The crackdown on sugar and high-calorie foods garnered a lot of media attention in 2010 with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and the proposed ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks in New York and it brought a public health crisis into the spotlight. Chocolate as we know it today is itself an example of a sugary food with high caloric content common in the diets of many Americans. Dark chocolate, which often tastes bitter because it has higher cacao content and less sugar, contains an average of 14 grams of sugar per ounce (USDA). That said, most candy bars that contain chocolate far exceed that amount. Although a number of research studies conducted in the last two decades have highlighted potential health benefits of chocolate consumption (specifically dark chocolate), chocolate is often referred to as a “guilty pleasure” and it is seen in the public eye as something unhealthy associated with weight gain. We know that this was not the case throughout much of history, when cacao and chocolate were considered healthy and, in a few societies, as medicine. I find this shift in public opinion interesting and believe it to be a direct result of the democratization of chocolate and its high sugar content. By winding back the clock and analyzing changing perceptions of cacao and chocolate in different areas of the world with a focus on health, we can better understand when and why this transition happened.
Mesoamerican attitudes towards cacao (c. 600 C.E. – 1500 C.E.)
People in Central America and Mexico during the height of the Mayan and Aztec empires used cacao as an offering in healing rituals, to ensure successful travel, and during social unions such as banquets, baptisms, burials, weddings, and ceremonies to confirm the legitimacy of dynasties (Martin and Sampeck 39). The importance of cacao and its link to the gods can be found in the Dresden Codex, a Mayan book and the oldest surviving from the Americas, where “gods can be seen holding cacao pods, or dishes heaped with cacao beans” (Coe and Coe 42). In addition, cacao had several medicinal uses, including help with indigestion, inflammation, and fertility. Other applications of medicinal cacao used for afflictions can be found in Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams (18th century manuscripts recopied from ancient codices). Cacao was also prepared as a beverage using distinctive tools such as the molinillo, the steep-sided cup, and the spouted pot and ingredients including chile, custard apple, maize, achiote, and more ingredients specific to colonial Mesoamerica (Martin and Sampeck 42). Notably, the amount of sugar was much lower and the list of ingredients is wildly different from that of modern-day chocolate.
French attitudes towards chocolate (c. 1600 C.E. – 1800 C.E.)
Chocolate was likely introduced in France from Spain as a drug by Alphonse de Richelieu, who, as we learned in class, believed it could be used as a medicine for his spleen. Prevailing theories in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe credited chocolate as being “a generally nutritious, energizing, fortifying beverage” that was also “credited as being an antidepressant, an aphrodisiac, a laxative, an agent to strengthen the heart, liver, and lungs, and a treatment for hemorrhoids” (Cather Studies 285). By 1690, chocolate was a regular offering at Louis XIV’s court at Versailles and was popular among the aristocracy (Coe and Coe 157-60). There were, of course, conflicting opinions about chocolate and its merits, but nonetheless a culture developed around it among the wealthy such that when Thomas Jefferson assumed the role of Minister to France in 1785, he wrote the following in a letter to John Adams from Paris:
Chocolate. [T]his article when ready made, and also the [c]acao becomes so soon rancid, and the difficulties of getting it fresh have been so great in America that it’s use has spread but little … by getting it good in quality, and cheap in price, the superiority of the article both for health and nourishment will soon give it the same preference over tea & coffee in America which it has in Spain.”
RC (MHi: Adams Family Papers). PoC (DLC). Published in PTJ, 9:62–3.
American attitudes towards chocolate (c. 1700 C.E. – 1950 C.E.)
Chocolate, although very rare at the time, had made its way into what would later become the state of Massachusetts, and more specifically onto Judge Samuel Sewall’s breakfast plate, by the year 1697. George Washington was apparently fond of chocolate, and “…connections to the drink have been attributed to patriot luminaries like Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, [and] Thomas Jefferson” (Laiskonis). Notably, however, chocolate was provided to the troops in the French and Indian War. Six pounds of chocolate was offered to each officer by Benjamin Franklin, who “…saw chocolate as a compact, energizing, and tasty food that could be easily carried and boosted morale” (National Geographic Partners 20). By 1800, chocolate was affordable for most colonists (while it was still an expensive drink reserved for the nobility in France) because they (the colonists) imported cacao beans directly from the Caribbean rather than buying them from the British to evade the cost of taxes (National Geographic Partners 18). The cost was further brought down with the rise of mechanization and changes in transportation. Chocolate went from being consumed primarily as a drink to a solid with the development of new techniques, namely pressing and tempering, and became less gritty with the invention of the conch in 1879. Major chocolate companies like Hershey’s, Nestlé, Mars, Cadbury, and Lindt became so successful by standardizing their recipes, scaling up their operations, investing in effective marketing techniques, extending the shelf life of their products, and eventually gaining control of the supply chain. Hershey’s and Nestlé also reaped the benefits of war by providing chocolate for U.S. army rations during WWII (Jacobson). Up until about 1945, therefore, chocolate was still viewed largely the same as it had been by Benjamin Franklin two centuries prior. The idea that chocolate could restore one’s strength, on the other hand, went all the way back to the Maya.
So, what caused the change in public opinion of chocolate after 1950? I believe that it was a combination of wide availability of chocolate back at home after WWII and the heavy advertising that chocolate companies did during the war. Additionally, our lives today are significantly more sedentary, and we consume more food/calories now than before. I would argue that all these factors shifted the focus from the benefits of chocolate to its sugar content as we became more aware of the grip of high calorie foods on our diet. It seems that tide is turning now, with research supporting some potential health benefits of chocolate.
When we think of chocolate and sugar, the first words that usually pop into our heads are ones like “sweetness”, “indulgence”, and “love”. However, rarely do we ever think about them in the context of medicine, but the historical associations of chocolate and sugar with healing disease are critical in understanding their popularity in the modern era. Examining the history of chocolate and sugar as medicinal substances shows that the European obsession with perceived therapeutic qualities of both allowed for their popularization and eventual exploitative systems that persist to present day. The versatility of chocolate and sugar allowed it to remain widely sought after in Europe and led to their natural development into staple commodities.
Mesoamerican societies such as the Mayans, Olmecs, and Aztecs all consumed cacao and it had great value as medicine. Helen Thompson of the Smithsonian Magazine explains that Mayan “patients consumed a cacao-based concoction to treat skin rashes, fever and seizures” following ceremonial chants. A translated version of a Mayan ceremonial chant with mention of cacao can be found here: http://www.famsi.org/reports/96072/grammar/section32.html. She also details how Spanish missionary Bernardino de Sahagún noted that the Aztecs “brewed a drink from cacao and silk cotton tree bark (Castilla elastica) to treat infections,” another indication that cacao was popular in medicinal contexts. As Europeans began to encounter Mesoamerican civilization, there was great fascination with the medicinal properties of cacao. Thompson uses the example of a Spanish physician Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma who in 1631 writes that cacao “provokes urine, cures the stone, and expels poison, and preserves from all infection disease” (Thompson 2015). Spanish physician Agustin Farfán in his book, Tratado breve de medicina y de todas las enfermedades que a cada passo se ofrecen describes the use of cacao as medicine, and this served as an influential piece of work for European cacao consumption (Martin 2020, Lecture 3). Similar accounts can be consistently found throughout European writings about cacao and the Aztec civilization. To those living in Europe without having direct contact with the people preparing and consuming cacao, the only source of information about cacao was through these writings.
Upon arrival in Europe, cacao was viewed and used as a therapeutic food modeling the practices of the Aztecs. Michael and Sophie Coe write that the to the Spanish, cacao was “a drug, medicine, in the humoral system to which they all adhered” (Coe and Coe 2013, 126). The prevailing medical science of the day was Galen’s humoral theory that posited that the four humors had qualities of being hot, cold, wet, or dry. Substances were treated similarly, and cacao was argued to have cold and dry qualities that could help to treat hot diseases (Lippi 2013). This medical association of cacao was critical to its longevity in Europe that allowed it to develop into a common food and kitchen staple. As cacao persisted around European society, there was more time for experimentation and creation of recipes that slowly allowed for the transition from cacao as medicine to cacao as food. As people began to discover chocolate recipes that were highly palatable and marketable, the focus shifted to making it something accessible to all of European society. It has now grown to become an important cultural symbol for sweetness and delicacy, and an incredibly profitable market that has little association with medical properties. However, if not for the initial medical applications of cacao, it is difficult to envision that cacao would have been around long enough for it to evolve into what it has become.
The story of sugar’s introduction into European societies is similar. Mintz explains that one of sugar’s primary uses in its early days in Europe was as a medicine and says that, “white sugar was commonly prescribed in medicines, and combinations of white foods at times enjoyed a popularity out of all proportion to their therapeutic efficacy” (Mintz 1985, 87). This use as a medicine was not serendipitous, but rather a replication of African and Arabic practices. Mintz details how sugar’s “medical utility had already been firmly established by physicians of the time…and it entered slowly into European medical practice via Arab pharmacology” (Mintz 1985, 80). Though sugar was also being used as a spice and as a sweetener, it was not the only ingredient that was prevalent at the time. In fact, Mintz highlights that for a long time, sugar was a commodity only enjoyed by the wealthy and elite of society. Given this information, one must question whether sugar could have stayed as relevant and popular if not for the fact that it was perceived to have medicinal properties. The common prescription of sugar as a medicine allowed it to permeate through the upper class, and it became a critical ingredient in recipes. Both cacao and sugar underwent progressions from rare, highly prized medical commodities to common culinary staples that we cannot envision society without.
The great irony here is that modern research has shown excessive consumption of chocolate and sugar can have serious health consequences. Studies have shown that sugar is a key contributor to and a risk factor for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (Harvard Health Publishing 2017). Doctors and health professionals generally call for a reduction in sugar and chocolate intake, but 17th and 18th century Europeans would be shocked at the transformation in the perception of cacao and sugar for health. The popularity of chocolate and sugar in contemporary society has blossomed to the point that the evidence for negative health consequences will not be a driving force for its demise if it were to ever come. It is important to recognize, though, that the perceived therapeutic effect of both foods was critical in their popularization. Along with it came the consequences of exploitative practices, and as consumers today, we must question if the apparent health benefits of food outweigh the potential abuses that may come with its production and consumption.
A Contextual History: The Ancient Origins of Chocolate as an Aphrodisiac
In class, we discussed the relationship between Valentine’s Day and chocolate. Because it is a Victorian-created holiday that can seem to a skeptic more of a consumerist ploy than a celebration of love, one may argue that the importance placed upon Valentine’s Day is in our culture is inflated. Sure, maybe Valentine’s Day is just a (highly-gendered and heteronormative) convention, but nobody can deny the centrality of chocolate in its celebration. Many foods are said to have aphrodisiac qualities, but chocolate is amongst the most renowned. The passion elicited from its indulgence dates back centuries. The Maya considered cacao sacred, encouraging its consumption during highly emotional or spiritual events like marriage and fertility rituals as well as death rites. In more transgressive accounts, Aztec emperor Montezuma consumed a gluttonous amount of chocolate each day to boost his sexual stamina. This essay serves to trace the entwinement of chocolate, sex, and passionate indulgences through the contemporary state of the cacao-chocolate industry while situating it in its appropriate historical context.
The ephemeral nature of cacao consumption’s association with aphrodisiac qualities divulges a corollary truth between ancient wisdom and modern science. While historically chocolate has been taken advantage of in the name of its spiritual effects, science, commerce, and even art contemporarily reveal there is a passion to indulgence. Whether it is eating chocolate or having sex, fleeting benevolence. Consistent consumption of both nurtures an honest, transgressive air of ambitious pursuit that allows one to stay in tune their desires, promoting health, general well-being, and growth. If demonstrated truthfully, this post suggests indulgence should not be understood merely as a momentary transgression, but rather an honest, consistent truth that leads to health and progress.
2. Contemporary State of the Cacao-Chocolate Industry: Modern Marketing and Cognitive Science
Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate: How We Fell In Love With Caffeine
Melanie King’s book Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate: How We Fell In Love With Caffeine explores the question of how contemporary culture and modern society became enamored with tea, coffee, and chocolate. Broadly, she argues it has to do with their stimulative effects on dopamine. Specifically, King posits that drinking chocolate products benefits the consumers “sex life and physical appearance,” a wisdom that can be traced back through history. The stimulation a consumer achieves increases their propensity to chace the transgressive desires weighing on their heart, promoting longevity and renewal.
Mood State Effects of Chocolate
Putting some science to Melanie King’s argument for ancient wisdom in the positive benefits of cacao consumption on our mood, the University of New South Wales’ School of Psychiatry conducted an academic review on the association of chocolate consumption with enjoyment and pleasure. Historically, dating back to the Ancient Mesoamerican origins of cacao consumption, chocolate indulgence provokes a variety of mental, physical, and spiritual effects that bestow “stimulant, relaxant, euphoriant, aphrodisiac, tonic, and antidepressant” properties. Specifically, the UNSW research team focused on the mood altering traits of chocolate. Investigating chocolate’s psychoactive positionings, the team concluded: “chocolate can provide its own hedonistic reward by satisfying cravings but, when consumed as a comfort eating or emotional eating strategy, is more likely to be associated with prolongation rather than cessation of a dysphoric mood.” Thus, their research provides implications about the ephemeral, fleeting benefits derived from one’s chocolate indulgence. This is not to say that chocolate consumption is malevolent or harmful, but rather that the endurance of its advantageous emotional effects requires habitual consistency.
Chocolate Consumption and Women’s Sexual Function
Further, Psychology Today’s article “Chocolate Consumption and Women’s Sexual Function” claims, “Aztec emperor Montezuma is reputed to have used chocolate in a manner akin to today’s Viagra pill.” Nowadays, the aphrodisiac link between sex and chocolate is most visible around Valentine’s Day. Dr. Andrea Salonia, an Italian physician, piloted a research project that measured chocolate consumption against female sexual function and depression. It was found that chocolate consumption increases the female propensity to achieve sexual satisfaction, positing a scientific legitimacy in the human inclination to sin and sin again consequently. The research team also found a correlation between age and scores on the Female Sexual Function Index. Younger women who consumed chocolate daily scored much higher, suggesting maturity impacts the desire to indulge transgressively.
Sex, Chocolate, and Disability
The cultural perception that there is a transgressive nature to sex and chocolate consumption has influenced commerce, marketing, and media in various controversial ways. In 2016, Mars-brand Maltesers ran a series of ads that featured disabled people discussing embarrassing intimacies while opening up over chocolate. The first ad featured a wheelchaired woman with cerebral palsy symbolically spilling a bag of Maltesers on the table as she describes an awkward sexual experience with her new boyfriend, implying her spastic disease caused a diuretic explosion during sex. The risky ad provoked a highly controversial reception, polarizing audiences into camps of insensitivity and effervescence. Maltesers doubled-down, claiming lightheartedness and sense of humor are necessary forces of benevolence in a world of degradation, shame, and censorship. More importantly, these ads provoked public conversation about disability and suggested one ought to be optimistic about what defines their personhood.
Much of debate surround Maltesers’ ads were concerned with “sensitivity and authenticity,” triggering empathetic ideas about vulnerability outside of oneself. Remaining optimistic in ethos, a company representative stated, “Maltesers positions itself as a lighter way to enjoy chocolate and its ads encourage people to look on the light side of life. In three previous animated spots, comedians … relay awkward or embarrassing situations they’ve encountered, such as walking around a shop without realising you still have your umbrella up.”
Putting yourself in the shoes of the disabled, one must consider their perception of pity at odds with true equity; yet, the radical transparency of the Maltesers ads surely realized an air of bravery through creativity that encourages the disabled to exit their defensive comfort zones. Further, Mars’ 2016 advertisements added visibility to the disabled by expanding their personal liberties through the proliferation of opportunities for employment and exposure. There is also an argument to be made about diversity. Rather than tokenism, a representative of Mars claimed, “we got better ideas by not just thinking about the white, middle-class, able-bodied family with two kids. Using a different lens has been a game changer for our creativity.”
3. Personal Analysis and Critique: Healthy Indulgences and Fleeting Flits
Harvard Medical School published an article about the health benefits derived from unorthodox sources, such as chocolate and sex. Typically considered a devious indulgence, the team wrote: “A steady stream of studies has won chocolate cardiovascular laurels by showing that it improves blood flow through arteries that supply the heart and the brain.” Further, in 2008, researchers at Harvard found that “two weeks of enhanced chocolate intake quickened blood flow through the middle cerebral artery.” Additionally, Italian researchers found a feeble correlation between increased dark chocolate and reduced inflammation marked by the resultant low levels of C-reactive proteins. However, this comes with a major caveat: the health benefits of one’s chocolate indulgence are best derived from the organic, raw, unprocessed type. Added sugars and other excessive processes only complicate the body’s ability to receive cacao’s naturally fleeting benefits. As it concerns sex, the article called it obvious that “sexual arousal and orgasm is a source of great pleasure and a sense of well-being,” noting that, “even after the immediate glow fades, there may be residual health benefits.” While there are rare cases of sex causing heart attacks particularly in men, the effects of sexual activity regardless of gender are found to be overwhelmingly ameliorating. These benefits range from reducing the intensity of headaches and stress to the general wellness of cardiovascular and immune systems. When you put the two together, the consumption of raw chocolate and sex, there is a benevolent implication for overall health. But, it is important to tune into the fleeting nature of these benefits; to achieve a healthy balance, consistency is key.
Love and Chocolate
Love, ideally, is passionate, consistent, and true. Due to legends involving Montezuma, Don Juan, and even Casanova himself, chocolate and love have been mythically inseparable for centuries. The presupposition is that chocolate inspires passion. Whether in terms of sex, love, or both, it has been found that chocolate contains aphrodisiac powers of mimicry that can illude the passionate feelings of being in love. Janet Vine of Aphrodite Chocolates reported that “chocolate contains substances called phenylethylamine and seratonin, both of which are mood lifting agents found naturally in the human brain. They are released into the nervous system by the brain when we are happy and when we are experiencing feelings of love, passion or lust. This causes rapid mood change, a rise in blood pressure and increasing heart rate, inducing those feelings of well being, bordering on euphoria usually associated with being in love.” When consumed, chocolate releases these agents into the system and boosts a certain euphoric stamina that earns its reputation as an aphrodisiac instigator of passionate action.
Growing The Ultimate Aphrodisiac: Chocolate
Love, to me, is also something you must cultivate and actively work toward. The Grow Network video “Growing The Ultimate Aphrodisiac: Chocolate” above discusses the modern cultivation of Theobroma cacao trees. While it is imperative the leaves stay moist, they don’t retain all the water. It is a tropical plant that, in nature, grow as an understory, shaded by other trees so they don’t get the full brunt of tropical sun. Today, they can be grown in personal backyards or greenhouses, ideally temperature-controlled around 60 degrees. They start from seeds, but reach 5 or 6 feet in about three years when grown in rich organic soil. Once mature, pruning begins; they flower and fruit all year long.
Artistically too, modern culture connects the indulgence of chocolate and self-permitted growth. In 2007, YouTuber Tay Zonday went viral with his song “Chocolate Rain.”
Culturally, it was received as a funny video, but deserves to be recognized for its profound social commentary. Chocolate rain is a metaphor for the tears of African Americans operating in a system of racism. In a way that tugs at the heartstrings, Tay Zonday sings of the pain caused by institutional lies and deceit. He notes the inescapability of being wronged, for instance, when he sings “the bell curve blames the baby’s DNA,” referencing Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve, which argues for the innate intellectual superiority of white men. It is again an interesting dichotomy between chocolate skin and tears of water. The emotional act of crying, expressing vulnerability, allows renewal upon a stained existence of unjustified inferiority. Crying, too, can be a passionate indulgence–a letting go.
Like Water for Chocolate
In other artistic representation of passion and chocolate, it is imperative to reference Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, which is one of my favorite all time works of literature. Symbolically, the title itself poses water’s purity against chocolate’s mercy; water is eternal like love, while mercy is fleeting like lust:
“it seemed Pedro’s rage dominated the thoughts and actions of everyone in the house. Tita was literally ‘like water for chocolate’—she was on the verge of boiling over.”
The real passion in Like Water for Chocolate exists between Pedro and Tita, star-crossed forbidden lovers. Esquivel’s style of prose, magical realism, portrays the otherworldliness of true love; it is a nature that defies reality and works in an irrational way. The quote above speaks to Tita’s divine feminity, and her arousal, showing her readiness to transgress and receive Pedro’s divine masculinity–she ultimately runs toward him. The novel positions true love as a life-giving force, requiring a nurturing attitude toward spiritual honesty, which brings happiness to pain. The story shows the ways in which truth, to oneself, is freedom. It is an interesting act of balancing that operates over the twelve months of the book, revealing true love, water, is capable to remedy intermittent affairs and external romance, chocolate. It took a long time for Pedro and Tita to actively run toward the cultivation of a serious relationship. In the final scenes of the book, they let go of their fearful resistance:
“Little by little her vision began to brighten until the tunnel again appeared before her eyes. There at its entrance was the luminous figure of Pedro waiting for her. Tita did not hesitate. She let herself go to the encounter, and they wrapped each other in a long embrace; again experiencing an amorous climax, they left together for the lost Eden. Never again would they be apart.”
Thus, true love is proven an enduring force, but it requires the crossing of boundaries and ultimate indulgence in true passion. Water’s solvent powers allow the indulgence of soluble chocolate to make for a greater drink, which, as we’ve learned in class, produces “stimulant, relaxant, euphoriant, aphrodisiac, tonic, and antidepressant” effects that renew the soul.
Obesity is rapidly on the rise and has been classified
as one of the largest public health issues known today. Obesity is a disease
that can cause an individual to be at risk for various other health
complications such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other
chronic illnesses. In the Untied States, the population of overweight children
has tripled since 1980 causing around two-thirds of the American population to
be considered overweight (Albritton, 2010). There is a stark contrast between
the health of the population and the modernization of society. It has been shown
that as populations continue to grow and society continues to modernize and
improve, the health of individuals is on the downfall. Worldwide there has been
a six-fold increase in the number of individuals who suffer from diabetes since
1985. In India, it was noted that 11 percent of the population suffers from
obesity, whereas in Mexico this was found to be 14 percent (Albritton, 2010). This
is in part related to the large increase in sugar and sugar filled substances available
to the public. Marion Nestle, found that on average Americans consume around 31
teaspoons of sugar a day, half of this coming from soft drinks (Albritton, 2010).
Because of the Industrial Revolution and the advancement of technology, sugar (one
of the cheapest food ingredients along with salt and fat) has been used by
various companies to increase mass production.
Just as the sugar consumption has been increasing, there is a rapid increase in salt and fat consumption. Today in the United States, salt consumption has increased by twenty percent over a ten-year period. Consequently, as people increase their salt consumption they look for a substance to quench their thirst, which in many cases is satisfied with sugar beverages; thus, increasing sugar consumption. Additionally, there has been around a twenty-fold increase in fat consumption since 2005 (Albritton, 2010). Because of the rapid increase in chronic disease, the World Health Organization in 2003 enacted certain recommendations for specific dietary intakes. For example, they stated that sugars should not go beyond ten percent of an individual’s daily calorie intake. Despite these recommendations, the junk food business has catered towards children’s craving snacks causing American children to receive around twenty five percent of calorie intake from snacks and therefore a continuous increase in sugar consumption (Albritton, 2010).
Misconception of Chocolate
While most of these sugary, salty and fatty
substances come from other junk food brands rather than chocolate, many
individuals continue to associate chocolate as a primary cause for the increase
in health risks among individuals. Today, chocolate companies have transformed a
substance that was once glorified and solely consumed by the elite into one that
has become negatively viewed and mass produced. Just as in all other
industries, the influence of technology has allowed for chocolate brands to increase
their production rate by mass producing a variety of different forms of chocolate.
Consequently, individuals have shifted from consuming the rich and pure form of
chocolate to consuming a highly processed type that includes the use of more
sugar and cheaper ingredients. However, this does not mean that all types of chocolate
must be categorized as having a negative impact on an individual’s health but rather
that there must be more precaution when choosing what and how much chocolate to
consume. Contrary to popular belief, chocolate, can have a wide range of health
benefits if the consumer properly selects for the correct type, quality and quantity
History of Chocolate and Health
Chocolate was first used by the Olmec in 1100
BC. The cacao comes from the tree known as Theobroma
Cacao originally found in the Amazon basin. The name itself, originates from
the Greek language: Theo which means
god and Broma which means drink. The Incas
considered this drink to be “a drink of the gods” and therefore the elite were
the only ones who were allowed to drink from it (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg
2009). They believed the fruit provided wisdom and power
while the chocolate drink would benefit their health. The Aztec Emperor
Montezuma referred to the drink as “A divine drink which builds up resistance
and fights fatigue” (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009).
Not only did they view cacao as an energy substance but also thought of it as
having aphrodisiac properties. It was noted that the Aztec emperor would drink
a large amount of chocolate each day before engaging in sexual intercourse (Squicciarini
& Swinnen, 2016).
When the Spaniards discovered chocolate and observed the way the Aztecs used this substance, they soon realized the medicinal benefits the cacao drink could have. The Aztecs would primarily consume this drink before hard labor, in order to avoid getting tired throughout the day (Coe & Coe, 2007). As the discovery of chocolate began to spread, the literature began documenting the health benefits of chocolate. In 1592 the Badianus Manuscript stated that the cocoa flowers had the ability to reduce fatigue. In 1590, the Florentine Codex stated that cocoa could be used to treat fever, diarrhea and heart weakness (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). In 1591 Juan de Cárdenas published the treatise on New World Foods and described that if cacao was prepared a certain way (toasting, grinding and mixing with atole) this could aid in digestion and make an individual powerful and joyful (Coe & Coe, 2007). Soon after the Spanish discovery of chocolate, it was introduced throughout Europe and in 1741 Linnaeus documented the role of chocolate as a source of nourishment, a cure for illness and an aphrodisiac. In 1834 prior to the first chocolate boom, the Dispensatory of the United States stated that chocolate was nutritious and should only be consumed as a drink in the morning as a substitute for an individual’s morning coffee (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).
Although the Aztecs and the Mayas mainly consumed chocolate as a liquid drink, the Industrial Revolution popularized chocolate as solid bars. In 1847 Joseph Fry created the first chocolate bar and soon after the first chocolate boom occurred between 1880-1940, when there was a spike in income and more people began purchasing and consuming chocolate (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). The creation of two key inventions during this time, Hydraulic press and Dutch-process, allowed for diversity in the chocolate making business. The Hydraulic press was used to strip away the fats from the cocoa and produce cocoa butter from the beans. The Dutch-process introduced the alkalization of the cocoa which could change the color of the chocolate products made (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). These key inventions allowed for the creation of different forms of chocolate, which large chocolate companies would benefit from in order to expand their specific brand. Chocolate was soon created in the form of cereals, cakes, ice cream and even lotion. However, chocolate bars continued to be among the most popular type of chocolate consumed in the American economy.
Not only were chocolate bars consumed by children but also by soldiers during the American Civil War. With the new packaging and production of chocolate bars, the soldiers were able to easily and quickly consume this new food product. Similar to the Aztecs, the soldiers took advantage of this energy dense food product. During the war and specifically in times of emergency, the chocolate bars would help provide soldiers an easy and efficient way to sustain themselves throughout battle (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).
Biochemistry of Chocolate
In addition to energy, chocolate has been
studied to provide a large range of health benefits including cardiovascular benefits,
insulin resistance, lipid levels, antioxidant effects, mental health benefits
and many more. In an interview with Marissa Zarco, MS RDN she noted the key
reason for such health benefits comes from the micronutrients found in chocolate
specifically flavanols. Mrs. Zarco explained that the flavanols found in chocolate
exhibit a vasodilating effect on the human body and therefore can have a positive
effect on cardiovascular diseases and blood pressure.
Flavanols are a subcategory of polyphenols
which are found in plants and have been proven to alter the function of
different pathways in the body. Flavanols are made up of two aromatic rings which
are bound together by a three-carbon chain (Farhat, Drummond, Fyfe, Al- Dujaili,
2014). Flavanols can be subdivided into monomers which are called epicatechin and
catechin and polymers which are known as procyanidins. The monomers are more
common in various different types of fruit and the procyanidins give cocoa the bitter
taste (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009). Flavanols
have the ability to reduce blood pressure, improve cardiovascular effects
through vasodilation, antioxidant effects by reducing reactive oxygen species
and improving platelet levels etc.
Specifically, flavanols activate nitric oxide
concentration levels, which can help combat reactive oxygen species and prevent
oxidative stress. When the body has too high a concentration of reactive oxygen
species such as oxygen free radicals, the body will go into oxidative stress
and cause for the development of severe diseases. Therefore, a high flavanol
diet will allow for an increase in the nitric oxide concentration which can
lead to vasodilation, prevent cell adhesion and platelet aggregation. However,
not all types of chocolate contain the same amount of flavanol content because of
the reduction in the flavanol levels that occurs as the cocoa beans are
processed. (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009).
Three Factors to Consider
When choosing which chocolate to buy, an individual must consider three factors: type, quality, and quantity of chocolate. When choosing the type of chocolate there are usually three options: dark, milk and white chocolate. An individual should aim to choose one that has the highest amount of cocoa with the lowest amount of sugar (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). In order to create the different types of chocolates, they must undergo manufacturing steps and therefore some are richer in flavanols, cocoa nibs, milk or added sugars compared to others.
Dark chocolate compared to milk and white chocolate has the highest number of cocoa solids and lowest amount of sugar and is rich in flavanols. Milk chocolate has a small amount of cocoa solids mixed with a milk substance whether it be condensed or powdered. Lastly, white chocolate is the least pure out of the three, this type of chocolate has no cocoa solids and is instead made up of twenty percent of cocoa butter in addition to a milk product (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).
The quality of chocolate is assessed by the
number of ingredients, the proportion of ingredients, and the processing
methods the chocolate goes through. The key ingredients that are considered
are: cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder. When choosing a chocolate
an individual should pay close attention to the label and determine the proportion
of cocoa nibs compared to all other ingredients (Squicciarini & Swinnen,
Lastly, the quantity of chocolate is important
when analyzing the nutritional benefits. In the past, many nutritionists
recommended individuals who were suffering from obesity and/or trying to lose weight
to completely eliminate chocolate from their diet. However, today nutritionists
have realized the importance of chocolate in protecting the human body from
severe diseases or a state of oxidative stress and therefore have emphasized
the need to restrict the amount consumed rather than completely eliminate it. Studies
have shown that small doses of 5-10g daily of dark chocolate can positively enhance
human health whether it be through anti-inflammation, hypertension, and/or altering
plasma lipid levels (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).
Moderate consumption of dark chocolate can help
with lowering blood pressure. A study conducted with the Kuna individuals stated
that because of their high levels of consumption of chocolate beverages they exhibited
remarkably low blood pressure states. However, after further investigation it
was noted that this study was not properly conducted and the correlation
between the levels of chocolate consumption of the Kuna individuals and blood
pressure was not accurate (Howe, 2012). However, this is not to say that current
studies have not found a correlation between chocolate consumption and blood
It has been shown that a regular intake of dark chocolate
promotes blood vessel dilation because of the effect of polyphenols on
increasing nitric oxide concentration and thus lowering blood pressure (Squicciarini
& Swinnen, 2016). Additionally, chocolate has some levels of potassium which
can result in the release of sodium ions therefore aiding the regulation of
blood pressure levels. The Rusconi et al. (2012) study assed the relationship
between different types of chocolate and blood pressure. The study recruited a
group of adult males and had them consume a certain amount of either dark or
white chocolate every day. Over the course of 28 days they noticed a decrease
in blood pressure in the participants who only consumed dark chocolate (Squicciarini
& Swinnen, 2016).
Plasma Lipid Levels
Chocolate can also improve an individual’s plasma lipid levels. Specifically, cocoa butter found in dark chocolate contains oleic acid which is said to affect lipid levels. Cocoa butter has been found to increase HDL cholesterol, decrease LDL cholesterol and decrease the availability of triglycerides in the human body, which can then have a positive effect on the presence of cardiovascular diseases. A study found this to be true after a group of participants consumed around 75g of dark chocolate a day for three weeks. While this did not hold for the consumption of white chocolate, when assessing milk chocolate the researchers also found there to be a decrease in the triglyceride levels and an increase in the HDL cholesterol levels (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).
Chocolate can have an impact on mental health and
cravings. Because chocolate contains highly branched amino acids, there can be
an increase in the amount of serotonin released. Serotonin is neurotransmitter
that is linked to depression: low levels of serotonin can increase depression. Therefore,
by increasing serotonin levels, chocolate can help improve an individual’s
mood. This can be observed throughout a women’s menstrual cycle. During this
time a women’s progesterone levels decrease and their cravings for chocolate
increase; thus, combatting the effect of depression during this time (Squicciarini
& Swinnen, 2016).
Although there is a rapid rise in obesity rates and chronic diseases it is incorrect to generalize this to the effect of chocolate products. As shown, there are a great amount of studies that have been conducted in order to explore the health benefits of chocolate. While it is true that chocolate can negatively impact human health, this is not always the case. By focusing on the three factors: type, quality and quantity when consuming chocolate an individual protects him/herself from the negative effects that can be seen when someone over consumes chocolate that has high amounts of sugar and other cheap ingredients. While, most studies focus on dark chocolate and its health benefits there should be more research focused on how to make this type of chocolate more accessible to the entire population. A valuable food product such as chocolate, should not only be restricted to the elite, as it once was with the Aztecs and Maya, but rather consumed and enjoyed by all.
Albritton, R. (2010). Between obesity and hunger: The capitalist food industry. Socialist Register,46, Socialist Register, 0, 2010, Vol.46.
Coe, S ., & Coe, M. 2007. The True History of Chocolate.
Corti, R. J., Flammer, A. K., Hollenberg, N. F., & Lüscher, T. (2009). Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation,119(10), 1433-1441.
Howe, J. (2012). Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture,12(1), 43-52.
Farhat, G., Drummond, S., Fyfe, L., & Al-Dujaili, E. (2014). Dark Chocolate: An Obesity Paradox or a Culprit for Weight Gain? Phytotherapy Research,28(6), 791-7.
Squicciarini, M., & Swinnen, J. (2016). The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford: Oxford University Press USA – OSO.
The combination of sugar and chocolate used to be the most pleasing with sugar consumption skyrocketing, mostly through the consumption of chocolate. Now the combination of chocolate and marijuana is beginning to have the same effect. Sugar was initially added to beverages such as tea and coffee and grew more popular after joining with chocolate. The historic consumption curve of sugar can be used to predict future marijuana consumption. Pot could become the sugar of this century. Similar to sugar and chocolate, marijuana has taken on medicinal uses. Its legalization in many states is analogous to when sugar became cheaper and more readily available. A n expanded market of people now can partake in chocolate and pot in cannabis chocolates. With the combination of marijuana and chocolate entering the market, its uses are similar to sugar’s, which is also often added to chocolate and cacao is becoming a conduit for a new type of drug as edibles sales are on the rise. The similarities between sugar and cannabis do not end there because their uses extend beyond just their addition to chocolate, such as expansion and marketing strategies. Noting this parallel between sugar and marijuana is helpful in considering how cannabis may be used in the future, perhaps being added to drinks or facial creams to appeal to a broader audience and create a pot revolution.
Sugar was thought to have medicinal properties, which aided in its mass consumption and demand. When sugar first entered diets, the majority of English people did not consume enough food or the right kinds of food. They suffered nutritional deficiencies due to lack of income or food safety. However, cane sugar started as a luxury and supplemented their diets (Coe & Coe, 2013). Sugar was seen as medicinal, as it was an ingredient in many medicines and could be applied to open wounds (Coe & Coe, 2013). The taste was pleasing, and some would use it to help consume their bitter medicine. The movie Mary Poppins depicts how sugar played a role in a health context.
The lyrics “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” explain how sugar can sweeten the bitter taste of medicine and improve mood afterwards. Demand grew and production expanded; eventually sugar became cheaper and more available. It was added to cereal in breakfast, trail mix in afternoon snacks, salad dressing, and many beverages. In 1910, one-fifth of the English diet calories came from cane sugar (Martin, 2019). Although sugar today is seen as contributing to the obesity epidemic in America, its medicinal properties aided in its wide popularity historically, and one of the favorite things it was added to was chocolate beverages and bars. Before comparing sugar to cannabis, it is important to provide context for one of the ways in which sugar has been used.
Marijuana also has served medicinal purposes. The whole marijuana plant or just extracts can be used to treat specific sicknesses. There are chemicals in marijuana called cannabinoids. The main psychoactive ingredient is delta 0 tetrahydrocannabinol, abbreviated THC, that gives people a “high” (Huddelston, 2019). Chocolate contains cannabinoid and anandamide, a neurotransmitter that affects the same structure as THC in Cannabis (Parker et al., 2006). Cannabidiol CBD, on the other hand, is in marijuana from the hemp plant but does not cause a high” (Huddelston, 2019). These properties of marijuana have led to two FDA-approved medications that contain cannabinoid and used to relieve anxiety, chronic pain, seizures, and acne. Animal studies have even shown that parts of marijuana can help kill cancer cells (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018). Marijuana has been recognized for nutritional benefits as have chocolate and sugar; it is accepted as a way to treat specific illnesses and is featured in many medications.
It is perhaps logical then that the food to which sugar and marijuana have been added has a similar relation to medicine. Chocolate also was believed to have medicinal properties as it contains antioxidants and can improve mood. Mesoamericans acknowledged chocolate as healthy. Mayan warriors would wear cacao pods on their belt to give them energy for battle (Martin, 2019). Also, it was used as medicine to treat seizures and fevers. Cacao could be combined with many ingredients, such as pepper and honey, to form botanical remedies (Coe & Coe, 2013). The Spanish even thought that chocolate had the potential to increase chances of becoming pregnant so it was used in many rituals. Cacao was seen as nourishing and still is thought to have aphrodisiac qualities. Men gift it to women on Valentine’s Day for this reason. Sugar and chocolate both developed their popularity partly due to the medicinal properties associated with their consumption.
While sugar and chocolate may seem different from a drug like marijuana, they have addictive properties and chocolate could be considered a drug. Chocolate affects neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin that deal with mood regulation and appetite. It contains flavenols, a physiologically active plant compound (Mintz, 1986). Flavenols in cocoa can help with cardiovascular diseases and blood clotting. In addition, caffeine and theobromine affect consumers psychologically (Mintz, 1986). Although the amount of anandamide is minuscule, chocolate is so addicting and mind altering that some do consider it a drug. A Belgian chocolatier Dominique Persoone even created a device to snort cocoa powder as one would do to intake a drug (Youtube, 2010).
The video shows how the chocolate shooter can be used by putting cocoa snuff powder on the spoon and catapulting it into the nose to create a chocolate high. Chocolate has many drug-like properties and it makes for the perfect delicious addition to conceal the weed flavor of cannabis.
The demand for recreational marijuana is growing, and the combination of cannabis and chocolate is a popular one. Just as sugar and chocolate had medicinal properties and were combined, marijuana and chocolate are now being added together.
In the same way that sugar and chocolate were viewed as medicinal and a dietary supplement for the British, cannabis chocolate is being marketed as a health product. One example of a cannabis chocolate brand is “Good Vibes” (Freeman, 2019).
There are several other similar successful brands, such as “Therapeutic” and “Leif Goods.” “This is Not Pot” targets consumers by playing up the health benefits of the product.
They are made of hemp but sweetened with maple sugar, raw cacao, and contains the herb ashwagandha (Vegan CBD Gummies). Its bottle contains the words “chill af,” “cbd,” “happy hemp,” and “not pot.” It is technically “not pot” because it only contains CBD. THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid but is not an ingredient. The way “not pot” is sold in a vitamin container depicts it as a dietary supplement to calm spirits. Products containing marijuana are increasing in popularity, but there still are flaws in edibles.
Sugar, chocolate, and marijuana are similar in how their consumption expanded. One of the main ways sugar was consumed was in chocolate. While chocolate was mostly consumed by the elite in in Baroque Europe, it was enjoyed more broadly in England (Martin, 2019). During the democratization of chocolate in England, “chocolate houses” emerged where people could converse about politics or social matters over a chocolate drink (Coe & Coe, 2013). People grew fond of the sweet taste, and many alterations of the treat formed. In 1828, the Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houton invented the hydraulic press, which produced solid chocolate by withdrawing cocoa butter from the beans (Coe & Coe, 2013). This creation led to the first chocolate bar in 1847; subsequently small candies featured chocolate and sugar (Coe & Coe, 2013). New inventions during the industrial revolution, such as the steam engine, allowed for mass cheap chocolate production.
Analogous to when sugar became cheaper and more accessible due to the slave trade, marijuana is now becoming more accessible due to legalization in many states. Sugar was never illegal but was limited to the elite class due to high prices and shortages (Mintz, 1986). Marijuana was limited to only those who needed it for health reasons but is now fully legal in ten states (Forbes, 2018). Other states have legalized medical marijuana or have allowed for CBD products, which can be used to treat anxiety or muscle pains but do not cause a high. Both medical and recreational marijuana sales have added to $125 million in January this year, approximately 6% higher than sales in January 2018 (Mitchell, 2019). Millennials are now using pot in social circumstances just as sugar and chocolate were consumed in groups in the past. The relaxation of marijuana laws has allowed for it to be more socially acceptable to smoke. Only 25% of millennials smoke alone as of 2018, and the percentage of 12th graders who use marijuana daily has risen (Paul, 2018). Recently, marijuana consumption has increased similar to the past spike in sugar consumption.
Just as chocolate production technology became more advanced and allowed for branching products from chocolate beverages, the production of cannabis chocolate is experimenting with new methods to create different products. Factories combine chocolate with cannabis in varying ratios of THC to CBD, with the most common being 1:1 (Freeman, 2019). “To whom it may cannabis” focuses on creating nutty truffles and boozy bon bons.
They use graduated cylinders, distillation apparatuses, flasks, and pipettes. The most difficult part of the process it to control temperature to avoid “blooming,” which is when a layer of sugar forms on top of the chocolate (Chester, 2019). There is an intricate process to make the products as it is even more complicated than making pure chocolate given the presence of cannabis. Successful brands often have strict regulations on ingredients, methods, and recipes in order to assure their products do not have varying ratios of drugs and different effects, but the process will be altered as brands work toward various products containing cannabis to satisfy demand.
Chocolate sweetened with sugar and chocolate containing marijuana have been used to target specific emotive effects. One example of example of sugary chocolate changing emotions in people is in Snickers commercials.
The commercial depicts how the treat can not only make you feel different but literally transform you into a different person. Now companies have added cannabis to delicious chocolate and have altered the recipes to target specific mind-altering effects in consumers. Chocolate conceals the “weedy” taste and blends well with hemp CBD oil. 1906 Chocolates markets “new highs” (Chester, 2019). They offer products with names such as “high love” and “pause.” “High love” plays on the aphrodisiac quality of chocolate. It is composed of herbs that increase blood flow to the pelvic and thus lead to more sexual desire. “Pause” makes one feel relaxed and relieves anxiety. “Midnight” is to help with pain and insomnia; it is made of the plant corydalis (Chester, 2019). “Bliss” improves energy and attitude. Finally, “go” is packed with caffeine, the amino acid l-theanine, THC, and CBD. Therefore, it increases energy and can be used for athletes. A new brand Serra offers a completely customizable experience for its customers. People can enter their stores and fill out a card describing what feelings they desire (Giller, 2017).
Sugar and marijuana have played similar roles in diets by being added to chocolate in order to achieve a specific emotive change.
While they have played similar roles in diets, sugar and marijuana both have taken on multiple purposes in society. When people from all classes were introduced to sugar and chocolate, sugar gained even more uses than just a sweetener and medicine (Mintz, 1986). Sugar also was a preservative, decoration, and spice. It was used to preserve jams and jellies, preventing the growth of yeasts and other microorganisms. It was also a main ingredient, not only in decadent desserts but in decorative centerpieces on tables. The versatile ingredient was used a spice to season foods such as meat, similar to how salt is used. Sugar was versatile and accessible, which is why its consumption accelerated from zero to millions of tons annually; marijuana is beginning to show the same properties. From this combination of chocolate and cannabis, there are potential new uses and wide marketability. There is potential for cannabis chocolate to be used in many facets of life, since it can be a workout enabler by increasing energy or a sleep aid by relaxing muscles. Serra employs a chocolatier in addition to a compliance officer to make sure they are following legal medical and recreational marijuana laws (Giller, 2017). Their stores are clean, organized, and respectable, which leads to a mass appeal and avoids making marijuana seem illicit.
For Serra, cannabis has already spread beyond chocolate. They sell pre-rolls, concentrates, topicals, and soaking salts (Forbes, 2018). Chocolate was immediately loved for its aphrodisiac qualities and medicinal properties in the past. Now weed is being taken advantage of as people enjoy choosing the feelings the drugs will bring and are open to different types of products. Soon marijuana will be featured in more skincare products, drinks, pills, shampoos, and edibles.
Sugar and marijuana have commonalities in medicinal uses, expansion, and role in diets. The main overlap is their popular addition to chocolate. Sugar in the 1800s resembles pot today. Its consumption was limited initially, but later it was used in various contexts and consumed in great quantities. Marijuana’s consumption was illegal except for medical purposes until recently, and it is now being added to chocolate. Sugar and marijuana have played similar roles in diets by causing a change of emotions, and their uses have greatly expanded. Just as sugar was used as a decoration, preservative, sweetener, spice, and medicine, marijuana is being added to chocolate and now skincare products and beverages along with medicine. CBD can be extracted from cannabis and hemp plants to be added to pills, vaporizers, creams, shampoos, cocktails, and more. Pot is becoming as mainstream as sugar did when it became more affordable. The striking similarities between sugar and marijuana provide insight into how cannabis use may expand even further in the future.
Chocolate is an intriguing treat, junk food, energy snack, medicinal food, etc. This sentence itself is interesting in and of itself since chocolate is a type of food that can be labeled in so many different ways. This is not necessarily the case because there are an endless number of versions of chocolates, but it has instead been the result of the myriad of different ways in which chocolate has been marketed to different demographics throughout the years. As we have seen in our course, “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food,” the way in which chocolate has been viewed has changed in many ways since it has been demonized by religious groups in the first half of the 20th century 1, it has also been “sanctified as a thoroughly American food” in the 1920’s 2, and if you go back to the 18th and 19th century, then you see that chocolate was marketed as a food that you could ingest as medicine to improve health 3. However, the contemporary state of the cacao-chocolate industry has led chocolate as a food to be seen and marketed in new ways that have been a response to the societal changes that have influenced the role that chocolate has in our society. The chocolate industry has started to market chocolate towards adults in recent years and they have started to put less focus on marketing to children. This shift in marketing has largely been the result of the fact that the market for children’s candies is so mercurial and is largely dependent on the current trend in candy, which makes it very difficult to remain profitable as a candy company that focuses on the children’s market 4. The chocolate industry is largely dependent on sugar and the way that it is perceived by society and there has currently been a shift to no longer seeing chocolate as an unhealthy food that was meant to be for kids. An interesting example of this shift is the fact that the National Confectionary Assn. has hired Olympic medalist Bob Matthias to promote “the nutritional benefits of chocolate.”5 The promotion of chocolate as a candy that is healthy and meant for adults largely stems from a trend of chocolate products moving up and offering better quality through sophistication.6 Gary Foote, who is the marketing manager for Ferrero USA, claims that this is largely the result of the “Europeanization, or the gourmetization of America.” 7 It is possible to see the cause of this shift because there are many examples of the perception that American adults have of European chocolate when compared to American chocolate.
As you can see in the video below, these Americans who are doing a study abroad program in Belgium, have this idea that European chocolate is a lot more sophisticated than American chocolate.8
Studies show that one of the reasons why these American exchange students feel that European chocolate is superior partially has to do with how “a brand and a country-of-origin have a positive correlation, as they influence consumer’s brand evaluation, perceptions, purchasing behavior and brand equity.” 9 European chocolate has the advantage that it is being made in European countries that are seen as first world countries which has a certain allure and elegance in the eyes of American consumers. On the other hand, you have chocolate that is being made in South America and Africa where most countries are seen as third world countries by most American consumers, which can be attributed to many social factors and racism is one of these factors. It becomes obvious that the reason why these Americans feel that European chocolate is superior to American chocolate is because the marketing and packaging is more professional and sophisticated—it is marketing that is clearly targeting an older demographic. The article “A review of marketing strategies from the European chocolate industry” by Nur Suhaili Ramli mentions that European chocolate typically stands out for the most part when it comes to their marketing, but it is also unique in the use of “quality ingredients, supply chains, marketplace, and product attribute information.”10 It is fascinating to notice how effective this type of marketing is with adults since the people in this video never mention anything about the chocolate itself. The women never mention that the taste of European chocolate is superior to American chocolate and instead they largely focus on the superiority of the look, the presentation, and the aesthetic of European chocolate. There have been many studies done around this topic of how marketing of chocolate affects the way that people perceive the differences between chocolate that is labeled as “organic” and chocolate that is not labeled that way. The study “The Effect of ‘Organic’ Labels On Consumer Perception of Chocolates” by Kiss, Kontor, and Kun makes a conclusion that the label of “organic” on chocolate packaging increased the “perceived gap between organic and regular chocolates according to fragrance, healthiness, calories content and price.”11
This is a rising trend in the chocolate industry that can clearly be seen in advertisements, as the one listed in the video below for the product Choconature, where you have a doctor appearing in this advertisement in order to assure audiences that this product will improve your health.12
The doctor in the video mentions that the chocolate is 100% organic, decrease inflammation in the body, decrease the free radicals in the body, help improve your skin, and decrease your blood pressure. 13 It is evident from this ad that there is a viable adult market in the chocolate industry and they are trying to find a way to rebrand the image that people have of chocolate, as a sugary treat that is bad for your health, and turn it into a product that can actually help fix many ailments that affect older demographics.
There is a significant question that is posed by videos like the one above: is chocolate, or at least some version of chocolate, capable of not only being a healthy food, but also a food that could have medicinal properties? Chocolate, as it is typically created for products like Snickers and M&M’s—in particular dark chocolate of high cocoa varieties—has natural antioxidant benefits. 14 These benefits have long been known by the general public and companies selling dark chocolate, which has lead these companies to market their dark chocolate as a healthy version of chocolate for many years. However, there has recently been a huge surge in the fortification of chocolate in order to artificially add properties to chocolate that, according to these chocolate manufacturers, could help improve your health and solve other body ailments. 15 Some of the ingredients that companies fortify chocolate with are vitamins, minerals, superfruits, lavender, and goji berries. 16 On the surface the addition of these nutritious ingredients may seem like a win-win situation since customers will be able to eat a tasty snack, like chocolate, and also be able to consume ingredients that would improve their health. Yet, the chocolate manufacturers who are creating these healthy versions of chocolate are deliberately misinforming consumers on how healthy these snacks truly are by abusing how ambiguously defined “organic” products and “all-natural” products are in the United States market and the international market. Chocolate manufacturers have taken note of the growing popularity of “organic products and ingredients in the U.S.” In order to take advantage of this trend, chocolate manufacturers have begun to market their products as “all-natural” products as an alternative to the “organic” products that consumers typically associate with healthy foods. On the surface, they both seem like they are equally healthy, however, it becomes apparent that they are some major differences between the two products once you start looking at the specific requirements needed for a product to be considered either “all-natural” or “organic.” When it comes to “organic” products, they are typically priced at a higher price since the ingredients required are more expensive. 17 Additionally, it is expensive for manufacturers of organic products to go through the certification process required to have their product labeled as “organic.” Therefore, chocolate manufacturers are leaning towards creating products that can be marketed as “all-natural” since it is easier and cheaper to make because of the lack of regulation and the affordability of the cheaper ingredients that are accepted as “all-natural.” More and more manufacturers are leaning towards creating “all-natural” products in order to satisfy the burgeoning demand for natural products in the adult demographic of chocolate consumers.
The lack of regulation that exists in the “all-natural” sub-industry of chocolate is an issue because it allows companies to use marketing in order to take advantage of the fact that the majority of chocolate consumers do not know the tactics that companies can use to falsify legitimacy as a healthy food product. A prime example of how chocolate companies manufacture artificial legitimacy is by paying independent researchers to conduct studies on the health benefits of eating chocolate—mainly the niche “all-natural” products that chocolate companies make. The chocolate brand CocoaVia, which is a subsidiary company of Mars Inc.—focuses on creating supplements and bars that are marketed as a healthy food option. 18 Brands like CocoaVia rely on scientific studies done on cocoa flavanol that claim that their products contain properties which allow them to “promote healthy blood flow from head to toe.” 19 There is a major issue with these studies that purportedly claim that these chocolate supplements are nutritious and beneficial to the health of consumers: the majority of these studies are funded by the same companies that are being examined by the independent researchers. 20 The main problem with the aforementioned power dynamics between employer and employee is that these companies are more inclined to “fund researchers with favorable views about their products, and researchers may consciously or unconsciously tweak the design of their studies or their interpretation of results to arrive at more positive conclusions.” 21
These claims are not unfounded since the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council has filed claims against CocoaVia as a result of a lack of substantial evidence to support claims in their marketing, such as “CocoaVia daily cocoa extract supplement delivers the highest concentration of cocoa flavanols, which are scientifically proven to promote a healthy heart by supporting healthy blood flow (as can be seen in the image below).” 2223
It is dangerous to allow companies to make claims such as the aforementioned one because according to the Natural Marketing Institute found that “43% of US shoppers consulted nutritional information on product packaging when buying a product for the first time.” 24 Therefore, the fact that chocolate companies are putting unsubstantiated claims on their nutritional information marketing is dangerous since customers are easily susceptible to marketing, especially if it is marketing that promotes “healthy” chocolate that targets an adult demographic.
The chocolate industry has been maturing and it
has made a conscious shift from focusing on kids as a market to focusing on
adults as a more viable and profitable market. This has led to a change in the
marketing used by chocolate companies in order to attract an older demographic
to purchase their healthy chocolate. Chocolate marketing for kids has typically
focused on making chocolate appear to be as fun and as tasty as possible, but
marketing has started to focus more on “scientific studies” and “health facts” ever
since the chocolate industry started to direct the majority of its industry to
an adult demographic—this is evident in ads like the one below. 25
The marketing done
for healthy chocolate is an example of the dangers that exist with the
marketing of chocolate since it has become clear that there is a lack of
regulations in place when it comes to the integration of science into the ads
in this industry. The perception of chocolate, and the way that it is marketed
by companies and by society, has changed throughout history as reactions to the
ebbs and flows of societal values. Currently, this trend of healthy chocolate
has been a reaction to a societal trend that has leaned toward valuing a
healthy lifestyle and reducing the intake of food that is deemed to be junk
food—and chocolate has long been a member of this group of foods.
1 Carla Martin, “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 13, 2019.
3 Carla Martin, “Sugar and cacao,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, February 20, 2019.
4 Chocolate marketing no longer kid’s stuff, pg 2
5 Patricia Winters, Chocolate marketing no longer kid’s stuff, Advertising Age, May 19, 1986, 2.
Health and The Dutch Cocoa Process: Van Houten’s Legacy and Modern Analyses
Throughout history, chocolate and cacao has been purported to have medicinal properties, and especially in the modern age, there is increased emphasis on the health benefits associated with these ingredients. In the processing of cacao, there are numerous points where the chemical composition is changed in some manner, which in part contributes to the unique flavor profile of chocolate. Generally, the process encompasses the same set of operations such as fermentation, drying, and winnowing, but a significant point of distinction occurs during the creation of cocoa powder. With the two conventional forms of cocoa powder, natural and Dutch process, there is a significant variation in terms of the product. The Van Houten family is generally attributed with the process necessary for creating cocoa powder as well as the techniques for making cocoa more palatable through the Dutch process. As the Dutch process is noted to affect flavonoid and antioxidant levels, there are limitations in terms of health benefits as a result of this processing that are removed from natural cocoa powder, despite historical arguments for similar benefits. To contextualize the distinctions between the two types of cocoa powder, it is important to understand their historical development as well as modern examinations.
The Van Houten Hydraulic Press Process
In the early 19th century, chocolate had become relatively ubiquitous, but there were many issues with the ease of consumption and the quality of the taste. Coenraad van Houten and his father, Casparus van Houten, are attributed with the development of a technique that utilizes a hydraulic press to remove over half of the cocoa butter from the beans (Robbins and Coe 2006). The additional byproduct of this process was a brick of cocoa solids, which could be turned into natural cocoa powder. As this cocoa powder retained the chemical compounds naturally found in cacao, many of the potential health benefits arguably are retained after this process (Minifie 1970).
“Dutching” the Cocoa
Perhaps the more significant contribution of Coenraad van Houten is the process known as “Dutching,” which involved treating the natural cocoa powder with alkaline salts with the goal of making the powder more dissolvable (Robbins and Coe 2006). This process proved transcendental as it not only improved the creation of chocolate drinks, but it also alleviated some of the bitterness associated with cacao and created a more intense color for the cocoa powder. However, this “Dutching” process indeed alters the chemical composition of the cocoa powder, and thus potentially affects the medicinal benefits of chocolate (Minifie 1970). Alongside the significantly improved solubility of cocoa powder, this new product also opened the door to produce chocolate bars and other varieties of chocolate products.
Marketing Overcomes Reality
Regardless of the changes caused by the alkalization of cocoa powder, the Van Houten company that initially manufactured Dutch process cocoa, as it become commonly known as, had aggressive campaigns that emphasized the health benefits associated with cocoa powder consumption. To overcome the stronghold on drinks that tea and coffee seemed to have, this variety of cocoa was seminal in the rise of chocolate as a consumed good throughout the world (Van Houten’s Cocoa). Additionally, given the new-found ability to create chocolate bars, the Dutch process cocoa occupied a substantive sector of the market without a proper grasp of what was truly healthy about it. With little to no actual understanding of why chocolate and cocoa were healthy, companies were able to leverage these supposed health benefits for immense capital gain.
Alongside these marketing ventures, it is also essential to consider the official classification for what constitutes chocolate. With the introduction of these new processing techniques, chocolate was essentially bastardized to a point beyond traditional recognition. Therefore, as large manufacturer’s like Cadbury and Nestle introduction new products like milk chocolate, these products began to deviate immensely from the chocolate drinks that Van Houten aimed to modernized (Leissle 2018). Furthermore, as other additives became increasingly prominent within cocoa powder and subsequently chocolate, it became difficult to classify what truly could be considered authentic chocolate.
The Fall of Chocolate’s Medicinal Value
With the creation of the first chocolate bar by Joseph Fry in 1847, sugar and cocoa butter were added to the Dutch process cocoa to make it more palatable (Leissle 2018). In the mid-20th century, the health benefits associated with chocolate had largely subsided as the sugar and fat levels continued to increase dramatically. As sugar and fat became villainized in terms of their detrimental health effects, chocolate suffered a similar fate, so the purported medical benefits were put on the back burner (Rasmussen 2012). Given the shifted emphasis of what constitutes health, chocolate at some point during this span transitioned from being a food with purported health benefits into an unhealthy product.
In the modern era, chocolate had been essentially demonized for its hedonistic and unhealthy nature, but there are trends that also aim to counteract these movements. Through historical and scientific approaches, chocolate is essentially at the intersection of healthy and unhealthy foods. Given the high amounts of sugar and fat found within common varieties of chocolate, chocolate is partly responsible for the obesity crisis within the United States (Rasmussen 2012). On the other hand, modern longitudinal studies have suggested potential long-term health benefits associated with moderate chocolate consumption. However, it is important to contextualize these results given the amount of money within the modern chocolate lobby. To counteract the negative publicity surrounding chocolate, many positive studies are funded by chocolate and cocoa interest groups, which skew the results to favor the health benefits of chocolate (Fleming 2018).
Dutch Process Chemical Modifications
While it is difficult to truly assess the health benefits of chocolate, there are methods of measuring absolute levels of certain chemical compounds that are known to have beneficial health effects. The composition of cacao itself is noted to have caffeine, flavonoids, antioxidants, and a variety of minerals (Li 2012). However, the process of “Dutching” has been shown to decrease the relative levels of these healthy compounds through the reaction with alkaline salts (Miller 2008). Furthermore, the stereochemistry of common flavins was shown to be altered, which means that “healthier” flavins are lost through the “Dutching” process (Hurst 2011). Therefore, despite the struggle to understand the exact health benefits associated with cocoa and chocolate, the ubiquitous usage of the Dutch process does lower the health value of cocoa and chocolate.
Overall, the perception of chocolate as a health food has varied throughout history and remains enigmatic. Chocolate used to have an elite status of providing exceptional nourishment, so the Dutch process was pivotal as it increased accessibility to such a sought-after food. However, the repercussions of the Dutch process were also immensely influential as the production of chocolate bars and variations of chocolate began to arise. As this processing became ubiquitous, the purity of chocolate was diluted with significant increases in the proportion of sugar and fat that comprised the food. With the strength of the modern chocolate lobby, the reputation of chocolate has been widely restored, but the purported health benefits are up for further discussion. The single innovation of the Dutch process snowballed into the modern chocolate industry and is responsible for shifting the paradigm of whether cacao was healthy to if the bastardized version of chocolate has nutritional value.
Even after all this analysis, it brings us back to the question that plagues us all. Is chocolate healthy?
Hurst, W Jeffrey, et al. “Impact of Fermentation, Drying, Roasting and Dutch Processing on Flavan-3-Ol Stereochemistry in Cacao Beans and Cocoa Ingredients.” Chemistry Central Journal, vol. 5, no. 1, 2011, p. 53., doi:10.1186/1752-153x-5-53.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Li, Yue, et al. “The Effect of Alkalization on the Bioactive and Flavor Related Components in Commercial Cocoa Powder.” Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, vol. 25, no. 1, 2012, pp. 17–23., doi:10.1016/j.jfca.2011.04.010.
Miller, Kenneth B., et al. “Impact of Alkalization on the Antioxidant and Flavanol Content of Commercial Cocoa Powders.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 56, no. 18, 2008, pp. 8527–8533., doi:10.1021/jf801670p.
Minifie, Bernard W. Chocolate, Cocoa and Confectionary: Science and Technology. Avi Publ., 1970.
Rasmussen, Nicolas. “Weight Stigma, Addiction, Science, and the Medication of Fatness in Mid-Twentieth Century America.” Sociology of Health & Illness, vol. 34, no. 6, 2012, pp. 880–895., doi:10.1111/j.1467-9566.2011.01444.x.
Van Houten’s Cocoa. “There Is No Nourishment In Tea or Coffee, but Plenty in Cocoa Especially in Van Houten’s.” Dutch Innovation, 29 May 2013, d1oww3ejuoh8m6.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/vanhouten-542×385.jpg.
“Van Houten’s Cocoa.” Alchetron, 4 Mar. 2018, alchetron.com/cdn/coenraad-johannes-van-houten-32ec3165-8809-4b1b-aeb7-63893a18afd-resize-750.jpeg.
Dating back to the Olmec civilization
starting around 1500 BCE, cacao has taken on uses in religious, cultural, and
medicinal contexts (Coe & Coe, 2013). It was featured in early colonial
documents alleviating fevers and treating fatigue. Global consumption of sugar
and chocolate skyrocketed so that it contributed to the obesity epidemic in
America. Americans now question the “healthy” snack that used to “food of the
gods” (Lippi, 2009). As our society becomes more health conscious, chocolate
consumption declines. Brands like Hershey’s and Mars are adjusting their
products, and snackers opt for vitamin-rich dark chocolate, smoothies, and
salads. For years to come in the United States, chocolate most likely will
remain integral to social events but be consumed in smaller amounts and
different contexts, such as protein shakes and bars, more frequently than
caloric snacks off the shelves at the cash register.
Although chocolate was consumed in religious rituals, social settings, and used for decorations, it was also applied to cure illnesses. The ancient Maya believed it had many benefits, including aphrodisiac qualities, which is why we gift it on Valentine’s day (Martin, Feb. 13 Lecture). Manuscripts featured chocolate in medical applications, such as the Badianus Codex of 1552 using cacao flowers to treat fatigue, the Florentine Codex of 1590 using cacao beans to treat hearts, and the Badianus Manuscript of 1552 applying cacao flowers to energize men in public office (Dillinger et al., 2000). The books of Chilam Balamand and The Ritual of the Bacabs are copies of codices and also feature cacao being used as medicine (Dreiss & Greenhill, 2008). The Maya used it during ceremonies to alleviate fevers, seizures, and skin abnormalities. Their botanical remedies typically featured cacao as the main ingredient to cure such ailments.
Alphonse de Richeliu introduced the treatment to France, and it was taken on for energy, digestion, breast milk production, kidney stones, poor appetite, and other purposes (Coe & Coe). The Spanish even believed it improved conception probability and breast milk quality (Dillinger et al., 2000). Chocolate was thought to have many nutrients, so the Church banned consuming it during religious fasts unless for medicinal purposes. Chocolate was considered a cure for almost any ailment.
Chocolate consumption grew exponentially throughout the 1900s due to several innovations that allowed mass production of cheaper chocolate and enabled it to spread beyond the elite. Incomes rose and production costs fell after the Industrial Revolution. Coenraad Johannes Van Houton invented the hydraulic press, which separated cocoa solids from cocoa butter (Coe & Coe, 2013).
As shown above, the press is comprised of cylinders,
pistons, and hydraulic pipes. A piston is inserted into the small cylinder to
create pressure so liquid cocoa can move through the pipes (Coe & Coe, 2013).
As it goes through the press, the fat is squeezed out and the result is fat
free cocoa powder. Another development was conchin, a stirring process to make
chocolate smooth. These inventions allowed chocolate to change from a foamy
drink only consumed by the elite to a cheap and delicious option for all
classes. Fry & Nestle even created a solid form of chocolate, which further
increased accessibility (Coe & Coe, 2013). Mintz noted that sugar
production increased so much that it became integral to the English diet
(Mintz, 1986). By 1900, sugar constituted 20% of English calories consumed and
chocolate was a major part of their diets.
There are positive effects to chocolate. Dark chocolate has a high cocoa content and antioxidants. Harvard Health notes that dark chocolate can help athletes’ oxygen availability during competition (Tello, 2018). Americans adopted chocolate as a delicious treat but had difficulty consuming it in moderation. Today, chocolate mostly is seen as a contributor to obesity. Many favorite snacks are loaded with sugar and fat. Cacao butter is filled with saturated fat and harmful for cholesterol (Mintz, 1986). With America wrestling with an obesity epidemic, chocolate and sugar are identified as culprits.
Rather than focusing on the medicinal qualities of chocolate, society now raises concerns about high sugar content (Twitter). Low prices of huge sharing size bags lead to some consuming excessive amounts of sugar in one sitting. A bag of Hershey’s individually wrapped chocolate bars contains up to 81 grams of sugar (Google Images). The negative health effects commercial chocolate contains are gaining media attention, and people are adjusting their eating habits accordingly.
Consumption of chocolate is now falling in America because of trends toward being healthier and losing weight. Diet brands are raking in dollars as consumers opt for more nutritious options with less sugar. Salad chains, Weight Watchers, and workout classes such as Barry’s Boot Camp and Soul Cycle have become popular. Chocolate consumption drops. The average American ate 12.6 lbs of chocolate in 2007 but only 9.5 lbs in 2015 (Wong, 2016). Healthier brands like Atkins and Kind are selling better than Hershey’s and forcing companies to adjust to their audiences. A recent Skinny Pop commercial depicts the new trend:
The commercial ends with a child remarking, “It’s all real, that’s pretty cool” regarding the three ingredients in Skinny Pop (popcorn, sunflower oil, salt). The next generation is being raised to be more health conscious and to consume natural ingredients rather than sugar and saturated fat.
The consumption decline is shown by dominant brands diversifying as they lose market share. More than 50% of confectionary market share was controlled by only five brands: Hershey’s, Mars, Nestle, Craft, and Ferrero (Coe & Coe, 2013). Hershey’s recently acquired amplify snack brands, which owns Skinny Pop, in a $1.6 billion deal (Global News Wire, 2017). Hershey’s is even beginning to produce meat bars, as their former best sellers are no longer sailing off shelves. Hershey’s isn’t the only old dominant brand struggling. Mars invested in Kind Bars, which features health conscious mottos on their labels (Global news Wire, 2017). Chocolate brands adjust their products and tailor to a changing audience, which will alter how chocolate is consumed.
Not only are Americans consuming less chocolate, but when they do it is in different contexts. Fitness spots such as Equinox still sell chocolate but offer bars that are gluten, dairy, sugar alcohol, and trans fat free.
Chocolate is featured in low sugar bars and protein shakes more frequently than in caloric foamy drinks. The turn in society towards healthier lifestyles, less sugar consumption, and increased fitness has caused vendor diversification and is changing the way chocolate is consumed.
Despite chocolate and cacao’s widespread medicinal uses in the past, it has been demoted to a sugary dessert in America. As people fight the obesity crisis, consumers practice self-control and grab alternative foods off the shelves. Brands with “skinny” in the name have grown in number: skinny pop, skinny cow, and halo top with the number of calories in huge print. Advertisements featuring natural ingredients, such as the Skinny Pop commercial, are successful. The chocolate market may never be the same—Hershey’s with the famous brown sealed chocolate bar now is selling popcorn and even meat bars (yuck). Not only has chocolate consumption declined, but the way the population consume it has changed because it is being revamped into healthier foods and not just sweet desserts.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael
D. Coe. 2013 . The True History of
Chocolate. 3rd edition. London:
Thames & Hudson.
Dillinger, Teresa, et al. “Food of the
Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of
Chocolate.” Oxford Academic The Journal of Nutrition, Oxford
University Press, 1 Aug. 2000, academic.oup.com/jn/article/130/8/2057S/4686320.
Dreiss, Meredith L., and Sharon Edgar
Greenhill. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods. University of Arizona
Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 13 Feb. 2017. Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney. 1986. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.Popcorn, SkinnyPop. “SkinnyPop | Simple Tastes Better.” YouTube, YouTube, 10 Aug. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iCta8t7BmU.
I love chocolate and I love sugar even more. I have loved both since I was a child and will continue to love them well into my old age. The first time I tasted a Snickers chocolate bar on a small Caribbean island where almost all chocolate is imported, I was hooked- no other candy bar could compare. The Snickers bar became my cradle to grave candy bar and even today when I have one decades later, I tend to flash back to the nostalgic time when getting that chocolate (or any chocolate really) for me was a rare and expensive sugar-rush to be savored. In Barbados, the nation’s relationship with chocolate in general and sugar more specifically tends to be complicated by its history of slave labor production and British colonization (Beckles, 2017). Even in present day, conversations around the health of locals and sugar consumption are often linked back to the repercussions of this history.
Growing up in the Caribbean, there was no Halloween, no teachers that would give out candy to their students as rewards for good work in the classroom, no goodie bags filled with a delightful assortment at parties for me. Chocolate was a coveted treat and one that I was taught to respect as a child as something of value for having done good or been good in order to “deserve” it. While other kids would spend their lunch money on snacks, sweets, and chocolate during break, I was under strict rules not to spend money on such frivolities. Back then I was raised with the idea that chocolate and other sugary food was not money well spent and that the over consumption of sugar was a result of a still colonized mind. Although chocolate was not at the time as much of a staple as it is now, especially compared to the developed West, sugar was everywhere and in almost everything, like America and the UK. Bajans consumed large amounts of sugar regularly and have been since the mid 1600s when Britain relied on the colony for crops and began manufacturing sugar cane for their own consumption (Martin, 2018, slides 2-9).
Moreover, my mother- a professional cook and very health conscious- believed there were more potential health risks to eating chocolate and sugary treats and thought the health benefits were minimal. My grandfather had many theories on sugar’s use for the demise of the black population by the British crown.
He would say that the sugar industry used invasive propaganda and historically colonized slave mentality to keep locals pacified in order to maintain control of the island and keep its people unhealthy- like a drug. I had no idea what he meant by that back then, I was barely 7-8 years old when we would have these talks about the aftermath of sugar plantations in Barbados. Not until I was older did I reflect on these conversations and revisit them again in a class on chocolate culture.
My grandfather’s words resurfaced again when I read Sweetness and Power by Sidney Mintz. He wrote, “the upward climb of both production and consumption within the British Empire must be seen as part of an even larger general movement…We know that sugar consumption in the old sugar colonies…was part always very substantial- indeed, that slaves were given sugar, molasses, and even rum during slavery period as part of their rations” (Mintz, 1985, p. 72). When my grandfather would lecture on the perils of sugar- the cause of painful and expensive cavities, my diabetic relatives (one of which had the bottom part of her leg amputated from too my sugar in her diet), or the root of making people sluggish and less intelligent- did I start to develop a profound fear and wonder about the power of confectionaries. How could something so delicious be so dangerous? It took me many years to realize it was not just chocolate that was the primary concern for him. It was the production of sugar in Barbados by the enslavement of black people under British colonization and the exploitation of the island. The impact in which continues to have adverse risks to its citizens still.
There is a long tradition in Barbados to produce sugar in addition to an impulse to consume large amounts as well, which started with Britain’s obsession with the commodity. In fact, the turning point of British sugar production was the settlement of Barbados and thus both nations were transformed. One nation with the need to consume, the other forced to produce for consumption. Mintz aptly writes:
“England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fasted in creating a plantation system. The most important product of that system was sugar. Coffee, chocolate (cacao), nutmeg, and coconut were among the other products, but the amount of sugar produced, the numbers of its users, and the range of its uses exceeded the others; and it remained the principal product for centuries” (Mintz p. 38).
Thus, my relationship with chocolate in my formative years was neither abundant nor overindulgent and my view of sugar was entwined with stories of the colonized bodies of my ancestors. Still I was a child and I had a sweet tooth- like many others from the island-, which made my mother wearier of permitting me to have it out of fear I would become gluttonous, overweight, and doltish. With diabetes prevalent on both sides of the family there were lectures on the perils of sugar and my ultimate demise if I consumed too often. This was ingrained into my childhood. However, kids will be kids and I found ways to get chocolate whenever I could and hide it craftily. My morning tea was mostly sugar. This complicated relationship with chocolate and sugar during my childhood in the Caribbean continued into adulthood abroad.
Barbados is not like other islands in Caribbean for many reasons. First, it is a very small island, one of the smallest. Second, it is the most outside of the Caribbean strip of islands and more isolated with a population of less than 300,000 people. What it does have in common with places such as St. Lucia, Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Jamaica is that they were also ensnared in European and British colonization of their bodies and land for crop production. Now while many of these islands have transformed this into strong chocolate tourism foundation that has begun to flourish in the recent decades along with traditional crops of the past, Barbados struggles to join this cash crop sector. On other islands everything from haute and terroir chocolate to cheap chocolate are being produced. They were able to embrace the agricultural aftermath of slavery to make cacao and sugar into a moneymaking industry that appeals strongly to Western conception of sophistication and acceptability. In contrast, Barbados in the aftermath as a sugar producing island, chose to set up shop as a strong island tourism base and minimize the sugar industry production along with the dark history that came with it. In addition, the island is simply too small to produce many of its own crops, cacao being one of them. This caused many confectionery and snack factories in Barbados to be purchased and moved to Trinidad and Tobago as demand grew.
Looking back, it seems ironic that I thought cheap chocolate was more of an iconic delicacy than it really was. For instance, a $1 Snickers bar in America cost ~$4 USD in Barbados so its value felt more significant. Hence, it is understandable to me now why such chocolate was considered a special treat, especially in a family that thought it a wasteful. Growing up in Barbados, I had literally never eaten chocolate made on the island or any of the surrounding islands. Some factories used our sugar but that was about it, so it seemed like chocolate was a foreign substance from far off lands.
The only exposure to “fine” chocolate I had in the Caribbean was Cadbury Chocolate, a British multinational confectionery company that dominates the island almost single-handedly. Among locals, it is either loved or hated and can oftentimes be highly political because of its connection to the UK. Many believe that Britain as a nation continues to claw its way into the island’s industry via companies such as Cadbury, thus control by the British crown continues invisibility and from afar. Cadbury Chocolate in an island once dominated by a hugely profitable sugar industry that exploited African slaves is a contentious past still being unpacked.
Cadbury can be found everywhere on the island. Although the price is significantly higher than other candy bars, locals love it and consider it more “high end”. Although in the past 5-10 years more variety and quality chocolate is coming into the island and locals are getting a real taste of what good chocolate can be. It can be more than milk chocolate and chocolate covered candy. It has been a slow process because in Barbados dark chocolate is uncommon and unpopular. That is why one of the calls to action by local Bajans (and already promoted by other surrounding islands) is taking advantage of the blooming interest by tourists to try locally made chocolate and and for locals to reclaim untold histories.
In that respect, the island is now revisiting the history of cacao and sugar and getting more involved with the booming industry. In 2010, Agapey Chocolate was founded in Barbados conveniently located at the capital of Bridgetown. It is the only chocolate company on the island and is the only bean to bar chocolate company in Barbados.
Although the company was not very well known at first, it has grown in popularity among tourist and locals are now also taking advantage of their delicacies. The company has won multiple international awards and went through the process of Fair Trade certification (Agapey 2018). They offer in-depth tours of the factory that explain how their chocolate is made and also the history of chocolate and the role of cacao and sugar in the Caribbean. It is a good example of changing attitudes towards dark chocolate and progress in using local ingredients like rum and coconut to stimulate the economy.
An International Cultural Exploration of Chocolate and Sugar
When I journeyed across the North Atlantic Ocean and set up a new home in Somerville, Ma. I soon learned about the abundance of chocolate and its widespread availability for any and every occasion, or no occasion at all. My mind was blown. Now in this wondrous place, chocolate could be found in almost every store, market, gas station, etc. It is not rare or expensive. It can be very expensive with places like L.A Burdick’s or it can be cheap like a Snickers from CVS. With my mother back in Barbados, I had no restrictions on my chocolate or sugar intake and I swiftly sought to make up for lost time, eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. It was liberating; this was America. I ate so much candy my first months of arrival, I could not get enough. Sugar consumption was even more rampant and readily available in almost everything people consumed.
Retrospectively, Somerville turned out to be one of the best places in the U.S to get a real taste of a multicultural experience, including its cuisine, which made for a great exploration of the candied goods of other lands. There has been a long tradition of community building at the foundation of local revitalization and urban development in Somerville that took a great amount of pride in exposing neighbors to “food from back home”. For many longtime residents, organizing community-building initiatives at the neighborhood and local government level has been a strategic way to promote the city’s rich cultural diversity and mixed-income environment. It also created bridges to parts of the population that might otherwise face isolation from resources aimed to empower them to take agency in improving their own socio-economic condition, particularly immigrants and people of color. Food was used to bridge the divide.
One of the first events I attended to increase exposure to different cultures was an annual international food fair held at Somerville High School where all the food was made by students, staff, or donated by local businesses. My recollection of walking through the school’s gymnasium and sampling different foods from over 100+ countries and cultures represented was a lasting experience. My Brazilian friend took me over to a table where I had my first bon-bon, a chocolate covered wafer with more chocolate inside that is widely popular in Brazil and now internationally. Another friend showed me her homemade milky coconut cardamon treats of India. There was table after table with food that I had never tried before, a whole candy world outside of Snickers and Cadbury.
For my first Halloween, my friends who had been trained in this occasion advised me to ditch the Halloween bucket and grab an old pillowcase. A pillowcase I thought, how much candy could we possibly get? The answer to that was a lot, a pillowcase half way full equating to more than four of the buckets I was going to bring. Every holiday and special occasion involved candy and chocolate. In addition, because of Somerville’s immense international population, there was not just the typical American candy, but treats coming from all over the world. I became seasoned quickly on how, where, and when to get candy and what chocolate came from which country. Chocolate became a constant and a source of comfort as I adjusted to life in America. Chocolate was for sharing between friends, indulging with cousins, and for no occasion at all.
Not until college did I learn the meaning behind fair trade, direct trade, or bean to bar- thus my ignorance of chocolate started to unfold. As Maricel Presilla writes, “to know chocolate, you must know that the candy in the box or the chef’s creation on the plate begins with the bean, the complex genetic profile of different cacao strains” (Presilla, 2009, p. 4). So began my segway into learning about chocolate production and saying goodbye to Snickers for a bit. I wanted to know about chocolate beyond what popular culture had taught me and beyond what my childhood experiences had ingrained.
I became engrossed with learning about the history of chocolate. I went to Madrid, Spain where I drank chocolate for the first time. Discovered theobroma cacao comes from Greek and means “food of the gods”. I learned that Spanish invaders took the word cacao and their first real knowledge of cacao came from the Maya people of the Yucatan Peninsula. They used the word chokola’j, or ‘to drink together’. (Presilla, 2009, p. 10-12) and chocolate is amount one of the bastardized words created because it was easier for Europeans to pronounce. There I saw that even from the naming of cacao that history of chocolate was written and known mostly from a western-centric point of view and that influence continues today. I needed a different more authentic understanding of chocolate and kept traveling. I visited Tlaxcala, a sovereign state in Mexico with a strong connection to its complex history with cacao. There I used a molinillo for the first time- a whisking device to make cacao frothy- and drank a cup of chocolate that I helped prepare using traditional Mexican tools like the metate.
The story of how cacao developed from a sacred drink to the industrialized food that it is today is a complex history that dates back thousands of years. The story of how sugar production exploded in the Caribbean is also connected to the history of cacao. The bodies of black and brown people were used for European gain as was the land. Today, this history can be very complicated for the generations that followed. My relationship with chocolate and sugar has evolved overtime from a child in Barbados to a teen in America, to a traveler of the world. As my own understanding of these topics continues to expand, I will continue to enjoy these goods the best I can and keep educating myself on the topic.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. (1996). The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.
Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, abolition, and forced labor’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 28 Feb. 2018. Class Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin, 1985. Print.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009. Print.
Chocolate, and what it means to people, differs across time and space. From its inception as the seeds of a fruit tree to the myriad ways in which it is transformed and eventually consumed by humans, chocolate’s potential variety seems limitless. The history of chocolate merits this variety; it is a fascinating story across multiple continents and cultures. What becomes ever more apparent when studying chocolate’s history as a food, and potentially as a healthy food, is that human obsession with food – in general, but more pertinent to this paper as a source of health – is no new phenomenon. The Western diet has undergone huge transformation since the industrial revolution, chocolate was transformed along with it, and both have not slowed in their development. When chocolate was first encountered by Europeans, the scientific reasoning behind food knowledge was based on a 1500-year-old system developed in Ancient Greece and Rome. Today, modern science allows us to measure the nutritional content of anything and everything we can think of ingesting. But, alas, this technological exactitude has not led to uniform consensus when it comes to which foods are healthy and which are not. Diversity, in both our options of foods and the opinions on which of them we should choose to consume, still reigns supreme. This paper will track chocolate, from its birth place to the continents where it is now most widely and voluminously consumed, and attempt to appraise its value as a beneficial dietary supplement. It will also discuss what effect the perception of chocolate as a health food might have on the industry today. What becomes apparent is that, while Galen’s humours may no longer hold sway in the scientific realm, the Hellenic wisdom from Apollo’s temple that prescribes, “Everything in Moderation,” is as true today as it was two thousand years ago.
According to Michael and Sophie Coe, in their exhaustively well-researched book, The True History of Chocolate, feelings have been mixed about the legitimacy of chocolate as a health food for a long time. The Aztecs, who did not discover or invent the cacao seed and its most valued product, but were controlling the product across its empire with an iron fist, did not view chocolate as a panacea like some Europeans came to do. For the Aztecs, the chocolate drink, as it was consumed then, was taken chiefly as a preferable option to wine – drunkenness being hugely frowned upon (Coe: 75). There were some supposed benefits, that were reported by the Spanish mendicant friars, including increased “success with women” (Coe: 96), and as a cooling drink that could be taken before hard labour to avoid overheating (Coe: 123). But there were also warnings against chocolate, with a myth purporting that chocolate had made Aztecs fat and weak, distancing them from their superior forebears (Coe: 77). In Europe, chocolate arrived as a medicine (but Coe notes, “it soon became a medicine that was appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation, 126). However, the guise under which it came, the now utterly refuted Galenic humoral system, makes its supposed benefits interesting but not pertinent to this discussion. To sum up briefly, chocolate was claimed to benefit a host of ailments including: angina, constipation, dysentery, dyspepsia, kidney disease, liver disease, breast and stomach illness, asthenia, indigestion, fatigue, gout, haemorrhoids, erectile dysfunction, and the list goes on.1 It was not until modern medical research took root in the 19th century that false claims started to become harder to make (though they have never been completely extinguished).
So what claims can be made about chocolate? Unfortunately, because chocolate in the United States only has to be 10% or more made from cacao, very little can be said uniformly about chocolate.2 So it is important to clarify that the only chocolates that can be said to have possible health benefits (at least benefits that derive from the cacao) must be those produced with a significant cacao content. Much has been said recently about the health benefits of dark chocolate, some of it true, some of it exaggerated, and some of it quite misleading. If one googles, “dark chocolate health,” the vast majority of articles one will find will boast of the “superfood” qualities of high cacao content chocolate or of the benefits of adding raw powdered cacao as a supplement to one’s diet.3 The nutritional properties of cacao most touted are its antioxidants – polyphenols and flavonoids – with claims that they are good for cardiovascular health, protection from disease, anticancer properties, lower cholesterol, cognitive health, and lower blood pressure.4 Antioxidants has become a “buzzword” in the health community, especially the health selling community, and so anything that can be provably claimed to contain antioxidants and can also be produced and sold will appear in advertising before long. However, scientific research results have not proved as exciting as the claims of fitness and holistic-living “experts.” The antioxidant immunity boost from chocolate has showed to be extremely short-lived in humans5 and studies have revealed, like that of red wine’s supposed health benefits, that the amount of chocolate (or wine) that would need to be consumed to enjoy the rewards from the antioxidants contained would be such an enormous amount that the damage caused by the fat and sugar (or alcohol) would far outweigh the goodness done.6 Thus, the health benefits of chocolate, if any, must be attainable from a small amount, as its fat content is so high.
So if the antioxidants in chocolate are too small in number, are there any other benefits to eating dark chocolate? In short, yes. Small amounts of very dark chocolate, approximately 85% cocoa content, do boast three important nutrients that, while less glamorous than immortality-inducing antioxidants, are incredibly important to human health. High cacao content chocolate boasts impressive amounts of fibre, iron, and magnesium. While the numbers are not uniform brand to brand, a comparison of eight brands at a Somerville, Massachusetts convenience store (Perugina, Green and Blacks, Jelina, Scharffen Berger, Newman’s Own, Lindt, Chocolove, and Divine) showed enough correlation to warrant discussion. The average fibre content from the eight brands darkest products (ranging from 72%-85%) was 19% of a person’s recommended daily amount; for iron it was 27.5%. Magnesium is generally not listed on FDA required packaging and so product to product this number is hard to acquire. However, Humana Press’s comprehensive compendium, Chocolate in Health and Nutrition, is not vague when it comes to chocolates magnesium content claiming, “Chocolate has one of the highest magnesium levels reported of all foods.” (Watson 430) Are these facts about chocolate’s nutritional profile important? Possibly. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service claims that 57% of Americans do not have enough magnesium in their diet; it also claims, more dramatically, that 92% of Americans do not get sufficient fibre in their diet.7 Magnesium deficiency is not trivial. The American National Institutes of Health claims:
“Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. It has been recognised as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymatic reactions, where it is crucial for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) metabolism. Magnesium is required for DNA and RNA synthesis, reproduction, and protein synthesis. Moreover, magnesium is essential for the regulation of muscular contraction, blood pressure, insulin metabolism, cardiac excitability, vasomotor tone, nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction. Imbalances in magnesium status—primarily hypomagnesemia as it is seen more common than hypermagnesemia—might result in unwanted neuromuscular, cardiac or nervous disorders. Based on magnesium’s many functions within the human body, it plays an important role in prevention and treatment of many diseases. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease (e.g., stroke), migraine headaches, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”8
For anyone living in America, sadly, these diseases and afflictions are not unfamiliar. Fiber deficiency too poses health risk with the Harvard School of Public Health claiming, “Fiber appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, and constipation.”9 Iron deficiency is not, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, a seriously prevalent issue among Americans with 89.5% getting enough in their diet. Although the risks associated with iron deficiency, for one in ten Americans,
“can delay normal infant motor function (normal activity and movement) or mental function (normal thinking and processing skills… can increase risk for small or early (preterm) babies.Small or early babies are more likely to have health problems or die in the first year of life than infants who are born full term and are not small, … cause fatigue that impairs the ability to do physical work in adults. Iron deficiency may also affect memory or other mental function in teens.”10
Iron deficiency is not a huge issue at the moment, but with the amount of meat being consumed in the American diet coming under attack, alternative sources of iron might be important to a new generation of health and environmentally conscious consumers looking to eat considerably less meat, and with it the iron it provides.
The number not yet mentioned, but most important when discussing the possible benefits or dangers of high cacao content chocolate is that of the fat, and especially saturated fat, content. The average saturated fat content from a single serving of one the eight brands mentioned previously is 58% of the recommended daily amount, according to the FDA packaging. This number is astronomically high. The dangers of saturated have been widely reported for many decades10 but recently there has been contention within the medical community. The British Medical Journal posted a controversial article in 2017 claiming “Saturated fat does not clog the arteries… Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong.”13 The article came under fire, not for necessarily being outright wrong, but for being misleading.14 Fat is still something that should be monitored, whatever the type is being consumed. So, unlike a food source like a kiwi, which boasts enormous health benefits and can be added to any diet with no known drawbacks (unless one is allergic), chocolate can only be effectively employed as a source of nutrients to a diet low in fat. For many this is bad news. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service reports that only 40% of Americans are staying within the guidelines of consuming 10% or less of their calories from saturated fat.15 Ultimately, this means for a large section of society the only way to employ dark chocolate as a health food is if they restructure their diet to include significantly less saturated fats.
So, if it can be argued that a small amount of high quality dark chocolate can be employed as a nutritious source of food to an already health conscious individual, what could this man for the industry today? One positive effect that has started to occur is that people’s dissatisfaction with the amount of sugar in their diet has caused producers to start making chocolate with much higher cacao content. With cacao content coming under focus, the origin, quality, and ethical standards in production of the cacao have come out of the shadows for mainstream consumers to take a better appreciation of the politics behind what they put in their bodies. Chocolate has a dark past that unfortunately it has not completely shed. But with cacao becoming the star of the show for many selective buyers, attention is increasing, albeit too slowly, to cacaos often third-world origins and the ethics of production in countries like Ghana and The Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, healthy (or at least healthier) chocolate does not mean ethical chocolate. Lindt is a brand that has not exonerated itself with total transparency after accusations of turning a blind eye to the unethical means of production of its chocolate. Yet its 85% bar is a favourite among fitness enthusiasts for its nutritional content and great flavour.16
What is exciting is the recent explosion of craft chocolate in the United States and beyond. Craft chocolatiers are typically willing to pay more for their beans, and as Dr Martin of Harvard University has written, “buyers must pay more for cacao, uncertified and certified. Both practically and morally, consistent cacao farmer poverty in an industry replete with wealth is unacceptable.”17 Craft chocolate is also inherently made from higher quality ingredients, and with an emphasis on a robust amount of cacao per bar. An often reliably healthier option than mass-produced chocolate. The craft chocolate market is still small and producers have for the most part stayed clear of buying beans from West Africa, where the bulk of ethical concerns lie. However, increase in chocolate consumption is rising rapidly according to an article publish recently in Vox, “Chocolate retail sales in the US have risen from $14.2 billion in 2007 to $18.9 billion in 2017, the market research group Euromonitor International found, at a time when candy sales overall have been waning.”18 If demand for craft chocolate increases, perhaps a future where farmers are able to choose to sell their beans to craft chocolatiers over mass-producing corporations is possible.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 1996. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.
Watson, RR, Preedy, VR & Zibadi, S 2013, Chocolate in health and nutrition. Humana Press Inc. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-61779-803-0
1. Martin, Carla D. “Health, Nutrition, and the Politics of Food.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 4/11/18, Class Lecture
2. Martin, Carla D. “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 3/7/18, Class Lecture