The sourcing and production of chocolate had a direct effect on its place in the social hierarchy in different societies and cultures across time. It is possible to see this by going in depth into three chronological time periods in different places in the world where the allure of cacao had spread. By an early exploration of Mayan chocolate production to Venezuelan plantations ending at the discovery of the Cocoa press in the Netherlands.
Mayan Chocolate Making
Mayans revered chocolate, it played an essential role in their stories of origin and cosmology. It was used in burial rites and great ceremonies. Cacao was grown agriculturally by the Mayans 1.
One of the only direct evidence discovered about how Mayans made their chocolate is found in this vessel on the right-hand side which shows a lady pouring chocolate drink from a height into another cup. This was to create the foam that was extremely prized in the Mayan culture; it was thought to be the breath of the Gods.
This Maya Princeton Vase is evidence for the heavy usage and importance of cacao in the Mayan culture. It has engraved hieroglyphics for the word cacao coupled with cosmological depictions.
The Maya had many ways of using Cacao to make food.
Chacau haa – This is hot chocolate drink.
Tzune – This is a mix of cacao, maize and sapote seeds.
Saca– A gruel made from cooked maize, water, and cacao.
The flavoring that was commonly used was vanilla and ‘ear flower’2. These different ways of cooking show a creative and vibrant diversity in the usage of the cacao pod. It is highly developed and adaptable. It shows cacao to be an essential part of the Mayan culture and diet.
The remnants of traditional Mayan way of making chocolate drink are still alive today in certain parts of Mexico among the Mayan communities. This video highlights and explains the traditional ways women make the chocolate drink in these Mayan communities.
This video shows us how labor intensive and time consuming it was to make chocolate drink in the Mayan style. The cacao beans have to shelled, roasted, dried in the sun, ground and after this long process mixed with water ready to be consumed.
Venezuelan Cacao Boom
The high-quality strain of Criollo cacao is native to Venezuela. It started being produced agriculturally at the turn of the seventeenth century. The first recorded shipment is in 1607 from La Guaira to Spain 3. This was under the influence of Hispanic colonization, those working on these plantations were slaves and laborers 4.
Here the cacao was so abundantly grown it was consumed on a regular basis by everybody, from slaves to lords. There were three different styles in consuming the cacao 5.
Cerrero– ( rough and ready, bitter ) This was just plain cacao dissolved in water with no added flavorings or sweeteners. It was widely drunk by people in the interiors.
Chorote– Made by creating solid chocolate balls which are dissolved in water, added to this is muscovado sugar. The chocolate balls were created by boiling ground cacao to separate the fats and solids. This was drunk by people in the cities as well as given to slaves and laborers for lunch and dinner.
Chocolate– Made by mixing balls of ground chocolate mixed with sugar or honey, toasted corn, seasonings such as cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. This was consumed by the Spanish elite at morning and noon meals.
The mass production led to cacao being available for everybody to consume. However what marks the social classes is by what process they made their cacao and what was added to it. Also the number of cacao beans used in the food and the time and effort of making it.
Development of industrial techniques of cacao processing
Conrad Johanes Van Houten discovered, along with his father the Cocoa press and Dutch process chocolate 6.
This created a fast and easy chocolate producing technique. It was adopted by big industries to use in their ways of chocolate production. This created a speedy and cheaper way of making good tasting chocolate.
Another process invented was the conching of chocolate. This was invented by Rudolfhe Lindt in Switzerland 7.
. It created smoother chocolate and covered the origins and original flavors and textures of the cacao bean, hence a bean sourced from anywhere of any strain could be used. The image below portrays the process of creating smoother chocolate.
These invented process allowed for the anonymity of cacao in the chocolate drink and bar. It became possible to mass produce chocolate without knowing of the origins and sourcing of the cacao bean that went into the chocolate. This created a lot of distance between the agriculture of growing cacao, strains and qualities of the pod and the consumer of the chocolate.
Mass Chocolate Production Today
This kind of mechanized industrialized mass production allows for a lot of chocolate to be produced. When chocolate production moved to such a mechanized way of being made, it became widely available for the average consumer. In today’s world chocolate is a regular household good with a large gap between knowledge of the sourcing and production of chocolate and the regular consumers of chocolate. The intensive agricultural development of cacao with the support of slave exploitation and the inventions of chocolate processing in Europe led to chocolate as is known today.
1- Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.
2- Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.
3- Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.
4- Romero, Simon. “In Venezuela, plantations of cocoa stir bitterness.” The New York Times (2009): A04.
5- Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.
6- Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.
7- Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.