Tag Archives: health

Chocolate: Medicine’s Gateway into Society

Chocolate has elicited interest as a possible medicine across time for early Mesoamericans to Renaissance Europeans to modern Americans. Renaissance Europeans, desperate for medical solutions, attempted to fit chocolate into their rudimentary medical theory and touted it as a cure for a wide array of maladies. A medicinal framing of chocolate facilitated its journey to Europe where it expanded its influence into culture. Despite continued debate, chocolate’s medical potential opened a gateway that allowed chocolate to enter and become largely accepted in European society. This interest and debate continues with a modern resurgence of interest in chocolate as medicine. Today researchers investigate the health benefits of chocolate while health bloggers proliferate their own sometimes exaggerated perspectives.

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Chocolate held spiritual and monetary value for the Mayan and Aztec peoples of Mesoamerica. However, it also fit into their medical theory. Mesoamericans believed disease and illness was born from imbalances of hot and cold. The Florentine Codex of 1590, created by a Spanish priest, noted that Mesoamericans drank chocolate to ease stomach pain and cure infections. It also played a role in treating diarrhea, fevers, and coughs (Dillinger, et al).

Europeans had a framework for understanding illness that traces back to the ancient Greek “Humoral Theory of Disease and Nutrition.” This theory holds that the body contains four humors– wet, dry, hot and cold. Like the Mesoamericans, they believed ill health stemmed from imbalance. In 130 AD Galen advanced the idea that disease could be treated by applying the opposite humor (a hot disease can be cured with a cold medicine, and so on). Europeans like Franciso Hernandez worked to fit chocolate into the medical theory of humors. Hernandez decided that chocolate should be classified as a “cold” drug (Coe & Coe, 122).

The medical potential of chocolate was appealing to Europeans, who were routinely affected by infections, diseases, and plagues for which they had no effective cure. In addition, a medical use provided a convenient rationale for drinking chocolate, for Christian Europeans were suspicious of substances like chocolate, coffee and tea that might  “upset moral behaviors” because of their “amorous properties and exciting effects” (Lippi). As a result, chocolate entered Europe cloaked as medicine that fit into the humoral theory of disease. However, like many other “drugs” such as coffee and tea, its role transformed into one of recreation. (Coe & Coe, 126). Doctors in each country debated its virtues and drawbacks while chocolate continued to develop a cultural role.

Chocolate began its European journeys in the Spanish court in the 17th century.  Marie de Villars, wife of the French ambassador to Spain, provides evidence that the elite believed in the health benefits of chocolate. De Villars writes “I observe my chocolate diet, to which I believe I owe my health…” (Coe & Coe).  Chocolate transformed into a drink that conveyed elite status and became common in the Spanish court. Chocolate likely entered Italy, France and England as medicine as well. Bonaventure d’ Argonne wrote that “…the Cardinal of Lyon was the first in France to use this drug… he uses it to moderate the vapors of his spleen” (Coe & Coe, 152). Chocolate became popular in French court while physicians continued to debate its medical properties. When chocolate arrived in England, a newspaper advertisement from 1659 claims that chocolate “cures and preserves the body of many diseases” (165). In England, chocolate expanded its cultural role beyond just the elite, as it was served to commoners in coffee houses. However, the popular chocolate drink, which was mixed with sugar, arose medical suspicions. Martin Lister wrote that after taking chocolate, “your Stomach is faint, craving and feels hollow and empty… it wears it [the gut] out.” Dr. Henry Stubbes felt that chocolate on its own was healthy, but the added sugar was not (170).

sugar-485045_960_720Like Henry Stubbes, modern people also do not view chocolate as healthy because it is associated with sugar, and awareness of sugar’s negative health impacts has grown in recent years. In the 2016 Huffington Post article “Sugar is Not Only a Drug, but a Poison Too” author David Samadi explains that “Too much sugar is harmful to the body and promotes inflammation and disease” and “sugar consumption is also a ma
jor risk factor for the development of other health conditions such as obesity and heart disease.”

Read more here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-david-samadi/sugar-is-not-only-a-drug-but-a-poison-too_b_8918630.html

The popular food blogger known as “The Food Babe” criticizes our modern chocolate for additives beyond just sugar. She shares concerns about the negative health impacts of corn syrup, trans fats, and artificial flavors and preservatives.

urlSee The Food Babe’s perspective here: http://foodbabe.com/2012/10/31/getting-conned-cheap-toxic-chocolate/

With negative attention like this in the media, it is easy to see why chocolate is perceived as unhealthy. However, modern medical researchers have renewed interest in the health benefits of chocolate as a stand alone ingredient, unadulterated by sugar and additives.

In 2011, researchers studied the heart health of 4970 participants aged 25-93 and recorded their chocolate intake. They found that participants who consumed chocolate had a decreased risk for coronary heart disease (Djousse, et al). Another 2011 study assessed other studies of chocolate and heart health. These researchers found that five out of seven studies showed chocolate to correlate with heart health. The most significant finding was that chocolate was associated with a 37% reduction in heart disease (Buitrago-Lopez, et al).

Read the studies here:



Medical research has revealed benefits beyond heart health as well. In 2013, a study revealed that polyphenols in chocolate correlate to positive mood. Participants who consumed chocolate reported an increase in calmness and contentment (Pase, et al).

Read the study here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23364814

Health bloggers and news sites often pick up on these research studies and present them for the average reader. However, their articles often simplify or exaggerate the health benefits of chocolate, and fail to clearly explain the meaning of recent research.

Check out these examples:




These articles sound encouraging, but Harvard Women’s Health Watch reminds us to remain skeptical because “while some observational studies have linked chocolate consumption to reductions in heart disease and dementia, they don’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship” (Is Chocolate Really a Health Food?). Further research is needed to confirm that the antioxidants in chocolate are truly protecting us against disease.

See the article here: http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/is-chocolate-really-a-health-food

Chocolate originally crossed the ocean to Europe as medicine, allowing it to overcome Christian suspicions around the moral permissibility of such an “exciting” drink. In Spain, Italy and France chocolate became a recreational drink for the elite and in England it expanded its reach to the common people. Chocolate’s recreational role eclipsed its medicinal and chocolate became commonplace in Western culture as a dessert; however, the debate over chocolate’s medical value never disappeared. Today we are witnessing a rebirth of curiosity in chocolate as medicine, as modern researchers aim to use scientific method to confirm what we all hope– that chocolate is more than just a delicious treat, but a healthy one too!

Work Cited

Buitrago-Lopez, et al. “Chocolate Consumption and Cardiometabolic Disorders: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.). U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2011. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.

Dillinger, et al. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” American Society for Nutritional Sciences. 2000. Web.

Djousse, et al. “Chocolate Consumption Is Inversely Associated with Prevalent Coronary Heart Disease: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study.” Clinical Nutrition. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2011. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.

“Is Chocolate Really a Health Food?” Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School, Sept. 2015. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.

Lippi, Donatella. Nutrients. May 2013. Web.

Pase, et al. “Cocoa Polyphenols Enhance Positive Mood States but Not Cognitive Performance: A Randomized, Placebo-controlled Trial.” Journal of Psychopharmacology. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.

Sophie D. Coe & Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 1996.

One Man’s Treat, Another Man’s “Temporary Heaven”

For many, chocolate is a delightful treat for the occasional indulgence, but for Buster it is his every day meditation. Chocolate is the favorite part of his day because with one bite Buster says he is put into his “temporary heaven”. He also noted that “if there is no chocolate in heaven, [he] will not be happy.” When asked about his first experience with chocolate he remembers going to the store and sticking a penny into a gum machine and getting a gum ball with speckles. If you got a gum ball with speckles you got to trade it in for a nickel to purchase a small candy bar. Little Buster had the time of his life choosing that Snickers bar and sharing it with his grandmother. It is experiences like this that show the true relationship that people can have with food. One brand of chocolate can bring forth a multitude of emotions and memories.

When Buster was a child, one Snickers cost only one nickel. 
The store Buster visited had one cent, speckled gum balls that you could trade in for a Nickel to buy  a candy bar. 


While interviewing Buster, I discovered that some of his memories of chocolate brought tears to his eyes. His “darling sweetheart Cheryl” and he would only argue about how she spoiled her two daughters, unless he came home with a Hershey’s Symphony chocolate bar. That was  the one treat “she wouldn’t share with her kids”. Sadly, Cherly passed away before they could get married, but this memory they shared with chocolate still lives on with Buster today. Chocolate is a truly amazing part of our world because one combination of flavors can hold the dearest memories in peoples’ hearts.


The favorite treat of Buster’s sweetheart. Hershey’s Symphony is milk chocolate filled with almonds and toffee chips. 


The nutritional value of chocolate and the healthy amount of chocolate people should consume daily has been debated over the years. Though chocolate is not labeled as a health food is has been proven to have benefits to people’s health. The Mayo Clinic states, “Chocolate and its main ingredient, cocoa, appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease (Zeratsky)”. Zeratsky goes into more detail to explain that,  “flavanols in cocoa beans have antioxidant effects that reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease,” and “Flavanols — which are more prevalent in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate — also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function.” It is these benefits of chocolate that avid chocolate eaters attribute as an “excuse” for their chocolate addictions. When Buster was asked if chocolate was healthy in a day-to-day diet, he answered, “yes most, and if it’s not I don’t care!” Buster eats chocolate every day and loves to journey into his favorite section of the candy aisle at Food Lion. The nutritional benefits of chocolate exist and though too much can cause weight gain and other health risks, a daily dose of chocolate certainly does not hurt with Buster being a true example.

Some people’s favorite part of chocolate is the delicious taste, but for Buster it is the benefit of meditation. With one piece of chocolate, he is able to “take [his] mind off [his] problems temporarily”. Chocolate has been proven to alleviate stress of many types. In 2009, a study found that the “consumption of 40 grams of dark chocolate per day for two weeks decreased urinary  cortisol (an indicator of physiological stress levels) in participants with chronic stress (Osdoba, 242)”. Another study of chocolate consumption showed, “just three days of dark chocolate consumption resulted in decrease levels of psychological street captured by self-reported anxiety and depression (Osdoba, 242)”. The chocolate Buster uses to meditate is Hershey’s special dark chocolate with almonds nuggets. Chocolate is a perfect tool for meditation because not only is meditating helpful in reliving stress, but the combination of chocolate is only added to the major benefits of the stress relief.


One nugget can be the perfect amount of chocolate for a short and relaxing meditation. 


Even today, Chocolate labels can be seen with the Pope on them. This is one example of a chocolate covered Oreo with the Pope on the packaging. 

Chocolate consumption can make people happy and feel good; that’s just one of the major benefits of it. For Buster, chocolate makes him “feel like [he is] enjoying one of the better aspects of life”. Buster even recalled from the Food Channel, that the Pope for years he was the only one to consume most of the chocolate. In fact, “in the 18th-century Italy, chocolate was the preferred drink of the Cardinals and they even had it brought in while they were electing a new Pope (Belardo)”. Though this was a special treat for the Cardinals, “chocolate was also rumored to have disguised a poison that killed Pope Clement XIV in 1774 (Belardo)”. In most cases, chocolate was always a great pleasure for the Pope and it was one “of the better aspects of life”. Historically, chocolate was only consumed by the elites at first because it was considered a high treat only for the best to consume. Chocolate is massed produced today and massed consumed, but the quality and enjoyment of it still remains in high status of many chocolate lovers’ lives.

While interviewing Buster, there was no doubt that he truly loved chocolate. He rated his favorite chocolate bar the Snickers a 10 out of 10; with all other chocolate bars having a score of 9 out of 10. Chocolate has helped in his favorite past time as well. Buster is an avid golfer and he finds the Snickers Bars to be a good source of energy on the golf course. “you eat them at the turn and have energy on the backside” while playing a round of golf. The only part of chocolate he does not like is when “you leave them in your golf bag too long in the summer time it melts and its hard to eat”. As one can easily see, Buster is dedicated to his chocolate consumption regularly and the only down fall is he craves it all the time.

Funny images like these are made by people to show the feelings of people who crave chocolate and must have it immediately.

Chocolate cravings are very common for many people, and there is science behind why people crave this delicious delight. The Journal of Nutrition cites that, “chocolate is the most frequently craved food in North America (Yanovski)”. There are ingredients in chocolate that explain why this is true.  Several “studies describe psychoactive substances in chocolate, including theobromine (a weak central nervous system stimulant), anandamide (an endogenous cannabinoid), phenylethylamine (an amphetamine-like compound) and caffeine (Yanovski)”. Though the content of these substances is very low in chocolate it can still affect craving slightly. Chocolate cravings can also occur when the body is going through hormonal changes, for example women on their menstrual cycle (Yanovski). Cravings of chocolate are not people simply wanting their favorite treat, the science behind it shows that chocolate cravings are real and can happen to anyone. Simply watching a chocolate commercial can spark the cravings for many, but for Buster’s case he craves chocolate all the time.

1169124_1358297761063_full.jpgPreferences for the time when people eat chocolate can vary among consumers. Most would argue that people eat chocolate generally as a dessert after meals. While others enjoy chocolate as a snack, usually as an impulse buy at the cash register. Buster noted that he enjoyed eating chocolate after meals because the flavor lasts longer in his mouth. Much to everyone’s disappoint though, too much chocolate can be very bad for you all at once. One story Buster shared with me was how he made a record of eating eleven chocolate milkshakes in one day. Needless to say, he did get quite sick for a moment. Chocolate can be healthy for you and the amount you eat can all depend on when you eat it, but be sure you eat just the right amount to enjoy chocolate at its best.

Some of the greatest aspects of chocolate can be hidden behind the ingredients and packing. Food is a delight and basic necessity for living, and the most powerful part of it is that it has the power to bring people together. Chocolate is able to bring people together to form friendships that may not have happened without the bond of chocolate.Though Buster and I share a work place (and he had to pass my desk to get to his working space), we did not become great friends until he stumbled upon my chocolate textbook on my desk. I found him reading the cover and telling me how fascinated he is with chocolate and how much he absolutely loves eating it. From that day forward, several times a week he would leave chocolate on my desk or hand me some chocolate nuggets from his pockets. Sometimes we even end up exchanging chocolate bars. We now share a unique friendship bonded by our love of chocolate and the enjoyment of consuming the amazing taste of it.


Belardo, Carolyn. “Chocolate-history.” Drexel University. N.p., n.d. Web.
“Blots Gumballs – 850 Count.” Blots Berry Gumballs. N.p., n.d. Web.
“Candyrageous » Blog Archive » Hershey’s Symphony.” Candyrageous RSS. N.p., n.d. Web.
“Chocolate Milkshake.” Recipes Hubs. N.p., n.d. Web.
“Hershey®’s Extra Dark and Hershey®’s Special Dark® Dark Chocolate Review.” The WiC Project Faith Free Giveaways Product Reviews Recipes. N.p., 24 Feb. 2010. Web.
“Made At RGU.” : Smart Food Swaps & Alternatives To Chocolate! N.p., 11 Mar. 2016. Web.
Osdoba, Katie E., Traci Mann, Joseph P. Redden, and Zata Vickers. “Using Food to Reduce Stress: Effects of Choosing Meal Components and Preparing a Meal.” Food Quality and Preference 39 (2015): 241-50. Web.
“Pope Francis Chocolate and Treats.” Zazzle. N.p., n.d. Web.
“Snickers®.” Snickers®. N.p., n.d. Web.
Yanovski, Susan. “Journal of Nutrition.” Sugar and Fat: Cravings and Aversions. N.p., 2003. Web.
Zeratsky, Katherine, R.D., L.D. “Can Chocolate Be Good For My Health?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 06 Dec. 2014. Web.

Unwilling to see past the pleasure: How one woman’s positive memories and continued fondness for chocolate make it difficult for her to consider chocolate production


On Sunday, May 1st 2016 I interviewed a woman by the name of Martina about her memories of, experiences with, preferences for, and decisions regarding chocolate. I didn’t ask very many questions, but we spoke for a little over an hour as she provided rich descriptions and recollections in her answers. Over the course of the interview it became apparent that Martina has an almost uniformly positive mental association with chocolate. This is a particularly strong association as she engages with chocolate on a daily basis. Indeed, it is this powerful link of chocolate to pleasure and happiness for Martina that had prevented or at least dissuaded her from considering any negative aspects of chocolate production and trade.



When asked about her first chocolate-related memory, Martina spoke about the chocolate egg that she received on Easter when she was very young.

“When I was about 6 or so I got this enormous chocolate egg from the Easter bunny. It must have been about 6 by 3 inches. It was this beautiful egg that had coconut cream on the inside, chocolate enrobing the coconut, and then my name written in cursive on the outside of the egg. I wanted to eat it right away, but I also wanted to look at it because it had my name and was so beautiful. So I ended up setting it aside and went with my family to the UU church. When we returned, my dog had eaten it. I was heartbroken. But it is still this wonderful memory of having this beautiful chocolate creation that was mine.”

Dog with chocolate egg
Dog and a chocolate egg – much like the egg that Martina’s dog ate

Martina also commented on her favorite treats at the time and the sweets on which she would spend her allowance money, showing that she valued chocolate highly at an early age.

“I always loved chocolate. I would always spend allowance money on food, especially chocolate. And it was so foreign to me that best friend growing up didn’t like it! I still don’t understand it… Anyway, I remember often spending my money on Mallow Cups. They looked like Reese’s peanut butter cups but with marshmallow instead of peanut butter inside. I don’t remember if there were jokes or tokens on the cardboard cards under the mallow cups, but there was also some sort of additional incentive to buying them. I remember that kids collected them. When I was older and had more allowance money, I would go spend all of it on English Toffee at John Wanamaker’s department store – I think I was able to purchase a quarter pound or so. That toffee with milk chocolate and almonds on outside – so good.”

Some other memories that Martina readily recalls revolve around chocolate in different forms:

“I really didn’t have a preference when it came to chocolate – I loved eating it any which way. One of the first things I learned how to cook was a batch of chocolate meringues – delicious. I also really liked chocolate ice cream. I would always love going over to my friend Samantha’s house because her father worked for Breyers and they always had great chocolate ice cream. But one of my most memorable childhood experiences was eating a 10 gallon container of chocolate, chocolate chip ice cream with my four brothers. My dad had been driving behind an ice cream truck on his way back from work, when the tub of ice cream fell off. This was before they had fancy ice cream flavors in grocery stores, so this was some sort of specialty flavor that you could only get in ice cream parlors.”

From these memories it is clear that throughout Martina’s childhood she developed an extremely strong relationship with chocolate and still has these very fond recollections of her experience with friends, family, and chocolate. As she put it: “thinking about it now, it seems like most of my favorite memories and stories deal with chocolate.” This observation is telling, as Martina has formed strong positive associations with chocolate due to her enjoyable memories with the good.



Martina’s fond experiences with chocolate are not only in the past, in fact they happen on a daily basis. When I asked Martina when she had last consumed chocolate and about how regularly she consumes it, she responded “about an hour ago” and “I would say that in a month, there is only a day or two that I go without eating chocolate.”

When I gave an involuntary “wow” in surprise, Martina responded:

“I know it sounds excessive, but I normally eat chocolate in moderation. I am able to do so because I find a small amount so satisfying. I really like that about chocolate. But if I am going to indulge in something that I know is not great for me, it is likely going to be a chocolate dessert. When I go to a dinner or some sort of social gathering, people often expect me to bring a chocolate dessert because they know how much I like it.”

Martina said that the chocolate that she consumes now is different from the types of chocolate that she consumed as a kid. She doesn’t like candy bars and now prefers “chocolate in more of a darker and purer form.” These “darker and purer” chocolates that she consumes on a daily basis are either Dove’s Silky Smooth Promises or Hershey’s Bliss (images shown below). When I asked why she came to like these chocolates and if she had seen them advertised she responded that she really liked the smoothness and taste of the chocolates, but really wasn’t exposed to much chocolate advertising at all.

Perhaps ironically, not being exposed to chocolate advertising could actually be beneficial to Martina’s positive image of chocolate. This is because she is not encountering the overtly sexualized language and imagery that is often used to sell chocolate products.  This link between chocolate and sex was especially pushed in advertisements for luxury chocolates (Robertson, 2009). This tactic was most popular during the first three-fourths of the twentieth century, but it remains in use to this day (Robertson, 2009).



In addition to liking the flavor of these dark chocolates, Martina also states that she enjoys the health benefits that they provide: “I know that dark chocolate is good for me, so it is sorta like a health food. I mean that in terms of eating a couple pieces of dark chocolate every day. Not a big slice of chocolate cake with ice cream.”

This association that Martina makes between “moderate” chocolate consumption and good health is quite common. Yet, claims of chocolate’s health food properties are mostly misleading, if not inaccurate. Unprocessed cocoa powder does contain flavanol compounds that have been shown to have beneficial antioxidant and cardiovascular benefits (Fisher and Hollenberg, 2005). However, most chocolate undergoes extensive processing and does not retain these health benefits (Hollenberg and Fisher, 2007). Dutch processing, which treats cocoa with alkali to neutralize its acidity, is one process that robs cocoa of many of its beneficial flavanols (“Heart-Health”, 2012).

But even then, the health benefits derived from consuming flavanol-rich chocolate are likely exaggerated as well. Dr. Norman Hollenberg, a radiologist at Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, greatly exaggerates the amount of cocoa consumed by the Kuna, an indigenous population of Panama. He attributes their good vascular health to drinking “at least 5 cups of cocoa with extraordinarily high flavanol-content each day” and drinking this almost exclusively (Hollenberg and Fisher, 2007). In fact, anthropologists have not found cocoa beverage consumption to be this extensive or this exclusive. The Kuna consume many different types of drinks and have a multitude of different commercial beverages available to them (Howe, 2012). Additionally, the claim that the coastal Kuna exclusively consume flavanol-rich chocolate is likely inaccurate. The availability of commercially-produced chocolate and its use in the preparation of chocolate drinks means that the amount of flavanol consumption is less than what Hollenberg makes it out to be (Howe, 2012). Thus, it is unlikely that their excellent vascular health is due to massive, exclusive consumption of favanol-rich chocolate.

Thus, Martina is enjoying chocolate on a daily basis, and believing that the chocolate that she is eating is healthy for her. Although the health benefits that she thinks her Dove and Hershey chocolates contain are doubtful, the repeated pleasurable experience of consuming the chocolate and the added psychological boost of doing something to improve her health, further reinforce an aura of positivity around chocolate.



Even experiences that might have caused Martina to think about the production of chocolate and possible negative aspects, were overtaken by positive associations. She recalled her experience of seeing a cacao farm for the first time and thinking about the production of chocolate:

“I was on my honeymoon in St. Lucia and I saw a cacao plantation and thought it was very interesting. I hadn’t thought about the growing process before and where chocolate came from.”

The cacao plantation interests her but the joy and love associated with the honeymoon is the predominant sentiment that comes through when she describes the experience. She does not mention labor conditions or ecological considerations. I then asked Martina if she knew why she hadn’t thought about the production of chocolate before and if she currently has any concerns when making chocolate purchasing decisions.

“Hmmmm I am not really sure. I guess I just feel so far removed from the production of it that I hadn’t really considered the growing process. And I don’t really have any social or biological considerations in mind when I buy chocolate….. even though I probably should. I try to be conscious of what I eat. I get local vegetables, grass-fed meat (and little of it), cage-free eggs. I have done some reading about food health and environmental costs of food production, but I don’t think about it as much with chocolate. I think it might be because I can’t get locally-sourced chocolate. I feel like I don’t have as much control over what types I can get. And with the amount that I eat, I don’t think about if it is sustainably harvested on a daily basis. But I do appreciate getting that information when it is available.”

I found this response by Martina fascinating because it shows that she is normally a conscious consumer. She is invested in learning about where her food comes from and the impact of buying and eating certain products. She then acts on this information and buys in a manner consistent with her beliefs. It is then especially interesting that her careful purchasing of food items does not extend to chocolate. She suggests that this may be because of a lack of information – without having good knowledge about what types of chocolates are best for the environment and best for the farm workers, it is difficult to make a good choice.

I then asked her if she buys chocolate other than the Dove and Hershey individually wrapped chocolates, and she responded:

“When I buy for other people I am buying a nice chocolate. A good quality chocolate. It can be a little overwhelming even because there are such vast arrays. So sometimes I go by pretty packaging haha. Well, as long as there is something interesting about it – single source, or sustainably harvested, or fair trade. For example, I bought a range of chocolates (both in brand and chocolate percentage) to give to my brother for his birthday so that he could sample the different types. Some were single source, others were fair trade.”

It seems from this response that, for Martina, labels like “free trade” and “single source” are terms that add intrigue and a sense of high quality, rather than terms that could indicate the farming conditions, good pay, or positive social impact. Rather than mention buying fair trade as a way to, for example, combat the mistreatment of children working small plots of in West Africa, it is something that adds to the packaging and makes the bar an “interesting” purchase (Berlan 2013). Child slavery is a serious issue in some places, with evidence of children not being paid, often missing school, and some being made to do strenuous, dangerous work (Berlan, 2013; Off, 2008; Ryan, 2011). This is just one of many ethical considerations, but her inability to grapple with these types of issues stems from her ingrained positive relationship with chocolate and lack of good alternatives.

For Martina, deeply thinking about the chocolate that she consumes would mean questioning the fond memories that she has and the continual joy that she receives from consuming it daily. It would also mean changing her purchasing habits (as she has done with her vegetables, dairy, fruit, and meat). In fact, it is precisely because she acts on these environmental and health considerations when it comes to other foods that investigating chocolate would lead to an unfavorable outcome for her.

She makes the important point that getting good information about the production of chocolate is difficult, and there are few companies that have that knowledge and are transparent with it. Restricting herself to only buying from companies that share this knowledge publicly would greatly constrain her purchasing options and significantly increase the price she pays for chocolate. Her awareness that it would be nearly impossible to pivot her chocolate consumption to a different, more transparent brand at the levels that she consumes it, prevents her from engaging with the ethical side of chocolate production.



Martina’s experience is probably not that different from that of many people in the U.S.. Chocolate is ubiquitous in the United States and this prevalence has led many of us to develop a love for it. I doubt any member of “Chocolate and the Politics of Food” would support companies and operations that involve exploitative practices. But without access to good information about the nature of production of our favorite chocolates, what options do we have? It is certainly easier to switch to sustainable and ethical products in areas of life where they are readily accessible, than to give up a product you love.



Berlan, Amanda. “Social sustainability in agriculture: An anthropological perspective on child labour in cocoa production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies 49.8 (2013): 1088-1100.

Fisher, Naomi DL, and Norman K. Hollenberg. “Flavanols for cardiovascular health: the science behind the sweetness.” Journal of hypertension 23.8 (2005): 1453-1459.

“Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate.” Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, Jan. 2012. Web. 01 May 2016. <http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/heart/prevention/nutrition/food-choices/benefits-of-chocolate&gt;.

Hollenberg, Norman K., and Naomi DL Fisher. “Is it the dark in dark chocolate?.” Circulation 116.21 (2007): 2360-2362.

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica 12.1 (2012): 43.

Off, Carol. Bitter chocolate: Investigating the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet. Vintage Canada, 2010.

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

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate nations: Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa. Zed books, 2011.


Chocolate consumption patterns in the United States and India through time

I recently interviewed a couple regarding the role of chocolate in their lives and how this has changed through time. During this interview, we discussed how their interaction with and consumption of chocolate changed significantly after they emigrated from India to America in the late 1980s. When they immigrated to America, their perception of chocolate and its relation to status and health shifted based on price and accessibility. This shift can be used to explain and predict perception of chocolate in the United States and India, depending on its quality, labor ethics and environmental sustainability. When examining this couple’s experience in the 1980s, a large discrepancy in consumption is apparent. However, analyzing their experience along with the modern industry suggests that consumption patterns in the United States and India may actually be converging.

After chocolate was introduced to Europe, it failed to gain traction of the same intensity in other parts of the world. Chocolate didn’t become popular in India, Southeast Asia or the Far East with the exception of the Philippines (a Spanish possession until 1898) (Coe&Coe 177). Many Jesuit missionaries and Portuguese businessmen in the Philippines drank chocolate drinks during this time and people in the region today still do (Coe & Coe 178). While chocolate wasn’t a popular item in India, production of chocolate in India actually existed well before either the man or woman I interviewed was born. In 1906-1907, there was an Indian Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition at Calcutta. In this exhibition, Indian chocolates made by companies like Soyaji Chocolate Manufacturing Company Ltd. were exhibited along with milk and milk powder (Ray 24). Therefore, Indian chocolate companies did exist, yet their products were not very accessible to the public.

When the people I interviewed were growing up in India in the 1960s and 1970s, they had limited access to chocolate. I was surprised to hear that the woman had not tried chocolate until she was around 18 years old and the man when he was around 10 years old. Although she didn’t consume chocolate as a child, she would eat toffee candies, which were called chocolate. This misnomer indicates that knowledge of and desire for chocolate were not barriers to consumption, rather availability was. One of the major concepts that we covered in class was a significant disparity in consumption of chocolate across the world. This interview highlights this difference in amount of chocolate consumed across the world, as children growing up in the United States have most likely tried chocolate at a younger age.

In the limited chocolate market that existed, Cadbury had almost a complete monopoly. In fact, the only brand that this couple remembers seeing growing up was Cadbury, a British company. Cadbury began operating in India in 1948, using imported chocolate. This early introduction of Cadbury influenced the market of chocolate in India, also creating a strong brand recognition. Even today, it has above 65-70% of the market share in Indian chocolate, with a slew of popular products including Cadbury Dairy Milk and Perk.

The fact that Cadbury, a British company, had, and still has, such a large share of the market, is reflective of India’s earlier colonial ties to Britain. Although cacao production in India isn’t significant on a global scale, there is substantial production of sugar cane, which is essential for chocolate products. Sugar itself also has colonial ties. Following the abolition of slavery, Britain brought Indian workers to grow sugar, a highly labor intensive crop, in the British West Indies (Mintz 70). With this trend, we see a dichotomy between consumption and production emerge. It is particularly interesting to note that the type of sugar often consumed by people in producing regions was unrefined, not white sugar (which was processed and consumed elsewhere) (Mintz xxi-xxii). This was also reflected in my interview. The couple say that they prefer brown sugar to white sugar in terms of taste and usage (as jaggery) in cooking. This varied consumption of sugar across the globe corresponds to different chocolate consumption patterns, particularly between India and United States in the 1980s, as seen in this interview.

Due to a lack of accessibility, consumption of chocolate remained low in the 1960 and 1970s. For this couple, these factors, as well as a higher cost, meant that chocolate was often considered a luxury item- one that was a symbol of higher economic status. Moving to America, this perception changed. The couple encountered a wide array of different brands of chocolate and chocolate products- ones that I also recognize today- including Hershey’s bars, Snickers, Kit Kat etc. Chocolate was available in multiple forms, all at a low cost. This shift in chocolate consumption from the wealthy to the masses mirrors consumption patterns in Europe after chocolate was introduced. Sophie & Michael Coe, in their book, The True History of Chocolate, write that for over 28 centuries, chocolate was considered a drink for the elite, yet it eventually became a solid food for all. Following the French Revolution, the Church lost legitimacy and authority, dismantling much of the aristocracy’s credence in Catholic Europe. This social upset, coupled with the Industrial Revolution, which greatly lowered the costs associated with producing chocolate, meant that chocolate became a cheap food that all social classes could consume (Coe & Coe 235-236).

Following this shift in accessibility and price, this couple began consuming chocolate in much larger quantities than they did in India. For them, chocolate was no longer a symbol of status, it was commonplace. Although, they both began to consume additional chocolate, it is interesting to note that they did so at varying levels. The woman consumes more chocolate than the man does, and when he does consume chocolate, he mostly does so when she purchases it. This variation in chocolate consumption fits with the gendered advertising of most chocolate companies.

Women are the primary consumers and buyers of chocolate and often the target audience of advertisements. Chocolate companies have a long history of trying to appeal to women. For example, Rowntree chocolate in the early 1900s marketed its products towards women in a number of ways. For certain products, they used the image of a “high society woman” who is rich, in the hopes that women either identify with the image or aspire to achieve it (Robertson 26). In advertisements, there is generally a strong connection between class and chocolate. Companies projected an image of chocolate as a status symbol, even encouraging people to serve their guests chocolate drinks (Robertson 26). This image similar to the perception that the couple had when living in India. Additionally, products like Black Magic and Dairy Box, while mass produced at lower cost still had some luxury appeal (Robertson 29). This marketing strategy attempts to appeal to contradictory perceptions of chocolate in the same product. More recently, the industry has separated these perceptions in a diversified market. In advertising and branding, women are often the subject of messages and are almost always the intended audience.

In the United States, we are starting to see a return of chocolate as almost an economic status symbol (which it was for this couple when they were living in India) with products labeled as Fair Trade or Organic Certified. These products, which claim to either be more beneficial for farmers or the environment (or both) command a higher market price. Therefore, in the United States, there has been a diversification of chocolate- both cheaper “junk” chocolate and expensive “ethical” chocolate exist in tandem. This trend is also emerging in India, although the chocolate industry overall is much larger in the United States than India. A relatively new bean to bar India based company, Mason & Co serves as a case study for this phenomenon. The company currently works directly with three farms and claims that money goes directly to these farmers not intermediaries. They want to involve farmers and work with them to improve farming practices and taste since they typically don’t have a stake in chocolate post-harvest (for example, through the fermentation and drying process) All three farms are IMO Organic Certified and India Organic Certified and one is also USDA Organic Certified. The farms also grow the cacao trees along with coconut trees, nutmeg and pepper. Therefore, the type of image the company puts forth is one of environmental sustainability. With the current crop growing conditions, the company is avoiding monoculture and is instead pursuing an ecologically diverse farm. Organic foods indicate no pesticide, which is seen as better for the environment and is also associated with consumer health. On their website, Mason & Co tout cacao as a “superfood” that is rendered unhealthy by the addition of milk, sugar and “compound” (similar to vegetable fat and replaces cocoa butter) in typical Indian chocolates. The company attempts to offer an alternative to this type of chocolate that is both better for the environment and consumer health. As mentioned above, these types of certifications often come at a higher price. For example, a 70g 70% sea salt dark chocolate bar, pictured below costs Rs 295. For comparison, a 60g Cadbury Dairy Milk bar costs Rs 65.

Mason &amp; Co Chocolate

While this specific company does not have Fair Trade certification, it is possible that they may in the future or other bean to bar companies will. Ndongo Samba Sylla writes, in his book, The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, that India has 56 Fair Trade Certifications (as of 2009), primarily for products like cotton and tea, items he describes as “exotic oddities” for the region (Sylla 217). Therefore, chocolate, similarly not an item that is exported in large numbers from India, may also be a product associated with Fair Trade certification on a large scale in the future. Since this type of chocolate is more expensive and the targeted consumers are generally wealthier, it is seen as almost a status of economic wealth. Therefore, the same perception of chocolate as a status symbol that this couple experienced, still exists in India, through a different type of product.

Alongside the development of bean to bar companies like this, cheaper chocolate is also becoming increasingly available in India. Recently Cadbury has introduced very low prices for certain products. They are selling at Rs 5 for Cadbury Dairy Milk, Rs 7 for Perk and Rs 6 for Five Star, in an attempt to reach a broader base of people. In this way, in both the United States and India, there is a diversified market for chocolate. On one end of the spectrum, cheap products attempt to appeal to large number of people and on the other, “ethical” and expensive chocolate aims to appeal to a certain, wealthier cohort of consumers. While this couple associated chocolate with wealth in India and upon moving to America, began to perceive it as ordinary, as time has progressed a different trend is emerging. In both countries, chocolate is contradictorily coming to be associated as both an expensive and cheap item through a diversification of products.

This contradictory nature of chocolate does not exist solely for wealth; it extends to and is often tied to perceptions of health as well. Now that this couple has been consuming chocolate for several years, they view chocolate as more of a “junk food.” Throughout history, chocolate has been described as both healthy and unhealthy. Chocolate drinks were widely consumed among the Maya and the Aztec, often seen as a stimulant with several significant health benefits. However, one myth also warns against consumption of cacao. In the myth, an elder says that “those foods will bring death” and a goddess says that “this is what has burdened you” in reference to chocolate. (Coe & Coe 79-80). The introduction of chocolate to Europe also came with health questions and remedies. Cocoa powder was seen as a meal replacement for children (Martin). In 1591, Juan de Cárdenas wrote that “green” chocolate would hurt digestion and cause melancholy, paroxysms and irregular heartbeats but that roasted cacao is sustaining and aids digestion (Coe & Coe 124) Today, chocolate is mainly paired along with other high sugar foods as an unhealthy food option. However, recent studies have tried to advocate for increased consumption of cacao. One study, in particular, led by Dr. Norman Hollenberg, looked at the Kuna people (indigenous to Panama) who had very low blood pressure levels and attributed this to their consumption of chocolate drinks (Howe). Although this study has been criticized, especially in its portrayal of the Kuna people and their diets (Howe), it speaks to contradictory perceptions of chocolate as being both healthy and unhealthy in today’s society. Today, in general, cheaper chocolate is perceived to be unhealthy and more expensive chocolate is perceived as healthier. As mentioned above, companies like Mason & Co claim that their products are all-natural healthy alternatives to the typical chocolate products on the market. Therefore, perceptions of health and wealth are linked, each existing in contradictory forms.

When this couple immigrated to America from India around 30 years ago, their perception of chocolate changed from a status of economic wealth to a cheap, junk food. Today, in the United States, chocolate that is expensive and healthy as well as chocolate that is considered unhealthy and cheap exist concurrently. The same phenomenon is also appearing in India as well, albeit on a smaller scale since the chocolate market is smaller in India than in the United States. When this couple immigrated, perceptions of chocolate were very different in the United States and India, but an analysis of the market today suggests that chocolate’s role may be converging in the two countries.


Works Cited


Academic Sources:

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

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

Sylla, Ndongo Samba., and David Clément. Leye. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Athens: Ohio UP, 2014. Print.

Ray, Utsa. Culinary Culture in Colonial India: A Cosmopolitan Platter and the Middle-class. Delhi: Cambridge UP, 2015. Print. (https://books.google.com/books?id=fDXJBAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false)

“Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12.1 (2012): 43-52. Web.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 5, Slide 43


Multimedia Sources:

“Top 10 Most Popular Chocolate Brands in India – Listz.” Listz. 2014. Web. 04 May 2016. <http://listz.in/top-10-chocolate-brands-in-india.html&gt;.

“Organic Chocolate.” Mason CO Craftsmen of Chocolate. Web. 04 May 2016. <http://www.masonchocolate.com/&gt;.

“Chocolate Industry in India with Special Reference to Cadbury.” Chocolate Industry in India with Special Reference to Cadbury. Web. 04 May 2016. <http://www.slideshare.net/payalgupta96343405/chocolate-industry-in-india-with-special-reference-to-cadbury&gt;.

“Funds Drop State Securities From Portfolio.” India News, Latest News Headlines, BSE Live, NSE Live, Stock Markets Live, Financial News, Business News & Market Analysis on Indian Economy. Web. 04 May 2016. <http://www.business-standard.com/article/specials/funds-drop-state-securities-from-portfolio-199101501061_1.html&gt;.

“18,000 Products to Shop from.” Best Online Grocery Store in India. Save Big on Grocery Shopping. Web. 04 May 2016. <http://www.bigbasket.com/pb/cadbury/chocolate/&gt;.

“Mason & Co. 70% Sea Salt Dark Organic Exotic Artisanal Chocolate Bar – 70 Grams.” : Amazon.in: Grocery & Gourmet Foods. Web. 04 May 2016. <http://www.amazon.in/Mason-Co-Organic-Artisanal-Chocolate/dp/B011E9G99Q/ref=sr_1_1?s=grocery&gt;.

Image: “70% Sea Salt.” Mason CO Craftsmen of Chocolate. Web. 04 May 2016. <http://www.masonchocolate.com/product/70-sea-salt/&gt;.

Chocolate: Guiltless Health Food You Can Indulge In?

When one thinks of a chocolate, the words “sinful” and “indulgent” often pop into mind. For most people, chocolate and chocolatey desserts are considered beloved treats that must be enjoyed in moderation. Over the last few decades, however, chocolate has increasingly taken on a new characterization – “health food”. Studies linking chocolate consumption to improved cardiovascular health, better memory, and more youthful appearance have been frequently cited by health blogs, sensationalist news sources, and corporations alike. The complexities and caveats in these studies are distilled into one simple message to be pitched to consumers: “consumption of chocolate is good for you”.

The idea that the indulgent treat can offer positive health benefits is so tantalizing that one cannot hope but wish for this claim to be true. Yet when one examines the legitimacy of popular claims regarding the health benefits of chocolate against the actual conclusions drawn from the studies conducted, there is an apparent disconnect between science and media. There is indeed a large body of credible literature on the concentration of antioxidants in chocolate, as well as the health benefits of said antioxidants. But these studies emphasize moderation, high concentration of chocolate liquor, and warn of the counteractive nature of milk and sugar in chocolate. Often, these specifics are glossed over such that only a sliver of selective information reaches the consumer. Where science may find substantive evidence of correlation, media cites evidence of causation. Ultimately this problematic as flawed information is disseminated to eager consumers.

History of Chocolate’s Health Benefits

The belief in that chocolate has medicinal qualities has existed long into antiquity, back when chocolate was first cultivated and consumed in Mesoamerica. Montezuma, famed Aztec emperor, was thought to have a chocolate concoction as an aphrodisiac. In the Badianus Manuscript (1552), a Mexican medicinal textbook of disease and treatments, cocoa derivatives were frequently prescribed used to treat “angina, constipation, tartar-related dental problems, dysentery, dyspepsia, indigestion, fatigue, gout and hemorrhoids” (qtd. in Lippi, 1575). In Europe, cacao was configured into the humoral and allopathic tradition of Hippocratic medicine (Coe and Coe, 121).


The above image is a snippet of an ad for milk chocolate from the 1700s, whereby chocolate was advertised as a cure for various ailments.

In retrospect, these early claims of chocolate seem archaic and misguided. However, it is interesting to note how long the history of chocolate as a health food extends back. Chocolate has not only been a source of great gastronomical intrigue, but was also a medicinal mystery.

Health Benefits of Chocolate

While the early health claims described above are unsubstantiated by modern medicine, currently, there is a growing body of literature on how consumption of chocolate is linked with a variety of health benefits. The most notable of these is the relationship between chocolate consumption and reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Cocoa is identified to contain a wealth of flavonoids, a group of plant metabolites linked to many positive house effects. Regular dietary intake of flavonoids via plant-derived foods and beverages greatly reduce coronary heart disease and stroke, as supported by a large body of epidemiological research published by the American Heart Association (Corti et. al, 1433). The main flavonoid found in cacao is flavan-3-ols and their oligomeric derivatives (Steinberg, et. al, 215).


Graph from Steinberg et al. J Am Diet Assoc 103: 215-23. These graphs illustrate the flavonoid and antioxidant capacity (ORAC) of chocolate, as compared to other high flavonoid foods.

Research on the health benefits of chocolate have centered on this relationship between antioxidant concentration and reduced cardiovascular health. The findings are numerous and often produced astoundingly significant results. The Zutphen Elder Study used data of 470 elderly men surveyed over 15 years and found that the “Compared with the lowest tertile of cocoa intake, the adjusted relative risk for men in the highest tertile was [50%] for cardiovascular mortality and [53%] for all-cause mortality” (Buijsse et. al, 411). The NHLBI Family Heart Study used cross-sectional data on 2217 participants, and found that consumption of the antioxidant-rich cocoa two or more times a week reduced risk of calcified plaque in arteries by 32% (Djoussé et. al, 38).

It should be noted that all of the large studies are observational studies whereby researchers surveyed participants on chocolate intake and health. Surveyed responses are generally less reliable than randomized studies as it is possible a variety of confounding factors like participants’ eating habits, could have contributed to the observed effect. It would take a randomized study whereby certain groups would be administered cacao to intake against a control group to prove causation. Nevertheless, observations studies provide important insights into the relationship between chocolate consumption and improved cardiovascular health. The fact that the large body of literature on the topic are in agreement above the positive relationship between cocoa and reduced risk of CVD is compelling.

Beyond the cardiovascular health benefits of ingestion of chocolate, chocolate is becoming an increasingly popular concept in beauty and skin-care products. Many cosmetic companies tout the hydrating and rejuvenating qualities of cocoa butter for the skin as well as highlight the antioxidants to be gained from ingesting chocolate as described above. There is a growing number of studies on these claims as well. Heinrich et. al’s 2006 study assigned 2 groups of women to consume either high flavanol (326 mg/d) or low flavanol (27 mg/d) cocoa powder. They found that flavanols did indeed contribute to photoprotection as participants in the high flavanol group showed a significant decrease of skin roughness after an evaluation of the skin in week 12 of the experiment (Heinrich et. al, 1566).

But Just How Healthy is Chocolate?

Chocolate as a food product comes in many different varieties and intensities. The vast majority of the studies only confirm the benefits of dark chocolate (over 70% intensity).


The image above is a close-up of a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar. The main ingredients are sugar and milk.

Serafini et al. (2003) compared the health benefits of dark and milk chocolate varieties, made from the same batch of cacao beans. Their findings that plain, dark chocolate resulted in an increase in total antioxidant capacity and epicatechin (another dietary flavonoid) is much in line with the results delineated above. However, the increase is significantly reduced when consumed with milk, as is the case with milk chocolate. This suggests that milk negates the potential health benefits, as it may interfere with absorption of antioxidants in vivo. The studies highlight that chocolate’s benefits are primarily derived from the flavanols in pure cacao liquor and not from any extraneous ingredients. Thus, a common misconception is that all chocolates have the same health benefits.

Problematic Portrayal of Chocolate as a Health Food

From the handful of studies highlighted in my discussion, it is clear that each study is different and the conclusions drawn are specific, complex, and nuanced. For example, the Zutphen Elder Study is focused specifically on elderly men of mostly Caucasian descent (given the demographics of the study). Heinrich et. al’s study exclusively recruited female participants. It would be an overstatement to derive from even this collection of studies that “consumption of chocolate is good for cardiovascular health / skin care”, as there are many other confounding factors. Yet this phenomenon of distilling research into marketable advertising is all too prominent. The following are prime examples of how research is capitalized and distilled into a marketable, and often misguiding form.


An ad for Xocai, a “healthy chocolate” brand that sells chocolates, weight loss supplements, and beauty products.

The pamphlet above distills the health benefits of chocolate in a misleading way. The vague references to flavanols and “various studies”, the use of buzzwords, and bare-boned description of nuanced research exemplify how certain corporations capitalize on the characterization of chocolate as a health food. The emphasis is on highlighting a long list of vague, beneficial claims that is marketable to your average consumer. The bold font of each of the 15 bullet point leads consumers to believe that Xocai/chocolate 1. Promotes cardiovascular health, 2. Supports health glucose level…etc. When the reality is that only certain quantities and types of chocolate are correlated with said benefits. This trend of overstating cacao’s health benefits is especially prevalent in the beauty industry.


Description from the website: “Too Faced Co-Founder and Creative Director Jerrod Blandino was inspired to combine the power of antioxidant-rich cocoa powder and makeup while having a chocolate facial and learning about the benefits of cocoa at a Hawaiian spa.”


Amala Rejuvenate Cocoa Bean Advanced Firming Complex ($248): Uses certified organic, fair trade cacao beans. The packaging of the Amala Firm Complex above prominently features the cacao bean, despite the fact that Cacao is not even in the top 10 ingredients.

The eyeshadow palette and rejuvenating masks above both highlight the relationship between cacao and health and elasticity of skin, when neither products feature cacao as the primary ingredient. The alignment of the beauty product with cacao effectively allows the company to capitalize on the reputation cacao has as a health product.


When it comes to chocolate as a health food and a health product, it’s important to recognize when and how the line between science and marketing is blurred. In conducting research on this topic, I found my sources to be polarized between research papers published in established medical journals, and sensationalized health blogs with strategic product placements. What is problematic about how cacao increasingly touted as a “health-food” is not so much the legitimacy and magnitude of the health benefits of cacao, but the blanket advertising of the chocolate as guilt-free health product.

Works Cited

Buijsse B, Feskens EM, Kok FJ, Kromhout D. Cocoa Intake, Blood Pressure, and Cardiovascular Mortality: The Zutphen Elderly Study. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(4):411-417. doi:10.1001/archinte.166.4.411.

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

Corti, R., A. J. Flammer, N. K. Hollenberg, and T. F. Luscher. “Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health.” Circulation 119.10 (2009): 1433-441. Web.

Djoussé, Luc, Paul N. Hopkins, Donna K. Arnett, James S. Pankow, Ingrid Borecki, Kari E. North, and R. Curtis Ellison. “Chocolate Consumption Is Inversely Associated with Calcified Atherosclerotic Plaque in the Coronary Arteries: The NHLBI Family Heart Study.” Clinical Nutrition 30.1 (2011): 38-43. Web.

Francene M Steinberg, Monica M Bearden, Carl L Keen, Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: Implications for cardiovascular health, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 103, Issue 2, February 2003, Pages 215-223

Heinrich, Ulrike, Karin Neukam, Hagen Tronnier, Helmut Sies, and Wilhelm Stahl. “Long-Term Ingestion of High Flavanol Cocoa Provides Photoprotection against UV-Induced Erythema and Improves Skin Condition in Women.” American Society for Nutrition (2006). Web. 4 May 2016.

Lippi D. Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food. Nutrients. 2013;5(5):1573-1584. doi:10.3390/nu5051573.

Serafini, Mauro, Rossana Bugianesi, Giuseppe Maiani, Silvia Valtuena, Simone De Santis, and Alan Crozier. “Plasma Antioxidants from Chocolate.” Nature 424.6952 (2003): 1013. Web.

Steinberg FM, Bearden MM, Keen CL: Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: implications for cardiovascular health. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003, 103 (2): 215-223. 10.1053/jada.2003.50028.

Savory Chocolate

max brenner
The homepage logo for Max Brenner Chocolate Bar (1)

In the back bay of Boston there is an establishment called Max Brenner Chocolate Bar and Restaurant1. Their mission: to “create a new chocolate culture worldwide”1. They have locations in seven countries, and five major US cities, and are very popular1. One look at the menu of this restaurant is enough to know that they are not creating a new chocolate culture. Rather they are feeding the mass misconception that chocolate is for dessert and not dinner. Not a single item on their food menu offers a dish with chocolate as a savory ingredient1.


In the last two centuries, since the invention of mass produced chocolate candies, chocolate has been seen exclusively as a sweet or dessert. However, in recent years that has all begun to change. Instead of being stuck in the narrow minded approach to chocolate as sweet we are now beginning to embrace the versatility and the savory side of chocolate in our culinary culture. This recent ‘trendiness’ in savory chocolate began in the world of the gourmet but has recently begun to trickle down to the world of home cooks as well. Changing attitudes in regards to health and the negative effects of sugar, a revival and focus on authentic and traditional recipes and media coverage of this luxurious product have facilitated this expansion in the use of chocolate. By looking at the history of savory chocolate and the contemporary presentation of savory chocolate, these patterns become evident and an entirely new realm of culinary possibilities becomes accessible for everyone from culinary icons to even the most basic home cook.


new taste
A New Taste of Chocolate by Maricel Presilla has recipes from chocolate lobster stew to Mayan Hot Chocolate (7)

Chocolate has a long culinary history, from ancient Mesoamerica to Renaissance Europe to modern America. In each new place, chocolate has transformed to fit local tastes, desires, and ingredients. Original chocolate dishes in Mesoamerica were incredibly varied, but the most common dish was a beverage made from a sort of ground cacao bean paste3. Made during the period of the Late Maya this dish combined water, cacao paste, and maize (corn) to make a savory sort of gruel3. This dish, called saca, was the foundation of chocolate cuisine and most other dish were rifts off this original3. By adding spices, herbs, or flavors like vanilla and honey, the Maya were able to create a myriad of beverages for all occasions3. Depending on the ingredients, each beverage would be served at specific events or gatherings3. By adding sapote seeds, the Maya created a drink called tzune, which (based on depictions and accounts) was served at only very special occasions3. On the flip side of this, one of the most common recipes was Batido3. The ground cacao was made into a paste and vanilla, black pepper, seeds and other herbs were added, along with achiote which gave the drink a distinctive red color that appears in several accounts of exploration encounters3. Through the addition of honey and sugar (once the Europeans introduced cane sugar to the New World), the Maya and other Mesoamerican societies consumed chocolate that was sweetened3. However, these particular substances were rare, which meant that in most circumstances Mesoamerican chocolate culture was centered around savory beverage concoctions. There may have been a few exceptions to this beverage preparation, as some believe that the Maya used chocolate in stews and as sauces with meats7. We all know about the classic mole sauce that came a little later, but in A New Taste of Chocolate, by Maricel Presilla, there is a recipe for a Maya turkey stew with cacao and chile7. Though there are no accounts of the original recipe, this one is created from a recipe that has been handed down for generations, and then stripped of any old world ingredients that it inherited over the years7. Through writings, recipes, and depictions, we are able to see that early cultures in central America used chocolate in a very different way than we are used to; there is no record of chocolate every being used as a consumable on its own, nor being paired with meat or other food3. It seems to have been contained to the realm of a culturally significant beverage or gruel that was itself very versatile.

Chocolate was introduced into Europe in the 1500’s3. Over the next few centuries, the way chocolate was eaten would be shaped by new tastes, ingredients, and technology to create the culture that we know today. There is a common misconception, or perhaps just a version of history that is often told, that Europeans took Mesoamerican chocolate traditions and improved upon them in their own culture. However, in Tasting Empire by Marcy Norton, it becomes clear that Europeans originally did their best to emulate the Maya and Aztec traditions that they had unwittingly grown a taste for through assimilation into the central American culture6. This meant that “there was little difference between the types of chocolate consumed by creoles, Indians, and Iberians” in the first few years of chocolate’s introduction to Spain6. In the years and centuries that followed, small changes would bring about an entirely new chocolate culture in Europe. There are even recipes dating from the 1700s in Spain that pair chocolate and almonds with prawns and lobster7! This shows that in the beginning, Europeans used chocolate extensively as a savory ingredient. In Catalan (Spanish) cooking, chocolate even became a part of their central herb mixture called picada, with chopped nuts and herbs to add flavor and texture to all sorts of dishes7. The industrial revolution and mechanization of production of chocolate would change the way western culture treated chocolate for the next few centuries. This began in earnest in 1828 with Van Houten’s invention of the hydraulic press to separate chocolate from cacao butter3. This and subsequent innovations in technology allowed chocolate to become a substance that people came to expect to be served as a solid foodstuff and not just a beverage3. This would be important for chocolate’s place in savory contexts, but the transition to chocolate as sweet had already been made. When chocolate did become solid, it also became practically limited to the realm of sweet, sugary treats.

Changing Attitudes

Despite big business take over of chocolate culture and a narrowing of chocolate’s role in the 20th century, today we are experiencing a culinary expansion among the gourmet food world that is seeking to explore the greater food possibilities of chocolate. This small renaissance has its roots in a number of movements. The first movement is a pushback against the processed food industry and the simultaneous research that has been released about chocolate’s potential health benefits. Many studies have come out in recent years about the negative effects of processed sugar consumption. For example, a study published in 2007 by the American Society of Clinical Nutrition, linked sugar to the growing epidemic of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease5. The case against sugar has continued to grow with mounting evidence being presented on the national stage through and films such as Fed Up. To add to the demise of sweet treats and what chocolate has become, studies about the health benefits of cacao have made consumers more eager to try chocolate in a different, more nutritious way. In a 2013 report released by Nutrition and Health, researchers found that antioxidants and flavonoids in chocolate could have implications for improved cardiovascular health10. To cater to these changing tastes, increased consumer awareness, and overall thirst for new flavors, the gourmet community has begun to use chocolate in a whole new way, different in many ways from anything that has been seen before.

Trending Today

With changing attitudes about chocolate, along with advances in general culinary technology and knowledge, the gourmet food industry has become much more adventurous in its uses of chocolate. Much of this exploration has begun to trickle down to the more general public as well. We have begun to see savory chocolate as a sort of trendy new flavor that adventurous eaters and chefs are eager to try.

Pollo en mole pablano. Saveur (4)

For instance, Saveur (a gourmet food and wine magazine) published an article in February of this year highlighting 12 savory chocolate recipes4. This is just the most recent article in a stream of columns and writings in food magazines, newspapers, and gourmet blogs within the last two or three years that focuses on chocolate as savory. “It’s for more than brownies and cakes”, as a subheading, this suggests a general trend that seeks to look at chocolate differently and use it in new ways4. The recipes include everything from sauces to stews, including the most widely known chocolate dish, the mole4. No discussion of chocolate as savory is complete without mention of mole. Mole is a group of traditional sauces originally from Mexico3. Known for its deep, complex flavors it is most often paired with meat, and is one of the oldest uses of savory chocolate that we know of today7. Though its exact origins are a little fuzzy, mole has become an icon of savory chocolate today3. In the Saveur magazine recipe, three different types of chiles are combined with an extensive list of herbs and Mexican chocolate to create a traditional “puebla-style” mole4. Mole has survived the test of time and has been adapted to fit modern culture, acting as the ultimate savory chocolate recipe.



But today’s recipes are not limited to central American cuisine. In an episode of the popular food network cooking show, Giada at Home, viewers are given a recipe for Chocolate fettucine with peas and pancetta2. As Chef Giada introduces her dish, her tone is almost imploring, reminding the home cooks that this is a savory recipe2. The final product looks incredible, but it is very likely something that most home cooks have never seen, let alone made, before. Chocolate pasta? It seems to defy our sensibilities and notions about the place and order of chocolate in food. But its presence as a featured home recipe on the Food Network shows a shift; rather than being entirely relegated to gourmet food like Saveur, chocolate is working its way into the fabric of savory dishes for the general public. This unprecedented change highlights the growing expansion of food horizons.

MOF chef
Jacques Torres (Photograph by Barry Johnson) (8)

Chocolate is an incredibly versatile ingredient, as seen from its uses in everything from sauces to pasta. But Chef Jacques Torres (An MOF collared chef from France) takes chocolate even further8. In a post on the very successful food site Serious Eats, three chefs are highlighted and interviewed about how they use chocolate as a savory ingredient in their restaurants8. Torres, uses cocoa nibs to crust salmon and then cooks the salmon in a pan of melted cocoa butter8. He even adds cacao to alcoholic beverages in his restaurant8! Another chef on the list, Julian Medina, makes a miso sauce with dark chocolate to use over fish and pork8. Miso is a salty paste made from soybeans that is often used as a salad dressing or in soups, not something that we are accustomed to containing chocolate. But Chef Medina insists that miso and chocolate work well because it combines “salty, sweet, a little acid, a bit of savory, and a bit of spice”8.

Expanding Horizons

My own creation of Baba Ghannouj in White Chocolate. Recipe from Saveur (9).



In reading about the many ways chocolate can be used, I was inspired to try my own hand at making a savory chocolate dish. I’ve had mole and savory sauces and I really wanted to push my own boundaries. That’s when I found a recipe for White Chocolate Baba Ghannouj9. We can rationalize the use of dark chocolate in savory foods because it is more bitter than sweet, but white chocolate is coco butter and sugar, it is sweet. I have perhaps eaten baba ghannouj once or twice before this and all I could remember was the traditional Middle Eastern dish being very savory and not the slightest bit sweet. It is an eggplant puree with spices and salt, and definitely no sugar. The particular recipe that I found calls for eggplants and garlic to be charred and cooked under a broiler and then made into a puree with lemon juice, parsley, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, tahini (a ground sesame seed paste) and white chocolate9. I will admit that as I was combining all the ingredients together I was very skeptical, given my memories of the dish and how odd it seemed to put chocolate in. The first thing I noticed about the puree was its smell. The sweetness of the chocolate subtly lingered in the air. The taste was unlike anything I’ve ever had before. The first notes were sweet, with the white chocolate coming through immediately. The coco butter also added a smooth, silky texture that set this baba ghannouj apart from its classic origins. As the flavor developed the tahini and lemon and smokiness of the eggplant countered the sweetness to create a complex and intriguing bite. When I had my friends try it, their initial reaction was similar to mine- it was unlike anything they had ever tasted it. After a few moments and a few more bites all of them nodded their heads and stated that they liked it. Almost addictively, as if to figure out whether they liked it or not, they all went back for more. This dish exemplifies an expanding horizon. All of us that tried this were momentarily confused by the drastic departure from familiar flavors. But once we dug in a little more we found that the chocolate added a richness and a complexity that elevated the dish, making it more exciting, and opening a world of savory chocolate possibilities.



Works Cited

  1. Brenner, Max. “Creating a New Chocolate Culture Worldwide.” Max Brenner. 2016. Web. <http://www.maxbrenner.com/&gt;.
  2. Chocolate Fettuccine with Peas and Pancetta. Giada De Laurentiis. Perf. Giada De Laurentiis. Food Network; Giada at Home, 2015.
  3. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
  4. Editors, Saveur. “12 Savory Chocolate Recipes.” Saveur3 Feb. 2016. Print.
  5. Johnson, Richard J., Mark S. Segal, Takahiko Nakagawa, Daniel I. Feig, Duk-Hee Kang, Michael S. Gersch, Steven Benner, and Laura G. Sanchez-Lozada. “Potential Role of Sugar (fructose) in the Epidemic of Hypertension, Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, Kidney Disease, and Cardiovascular Disease.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition4 (2007): 899-906. Web.
  6. Norton, M. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review3 (2006): 660-91. Web.
  7. Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. New York: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.
  8. Raposo, Jacqueline. “Hey Chef, What Savory Dishes Can I Make With Chocolate?” Web log post. Serious Eats. 10 Feb. 2015. Web.
  9. “White Chocolate Baba Ghannouj.” Saveur11 Feb. 2103. Print.
  10. Watson, Ronald Ross, and Victor R. Preedy. “Chocolate in Health and Nutrition.” Ed. Adrienne Bendich and Sherma Zibadi. Human Press(2013). 1007/978-1-61779-803-0. Web.

Comparing Chocolate: CVS versus Whole Foods Market

Earlier in the semester, we discussed how consumers may have as much responsibility as companies when it comes to impacting the social and ethical concerns surrounding chocolate. Some of these concerns are classism, unethical forms of labor and fair wages for cacao farmers. One way to study these issues is by focusing on a store and seeing what selection it offers; this post will discuss these issues surrounding chocolate and consumerism by looking at two retail chains, namely CVS and Whole Foods.


CVS is a pharmacy retailer with more than 9,600 stores in the United States, making it one of the top hundred drugstores in the nation (“Company”). In addition to offering pharmacy services, it usually contains an extensive retail portion in the store. Most CVSs are large enough to have an aisle dedicated to snacks and chocolate. If not, they are sure to include chocolate in the bins near the registers. In this post, we will first look at the chocolate aisle. Unsurprisingly, we see the Big Five: Ferrero, Nestle, Mars, Hershey’s and Cadbury. Most were fairly affordable as they ranged from roughly $1 to $6. The more expensive chocolate, however, were fairly large bags of chocolate consisting of at least 8 ounces of chocolate or more (up to 20 ounces). The selection ranged from individually wrapped chocolates in large bags to single chocolate bars. CVS also offered ways to cut down costs, often applying “Buy 2 Get 1 Free” deals or “Buy 2 for $6” deals. From this, it seems that CVS targets people who are less willing to spend exorbitant amounts on chocolate and are looking for convenience and value instead.

CVS Aisle
An image of the chocolate aisle at CVS. There was a mix of single bars, super-sized bars and bags of chocolate.

An interesting part was that CVS offered “Premium Chocolates” at the end of the aisle. While the unit price in the aisle chocolate did not usually exceed $0.80, the “premium” chocolates often had unit prices of around $0.95 to $1.39. Although one of the Big Five, it seems that Ferrero appeals to a slightly different audience that may spend more on chocolate, as a product line of Ferrero, Ferrero Rochers, were designated as “premium.” Some brands in this section were Lindt and Ghirardelli, with a large majority being Lindt chocolate bars. Lindt and Ghirardelli are both products of the Swiss company Lindt & Sprüngli. Lastly, most of the chocolate offerings were dark chocolate, often labeled “intense” or incorporating other flavors such as spice and fruits. As we will later see, even these “premium” chocolates were cheaper than the majority of the chocolates sold at Whole Foods.

CVS Premium booth.jpg
One side of the “Premium Chocolate” section at CVS.

The cheaper price point of chocolate is a double-edged sword. Although the ability to provide cheap chocolate has extremely negative connotations associated with it such as child slavery and other unethical practices, cheap price points allow for chocolate to be distributed to a wider amount of people. This helps negate discriminating against certain classes. First, we can discuss how chocolate manufacturers are able to get such cheap prices and the history behind this. One important factor was industrialization. Goody notes that four immediate factors made this possible: 1) preserving, 2) mechanization, 3) retailing (and wholesaling) and 4) transport (72). Because of industrialization, foods like chocolate were able to be shared worldwide and costs were able to be decreased. Compared to its initial beginnings as an upper-class commodity in Europe and North America in the 1600’s, chocolate has been significantly democratized in terms of price and accessibility (Coe & Coe 138).

This desire to drive down prices was also historically relevant, especially with the Big Five as they competed against each other for larger market shares. For example, in the early 1900s, Frank Mars originally depended on Hershey’s for their chocolate coating, but eventually stopped contracting out this manufacturing need. Frank Mars wanted total control of his chocolate, so that he could go head-to-head with Hershey (Brenner 181). Thus, we see the results of this fierce competition as the chocolate prices are quite comparable for the most part among these giants.

While capitalism and industrialization have helped democratize chocolate, there are also ethical concerns associated with such low price points. One of the largest ethical concerns are the types of labor used to farm the cacao. Big Chocolate, especially, has had trouble with this. In 2001, a scandal erupted with headlines saying that American chocolate was made from child slavery (Off 139). Many Big Chocolate companies were blind-sided and U.S. companies like Mars and Hershey’s “insisted that the cocoa chain in Cote d’Ivoire was outside their control” (140). Despite this pushback from the industry, the Harkin-Engel Protocol came to fruition.

A young child raking cacao beans as they dry.

The Harkin-Engel Protocol was a fully voluntary arrangement for regulating industry in the U.S. In this agreement, chocolate companies agreed to follow this program to “eliminate child slave labour in the cocoa chain” (144). Although well-intentioned, it ran into many obstacles including but not limited to: debates on what was considered child slavery, lack of increase in farmers’ wages, meddling by Big Chocolate to downplay the scandal, and not meeting the deadline of 2005 to eliminate slavery (145-46). Carol Off says the Harkin-Engel Protocol was significant in that it forced the chocolate industry to recognize forced child labour, but it “amount[ed] to window dressing” (161).

There has been a history of slavery in chocolate and it shouldn’t be ignored by consumers. For example, in the 1900s, Cadbury was scandalized for its cacao grown by forced laborers in São Tomé and Príncipe. Although industry and government should perhaps try to combat this, consumers also have the power to influence the market through their purchases. Thus, evaluating the history of chocolate as well as its present situation helps consumers make more educated decisions in their purchasing.

Lastly, something to note was the chocolate selection offered near the registers. Compared to the chocolate selection in the aisles, the chocolate near the registers were smaller and thus, cheaper on the whole. However, while these items near checkout account for only 1% of a store’s final sales, they account for 4% of its profits. Hershey’s and other big chocolate manufacturers took note of this and have implemented ways to profit from the psychological effect of chocolate. For example, Hershey’s has conducted research on “chocolaty gratification” to study why people are so apt to buy items near checkout and have increased the visibility of their products near the register (Harwell). At CVS, there were either bins of chocolates on the counter itself or below the counter.

CVS Register
The chocolate selection near the checkout area at CVS.

Whole Foods

Compared to CVS, Whole Foods Market is a supermarket chain with about 300 to 400 stores in the United States. It focuses on selling foods that are “free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats.” In their company values, they promote quality and the well-being of their customers (“Quality”). There is an overall emphasis on health and “natural, whole” foods and ingredients, appealing to a certain niche market.

Whole Foods Aisle
The chocolate section at Whole Foods.

The chocolate section in Whole Foods seemed smaller than CVS’s. Whereas the chocolate in CVS seemed to take up one whole aisle, the Whole Foods chocolate section was only a portion of the aisle. First, I noticed the lack of Big Five’s products. Instead, there were some recognizable products from smaller brands. Some of these brands included Taza Chocolate, Green & Black’s, Theo Chocolate, Pure7 Chocolate, and Not Your Sugar Mama’s. Several of these brands were also local, such as Pure7 Chocolate and Taza Chocolate.

Whole Foods Taza
A portion of the chocolate section dedicated to Taza Chocolate, a local chocolatier in Somerville, MA.

In discussing the market of CVS versus Whole Foods, Whole Foods appeals to a different customer who 1) is willing to spend more on chocolate, 2) is health-conscious, and 3) is perhaps conscious about forms of labor and the purity of the ingredients. Off the bat, the prices of the chocolates at Whole Foods were more expensive. Although there were $6 bags of chocolate sold at CVS, it was a bulk purchase. However, in Whole Foods, for $6.99 it was a 2 oz. bar of chocolate. As education grows around chocolate, there seems to be an increasing trend of people who are willing to spend more for a luxury item. High prices don’t necessarily mean that chocolate may be “slave-free,” though, or fully ethical; high prices aren’t the end-all-be-all situation for ameliorating the ethical concerns surrounding chocolate. However, these smaller companies often pay farmers much more, sometimes triple the price, for their beans, suggesting that these smaller chocolatiers are trying to address some of these labor and wage issues (Martin). Taza Chocolate, in particular, is known for its “Taza Direct Trade” philosophy where there is transparency for the consumer about the farmer’s wages.

Whole Foods Health.JPG
A few chocolate brands that market certain health benefits of chocolate or sugar-substitutes.

In addition to labels concerning fair prices and labor practices, there are also labels more oriented towards health-conscious consumers. For example, there was an abundance of chocolates labeled as “USDA Organic” and “Non-GMO Certified.” At CVS, there were much fewer chocolates if at all with these labels. Furthermore, many of these chocolates were labeled as “antioxidant-rich superfoods,” suggesting that chocolate is a healthy food. In addition, many chocolates marketed their sugar-free alternatives. For example, Pure7 emphasizes its use of honey as a sugar alternative.

Health and chocolate have had a long relationship, so it is unsurprising that a health-conscious store would select chocolates that tout its health benefits. The Mesoamericans (the Olmec, Maya and Aztecs) were known for their medicinal uses of cacao, which were often recorded by Europeans in the 1500s. For example, Fray Bernardino de Sahagún wrote the Florentine Codex (1590), documenting detailed cacao prescriptions for ailments such as infection, diarrhea and cough used by the Aztec (Dillinger et al.). Europeans adopted some of these medical uses and also applied their Galenic theory of hot, cold, wet, and dry onto cacao in the 1600s. Health and chocolate still have strong ties today. Most recently, in 2007, Norman Hollenberg associated chocolate with the low blood pressure in the Kuna people. However, James Howe, an anthropologist, criticizes medical research for its sometimes unilateral methods and oversimplification when dealing with communities of people (Howe 50). Lastly, some scientists have further explored the clinical benefits of chocolate some of them being: cardioprotection by improving endothelial function, enhanced antioxidant defenses, mood elevation, and anti-inflammatory effects (Castell 265).

Evaluating two different stores with different markets in terms of chocolate consumers reveals a lot about consumers’ habits. Whole Foods was, on the whole, more expensive, but had more labels and fewer added ingredients in their chocolate. However, its chocolate was more expensive, perhaps excluding those who are unable or unwilling to spend over $6 for a bar of chocolate. CVS, on the other hand, had more bulk chocolate at more affordable prices. This high price versus low price shouldn’t be the only focus, though, as high prices don’t necessarily correlate with fairer practices. For example, labeling can often be vague or unclear about its purposes and methods. Perhaps through better education about chocolate and food, one can make more socially conscious purchases as well as be aware of certain marketing ploys, whether it be in stores like CVS or stores like Whole Foods.

Works Cited

Brenner, Joël. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. New York: Random House, 1999. Print.

Castell, Margarida, Jean-François Bisson and Francisco Perez-Cano. “Clinical Benefits of Cocoa: An Overview.” Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Ed. Ronald Watson, Victor Preedy, and Sherma Zibadi. N.p.: Springer, n.d. 265-75. Print.

Coe, Sophie, and Michael Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. Print.

“Company Information, Facts & Figures.” CVS Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <http://cvshealth.com/about/cvs-health-at-a-glance&gt;.

Dillinger, Teresa, Patricia Barriga, Sylvia Escárcega, Martha Jimenez, Diana Lowe, and Louis Grivetti. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition 130.8 (2000): 20575-0725. Web.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 72-90. Print.

Harwell, Drew. “Hershey’s Plan to Hook Americans onto Impulse-buying Chocolate Again.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12.1 (2012): 43-52. Web.

Martin, Carla. “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice: The Future?” African and African American Studies 119x Lecture. Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge. 27 Apr. 2016. Lecture.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: New, 2008. Print.

“Quality Standards.” Whole Foods Market. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/quality-standards&gt;.

The History of Chocolate Advertising: How Parenting got Involved and Big Chocolate Took Advantage

The buying power for the family pantry in the 20th century has historically rested with the mother. To get after that market, then, the candy makers of the 20th century went after the children’s sweet tooth by advertising to the mothers that would buy sweets for them. From being a cheap snack to a quick meal supplement to finally evolving into the sugar loaded evil we know today, the appeals companies made to moms are striking evidence of the dominant health and parenting practices and how they changed between 1900 and today. It was in this fashion that the chocolate companies could maintain and grow chocolate consumption through the century, even to today, where the average American consumes 22lbs of chocolate per year (Allen 28).

Before even the start of the 20th century, sugar generally was being consumed as a cheap and quick calorie boost. By the 1850s, sugar was a necessity in most British households. Households, and especially the women and children, were economically inclined to substitute away from more expensive and nutritious parts of meals for the quick calories from sugar instead (Mintz 148). The advertising of the time reflects this in showing chocolate or cocoa as an adequate substitute for a child’s meal despite the fact that we now realize that a nutritious meal and cocoa are not even in the same ballpark in terms of healthfulness (Mintz 186).

This early Cadbury ad featuring a small child lauds the benefits for her of a cup of cocoa

Despite today’s reality of chocolate’s health effects, the price tag and the calories it provided made it hard to resist meal supplements like Cadbury’s cocoa.

While the reputation of sugar and chocolate for being a cheap calorie boost hadn’t really gone away, it’s primary utility grew to be its ease in preparation and consumption. The quickness with which one could mix a cup of cocoa or hand a child a bar made it an attractive option for parents that suddenly found that they didn’t have as much time to make a family meal (Mintz 186). One can see this change in the rapid rise of prepared foods throughout the second half of the 19th century first half of the 20th (Goody 74). With chemical and technological advancements in the creation of processed or preserved foods as well as in the actual methodologies and containers used to preserve them, it became easier and more practical to get nutrition in the smallest amount of time possible (Goody 78). A large part of this is likely due to the entrance of more women into the workforce in later half of the 20th century. In war and peace times, chocolate and manufactured food products allowed mothers to put a “nutritious meal” on the table for their kids, even if their day would have prevented cooking a family meal.

Companies capitalized on this sentiment with advertising like this, featuring “a glass and a half” of milk in every bar

Even the government made it hard to deny the nutrition of milk chocolate bars, when the bars they gave to soldiers headed out on long missions were made of chocolate (Kawash).

Companies combined children, soldiers, and family to show the health virtues of chocolate bars in a truly “All American” Way

How then, did we get to today, when doctors, dentists, and other parents advise against overconsumption of chocolate and especially sugar? The health revolution was quick to pounce on sugar as yes, quick, but empty calories that would give your child (and you) diabetes and cavities (Albritton 342). As the adverse health effects of eating too much candy became the more prominent reputation of their products, candy advertisers had to react accordingly— children may still go into the chocolate aisle to purchase a chocolate bar but their health-conscious moms certainly wouldn’t. Chocolate and candy advertisers went about combatting this in two ways. The first was to start somewhat artificially limiting the overall sugar content of their products and started to market them as “reduced sugar” (Bailin, Goldman, and Phartiyal. 5-8).

This cereal box is a perfect example, where the health benefits of this breakfast are lauded on top and the “reduced sugar” banner is prominently displayed. Frosted Flakes still aren’t that good for you

The second way in which advertisers continued to go after parents’ conscious wallets was to return to sentimental advertising appeals (Nudd). This could be nostalgic, with a beloved theme song from a 1960s childhood, or offer up a piece of chocolate as a meaningful connection with a child.

Here, Mars has used nostalgia to both honor its history and make an appeal to new and older consumers with its 75th M&M anniversary ad, that feature a modern take on a classic song that was featured in an M&M advertisement as well as cuts of historical ads. Children can connect because of its modernity, but parents will connect with its history.

Hershey’s in particular has done a brilliant job capitalizing on the latter because of its reputation as “America’s candy bar”. Ads for Hershey’s chocolate may feature adorably animated chocolate kisses but end with the wrapped kiss given from parent to child.

Here, a recent Hershey’s ad uses the bond between father in daughter to sell Hershey’s chocolate as a way to spend quality time as a family in a busy world.

The transformation of these ads from print to video short is remarkable in of itself in terms of how consumers process information about the barrage of products in the world. But just as interesting is the feedback loop that is created when dominant attitudes about certain products (and the people that consume them) change. There was always a clear reason for eating sugar and chocolate—even if it was just because it was a sweet treat! Advertisers over time evaluated those reasons and found the best ways to get the candy addict in every child the sugar fix he or she needed by appealing to a parent’s nutrition needs for their child. Chocolate and sugar have mutated in the public mind from cheap calories to quick meal supplement to sweet indulgence without a lot of the actual chemical or procedural makeup changing over time. Ads from throughout the1900s to today tell a different story, however, one that almost seems to advertise three different products at three different times. Given that the product was, however, more or less the same, it is fair to conclude that the prevailing parenting and health attitudes on chocolate and sugar drove childhood sugar consumption and chocolate companies responded by routinely creating advertising that would appeal to those attitudes and keep sugar consumption growing.

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger.” Coulihan, Carole and Penny van Estrik. Food and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Allen, Lawrence. Chocolate Fortunes. New York: Amacon, 2010.

Bailin, Deborah, Gretchen Goldman and Pallavi Phartiyal. Sugar-coating Science. May 2014. UCSUSA. 9 March 2016 <www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/center-for-science-and-democracy/sugar-coating-science.pdf>.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food.” Counihan, Carole and Penny van Esterik. Food and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Kawash, Samira. Candy and Corn: “Rich in Dextrose”. 24 September 2010. 9 March 2016 <http://candyprofessor.com/2010/09/24/candy-and-corn-rich-in-dextrose/&gt;.

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Nudd, Tim. M&M’s UNveils 75th Anniversary Spot Featuring Zedd and Aloe Blacc’s ‘Candyman’. 29 February 2016. 9 March 2016 <http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/mms-unveils-75th-anniversary-spot-featuring-zedd-and-aloe-blaccs-candyman-169923 >.

Image Sources:





Mayans Influenced Value Placed on Chocolate as a Medicine, Even Today

As an incredibly important product sold and traded worldwide, cacao has had many uses dating back to as early as 600 BC (Hurst, 2002). According to evidence found in the Dresden Codex books (figure 1), the Mayans used cacao for marriage rituals, the earth’s fertility, rites of death, and several other purposes (Martin, 2016). As a catalyst for using cacao beans to produce chocolate for varying reasons, the Mayans continue to have an influence on the status of chocolate today – primarily in search of medicinal uses for chocolate. Even though the degree at which chocolate is valued for use in medicinal context has decreased, Mayan ideals about chocolate as medicine continue to impact research for such benefits today.

Figure 1: Example of Dresden Codex entry. Cacao tree can be seen on the center, right of the photo.

The Mayans were very ritualistic people who valued certain plants from the earth as divine, due to the creation by different gods and goddesses (Bogin, 1997). Cacao was considered a divine gift (figure 2) from the god Sovereign Plumed Serpent, which was the start of cacao as sacred for the Mayans (Dillinger, 2000). Because cacao was gifted by gods and even used in rituals by gods, the Mayans searched for other purposes for cacao. They used cacao to create chocolate beverages to drink during rituals. In their quest for other purposes of chocolate, they found that chocolate had medicinal benefits. It is unsure how effective chocolate was as a medical treatment, but it is well documented how chocolate was used by Mayans for medical purposes.

Figure 2: The exchange of cacao beans between gods. Gods created cacao, a divine gift.


Chocolate had a plethora of medicinal purposes, according to the Mayans. Some ate the cacao beans, but for the majority of medical remedies, the Mayans ground the cacao beans together with seasonings to create a medicinal potion (Lippi, 2009). The medicinal potion was used to gain weight, stimulate the nervous system, improve digestion elimination, cure anemia, kidney stones, stop fevers, and diminish tuberculosis symptoms. Not only was a chocolate beverage potion used, cacao paste was used as a pharmacological drug for stronger medical problems (Wright, 2010). The list for medical purposes of chocolate is long because the Mayans truly believed chocolate was a divine intervention from a god.

It may seem ridiculous that chocolate was so highly regarded as a medicine by the Mayans, but the use of chocolate as a medicine did not end with the Mayans. Pre-Columbian societies used chocolate as a medicine and such influence continued to Europe and the New World (Lippi, 2009). After exploration by Europeans to the Americas, cacao reached a larger global spread and chocolate popularity grew immensely in Europe. Because Europeans did not follow the same cultural rituals as natives, their usage of chocolate varied from them but they did use cacao for medicinal and health related issues, on a smaller scale (Dillinger, 2000).

Figure 3: Example of how cacao is marketed today. These are cacao pills sold for antioxidant support.

Throughout the centuries, chocolate has changed due to the addition of sugar, mass production, and traditional recipes but that has not stopped researchers from expressing interest in chocolate as a use for medicinal purposes. The evidence that we have of the success of chocolate as a medicine in the early 1000s is very limited because the Dresden Codex does not include successes. However, research nowadays shows cacao and chocolate as modern medicine. Cacao has many nutrients such as potassium and iron that contribute to nutritional value of the human body. Studies show that cacao can improve cognitive function, reduce emotional stress, and reduce cardiovascular disease if eaten in appropriate quantities (Wright, 2010). Cacao is also used by the body for antioxidant and antiplatelet qualities which provide other health benefits, figure 3 (Keen, 2013).

In general, it is safe to say that cacao (figure 4) and chocolate provide health benefits (based on research shown). The view of chocolate as a medicinal- or health-related benefit is not a novelty but originated courtesy of the Mayans. Their usage of chocolate to relieve certain health problems continues to influence research today. Even though the views on chocolate have fluctuated over centuries, chocolate is a benefit. As Dr. Lippi wrote, “Chocolate is no longer deemed a guilty pleasure, and it may have positive health benefits when eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet”(2009).

Figure 4. List of some of the nutrients found in cacao beans and the benefits they provide the human body.

Works Cited

Bogin, B. (1997). The evolution of human nutrition. The Anthropology of Medicine: From Culture to Method , 98–142.

Dillinger, T. (2010). Food of the gods: Cure for humanity? A cultural history of the medicinal and ritual use of chocolate. The Journal of Nutrition, 2057-2072.

Hurst, W. (2002). Archaeology: Cacao usage by the earliest Maya civilization. Nature, 418, 289-290.

Keen, C. (2013). Chocolate: Food as a medicine/medicine as food. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 20(5), 436-439.

Lippi, D. (2009). Chocolate and medicine: Dangerous liaisons? Science Direct: Nutrition, 25(11-12). 1100-1103.

Martin, C. (2016). Introduction to chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. Harvard College, Lecture.

Wright, C. (2010). Cacao – an ancient medicine validated by modern science. Natural News, Dec 2010.

Chocolate: Curse or Cure?

Although evidence for the medicinal use of chocolate appears in Mesoamerican artifacts as early as 600 B.C. (Dillinger et al. 2000), the health benefits of chocolate have only recently been evaluated in modern American society. Mesoamerican civilizations and European countries long ago recognized the ways chocolate could improve the conditions of those who were sick. One could even say the Mayans deemed chocolate a super food thousands of years ago, when they integrated cacao into their diet and rituals as they believed in its magical properties. Food was considered to be medicine long before contemporary sources of treatment prescribed by physicians. Mesoamerican sources of evidence include pieces of writing, the transmission of words across languages, and residue found in vessels made of pottery and materials stored in tombstones (Coe and Coe 1996).

The consumption of chocolate began in the New World among the Olmecs, and later made its way to the Old World in the 16th century. I explore its incorporation in three primary sources: the Badianus Manuscript, the Florentine Codex, and the Princeton Codex (De la Cruz 1940 and Sahagun 1981). Chocolate was used for preventative and healing purposes, according to these documents.

desta gente indiana y de los miembros de todo el cuerpo interiores y esteriores y de las enfermedades y medicinas contrarias y de las nationes que a esta tierra an venido a poblar, Mexico, 1577

The image above is printed on the Florentine Codex, an encyclopedia about central Mexico culture that Bernardino de Sahagun composed in 1590. “Book X [the tenth of twelve books in the series] is about Aztec society and covers such subjects as the virtues and vices of the people, food and drink, the parts of the human body, and illnesses and remedies. In this book, Sahagún describes the process of making chocolate from cacao beans, which is also depicted on folio 71v.” The Florentine Codex includes an exploration of medical treatments that used cacao. Among these health benefits were reducing agitation, asthma, cancer, thirst, and hoarseness (Stubbe 1662). Sahagun also described how different parts and methods of preparing cacao (cacao-tree bark, leaves of the cacao, and cacao as a beverage) could be used in order to cure or treat various illnesses.

The Badianus Manuscript was found in the Vatican Library in 1929, and provides pharmacological treatments for various diseases.

The Badianus Manuscript, written in 1552 in Nahuatl, presents the use of food in healing particularly through the use of medicinal herbs. The manuscript explores “the use of cocoa derivatives as nutrients or remedies for angina, constipation, tartar-related dental problems, dysentery, dyspepsia, indigestion, fatigue, gout and hemorrhoids” (De la Cruz, 1940). This primary source focus on the use of cacao flowers to cure fatigue. Finally, the Princeton Codex was discovered in 1914 in Yucatan and describes chants that were recited for patients who were ill. “At the conclusion of chants to cure skin eruptions, fever and seizures, a bowl of chacah (i.e., medicinal chocolate) that contained two peppers, honey and tobacco juice was drunk by the patients” (Princeton Codex 1965).

As chocolate was transferred to Western Europe, its consumption was deemed suspicious given its stimulating effects. In order to appeal to Galenism, the prominent medical philosophy at the time, doctors and scientists found evidence of the ways it improved the body (Lippi, 2012). There were various conclusions drawn pertaining to the health impacts chocolate provided from the 17th to the 19th centuries, though the results center on three medicine-related uses for cacao and chocolate: weight gain in emaciated patients, stimulating the nervous system, and improving digestion (Dillinger et al. 2000).

Chocolate is the New ‘Super Food,’ The Telegraph, United Kingdom, 2011

In a study by the Hershey Centre for Health and Nutrition, researchers found that dark chocolate contained more antioxidants and polyphenols than fruit “all of which are thought to protect the body from diseases such as cancer, and heart conditions” (Alleyne, 2011). Nutritionists and vendors alike have declared chocolate, especially dark chocolate, a super food. Cocoa products have been proven to slightly lower blood pressure and have even been linked with lower rates of cancer (Steinberg et al. 2003). However, most studies on the health benefits of chocolate have focused on cocoa extracts, not chocolate, and the distinction must be made in order to consider the impact of the addition of sugar and fats in modern American society.


Alleyne, Richard. “Chocolate is the New ‘Super Food’” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, United Kingdom [Online Image.] 7 Feb. 2011. Retrieved 02-14-16 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/8306796/Chocolate-is-the-new-super-food.html.

“The Badianus Manuscript.” America’s Earliest Medical Book. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

Coe, S.D., Coe, M.D., 1996. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, London

Dillinger T.L., Barriga P., Escarcega S., Jimenez M., Salazar Lowe D., Grivetti L.E. Food of the gods: Cure for humanity? A cultural history of the medicinal and ritual use of chocolate. J. Nutr.2000;130:2057–2072.

De la Cruz M. The Badianus Manuscript, Codex Barberini, Latin 241, Vatican Library: An Aztec herbal of 1552. Johns Hopkins University Press; Baltimore, MD, USA: 1940.

Libro decimo de los vicios y virtudes desta gente indiana y de los miembros de todo el cuerpo interiores y esteriores y de las enfermedades y medicinas contrarias y de las nationes que a esta tierra an venido a poblar, Mexico [Online Image]. 1577 CE. The World Digital Library. Retrieved 02-14-16 from https://www.wdl.org/en/item/10621/.

Lippi D. History of the Medical Use of Chocolate. In: Watson R.R., Preedy V.R., Zibadi S., editors. Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Humana Press; New York, NY, USA: 2012. pp. 11–21.

Roys, R. L. Ritual of the Bacabs. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK: 1965.

Sahagun B. General History of the Things of New Spain [Florentine Codex, 1590] School of American Research, University of Utah Monographs of the School of American Research, and Museum of New Mexico; Santa Fe, NM, USA: 1981.

Steinberg, Francene M., Monica M. Bearden, and Carl L. Keen. “Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: implications for cardiovascular health.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 103.2 (2003): 215-223.

Stubbe, H.. The Indian Nectar or a Discourse Concerning Chocolata and Nature of the Cacao-Nut and other Ingredients of that Composition is Examined and Stated According to the Judgment and Experience of Indian and Spanish Writers. J.C. for Andrew Crook, London, UK: 1662.