOLATE HEAL OR HURT?

It’s clear based on many early texts that chocolate in its purest cacao form was believed (without scientific conclusion) that it had healing and strengthening properties. The wide adoption of chocolate as a health elixir during the 1500’s and before leads us to believe that the primitive results that Mesoamericans and Spanish explorers saw when using cacao did cure their ailments.

Modern researchers, such as those at Harvard, claim that “ingredients in cocoa can be healthy, but the high-calorie chocolate bars that contain it aren’t necessarily good for you.” The flavonoids found in chocolate “have beneficial effects on heart disease risks, as well as on blood flow to the brain. Chocolate is the candy that’s made by adding sugar, milk, and other ingredients to cocoa powder. Those ingredients also add fat and sugar, which counteract some of cacao’s health benefits.” (Chocolate: Pros and Cons of This Sweet Treat, Harvard Health Publications) It seems that chocolate in it’s simplest form and in moderation does, in fact, have positive health benefits.  The modern research on the food would seem to support the positive response that Mesoamericans saw when they used cacao as a health supplement.

WORKS CITED

  • “Chocolate: Pros and Cons of This Sweet Treat.” Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
  • Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. 86-88. Print.
  • “A Concise History of Chocolate.” The C-Spot. The C-Spot, 1 Mar. 2017. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
  • Grivetti, Louis, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. 100. Print.
  • “Homemade Peanut Butter Cups.” Taste of Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
  • Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the “Food of the Gods”.” 01 Feb. 2017. Lecture.
  • Martin, Carla D. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” 9 Mar. 2017. Lecture.

Functional Chocolate: Health Claims and Marketing Campaigns

One step into Cambridge Naturals, a community natural health store in Cambridge, MA, and the market for organic, fair-trade, vegan, bean-to-bar, local, non-gmo, paleo, environmentally friendly and ethically sourced chocolate products is on full display. A meeting with the store’s manager & grocery lead adds another term to the list of qualities their consumer base is looking for when they step into the store – functional chocolate. This trend shows a probable correlation between what customers are willing to spend on chocolate that makes health claims, based on the way the cacao is processed and additional ingredients added that are promoted to provide nutritional benefits. The functional chocolate trend begs the question – are these health claims regarding various methods of cacao processing and healthful additives substantiated by scientific research, or are they merely a marketing gimmick? This article will analyze recent research on the health benefits of chocolate as a functional food, look at fermentation and processing differences from a nutrient perspective, and consider additional benefits of medicinal additives to chocolate in order to best answer this question.

 

How are functional foods different from healthy foods?

In a study published in the Academic Food Journal/Akademik (2014) that looked at the development of functional chocolate, the differences between health foods and functional foods were defined as the following:

“Functional foods are a new category of products that promise consumers improvements in targeted physiological functions” (Albak, Fatma, & Tekin, 2014, p. 19).

Whereas, “conventional ‘healthy’ foods are typically presented as types of foods contributing to a healthy diet, e.g. low-fat products, high-fibre products, or vegetables, without emphasizing the role of any single product” (Albak, Fatma, & Tekin, 2014, p. 19).

 

Functional foods share these characteristics:

  • Health benefits that can be linked to a specific product
  • Well-defined physiological effects are directly connected with particular components in the specific product
  • Scientific evidence about health effects that is used to develop specific functional products
  • There is novelty for the consumer with the promised benefits
  • Modern technology is often needed to manufacture the functional foods due to specific components being added, modified or removed (Albak, et al., 2014).

 

Demand for Functional Foods

The market for functional foods exists in large part due to the rising popularity of healthier products by consumers (Albak, et al., 2014). One contributor to interest in healthy products is their use as a remedy to detrimental lifestyle factors that can contribute to unyielding high levels of inflammation in the body (Jain, Parag, Pandey, & Shukla, 2015). In the book, Inflammation and Lifestyle (2015), the connection between diet and inflammation is emphasized.

“Our diet is one of the leading sources of these chronic illnesses, and changing the diet is the key to prevention and cure. A number of dietary factors, including fiber-rich foods, whole grains, fruits (especially berries), omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins (e.g., C and E), and certain trace minerals (e.g., zinc), have been documented to reduce blood concentrations of inflammatory markers. The best way to correct and eliminate inflammation is to improve comprehensive lifestyle and dietary changes rather than taking pharmaceutical drugs, the latter of which can cause unintended harm in the form of damaging side effects” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 143).

The authors provide this graphic to illustrate what an anti-inflammatory diet pyramid looks like in terms of specific food groups. Note that dark chocolate is positioned on the top of the pyramid.

 

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“Anti-inflammatory edible’s pyramid” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 144)

An introduction to the benefits of superfoods and their role in an anti-inflammatory diet are explained in the publication. “An anti-inflammatory diet is one that is low in processed foods and high in fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, sprouts, nuts and superfoods. Maca, spirulina, purple corn, wheatgrass, coconut butter and raw chocolate are a few of the health promoting superfoods that are gaining international interest” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 144). The inclusion of “raw chocolate” in the category of superfoods versus “chocolate” warrants further examination and will be explored later in this article, but the position remains clear that evidence supports the protective benefits of chocolate as a part of a healthy diet.

 

Chocolate as a Functional Food

Under the category of functional foods as previously defined, chocolate, as will be further described, fulfills all the requisite characteristics. Even though the term functional food is relatively recent, the practice of consuming chocolate for its specific health benefits is centuries old. “Chocolate has been consumed as confection, aphrodisiac, and folk medicine for many years before science proved its potential health benefiting effects. Main compounds of cocoa and chocolate which contribute to human health are polyphenols that act as antioxidants and have potential anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, antihepatotoxic, antibacterial, antiviral, antiallergenic, and anticarcinogenic properties” (Ackar, Djurdjica, Lendić, Valek,… & Nedić, 2013, p. 1). The studied physiological effects of chocolate include “reported health benefits of cocoa and dark chocolate particularly focus on cardiovascular diseases (but also showing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects), including increased blood flow at the brachial artery and the left descending coronary artery, decreased blood pressure, decreased platelet aggregation and increased HDL cholesterol” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840). Numerous research discoveries have shed light on the complex nature of how these protective benefits of cacao are reduced or encouraged by different methods of sourcing, processing and consuming chocolate (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008).

Polyphenols are found in many food sources including, “vegetables and fruits, green and black tea, red wine, coffee, chocolate, olives, and some herbs and spices, as well as nuts and algae” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). However, “chocolate is one of the most polyphenol-rich foods along with tea and wine” where, “results [have] indicated that dark chocolate exhibited the highest polyphenol content” (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008, p. 2194). In unfermented cacao beans, there are three main groups of polyphenols, “flavan-3-ols or catechins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Differences in cacao genetics or varieties and country of origin show varying levels of polyphenols by up to 4-fold (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008). “Criollo cultivars contained higher levels of procyanidins than Forastero and Trinitario beans. In addition, crop season and country of origin have impact on polyphenols in cocoa beans” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Findings regarding polyphenol level by country of origin are contentious but include, “highest phenolic content was in Malaysian beans followed by Sulawesian, Ghanian and Côte d’Ivore” (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008, p. 2201) and “cocoa beans and processed products from Ecuador showed the highest levels of anthocyanins, followed by Nigeria and Cameroon” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840). Due to additional factors besides country of origin and genetic variation influencing the polyphenols in cacao, inclusion of the effects of processing cacao on flavor and polyphenol content is important to understand health claims made regarding the finished product, chocolate.

Processing cacao beans (namely the stages of fermentation and drying), and roasting in the chocolate making process greatly affect polyphenol content of the finished product (Ackar, et al., 2013; Bordiga, et al., 2015). “Due to these factors, the ratio and types of these components found in cocoa beans are unlikely to be the same as those found in the finished products” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 841). For functional chocolate enthusiasts driving market trends, the balance between healthy and protective benefits of polyphenols and the effects on their levels through processing are of particular interest. “All these processes are needed to develop characteristic cocoa aroma. Polyphenols give astringent and bitter aroma to cocoa and contribute to reduced perception of “cocoa flavour” by sensory panel. However, nowadays processes are conducted in such manner to preserve as much polyphenol as possible with maintaining satisfactory aroma” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). The debate about the purpose of chocolate is hereby noted between the sensory experience – the aroma development, especially in the roasting stages, versus consumption for health effects with less regard to smell, taste and gustatory pleasure.

The search for a sweet spot between these poles is a lucrative area for producers and retail establishments. As described earlier, development of functional food into specific products uses scientific evidence about health effects, where modern technology is often needed to manufacture those products, in order to observe targeted physiological effects or functions (Albak, et al., 2014).

“Generally, as cocoa beans were further processed, the levels of anthocyanins and flavan-3-ols decreased. The largest observed losses of phenolics occurred during roasting. A progressive decreasing trend in polyphenol concentration was observed in the other processed samples as well. Despite the original content of polyphenols in raw cocoa beans, technological processes imply a significant impact on cocoa quality, confirming the need of specific optimisation to obtain high value chocolate” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840).

In order to preserve antioxidant quality through dark-chocolate products with “high flavonoid contents…these chocolates are produced by controlling bean selection, fermentation, and reduced heat and alkalization treatments” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2201). Although one of the most detrimental effects of processing on polyphenol and antioxidant levels is alkalization (or dutching) of cocoa powder (Ackar, et al., 2013; Jalil, et al., 2008), even the fermentation process significantly reduces flavonoid levels by up to 90% (Jalil, et al., 2008). However, in the search for the sweet spot between flavor and health benefits, fermentation presents a way to reduce bitter compounds due to the presence of flavonoids and polyphenols (Jalil, et al., 2008) and enhance flavor before roasting or further processing like alkalization. For example, some “manufacturers tend to remove [flavonoids] in large quantities to enhance taste quality… the manufacturers tend to prefer Ghanian cocoa beans, which are well-fermented and flavorful than that of Dominican or Indonesian beans, which are considered as less fermented and have low quality cocoa flavor” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2203). In Crafack’s study (2013), besides genetic flavor potentials of cacao beans, fermentation is cited as the most important factor influencing cocoa’s flavor potential.

“A properly conducted fermentation process is considered a prerequisite for the production of high quality chocolates since inadequately fermented cocoa beans will fail to produce cocoa specific aroma compounds during subsequent processing” (Crafack, Petersen, Eskildsen, Petersen, Heimdal, & Nielsen, 2013, p. 1).

In a later study by Crafack (2014), microorganism differences between fermentation practices are shown to produce variations in cacao flavor profiles. “Despite the importance of a properly conducted fermentation process, poor post-harvest practices, in combination with the unpredictable spontaneous nature of the fermentations, often results in sub-optimal flavour development…A microbial fermentation process therefore seems essential for developing the full complexity of compounds which characterises cocoa aroma. In conclusion, the results of the present study show that the volatile aroma profile of chocolate can be influenced using starter cultures” (Crafack, 2014, p. 1). Further research that builds on Crafack’s findings was published by Kadow (2015), explaining the role of multiple factors in the country of origin that characterize the fermentation process.

“During this in most cases spontaneous fermentation of the fruit pulp surrounding the seeds, the pulp is degraded by yeasts and bacteria. This degradation results in heat and organic acid formation. Heat effect and tissue acidification are the key parameters guiding flavour precursor formation. Accordingly, not microorganisms themselves but exclusively their metabolites are necessary for successful fermentation” (Kadow, Niemenak, Rohn, and Lieberei, 2015, p. 357).

This study aimed to further the development of standardization and mechanization of cocoa fermentation for the benefit of cacao production quality purposes. On the ranges of heat tested from fermenting heaps of cacao beans, 30 °C to a maximum of 50 °C was obtained after 24 h of fermentation at the inner part of the heap (Jespersen, Nielsen, Hønholt, and Jakobsen, 2005).

Finally, as an interesting note about polyphenol changes in cacao during fermentation, although “unripe and ripe cacao pods contain solely (−)-epicatechin and (+)-catechin. During fermentation, levels of both of these compounds were reduced, but (−)-catechin was formed due to heat-induced epimerization” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). These findings warrant more studies on the changes that happen during cacao fermentation, where although certain protective antioxidant levels decrease, other chemical compounds are formed due to the process of heat due to microorganism metabolites and acidification to the bean tissue.

After fermentation, the beans are dried to reduce water content for safe transport and storage of the cacao before further processing by chocolate manufactures. “During drying, additional loss of polyphenol occurs, mainly due to nonenzymatic browning reactions” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2) where “high temperatures and prolonged processing times will decrease the amount of catechins” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p.2203). The dried cacao is then shipped to the chocolate manufacturer where roasting is often performed. The roasting and generally the further processing of cacao degrades the levels of polyphenols by triggering the oxidation process (Ackar, et al., 2013; Bordiga, et al., 2015).

Conching is a process of agitation of chocolate mass at temperatures above 50 °C that is used to refine both the cocoa solids and sugar crystals to change the taste, smell, flavor, texture (mouthfeel) and viscosity of chocolate (Chocolate Alchemy, 2016; Di Mattia, Martuscelli, Sacchetti, Beheydt, Mastrocola, & Pittia, 2014) Different procedures for conching exist, including Long Time Conching (LTC) and Short Time Conching (STC). A study by Di Mattia (2014) done on these two conching processes and the implications for bioactive compounds and antioxidant activity found interesting results. The publication stressed the importance of time/temperature combinations as process parameters “to modulate and increase the functional properties of some foods” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, pp.367-368). In the study, STC consisted of “a dry step at 90 °C for 6 h and then a wet step at 60°C for 1h,” while LTC involved, “a dry step at 60°C for 6 h and a then wet step at the same conditions (60 °C, 6 h)” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p. 368). The results of the analysis on phenolic content, antioxidant values defined as radical scavenging properties showed, “that the conching process, and the LTC in particular, determined an improvement of the antiradical and reducing properties of chocolate” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p.372). Recommendation for further studies was suggested to “optimize the conching process for the modulation of the functional properties,” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p.372) but the results remain in favor of longer time and lower temperature processing to preserve health benefits in chocolate during the conching phase.

From the perspective of chocolate makers, assessing combinations of ingredients/additives that can either help or hinder protective compounds in chocolate – including polyphenols and bioavailability, is important. Jalil, & Ismail’s review (2008), considered, “both bioavailability and antioxidant status [important] in determining the relationship between cocoa flavonoids and health benefits” (Jalil, et al., 2008, pp. 2194-2195). Studies focused on epicatechin from chocolate found the polyphenols, “rapidly absorbed by humans, with plasma levels detected after 30min of oral digestion, peaking after 2-3 h and returning to baseline after 6–8 h. In addition, cumulative effect in high daily doses was recorded” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Interestingly, an argument for the benefits of chocolate’s sweetened and rich composition – if cocoa butter and some type of sweetener is used in processing – is explained where the “presence of sugars and oils generally increases bioavailability of polyphenols, while proteins, on the other hand, decrease it” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Milk chocolate lovers may be disappointed to find that, “milk proteins reduce bioavailability of epicatechin in chocolate confectionary…[with] reported inhibition of in vivo antioxidant activity of chocolate by addition of milk either during manufacturing process or during ingestion” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2).

Additional health properties of cacao found especially in dark chocolate, apart from polyphenols, may have a role to play in reports of chocolate cravings and their use as functional food. Theses beneficial components include “methylxanthines, namely caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2197) “peptides, and minerals” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2200). “Theobromine is a psychoactive compound without diuretic effects” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2198). “Cocoa is also rich in proteins. Cocoa peptides are generally responsible for the flavour precursor formation” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2199). Lastly, “minerals are one of the important components in cocoa and cocoa products. Cocoa and cocoa products contained relatively higher amount of magnesium compared to black tea, red wine, and apples” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2200).

A well supported rule of thumb for finding high antioxidant capacity functional chocolate is to look for the percentage of non-fat cocoa solids (NFCS) in chocolate products to determine total phenolic content (Jalil, et al., 2008; Vinson, & Motisi, 2015)  “Dark chocolates contain the highest NFCS among the different types of chocolates” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2204) However, due to percentages of cocoa solids on on chocolate labels including polyphenol-free cocoa butter, the accuracy of this measure is not always correct and can lead to overestimating polyphenol content in certain types of chocolate (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2204). That said, a recent study by Vinson and Motisi (2015), performed on commercial chocolate bars found “a significant and linear relationship between label % cocoa solids and the antioxidant assays as well as the sum of the monomers.” From which they concluded that, “consumers can thus rationally choose chocolate bars based on % cocoa solids on the label” (Vinson, & Motisi, 2015, p. 526).

Additions to Functional Chocolate

In health food stores like Cambridge Naturals and Deborah’s Natural Gourmet in Concord, MA, the presence of functional chocolate with additional health boosting ingredients is prevalent. The validity of these claims to improve focus, enhance libido and energy, and other desirable improved physiological functions, based on herbs, powders and additional superfoods mixed with cacao, is intriguing. A study by Albak and Tekin (2014), found that mixing aniseed, ginger, and cinnamon into the dark chocolate mix before conching, “increased the total polyphenol content while they decreased the melting properties of dark chocolate after conching” (Albak, et al., 2014, p. 19).

Other resources that further elucidate specific findings on these superfoods, herbs and spices include:

Afolabi Clement Akinmoladun, Mary, Tolulope Olaleye, and Ebenezer Olatunde Farombi. “Cardiotoxicity and Cardioprotective Effects of African Medicinal Plants.” Toxicological Survey of African Medicinal Plants (2014): 395. This publication includes information on gingko, turmeric among other additives to functional chocolate and how protective vascular effects are formed.

Ruscigno, Matt, and Joshua Ploeg. Superfoods for Life, Cacao:-Improve Heart Health-Boost Your Brain Power-Decrease Stress Hormones and Chronic Fatigue-75 Delicious Recipes. Fair Winds Press (MA), 2014.

Wolfe, David. Superfoods: the food and medicine of the future. North Atlantic Books, 2010.

 

Raw Chocolate

Some consideration for the popularity of raw chocolate, which is used as the base of many functional chocolate products, deserves attention. As explained, there are many reasons chocolate can be considered a functional food, especially due to specific health promoting compounds like polyphenols and flavonoids, peptides, theobromine and minerals present in cacao and in chocolate. Unfortunately, overwhelming scientific evidence points to the detrimental effects on these compounds from processing, especially by heat. “Flavanols largely disappear once the cocoa bean is heated, fermented and processed into chocolate. In other words, making chocolate destroys the very ingredient that is supposed to make it healthy” (Crowe, 2015).  Raw chocolate, by the standards of raw foodism, means that food is not supposed to be heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit in order to preserve enzymes. This seems tricky to prove especially when chocolate makers receive cocoa beans from various countries of origin where fermenting and drying practices are not under their direct supervision. Some companies remedy this issue with bean-to-bar practices that ensure they have seen and approved the process that cacao beans undergo before shipment to the company’s own processing facilities, where low temperature winnowing, grinding and conching is under their complete control. The bean-to-bar method (See Taza’s Bean-to-Bar and Direct Trade process) also provides assurance that cacao is ethically (sometimes for organic and wild-crafted cacao if so desired) sourced. These initiatives often promote more sustainable and  better processed cacao, which means higher quality cacao for both the farmer, manufacturer and consumer. For these reasons, the popularity of raw cacao seems to fit into the development of functional foods where the consumer is able to enjoy a sometimes more bitter, medicinal tasting chocolate in the anticipation of a powerful physiological boost and a clearer conscience due to sourcing methods.

In the case of Yes Cacao, their Karma MellOwl botanical chocolate bar contains 41% cacao butter, and 59% botanicals which results in a deliciously complex, albeit golden colored bar due to the cocoa butter and turmeric content. Non-fat cacao solids which provide the main anti-inflammatory benefits of cacao are missing, but are replaced with other superfoods, spices and adaptogenic herbs like lucuma, maca, yacon, lion’s mane mushrooms, gingko, turmeric, pine pollen, cinnamon, bacopa, and gynostemma. The creators of the bars deem them functional medicine, as they combine cacao solids and sundried cane juice as a base for superfood and medicinal enhancements. In this video, Justin Frank Polgar recommends that Yes Cacao bars are eaten daily as a staple enhancement for ideal human functionality.

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Cambridge Naturals’ Yes Cacao Selection

 

Other raw chocolate companies that are focus on functional chocolate using additional superfoods, spices and herbs include:

Chocolatl More Than Chocolate

Righteously Raw Chocolates

Gnosis Chocolate

Addictive Wellness Raw Chocolate

Perfect Fuel

Stirs the Soul

Ohio Functional Chocolates

Great Bean Chocolate

Sacred Chocolate

 

Trends in functional foods heading in the direction of ‘naturally healthy’

From the perspective of growers, producers and consumers who want a high quality, healthful and good tasting chocolate product, the scientific findings that support the ideal balance between flavor and preservation of health promoting properties of cacao, are significant. The ideal way to conserve protective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits warrants consideration with the changes in polyphenol content during processing of cacao from raw bean, through fermentation to roasting, conching and mixing with other ingredients. Raw chocolate seems a good way to navigate this balance. Meanwhile, mass produced commercial chocolate companies or “big chocolate” continue to move their products in the direction of high quality premium chocolate and adopting new manufacturing processes in order to preserve cacao’s protective effects. The overarching trend uniting premium, natural and healthful ingredients is referred to in the food industry as naturally healthy foods. “This idea of using food to manage health may, in part, help explain growing consumer interest in fresh, natural and organic products”(Gagliardi, 2015). The melding of healthy, natural and functional foods to chocolate production reflects consumer preferences and industry recognition of the role diet plays on health and provides insights into the future of food. For now, medicinally enhanced, raw, naturally healthy, and functional chocolate seems light years ahead of other natural foods on the market today.

Examples of ‘naturally healthy’ chocolate brands:

Coracao Confections

Hu Paleo Chocolate

Eating Evolved, The Primal Dark Chocolate Company

Pure7 Chocolate

Author’s Note: While researching and writing this article the author happily consumed a great deal of functional, raw and medicinal chocolate and can attest to the powerful effects that far surpass conventional and even ‘premium chocolates’.

 

References:

Ackar, Djurdjica, Kristina Valek Lendić, Marina Valek, Drago Šubarić, Borislav Miličević, Jurislav Babić, and Ilija Nedić. “Cocoa polyphenols: can we consider cocoa and chocolate as potential functional food?.” Journal of chemistry 2013 (2013).

Albak, Fatma, and Ali Rıza Tekin. “Development of Functional Chocolate with Spices and Lemon Peel Powder by using Response Surface Method: Development of Functional Chocolate.” Academic Food Journal/Akademik GIDA 12, no. 2 (2014).

Afolabi Clement Akinmoladun, Mary, Tolulope Olaleye, and Ebenezer Olatunde Farombi. “Cardiotoxicity and Cardioprotective Effects of African Medicinal Plants.” Toxicological Survey of African Medicinal Plants (2014): 395.

Bordiga, Matteo, Monica Locatelli, Fabiano Travaglia, Jean Daniel Coïsson, Giuseppe Mazza, and Marco Arlorio. “Evaluation of the effect of processing on cocoa polyphenols: antiradical activity, anthocyanins and procyanidins profiling from raw beans to chocolate.” International Journal of Food Science & Technology 50, no. 3 (2015): 840-848..

Crafack, Michael, Mikael Agerlin Petersen, Carl Emil Aae Eskildsen, G. B. Petersen, H. Heimdal, and Dennis Sandris Nielsen. “Impact of starter cultures and fermentation techniques on the volatile aroma profile of chocolate.” CoCoTea 2013 (2013).

Crafack, Michael. “Influence of Starter Cultures, Fermentation Techniques, and Acetic Acid on the Volatile Aroma and Sensory Profile of Cocoa Liquor and Chocolate.” (2014).

Crowe, Kelly. “Chocolate Health Myth Dissolves.” CBCnews. January 05, 2015. Accessed May 8, 2016. http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/chocolate-health-myth-dissolves-1.2879898.

Di Mattia, Carla, Maria Martuscelli, Giampiero Sacchetti, Bram Beheydt, Dino Mastrocola, and Paola Pittia. “Effect of different conching processes on procyanidin content and antioxidant properties of chocolate.” Food Research International 63 (2014): 367-372.

Gagliardi, Nancy. “Consumers Want Healthy Foods–And Will Pay More For Them.” Forbes. February 18, 2015. Accessed May 8, 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nancygagliardi/2015/02/18/consumers-want-healthy-foods-and-will-pay-more-for-them/#10fddf09144f.

Jain, Parag, Ravindra Pandey, and Shiv Shankar Shukla. “Inflammation and Lifestyle.” Inflammation: Natural Resources and Its Applications. Springer India, 2015. 143-152.

Jalil, Abbe Maleyki Mhd, and Amin Ismail. “Polyphenols in cocoa and cocoa products: is there a link between antioxidant properties and health?.”Molecules 13, no. 9 (2008): 2190-2219.

Jespersen, Lene, Dennis S. Nielsen, Susanne Hønholt, and Mogens Jakobsen. “Occurrence and diversity of yeasts involved in fermentation of West African cocoa beans.” FEMS Yeast Research 5, no. 4-5 (2005): 441-453.

Kadow, Daniel, Nicolas Niemenak, Sascha Rohn, and Reinhard Lieberei. “Fermentation-like incubation of cocoa seeds (Theobroma cacao L.)–Reconstruction and guidance of the fermentation process.” LWT-Food Science and Technology 62, no. 1 (2015): 357-361.

Vinson, Joe A., and Matthew J. Motisi. “Polyphenol antioxidants in commercial chocolate bars: Is the label accurate?.” Journal of Functional Foods 12 (2015): 526-529.

Zhang, Dapeng, and Lambert Motilal. “Origin, Dispersal, and Current Global Distribution of Cacao Genetic Diversity.” In Cacao Diseases, pp. 3-31. Springer International Publishing, 2016.