Today, coffee shops are a modern staple. While everyone goes to them to buy an assortment of teas and coffees, they also go for the ambiance. They go to study, to catch up with friends, and to do business. What we know today as the modern coffee shop – whether that be national chains like Starbucks or local neighborhood joints – has its origins in the Enlightenment period.
In fact, the modern coffee shop is closely associated with, surprisingly, the history of the social practices that developed out of the “Age of Reason’s” economics and social understandings of chocolate. This age saw rapid rises in both consumerism and critiques of social norms, and although it spawned more well-known events like the American and French Revolutions, this time period also drastically changed how Europe and the British colonies engaged with chocolate, coffee, and tea.
Each region’s interaction with these drinks depended on a series of economic and cultural factors. On the surface it might appear as if economic factors were solely responsible for dictating how and why chocolate was consumed in different regions. However, cultural and social understandings were also crucial for influencing the ways that countries engaged with chocolate, coffee, and tea.
In Northern Europe, the consumption of chocolate – which at the time was a beverage – grew alongside the region’s consumption of coffee and tea. All of these drinks were served in the first coffeeshops, which were called coffeehouses. These places became popular due to rising demand for spaces where the middle class and gentry could come together to discuss social issues, politics, and develop critical opinions of the established social norms.
Coffeehouses were boisterous places of debate as Dr. Matthew Green reminisces in his TED talk, and these spaces contributed to literary, philosophical and radical innovations (McComb, White). The first coffeehouse was opened in Britain in 1655 by a Turkish merchant, and from there, the institution grew rapidly (Mintz, 111). Coffeehouses became places where people could get both their news and their cheap, quick fix for the day.
“You have all Manner of News there: You have a good Fire, which you may sit by as long as you please : You have a Dish of Coffee ; you meet your friends for the Transaction of Business, and all for a Penny, if you don’t care to spend more”
– Late 17th Century French Traveler (Mintz, 111)
In English coffeehouses, chocolate was consumed at a significantly lower rates than coffee and tea. In 1680, coffee was consumed at about 224,000 pounds a year as chocolate was only consumed at about 6,000 pounds a year. At first chocolate competed with coffee, but by 1750, it was served alongside coffee and not in competition to the drink (McComb). There were two prominent reasons why chocolate was not consumed at as high of rates.
First, it was more expensive than coffee and tea. The transportation costs of getting cacao to Europe from the Americas were expensive, and high tariffs also radically increased the price of the good (Gay). However, while the price made chocolate less desirable, this is not the whole story; the social associations that Northern Europeans had with chocolate also decreased the amount it was consumed.
Chocolate was heavily associated with the Catholic clergy, so many philosophes in coffeehouses avoided chocolate beverages out of principle. They understood coffee to be a sobering stimulant that led to productivity, while in contrast, chocolate was associated with leisure and the aristocracy (Coe). Moreover, in England, nobility was not the same as it was in Spain: only the eldest sons could inherit land and titles and the rest became commoners. Because of this, there was less incentive to maintain chocolate as an aristocratic privilege, as it was mostly a drink only for the elite in most countries because of its price. Men in coffeehouses preferred egalitarian environments for diverse debates, so coffeehouses became places where people of all ranks sat alongside each other. Hence, chocolate lost its aristocratic allure in England as men let go of class distinctions and flaunting wealth in coffeehouses (White).
In Southern Europe, chocolate was heavily consumed. Throughout Europe, Spain – the nation of chocolate drinkers – was known for producing the best chocolate. Chocolate was the preferred drink of the church hierarchy, and it was only reserved for the upper and middle classes. At breakfast, they ate it with cold water, and at night, they consumed it before their evening siestas (Coe).
Because Spain did not have a popular movement of philosophes building coffeehouses, coffee was in short supply in Spain until the latter half of 18th century. When coffee-houses finally sprung up in Madrid, only men were allowed inside, while women had to stay in their coaches and have cold drinks brought to them (Coe). This was a common practice in coffeehouses because of the common belief that women were not able to reason.
As chocolate became with royal and papal absolutism, which were “inimical” to the Enlightenment, Spain eventually popularized tea and coffee. Spain wanted to hold a dignified position among modern nations, but chocolate beverages did not lose their cultural popularity among the elite. As coffee and tea came to symbolize civilization and liberty, the Spanish still partook in social gatherings that centered around their traditional chocolate consumption. These traditions were characterized by foreigners as “tedious and boring” (Coe).
In general, British colonists consumed more chocolate than those in Britain even though they were isolated from the phenomenon of British coffeehouses and mostly took their chocolate drinks at home (Coe, Gay). They consumed more because chocolate was cheaper in the Americas. They did not have to pay importation duties or the steep costs of shipping cacao across the Atlantic Ocean. However, chocolate consumption varied between the Northern and Southern colonies.
The Northern and Mid-Atlantic colonies became large-scale chocolate manufacturers, and in the 18th century, the colonists knew a lot about the chocolate they were eating. They would refer to chocolate by its port of origin, and they knew much more about where their chocolate was coming from than could even be possible to trace in the present day. However, while they produced a lot of chocolate, they exported over 70% of the chocolate they produced to Europe. Instead of consuming chocolate in exorbitant amounts like the aristocratic elite in southern Europe, they looked to coffee as a stimulant to increase their productivity like Northern Europeans (Gay).
The Southern colonies, on the other hand, were mainly consumers of chocolate: they modeled the posh customs of the aristocracy in Spain. Chocolate was a sign of wealth in social circles, However, southern colonists adapted recipes to meet the needs of their own cultural tastes. Because many did not like the fattiness of traditional chocolate drinks, southern colonists steeped cocoa shells in hot water, which created an infusion similar in flavor and color to coffee. This was not seen as a “lower” sort of drink for those who could not afford chocolate, but instead, was a product of the wealthy. Southern colonists also ate cocoa in puddings, creams, and ice creams, and developed chocolate almonds which became a staple recipe in many households (Gay).
As these three examples demonstrated, economics played a role in how, where, and by whom chocolate was consumed. However, cultural and social associations did as well. Some chose to consume chocolate to raise their social status in their communities while others rejected it to support the egalitarian and “productive” communities around them. While these traditions birthed the coffeeshop (albeit it looks much different today), it also might still influence our understandings of coffee and chocolate. Most people drink coffee to stay awake and be productive, while chocolate is seen as an indulging activity that we consume when we are sad or wanting to be unproductive.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.
Today if you ask someone to describe chocolate, they would describe a bar of a sweet and silky creation that is hard when you bite it but melts as it hits your mouth. This idea of the solid chocolate bar however is distinct from the original forms of cacao in historical mesoamerican recipes. Cacao has existed for millenia in Central and South America. In their book The True History of Chocolate, Sophie and Michael Coe give an excellent description of the history of cacao before colonial powers ever laid eyes on the crop. The Olmec people, who lived in the Mexican gulf coast from 1500 to 400 BCE, are wrongly believed to be the first to understand and produce chocolate products; however, researches at the Hershey Lab have shown that while the Olmecs certainly used cacao, they were by no means the first to engage with this product (2019, 34). Coe and Coe explain that evidence of cacao has been found on the pottery of a pre-Olmec civilization that existed sometime between 1800 and 1400 BCE, called “Barra” by researchers. The design and delicate nature of the vessels suggest that they would have been used to display the valuable chocolate drink rather than cooking it (2019, 36). In chapter 2, Coe and Coe present the earliest known depiction of a chocolate drink being made on a vessel from 750CE. The image depicts an important part of Aztec and Mayan chocolate recipes: the process of pouring the liquid from one vessel to another to create foam, “considered the most desirable part of the drink” (2019, 50). These ancient civilizations reveal how long cacao has existed and been an important part of life in Mesoamerica.
Image from the Codex Tudela depicting an (Europeanized) Aztec women pouring chocolate from one vessel to another
Anonymous, “Mujer vertiendo chocolate,” circa 1553, Madrid-Museo de América.
The Mayan people experienced chocolate centuries before the Aztecs, using cacao both as a currency and a drink (2015). The Classic Maya likely enjoyed their chocolate drinks at a variety of temperatures; however, so far the cacao hieroglyph has only appeared on excavated vessels used to keep drinks cool (2019, 45). As Coe and Coe describe cacao in Classic Maya was not prepared just to be “…drunk; it was a vast and complex array of drinks, gruels, porridges, powders, and probably solid substances, to all of which could be added a wide variety of flavorings…” (2019, 44). Classic Maya chocolate was made by grinding processed cacao beans (beans that had been hulled, roasted, and fermented) into a powder then mixing it with water and other flavorings in a basin, before transferring the liquid between two vessels to produce the coveted froth (2019, 95). The Maya are known to have often mixed their chocolate with ground maize and chilli (2015).
An image from Sahagún depicting Aztec pochtecas traveling.
Sahagún. Historia de Las Cosas de Nueva España, . Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, Florence.
Despite being far from the first to work with cacao, the Aztec people are often associated with ideas of early chocolate. Cacao was an extremely important aspect of Aztec life. The Aztec drank chocolate beverages for both religious and medicinal reasons, never cooking with chocolate along the same lines as a Christian would not cook with communion wine (2015). As explained in The True History of Chocolate chocolate was seen as a favorable replacement to alcoholic beverages, “One of the reasons that the Aztecs were so interested in chocolate was that their native drink octli… was mildly alcoholic, and drunkenness was not looked upon favorably by Aztec society” (2019, 99). The pochteca (merchants) would bring four types of cacao, all thought to be among the criollo variety, to the center of the empire either for trade or tribute (2019, 104). Aztec recipes for chocolate drinks involved the same preparation as their Mayan counterparts, although the Aztec drinks are thought to have almost always been served cold (2019, 100). Inferior varieties of cacao were beefed up by adding nixtamalli and water, creating a gruel flavored with chocolate (2019, 102). The Aztec would often add extra flavorings to their chocolate drinks, a universally popular addition was powdered chilli, which could range from mild to extremely hot (2015). However many other flavorings were used. The Food Timeline quotes Townsend’s The Aztecs where some of the most popular additions including spices, like chenopodium, coriander and sage, vanilla orchid pods, or sweeteners, like honey (2015).
In “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism,” Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck track how historical mesoamerican chocolate recipes influenced colonial European consumption of chocolate. They begin by giving a brief summary of the history of chocolate explaining how the first recipe for chocolate is believed to come from the Izalcos in Guatemala. They present images that explain the transfer of chocolate recipes between Mesoamerica, Colonial America, and Europe. The charts depict the strongest connection being the flow of recipes and other resources out of Guatemala and Peru to England (2017, 87). These recipes contained a variety of ingredients beyond the standard caco and water, the most common being xochinacaztli, chile, anise, mecaxuchil, vanilla, Alexandran roses, cinnamon, almond, hazelnut, sugar, achiote, jamaica pepper, nutmeg, clove musk, ambergris, citron, lemon peel, odoriferous aromatic oil, china, sarsa, and saunders. The authors go on to explain the importance of this connection because of the global power the British Empire held at the time: “The most influential recipes for chocolate are British. This means that the set of ingredients occuring in British sources acts most like a base recipe from which other European ones derived” (2017, 89). This connection means that the recipes developed in what is now Guatemala and Peru would go on to be the beginning of what would eventually become the chocolate we know and love today.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 2019.
Schwartzkopf, Stacey, and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” In Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2017.
Chocolate is so much richer than what the label may portray, pun intended. For my final post I have decided to use the chocolate shelf in the candy isle of Harvard’s local Target to tell a story about the product being sold. At first glance we see a colorful, aesthetically pleasing array of some of the most popular chocolate brands in the U.S. What can we decipher beyond the label, beyond the product itself? What does the pricing tell us? Are there ethical concerns behind the production and history of the chocolate? This blog post aims to explore these questions and take the readers on a journey through which these tasty treats reach our shelves.
Hershey’s Kisses, M&M’s, Ghirardelli squares, Reese’s Cups, Snickers, Dove milk chocolates, Lindor truffles. Some of the most recognizable and notable chocolate brands in the United States. When looking through the local selection at Target, these chocolate brands line the shelves. Holding the largest market shares in the country, it is no surprise that you see these chocolates literally everywhere. They are household names. Hershey, Mars, and Lindt. These are the titans behind our favorite chocolate brands here in the United States. The analysis of this blog will structure around these three brands and what their product selection in Target tells us about our three critical questions.
Right when you walk into the candy isle of the Target in Central Square, you immediately see Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and the classic Hershey Milk Chocolate Bars before anything else. Hershey’s holds the largest market share in the United States, estimated around 44% (Hershey 2018). The Hershey Company was founded by Milton Hershey in 1894, and is one of the largest chocolate producers in the world. Milton S. started off from humble beginnings, unknowing that he would start a revolution of chocolate mass production. He put years of time and effort into achieving the perfect chocolate recipes, constantly tweaking the smallest inputs to optimize the product. After tireless trial and error, a man named John Schmalbach helped Hershey create the perfect condensed milk that would accept all other chocolate ingredients smoothly and could be stored for long amounts of time without spoiling (D’Antonio 2006). In 1894, Hershey started his confectionary company that boomed and grew quickly. In 1900, Hershey decided to sell the caramel company and focus solely on chocolate. He took his production to Pennsylvania, where the famous Hershey community sits today. The Hershey Company has a rich history and even richer products. How much do these products cost?
One Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar
will run you 89 cents at the local target. One pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter
Cups also costs 89 cents. A classic bag of Hershey’s kisses will cost you $3.59.
This may seem relatively cheap to what most food stuffs cost in the Unites
States, yet Hershey has confirmed that it will raise its prices over the next couple
years to keep up with increasing commodity and shipping costs (Hershey 2018). Chocolate
prices are pretty volatile and have been at the mercy of fluctuating supply and
demand. Typically, small-holder cocoa growers have a tough time managing their
production to meet the fluctuations in demand experienced worldwide (Chocolate
2003). Being that these cocoa growers make up a majority of the world’s cocao
production, this creates surplus or shortages that affect the equilibrium
prices of chocolate. Hershey’s and other big producers deal with this situation
by hedging and futures contracts. Essentially big chocolate companies like Hershey
and Mars hedge against price fluctuations to smoothen out their cash flow
(Leissle 2018). How it works is that these large producers will estimate, or
rather guarantee by being conservative, how much of an input like cocao over a
certain timeline. So they will agree to acquire that amount of input through
the futures market. This allows them to lock in their price of that input regardless
of what happens to the market prices over time. So what can these price tags on
our Hershey products tell us now? Hershey will raise its prices in accordance
to commodity and shipping costs as mentioned before. However most of this is
due to the shipping factor. The U.S. economy has created an atmosphere in which
producers like Hershey have to compete with other buyers for a capped shipping
capacity. So although Hershey can hedge against changing commodity prices, it
cannot do much for the consumers when it comes to shipping prices. Now that we
have dissected the price points of our favorite Hershey products, we can
discuss any ethical concerns behind these treats.
Big producers like Hershey and
Mars need to source their cocao from somewhere. The cocao bean primarily grows
in the tropical climates of Latin America, Western Africa and Asia (Leissle
2018). Western African countries supply more than 70% of the world’s cocao, and
is purchased by large chocolate producers (Child 2019). This also means that
the labor indirectly going into chocolate production is outsourced to these
countries. That is where the issue lies, as several journalists and researchers
over the years have uncovered the widespread use of slavery and even child
labor on many of these cocao farms. Cocao is a commodity crop, meaning that it
is primarily grown for export to other countries. The Ivory Coast alone realizes
almost 60% of its export revenue from cocao exports alone (Child 2019). As chocolate
continues to become more popular around the world and big producers continue to
grow, the demand for chocolate increases. This means that the supply must also
increase to keep up with demand. When supply and production need to increase,
so does labor. Sadly in the case of cocao, this usually means an increase in
forced and child labor (Higgs 2012). Many of the children that are put into cocao
farming do it because they are forced by poverty, not only physically. It
becomes a means to help support their families and livelihood. Without sufficient
infrastructure combined with widespread corruption, many local governments actually
support forced and child labor. They reap the benefits of the increased exports
and have even gone as far to enact violence on those trying to expose and stop
the child labor. In 2004, the Ivorian first lady had her entourage kidnap and
kill a journalist reporting on the government’s corruption. Six years later
three more journalists were kidnapped after publishing an article on the cocao
sector corruption (Child 2019). Although Hershey does not partake in any of the
forced child labor occurring in these countries, most of the controversy centers
around the indirect support of this corruption through the purchase of the
cocao. Two separate lawsuits had been filed against Hershey over the past few years.
One in 2015 on behalf of the state of California, and one in 2018 on behalf of
the state of Massachusetts, where our local Target resides. The lawsuits
claimed that Hershey did not disclose its knowing use of child labor in its
supply chains. Both cases were dismissed on account that Hershey did not
deceive in either case. The law has spoken, but it still remains an ethical
debate whether or not it is okay for big producers to supply from places where slavery
and child labor is used. As a consumer we purchase these products, so does that
mean we support it once-removed as well? Food for thought… Now that we have
looked into Hershey products, what else lines the shelves of our local Target?
M&Ms, Snickers, Milky Ways and
Dove chocolates. Some of the delicious and tasty treats created by chocolate titan
Mars. Mars is the sixth largest privately held company in the US according to
Forbes, and is headquartered in Virginia. It holds about 30% of U.S. market
share, making it the second biggest chocolate producer in America behind Hershey.
Frank Mars, the founder, contracted polio at an early age and surrounded
himself with the science of cooking. Particularly, he was fond of candy and the
many processes that went into making them (Brenner 1999). Mars began as the
Mar-O-Bar Company in 1911. Over the next decade Frank quickly grew the company.
In 1920, Frank Mars created two of the most famous chocolate bars in the U.S.,
the Snickers bar and the Milky Way bar (Brenner 1999). Fun fact, the Snickers bar
actually started off as only the middle of the modern bar we know today. There
was no chocolate coating. In 1940 Frank’s son Forrest Mars founded the M&M
brand we know and love today. The M&M brand was actually created to
strategically solve the problem of chocolate storage over the summer. When the temperatures
increase, retailers purchase less chocolate because storing the chocolate becomes
more of a challenge. Especially back circa 1940. Forrest manufactured these
chocolates in a sugar shell specifically to solve that problem. It was genius! Forrest
quickly capitalized on the idea, and it was a huge success. Mars went on to
battle with Hershey throughout the 70s and 80s to be the biggest chocolate
giant in the United States. Since then, the two titans have created several
brands that encompass America’s favorite chocolate candies. Now that we know a bit
about the history of chocolate giant Mars, we can dive into the pricing behind
One box of M&Ms cost 99 cents,
One Kit-Kat bar costs $1.49, one Snickers bar costs 89 cents. Looking at the
price and the amount of chocolate you get per package, these price points reign
true to competitor Hershey. Especially the Snickers bar, which is the exact same
cost and very similar volume of chocolate to the 89- cent Hershey bars. Also
very similar to Hershey, Mars is raising its prices by about seven percent (Reports
2019). They claim that this is also in accordance with increasing production
costs as well as shipping. Although Mars can control for price fluctuations
using futures and hedging as discussed with Hershey, there are still variable
costs that cannot be accounted for and must be put onto the consumers, us. With
every chocolate titan comes issues regarding the ethics behind their supply
The same class action lawsuit that
was brought against Hershey was brought against Mars by the same court. The
suit alleges that Mars has violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, which
essentially indicates deception (Child 2019). Mars actually does have a reputation
of being very secretive and clandestine. Yet just as the case had been dropped
by the court against Hershey, Mars got off scot-free on the basis that no
actual deception was intended or committed. Most of the court cases brought
against Mars and similar producers have been on the basis of deception. Most of
the time it is found that these chocolate producers haven’t actually committed any
wrongdoing by not deliberately disclosing child labor and slavery on their
labels. In the opinion of this blog, it again becomes an issue of how far
removed you are from the actual problem. When the origins of a company’s supply
chain are tainted by unfair labor practices, does this make the company itself
corrupt? Are chocolate giants supporting unfair labor practices by purchasing inputs
from where they are readily available? What about us as consumers? All important
questions to ask when considering this delicate ethical crossroads.
The chocolate isle at Target may be a pretty fun and simple place. In reality it really is just the very tip of the iceberg that is the chocolate industry. One small finished product above the waterline while there are years of rich history, complicated economics, and important ethical concerns lurking beneath the surface. There is so much more to chocolate than what the finished product may show, and this blog post was intended to give you a glimpse into what that world is all about.
“2018 Market Share.”
Produced by myself.
“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project, 2019. foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/.
The cafe is cozy and dimly lit, the perfect setting for an interview. Dave and I head to the back and sit at a small wooden table. A few days ago, he had eagerly agreed to be interviewed as soon as I mentioned that the subject of my questions would be chocolate. Of course, he only became more enthusiastic after I mentioned that we would be doing a blind taste test as well. We order a couple of loose leaf teas and two slices of white bread — an odd order at a cafe, but we would need them to cleanse Dave’s palate during the tasting.
I start out by asking Dave how much he likes chocolate, to which he replies, “A pretty large amount.” I then ask him why he likes chocolate, but he seems confused at how to answer. “Well, it has a unique taste,” he says. “It has that melt-in-your-mouth quality. It’s creamy, fragrant, smooth, appealing.” Basically his answer in a few words was that chocolate simply tastes good — it has a good flavor and a good texture.
The question I asked seems simple, but upon closer examination there seems to be no clear answer. Why is the world so crazy about chocolate? In “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving,” author David Benton notes that chocolate is “by far the most common food item that people report that they crave” (205). But is there some scientific reason behind this, or are we just continuing the traditions of ancient civilizations (such as the Aztecs and the Maya) who called chocolate the ‘food of the gods’?
In my interview, I aimed to first look at chocolate from a more historical point of view to examine reasons behind its inherent ‘specialness,’ before comparing this to what we think of chocolate today. I then wanted to examine something a little less black and white — Dave’s general feelings towards chocolate, and why these certain feelings may have developed as a result of pop culture and the media. After this, I wanted to touch on some thoughts about the nature of the chocolate industry and some of the problems in it. And finally, I wanted to try a blind chocolate taste test, to compare my knowledge about chocolate companies with Dave’s blind opinion about the chocolates themselves. I thought it would be interesting to see whether he could taste differences in quality, flavor, and texture.
Chocolate in History vs. Today: What do you associate with chocolate?
“I have fond memories of chocolate from when I was little,” Dave explains. “In a lot of the events I would go to, like performances, they’d have chocolate to give us kids and we’d eat it while watching the performers.”
It might seem rather arbitrary that we associate chocolate with special events and celebrations. However, this has been a pattern throughout history. Going back to the ancient Aztec and Mayan civilizations, chocolate has often appeared in rituals and religious ceremonies. In a sacred Mayan text, the Popol Vuh, cacao appears several times — for example, there are stories about gods being represented by cacao pods (Coe & Coe, 39). Cacao was also linked to marriage rituals (for example, as dowries) and rites of death.
There are many sources that talk about how chocolate has always been special, historically. It has often appeared in religious and spiritual contexts. Such myths about cacao and gods may seem so detached from us now; maybe we are ‘logical’ or ‘scientists’ and no longer widely believe in such tales. But then maybe we are not so far from this mindset as we may initially think. We still romanticize chocolate as being a mystical substance with mysterious powers. Although we may not call it the ‘food of the gods,’ we still hold it with a similar regard. We still serve it at events and special occasions, we still relate it to fertility (it is associated with aphrodisiacs and romance), and yet we cannot easily explain what makes it so special.
For children especially, chocolate is an alluring treat associated with intensity and excitement (as it was to Dave). This may be why marketing to children is such a huge business: children are even more likely to ignore any logical arguments and accept chocolate as being magical. But there is even evidence of adults today thinking of chocolate in this way: for example, in “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered,” James Howe describes a doctor who was trying to scientifically explain the remarkable cardiovascular health of the Kuna people. The doctor notices that they drink a lot of cacao and immediately relates this to their heart health, although he may not have made the same conclusion had they been drinking a common cornmeal drink. And of course, their healthiness turned out to be unrelated to cacao drinking. The doctor had simply been romanticizing cacao, perhaps because it was more mysterious to him.
As for the reason why we are drawn to cacao, it could be scientific: chocolate has been shown to be one of the most complex natural flavors (Brenner, 64), so perhaps we are simply attracted to this multi-dimensionality. Or maybe the fascination of the Aztecs and Mayans with chocolate has carried over to our time. Or as Benton explains in “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving,” it could just be because it tastes good (214). Either way, all we can conclude is that chocolate is mysterious to us and that we still tend to consider it under in mystical context — kind of like how the Aztecs and Mayans did so long ago.
Chocolate and Emotions and Pop culture: How do you feel about chocolate?
“I think of chocolate and happiness,” Dave says fondly. “Yeah, it’s definitely a happy food. I sometimes eat it when I’m stressed, but then I eat a lot when I’m stressed in general.”
It seems that Dave is not the only person who thinks that chocolate encourages happiness. Chocolate is often given as a gift of love or celebration, in order to urge someone to think of you in a fond or romantic way. But because of chocolate’s clear link with improving mood, people often eat it when upset, bored, or stressed. As Benton describes in his essay, there is a link between chocolate and ‘emotional’ eating, and there is also “consistent evidence that chocolate craving is associated with depression and other disturbances of mood” (206). In other words, because we associate chocolate with happiness, our cravings often occur when we are upset.
Dave doesn’t explicitly mention eating chocolate when he is stressed or sad, but he does describe some of the chocolates he likes best: specifically, those small dark chocolate nuggets wrapped in colorful foil with inspirational messages written on the inside. It seems that the companies manufacturing chocolate are aware of its power to improve mood, and they try to exaggerate this effect as much as possible in order to encourage people to keep coming back. And yet, as Benton describes, there is no convincing evidence of certain constituents in chocolate having special mood-improving powers. This is again part of what makes chocolate so mysterious to us; we can look at its components and try to analyze scientifically, but in the end it’s the chocolate as a whole that is inexplicably stimulating.
But what deeper effects could these emotions have? Chocolate encourages happiness for so many people; how can we see the effects of this in the media and pop culture? I ask Dave how he relates chocolate to pop culture. He leans back in his seat, looking a little wistful.
“Oh, romance for sure,” he says, waving a hand. “And holidays… I always buy the most chocolate during those Christmas, Halloween, and Easter sales. And Valentine’s Day, of course — although I haven’t recently gifted chocolate in a romantic way or anything. But I want to.” He goes on to describe a romantic scene of him standing in a park near a bench with snow on the ground, holding a red box of chocolates and a single rose. “I always think of those little red heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Dark chocolates. With a bow.”
It’s surprising how specific these images are; we now seem to inherently relate Valentine’s Day to chocolate without questioning why we would do so. As for the other holidays, they are also important earning opportunities for chocolate-selling companies, especially if those companies take advantage of our associations of chocolate with romance and love. Many a chocolate advertisement will ruthlessly target women, appealing to them as mothers and housewives.
In terms of romance, Dave’s answer reveals the influence that these advertisements and depictions in the media have on us: he never even considers the possibility of a woman gifting a man chocolate. As a male, he assumes that it is his duty to do the giving. And this is no new concept — as Emma Robertson describes in “Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History,” women have been positioned as consumers since the time of the Aztecs (68). So we see again that there are common themes throughout history that have survived even until today.
Ultimately, we know that we crave chocolate because it tastes ‘good,’ and that we consider it an aphrodisiac and so relate it to fertility. We also know that historically, people have also loved and obsessed over chocolate, and wondered at its unusual powers — so much so that they associated it with divinity and spirituality. But in the end, we marvel at chocolate just as much as them. There are few satisfying or scientific answers as to why we associate chocolate so strongly with love, women, and happiness, rather than some other delicious treat. The fact that chocolate has held such an important position since so early in history just enhances its image in our eyes, and we continue to romanticize and fantasize, as can be seen from the media and its influence on people like Dave. At this point, we are fed so much information about chocolate’s link to romance and happiness that I would be surprised if Dave had not described the exact specific imagery that he had.
The Chocolate Industry: What do you know about the industry?
I knew that when asked about the ‘biggest’ chocolate brands, Dave would most likely name Hershey. But I wasn’t so sure about the others.
“I love Lindt, Godiva. Ferrero,” Dave lists. I was surprised. Lindt is the first one he mentions? “And Hershey’s, of course. Hershey’s is comfortable.”
I ask him why it’s comfortable. He describes how one of his teachers used to give him a big Hershey’s Symphony cookies n’ cream bar on his birthday, how he would split it among his friends, and hide it from his parents. “Well, it’s comfortable but the taste is aggressively sweet. I like dark chocolate, mostly.”
It seems that so many people have fond memories associated with Hershey’s. But is Hershey’s actually good? All of the other brands Dave mentioned suited his preference for dark chocolate; Lindt and Godiva are known for making higher quality, more expensive products (especially better quality dark chocolate). Hershey’s, however, seems to have established itself as a reliable and homely brand. As seen in advertisements such as the one for Hershey’s syrup, they appeal to family and strive to create good memories to associate with themselves. So it would make sense that people such as Dave would remember Hershey’s fondly, even if their preferences lie elsewhere.
There is a stark difference, in fact, between what American consumers and other consumers think of Hershey’s. Americans, having grown up on it and having forged many good memories with a Hershey’s bar in hand, are more likely to say that Hershey’s tastes ‘like home.’ However, other consumers have commonly remarked that Hershey’s tastes rather ‘like vomit.’ In his chocolate-making process, Hershey unintentionally added the side effect of milk fat fermentation, which creates a sour note in his milk chocolate (D’Antonio, 108). Since the milk is partially soured, it creates an acid that is found in substances such as baby spit-up — but American consumers are now too accustomed to the taste, or perhaps swayed by their pleasant memories of Hershey’s, to notice or complain (Metz).
One other surprising aspect of Dave’s comment was that he failed to mention Mars, indisputably one of the most influential chocolate snack manufacturers. When I tried to bring up candies Twix and Snickers, he commented that he had had a vague idea that such candies were produced by the same umbrella company, but that he hadn’t heard much about it. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Mars has always been a secretive company — Forrest Mars had cared about quality and his empire vision and little else. Others had always agree that “Mars’s intelligence operations [were] infamous… they tried to pump information out of… anybody they could” (Brenner, 62). It is clear, then, that the nature of the company also largely impacts what the general public thinks of their brand and products.
I then asked Dave what he knew about unethical labor in the industry, just to gauge his awareness. He commented that he was aware of problems such as child labor in the system. “Consumers are definitely implicated in these problems, though,” he says, almost uncomfortably. “But if I saw a normal chocolate bar and a more expensive one labeled ‘ethically sourced,’ I’d probably go with the normal one. Nowadays it seems like labeling your candy as being ‘ethically sourced’ is more of a gimmick to squeeze more profit out of consumers. If I’m shopping and looking for a few items, I often don’t have the motivation to research the brand then and there.”
In other words, Dave was able to tell that the problem was complex enough that there could be no simple solution. He knew that just adding labels would not be enough to motivate consumers like himself to do research themselves and to start acting upon their new knowledge. As is true in many other situations, complex lives require holistic responses.
Tasting: what do you taste?
I had Dave close his eyes and taste test three different brands of dark chocolate (with a palate cleansing in between each): Cadbury, then Hershey’s, then Lindt. I was interested to see how his opinions might match up with the information I had about each brand.
On Cadbury: “This smells like dark chocolate! It is nutty, quite smooth, not too sweet, and melts nicely. But the taste is rather straightforward. It doesn’t linger.” Rated: 8/10
On Hershey’s: “This has a very odd odor. I’m not sure how to describe it. It melts incredible fast, is very sweet, and tastes a bit like coffee. It tastes lighter than the other one… maybe milk chocolate?” Rated: 7/10
On Lindt: “This smells very chocolatey; no odd scent here. It seems to melt slower though, and it tastes both very sweet and not so sweet at the same time. It does have some astringent notes and it seems to make my tongue dry. It’s very rich.” Rated: 5/10
Dave’s comments surprisingly matched up with what I predicted. He sensed that Hershey’s uses a lower percentage of actual cacao (by guessing that it was milk). He even smelled the sour note in the Hershey’s chocolate. However, he didn’t seem to like the texture of the Lindt chocolate as much, which was unexpected to me since Lindt was the one who invented the conching process. But in the end, he seemed to enjoy all three samples of chocolate (and continued eating them after the interview had ended).
After a closer examination, it becomes clear that chocolate has a complex and rich history, a controversial and influential role in society, and is the center of a competitive and powerful industry. The whole world is obsessed with this single characteristic flavor; so many people are constantly craving it, giving and receiving it, and talking about it. But is this such a surprise? The biggest conclusion at the end of the day is that chocolate is mysteriously delicious — and that perhaps we are not so different from those ancient civilizations and their myths about the ‘food of the gods.’
Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, by Astrid Nehlig, CRC Press, 2004.
Brenner Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World on Hershey & Mars. Broadway Books, 2000.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.
“‘Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.’” Hershey: Milton’s S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster Paperback, 2006.
Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, doi:10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.cover.
Metz, Elle. “Does Cadbury Chocolate Taste Different in Different Countries?” BBC News, BBC, 18 Mar. 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31924912. “’The Romance of the Cocoa Bean’: Imperial and Colonial Histories.” Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History, by Emma Robertson, University of York, 2004.
For the months of June and July this past summer, I lived in Ecuador working in hospitals and living with host families. I spent one month in the Andean capital city of Quito and one month in the large coastal city of Guayaquil. Before coming to Ecuador, I had a general idea of things that I associated with the country, such as the Galápagos and Ecuadorian hats. Another one of my associations was chocolate. I knew that the chocolate in Ecuador was special, but I didn’t know why. I knew that I had heard people talking about Ecuadorian chocolate before, so I was excited to try this exotic form of chocolate, a commodity I saw daily in the United States. On one of my first days in Quito, we went to a large open-air market to shop and look at the handmade goods. One of the booths set up was selling a chocolate called Pacari. It was covered in a black wrapper with a different stripe of color for each kind of chocolate. I had finally come across some authentic Ecuadorian chocolate and I was ecstatic. I bought at least ten bars, very excited to bring them back home for my family to try and to try for myself. To my surprise, this chocolate brand kept appearing in stores all over Ecuador. I had assumed it was a small chocolate company that only traveled to a few craft markets. However, this Pacari company had a monopoly over the Ecuadorian chocolate industry. Everywhere a tourist would shop for Ecuadorian goods, a Pacari chocolate bar was sure to be presented, boasting of its 100% Ecuadorian cacao.
I was lucky enough to see this Ecuadorian cacao in person, in addition to eating the delicious chocolate made from it. During one of my weekend excursions to hike through the Amazon rainforest, our guide pointed out a tree with strange yellow-green oval pods growing straight from the branches. He cut one of these extraterrestrial-looking pods off and split it open with his machete, encouraging my group to each take one of the slippery, white sections and suck the pulp off of it. He explained to us that this was a cacao pod – the main ingredient to chocolate. I remember loving the sweet-sour taste of the white pulp – I even went to eat a second one – but I was trying to imagine how they were converted into chocolate. It wasn’t until taking this class that I realized the coveted cacao beans were inside of the white pulp. Living in Ecuador exposed me to some of the main topics we learned about in class, but without the framework of our chocolate class, I was ignorant about the realities of the chocolate-making process and types of chocolate companies in the world. Using my own experiences as inspiration, I will now explore the history of chocolate in Ecuador and analyze the Pacari chocolate company, using my new lens from AFRAMER 119x to engage with the topics.
Ecuador’s history with cacao and chocolate has been long; arguably the longest relationship with cacao that any region in the world has had. This is because the Amazon basin in the Andean region is considered to be the area where cacao originated. This region overlaps with part of modern day Ecuador. So it is no stretch to say that chocolate originated in Ecuador. Scholars theorize that cacao spread from Ecuador through trade routes up north to modern-day Mexico, where is gained popularity with the Olmec civilization (Coe and Coe). After Europeans discovered cacao, Ecuador became one of the largest exporters of cacao in the world and retained this status from the mid-1600’s to the early 1900’s. In the 1900’s, Ecuador lost a large portion of its cacao trees to a disease called witches’ broom, which knocked down its export volume (Leissle). Since then, Ecuador has regained its stake in the world chocolate market. In 2017, it was projected to hold 5.9% of the world production of cacao, coming in fourth place after the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia (Leissle). Ecuador also produces 75% of flavor beans in the world, which are beans that have a rare or prized flavor profile (Leissle). There are two major types of cacao trees that are grown in Ecuador. The first is nacional cacao, which is native to the area and is an example of a flavor bean. The second is CCN-51, which is a hybrid cacao plant that was bred to resist disease and produce more cacao than its natural relatives (Leissle). This hybrid brings up many topics about the sustainable future of cacao. While it does not have the same flavor as the nacional cacao, it is much more fruitful. Ecuador does not have the status as the largest cacao exporter in the world anymore, but it is still a major player in the global chocolate production chain and stays current with all of the modern advances in cacao growing.
The world of chocolate is not all delicious treats and beautiful creations, however. There is a dark side that most Hershey and Cadbury consumers are not aware of. A huge amount of labor is required to harvest cacao pods and transform them into the beans that are sold to chocolate manufacturers. Throughout the world, the labor that is used to obtain cacao beans is sometimes not ethical. In South America and West Africa, the examples of child labor and extremely poor working conditions are staggering (Off). Children are often exploited to work long hours on cacao farms that their families also work on. The Harkin-Engel Protocol was passed in 2001 and aims to end the worst forms of child and forced labor on cacao farms after striking evidence of modern day slavery was found on cacao plantations (Ryan). The labor of cacao harvesting is at the base of the chocolate supply chain. Other players in the chain include cacao farmers, the local community, the national government, and finally the global market and big chocolate companies. Each layer has its own role in creating the chocolate that sits on supermarket shelves, but each layer is not equally recognized. It is important to acknowledge each player in the supply chain and to consciously buy chocolate that does not have any forced labor or modern slavery in any link of the chain. With these considerations of unethical labor in mind, we can examine the Ecuadorian chocolate brand Pacari and determine its values.
The country of Ecuador has the slogan “ama la vida’, which means love life. This slogan accompanies the logo on the Ecuadorian tourism website, which promotes exploration of the unique country. This website has an entire section dedicated to ‘Ecuador and Chocolate’, which is another example of how important chocolate and cacao are to the Ecuadorian culture. On this website, it cites Pacari chocolate as “one of the most well-known brands of chocolate in the country” (Chocolate Ecuador). Pacari obviously has a monopoly on the chocolate industry in Ecuador, meaning that it holds a lot of power in its ethical decisions and sourcing. The video below is on the tourism website and discusses the role of chocolate in Ecuador. It has multiple examples of the Pacari brand, which highlights how much of an impact Pacari has on the current Ecuadorian chocolate market.
The Pacari website is very user-friendly, with options to have the language be in English or Spanish. The website explains the companies’ story and guidelines. Started in 2002, Pacari Chocolate is a family-owned company that set out to change the way chocolate was made in Ecuador (“Pacari Chocolates”). The name Pacari meaning “nature” in the native language Quechua is a symbol for what the company stands for. They use only Arriba Nacional cacao, which is a cacao plant that is native to Ecuador. They source this cacao from small farmers that are local to Ecuador. This type of sourcing is called tree to bar, which they advertise on their website. Tree to bar and bean to bar companies are the gold standard of chocolate production, because they ensure a direct line between the chocolate producer and cacao harvester. This cuts out middlemen that can obscure the fact that there are unjust labor practices happening somewhere along the chain. The goal of Pacari chocolate was to change the history of chocolate in Ecuador, and the popularity of this clean-sourced cacao is helping that goal become realized.
While Pacari advertises its tree to bar methodology, it does not have a list of the farmers it works with readily available on its website. There are videos of the cacao harvesting and chocolate making processes, as shown above, however there are no individual accounts of farmers the company has paired up with. In past sections of this course, we have examined similar bean to bar companies that readily advertise the farmers they have worked with. Perhaps Pacari does not advertise this because it is not as much of a focus in Ecuador as in the United States. Or perhaps there is another explanation, because the company is very proud of the fact that it only uses organic Ecuadorian cacao. The addition of a video of the farmers Pacari has teamed up with or a section of the website dedicated to them would strengthen the brand and drive their message home.
Another aspect of the Pacari chocolate company that can be tied back to our class is its ingredients. A large selling point that Pacari uses is its ‘exotic ingredients’ from around the area. Passion fruit, coffee, Andean rose, lemongrass, Cuzco pink salt, golden berries, Andean mint and chili are all flavors that are mixed with the Ecuadorian cacao to produce the Pacari bars. Each of these flavors is indigenous to the region around Ecuador, and Pacari really plays up this fact. They are trying to sell a wholly Ecuadorian bar and they utilize other indigenous flavors to help do this. This ties back to some of the early lessons of our class, when we discussed the different flavors that would be used in Mesoamerica chocolate compared to the flavors used in European chocolate. Flavors like chili were used hundreds of years ago to mix with chocolate and they are still being used today.
As a foreign tourist visiting Ecuador with no prior knowledge of chocolate, it was clear that Pacari was very popular in the country. Its advertisement of being a unique Ecuadorian bar, with Ecuadorian cacao and flavors, definitely worked on me. This marketing, combined with my prior notion that Ecuadorian chocolate was special, created a very sellable product. Researching the chocolate company now, I am thankful to hear that I purchased from a socially conscious brand. They source their cacao from local farmers in Ecuador that they have a relationship with, cutting down the supply chain from laborers to chocolate manufacturers. While this company is well established in Ecuador, the next step is to make a name for itself in the international market. Pacari is sold in major cities around the world, but only in select stores. They have an incredible marketing concoction; chocolate made from locally sourced ingredients in the country where chocolate originated. And they have ethical practices that need to be shared around the world. Tree to bar companies are more expensive to finance, but they are the future if we want to eradicate unfair labor around the world. Supporting chocolate companies like Pacari is a solid first step in making the chocolate production chain less corrupt and more ethical.
Carol Off. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark
Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. Random House Canada, 2006.
The ubiquity of cheap chocolate is no longer enough to capture the gaze of today’s consumer. We are now being lured away from Hershey kisses and Snickers candy bars towards a more exotic temptations—things like raw cacao powder. In fact, as represented by the two products below, the market is willing to pay almost three times more.” We want to pay more for less product, and this phenomenon doesn’t just stop at cocoa powder. Something is pushing the door wider for cacao nibs, bean-to-bar craft chocolate, and artisan confections to emerge. I argue that chocolate is once again diversifying to a new state of nonsensical luxury, relying on contradictions within the organics movement, slow food movement, and the idea of decadence itself.
This familiar Hershey’s 100% Natural Unsweetened Cacao is worth 1/3rd the price of this organic raw cacao powder above. Both are from Amazon.com.
For most of its history, chocolate has for the elites. The Olmecs (1500-400 B.C.) are attributed with the first domestication of Theobroma cacao. This is supported by research reconstructing their ancient word kakawa for what we today call “cacao.” While little is still known about this people, we know that they passed on “the plant, the process, and the word kakawa” to the Maya. For the Maya, this food had high significance in important cultural narratives, burial rituals of the upper-class, and associations with the gods. While we are unsure if the lower class could consume it, the Mayan elite certainly did at ornate feasts. Cacao was also highly held by the Aztecs, who used it for religious rituals, nutrition during travel, and currency. For these reasons, their royalty and aristocrats ate cacao in the form of frothy drinks as a show of power.
During the conquest of the Aztecs in the early 16th century, conquistadors, missionaries, and merchants sent cacao beans and chocolate drink recipes back to the royalty in Europe. As Coe and Coe describes, “At first, the only people in Europe who drank cocoa were Spanish royalty and their courts. Thanks to intermarriages between royal families and the circulation of fashionable trends among them, a taste for the drinks spread, first to southern Europe, then northward.” To clarify, this spread across Europe was still confined to the royalty in those respective countries. By the 1600s, it trickled down to British aristocracy and intelligentsia, who talked politics in chocolate and coffee houses. It was only by the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s that cacao became truly democratized and accessible to everyone. This was caused by technological advancement and product development, leading to the rise of chocolate company giants. In sum, this food has only been a household product for a short 200 years.
The Organics Movement
However, recent diversification of products for multiple audiences has caused us to reinforce the association between cacao and class that had been relaxed by the Industrial Revolution. One clear example is the company barkTHINS, founded in 2013. Taking on the mid to upper-middle class market, barkTHINS are explicitly sold as a “snacking chocolate.” The back of a package of their dark chocolate, almond, and sea salt bark reads: “barkTHINS are snackable slivers of dark chocolate paired with real, simple ingredients for a completely original take on snacking. Fair Trade Ingredient Certified and Non-GMO Project Verified, barkTHINS are a mindful and sophisticated way to snack. It’s Snacking. Elevated.” This also introduces how organic food and higher price-points together have facilitated an intangible link between non-GMO food and luxury.
In her article “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow,’” Guthman uses the case study of organic salad mix in California to look at the greater social movement. The original motivations for organic farming were the “public health, environmental and moral risks involved with chemical-based crop production and intensified livestock management.” San Francisco was a particularly conducive environment of post-counter culture combined, haute cuisine culture, and people with expendable income. When Alice Waters spearheaded the idea of cooking with local ingredients, she marketed and sold organic salad mix in what was soon to become an upscale dining establishment. The ties between organic and the upper class became a trend as more elite restaurants copied the idea of selling organic salad mix. However, as this caught on, the dynamics began to change. Restaurants were willing to pay more for greens that were fresher and aesthetically pleasing. In return, growers could make more money with a small batch yield. Eventually, this incentivized the scaling-up and streamlining of processes to produce a greater bounty of beautiful vegetables. The growth and adoption of the organic food into mainstream culture ultimately moved it further away from its core ideals.
like salad mixes, non-GMO and virgin/raw chocolate are examples of cacao
products emerging as luxury goods. However, it has also inherited the pitfalls
of the overall organics movement. To reiterate, the point is to eat food as
natural as possible. In the video above, we can see that process. However, it
is important to note his low yield at he end. To ensure supply for the
increasing demand of virgin chocolate, companies will inevitably need to turn
to extensive industrialization. Moreover, virgin cacao is advertised to boost
mood, clean out toxins by increasing blood flow, and aid better digestion.
The fresher seems to be the better! However, the video shows how natural
processes might enable unregulated bacterial growth. Working bare-handed, it
seems that raw chocolate would be more dangerous than regular chocolate because
of the bacteria on the shell covering the nib. To keep it food-safe, raw
chocolate likely requires stringent processing if sold mass-scale.
The Slow Food Movement
Related, but distinct from the organics movement, analyzing the push for slow food will help us more deeply analyze the issue of food safety introduced in the section above. Rachel Laudan remarks that Culinary Luddism runs rampant, such that we scorn all industrialized food. It is a trend to yearn for food that is somehow more real, fresh, and natural for the health benefits. However, one shouldn’t wish for food that grandma had growing up. Laudan clarifies that “natural was something quite nasty. Natural often tasted bad. Fresh meat was rank and tough, fresh milk warm and unmistakably a bodily excretion: fresh fruits (dates and grapes being rare exceptions outside the tropics) were inediblely sour, fresh vegetables bitter..”  In addition to this, food would often quickly go bad and be difficult to digest. Advancements in regulated industrialization allows our food to be flash-frozen or our milk pasteurized before bacteria colonies grow. In these respects, fast foods have allowed safe food to be more accessible. Yet, it is a fair point that such foods are not always nutritionally balanced.
organics and slow food movements are so intertwined, by looking at both we
better understand how the popularity of raw chocolate for its alleged health
benefits might be premature. Industrialized food protects against many food-safety
issues. Slow food introduces risk. This is the case for raw milk, raw water,
and raw cacao. Finally, from the salad
mix case study, we know that freshness has been associated with the elite.
However, Laudan states, “Eating fresh, natural food was regarded with suspicion
verging on horror, something to which only the uncivilized, the poor, and the
This indicates a reversal of what luxury has meant over time.
Redefining Luxury as Immaterial
In the video above produced by
the Bon Appetite Test Kitchen,
pastry chef Claire Saffitz is tasked with the goal of making gourmet Ferrero Rocher
chocolates. As part of a series where she had previously recreated Kit Kats and
Snickers, this one particularly stands out; Saffitz remarks this candy is
already considered fancy. She says, “Yeah, I think hazelnut is like a
sophisticated flavor. Whether or not its actually fancy, it’s marketed to be
thought of as a fancy treat.”
So, how does she make it even more luxurious? She decides, “I just want to use
really nice chocolate, toast some hazelnuts. And then I think overall, the
improvement will just be in those details.”
These seemingly banal points bear great significance that can be next understood
with McNeil and Riello’s work Luxury: A
The attempt to make something
currently sold as a luxury more gourmet indicates a hierarchy in what we define
as high goods. When we imagine what luxury must have meant to past kings and
queens, we would have said consumption and accumulation of fine things. What
matters is exclusivity and scope, and consumption would have certainly stood
out in a world where some people were struggling to survive from famine. However,
the video below spotlights a nuance.
This video portrays a more extreme kind
of luxury closer to extravagance. It showcases chocolate created to look like a
gold ingot, called the Louis XIII Grand Gold Bar. It alludes to a French king
with namesake cognac caramel filling and liberal spraying of 23-karat edible gold.
With an elaborate, custom-made box for a single chocolate eaten at the
restaurant, the key quality here is that it is “so over the top.”
McNeil and Riello terms this uber luxury. They state the “top end of the luxury
market now needs to be extravagant (or elitist) beyond belief, because basic
luxury is within the reach of too many today.”
This fits well with a point Saffitz made. She joked, “If you’re, like, trying
to buy a gift for someone at the [laughs] drug store, this is your best option
to look fancy.”
This suggests that finding the chocolate at the drug store runs counter to the
idea of uber luxury because of Ferrero Roche’s ubiquity. However, it remains to
be what McNeil and Riello would call life’s smaller luxuries. In chocolate,
this might be what craft chocolate bars are, priced at about $5-6 compared to a
Additionally,both videos indicate luxury has moved from a consumption of things to a consumption of another’s labor. McNiel and Riello write: “In this new vision of luxury, more than simple money is required from its consumer. Time and knowledge are key concepts in the very notion of twenty-first century luxury…‘distinction,’ the need to appear different from others, was not just achieved through the purchase and use of luxurious and expensive objects. It was also performed through the conspicuous expenditure of time in what we might call useless activities.” In Saffitz’s case, if the ingredients stayed more or less the same, the thing that made her chocolates gourmet was that it was handmade. To recreate them took an abundance of her time and her knowledge from culinary school. Another, similar example would be the chocolate art below. Therefore, a person who eats them does not waste time doing a useless activity. Rather, they are imbibing the time spent by another person, who could have spent it doing something else. Therefore, artisan or gourmet chocolate is built on an incoherence embedded within the definition of high luxury. The good does not have to contribute to creating tangible improvements to one’s life. Productivity does not matter, and it is the irrationality that makes it valuable. It cannot be understood by outside people. Insiders would consider the good as extraordinary, and outsiders would think it wasteful. The separation between classes is what is underscored.
In sum, chocolate is moving in a direction of decadence with multiple levels of contradiction embedded within it. It benefits from the organics movement, but moves further and further away from the idea of non-industrialized food. The idea of craft and gourmet chocolate parallels the slow food movement, but disregards the values of food safety previously held by the old upper class. At least in part, modern elitism in food is changing from material consumption to the consumption of experience and time. An implication of these trends is that chocolate is re-positioning itself as a crossroads of class. High-end chocolate is considered more delicious and healthier, as a higher price point pays for its quality and non-GMO status. Philanthropy also tends to be incorporated, like how people will agree to pay more for the humanitarianism of the Fair Trade Certification. But, not everyone can afford to be charitable. In contrast, the chocolate affordable by the people financially unstable is framed as lower-end food. It is less expensive, but more meaning than that is being infused into the idea of “cheap.” By “cheap,” we are insinuating accessible chocolate is not delicious and not “real” chocolate. The dimensions of taste, health attitudes, and philanthropy contribute to how cacao is becoming increasingly more socially charged.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow.’” In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik, 496–509. New York and London: Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group, 2012.
Rachel. “A Plea for Culinar Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed
Food.” Gastronomica 1, no. Feb 2001 (February 2001).
My 2ndgrade classroom has a diverse group of children with a range of ethnicities and complexions. On Valentines Day, our teacher brought us different kinds of candies and deserts to celebrate the occasion. As we ate, admired, and traded our treats together, a dialog with heavy historical, political, and racial ties quickly developed.
“Your skin looks like this chocolate!” one white student said to a black student. “Are black people made of chocolate?” he asked. The child’s tone of voice had a kind of playfulness and naiveté that is typical of young children, and so the question did not feel like a racial attack at the time, but I distinctly remember leaving class that day with the question, “What am I made of?”
As a person of mixed heritage with both white and black family lineage, I have always occupied a unique space in the conception and conversation of race in America. The question of, “What am I made of” extends far beyond the scope of a child’s comments about chocolate, for it is rooted in the larger question of the nature of identity for people with a multiracial composition. My skin is pretty light, and so it would not appear that I am made of chocolate, but I still identify as a black person in every way.
Comments such as the ones made by my 2ndgrade classmate are actually quite common in our society. Black women with dark complexions are often referred to as “dark chocolate” in a sexualized and racialized way. Chocolate and vanilla have become well-established cultural metaphors for whiteness and blackness. And in the scope of racism and prejudice that black people experience, these comments can often appear trivial or even meant to be complements. But are these comments and associations merely benign connections between the color of chocolate or vanilla with various skin tones, or is this another product of white supremacy and other historical factors? In order to answer this question, we must take a look into the history of chocolate manufacturing and consumption as it relates to blackness.
A bitter-sweet history
When we look at the history of chocolate production, we are looking at a history of African slave labor. Between 10 and 15 millions slaves were stolen from Africa and brought to work in various farms and plantations that manufactured cacao, cotton, and sugar in the Caribbean, Europe, and the Americas. In addition to the alarming number of slaves that were forced into labor, 40 out of every 100 slaves dies in the process of being transported across the Atlantic. The African people were considered property under the system of chattel slavery, and the conditions were so severe that the life expectancy for a slave in the Caribbean and Brazil was only about 7 to 8 years. (Martin, 2019)This statistic shows the horrific nature of the violence that was involved in chocolate production. The system known as Encomienda allowed Spanish colonists in America to force indigenous people in to permanent servitude. It is important to understand that racism against these African slaves emerged and grew out of a desire to continue to justify the extremely profitable system of slavery. Even after the abolitionist movements that eventually banned legal slave labor, indentured servitude and other forms of slavery still persisted. (Martin, 2019) Here we see the dehumanization of black people and the link between the ownership of black bodies and the products that their labor creates. If people began to feel that slavery was in fact the exploitation of human bodies and lives for profit, it would become more problematic to continue this practice. So the dehumanization of black people emerged from an incentive to maximize product, rather than some innate quality of black people. Just like we cannot accurately consider the history of this country without looking at slave labor, we cannot consider the social, political, or economic history of chocolate without acknowledging the gruesome history of violence and exploitation that made chocolate manufacturing so profitable. (Orla 2011)
Dehumanization of black bodies in modern advertisements and pop-culture
But this connection between the ownership of black bodies and the production of chocolate has been preserved and enhanced by the original and modern systems of chocolate consumption and advertisement. While in many ways the history of slavery as it relates to chocolate have been hidden and erased, in other alarming ways this history has shaped the consumption of chocolate in very tangible ways. This can be seen very clearly in the product design and advertisements of several different chocolate products. Here are some examples:
The French company Banania used a common racial caricature of a primitive, smiling black face in its advertisements. These ads perpetrate the notion that black people are simple, and it removes any notions of coercive labor or violence by including the well-known wide smile. Another non-so-subtle implication of these advertisements is the association between black people and primitive beings such as monkeys, through the use of bananas and the way in which black people are drawn, which has been a long-standing racist notion.
The Spanish company Conguitos sells a product that explicitly resembles the black body, which further reinforces the association between the consumption of blackness and the consumption of chocolate. The name “Conguitos” roughly translates to “little person from the Congo”. Here, the black person is also diminished into a childlike, primitive being that is designed for consumption, as emphasized by the tribal spear, lack of detail, simple facial expression, emphasized lips, and wide eyes. All of these factors contribute to the dehumanization of black people through this product.
Perhaps the most disturbing example of the connection between chocolate and the consumption of black bodies is the case of Belgium’s chocolate hands. These chocolate hands are considered a delicacy in Belgium, but they have a truly horrifying origin. When the Belgian King Leopold II occupied the Congo, it was common practice to cut off and collect the right hands of Congolese slaves. The hands became a symbol of allegiance to the throne and even a form of currency. The chocolate hands symbolize and glorify this history, while reinforcing the notion that black bodies are meant for consumption. (Martin 2019) When gruesome practices such as collecting Congolese hands are normalized and removed from their violent origins, the violence and racism is maintained while the awareness of the true history is diminished.
Another example from popular culture of the ways in which the history of slavery is still preserved in chocolate culture is the original depiction of the Oompa Loompas in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.It turns out that in the original version of the story, the Oompa Loompas, Willy Wonka’s labor force, were described as dark skinned, childlike ‘pygmies’ that Willy Wonka found in the African jungle to bring back to his factory. (Robertson 2010) Not only are the Oompa Loompas radicalized in a manner that glorifies the history of slave labor in chocolate production, but they are made to be unthreatening and primitive beings who work without conscious and sing songs. I find this knowledge about the Oompa Loompas origins very disturbing for several reasons. It dehumanizes black people and glorifies slavery in a way that erases the aspects of violence and cruelty of slavery, transforming the suffering of millions into some sort of comic relief for the story. It also displays how acceptable and common the concept of having slave labor was that Roald Dahl thought to include it in a children’s story. But perhaps why I find this particular example of the connection between chocolate and slavery so relevant to my narrative is because within the original dialog of the story, the protagonist Charlie Bucket actually asks if the Oompa Loompas are made of chocolate because as he describes, “Their skin is almost black!” (Robertson 2010) This reminds me of the same question that my 2ndgrade classmate asked, and the ways in which the legacy of slavery that was glorified in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory still persists today. Even though the blackness of the Oompa Loompas has since been written out of the story, the knowledge of the original story provides us with important insight on the connection between black bodies and chocolate.
What these examples and the horrific nature of the history of slavery for chocolate production show is that there has been a long-standing monetary interest in the ownership and consumption of black bodies. The profit of slave labor and the products that come as its result has incentivized the large-scale dehumanization of black people and has lead to the fetishization and fantasy of black bodies as representing the products that they create, rather than the reality of their existence, pain, or humanity. In a sense, the black body has been so ‘delicious’ for whiteness to consume that it has become a deeply embedded aspect of our culture, because its consumption has been associated with the sweetness of sugar and chocolate and not the bitter truth of slave labor. While the origins of this slave system have been hidden and pushed out of the public conscious, these dangerous notions about ownership of the black body extend to our culture today, and this is seen in more than just chocolate consumption. Look at the tendency for white people to touch black women’s hair without permission, the constant appropriation of black ideas, features, and culture, and the hyper-policing, monitoring, and brutalization of black youth by police. These are all current manifestations of the notion that black bodies are meant to be owned, controlled, exploited, and consumed, just like the association between chocolate and blackness. These are features of a system of white supremacy that distorts or erases the evidence of past atrocities while preserving the dehumanization that arose from it. (Lowell 2005)
Who is made of what?
So in the context of chocolate’s long history of exploiting black people, and the racism that emerged as a means of preserving these systems through dehumanization, the seemingly innocent question of “Are black people made of chocolate” appears to be rooted in decades of racism, slavery, and ignorance. This is not to say that my classmate (or Charlie Bucket) asked the question with malicious intent, but rather that he was conditioned at such a young age to associate black people with the product of their labor. In fact, this question also can serve as evidence of this history, considering that people with light complexions are not asked if they are made of wheat, wood, or another substance with similar tone, even by children. After studying this history, I now feel that I have an answer for my classmate. Black people are not made of chocolate, but chocolate is made of black people, in the sense that it has been historically created through their oppression and forced labor. And as for my questions of what I am made of, I have come to realize that I am both a product and consumer, in the sense that my ancestors were both consumed to make chocolate and consumers of chocolate itself. I feel that this identity allows me to look at my own internalized biases that stem from slavery and understand the ways in which I have both suffered and benefitted from these systems. This doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy chocolate anymore because of its violent history, just like it doesn’t mean we can’t still feel pride for a country with a violent foundation. Instead, it should serve as a reminded for us to critically analyze our conceptions of race and recommit ourselves to understanding the true history of our world, regardless of how unpleasant it might be.
1. Sampeck, Kathryn, and Jonathan Thayn. 2017. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.”
2. Martin, Carla. “20190403 Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, Emerson Lecture Hall, Cambridge, MA
3.Martin, Carla. “20190306 Slavery, abolition, and forced labor ” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, Emerson Lecture Hall, Cambridge, MA
4.Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013 . The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.
5.Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp.
6. Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.
7. Ryan, Orla. 2011. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa.
On this year’s Valentine’s day, my best friend and I, being the single women we are, decided to celebrate our the night by buying ourselves chocolate and wine while watching a movie. In all honesty, none of us particularly likes chocolate but it seemed like the appropriate movie snack for Valentine’s day. This type of thinking is not unique to us. It echoes the actions of million other people from all over the world flooding retail shops to buy their significant others flowers and chocolate. It also shows the strong association that our society believes to exist between chocolate and love with or without a heterosexual romance. In other words, while most foods are marketed for their nutritional, aesthetic or dainty value, chocolates have also been sold as symbols of love and sexuality. I would like to explore the various social and historical factors that have led to this phenomenon, and the gendered lens through which Valentine’s day has been tied to Chocolate.
Firstly, the history of cacao in Mesoamerica is essential to understand the symbolic role chocolate has played in portraying romantic love on occasions such as Valentine’s day. In her essay, on “The Conquests of Chocolate”, Norton notes that “chocolate was ritually consumed at betrothal and wedding ceremonies, and presented to visiting dignitaries” (Norton, 2004). It was presented as an offering to the bride’s father by the groom as a testament of his love for his(the bride’s father) daughter and of respect. While most people do not know this history, chocolate companies have capitalized on this knowledge to lure consumers looking for symbols to express their love to one another. Norton argues that “the association between chocolate and romantic love continues to hold sway in our collective imagination, as evidenced by the box-of-chocolate’s status as the quintessential Valentine’s Day gift and its mythical status as an aphrodisiac”(Norton, 2004). Chocolate becomes instrumental for those men who would like to show their feelings to their women and, in a similar fashion as the Mesoamericans, chocolate also symbolizes respect between the two lovers.
Secondly, chocolate was historically, and still is to an extent, marketed as a luxury item. It was consumed by those who belonged in the wealthier class. As observed by Norton, chocolate then “played an important role in Mesoamerican society as a drink that denoted status…” (Norton, 2004). This was also true when chocolate first spread through Europe where Spaniards not only “learned to replicate the taste, fragrance, look, and texture of Mesoamerican chocolate,…” but also “internalized the association between chocolate and noble distinction” (Norton, 2004). Another author, Jamal Fahim, in his work on, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing”, claims “chocolate advertising…arouses appetites of a social nature by promising to satisfy viewers’ deep-seated desires for sexual fulfillment and higher class status”(Fahim, 2010). This is why men tend to buy this item to make their women feel special because it is an item that has been historically tied to status and luxury- especially on a day meant to represent passion and love.
Thirdly, and perhaps the assumption we need to address, is that while both men and women have been historically associated with love, women have been, almost exclusively, associated with chocolate cravings. According to Bruinsma et.al, chocolate cravings appear to exist in 40% of women and only 15% of men” (Bruinsma and Taren 1999). These cravings go beyond the socialization of women as being sweeter and therefore liking sweet things. According to Anthony Auger, an assistant professor at UW-Madison, women are more affected by chocolate than men. He references a study conducted that shows the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that regulates food intake, was less active in women when they consumed chocolate which is why they were more likely to eat it more compared to me. This is an interesting take that changes the way we view Valentine’s day and the view that women only like chocolate because they have socialized to love it.
Yet, we do not have conclusive evidence that this is entirely biological. There are various factors that may have led to this evolutionary phenomenon in which women are more likely to like chocolate than men. One of the many explanations is that women prefer sugary foods when they are lactating- an evolutionary mechanism to protect the baby- and this might have advanced the idea that women generally prefer chocolates (McQuillan, 2014). That being said, this paper does not explore other potential explanations for women’s love of chocolate. However, this paper seeks to highlight that women’s cravings for chocolate are perhaps more than just reactions to sensualized advertisements. They might also stem from evolutionary desires that tie certain foods to the female reproduction process and thus set in motion the reaction to advertisements beckoning women to consume more chocolate.
Ultimately, Valentine’s day remains an important day across the world. It’s meaning transcends the boundaries of language and culture in the face of globalization and brings people from all corners together in celebration of romantic love. Expectedly, capitalism also remains at the forefront with companies devising new ways to sell their products. This essay is part of a large conversation on how the culture of consumerism that rises within capitalist states influences the way we understand and limit ourselves within certain gendered norms. It uses a lens of chocolate to highlight the central issue of capitalist initiatives to exploit women’s love for chocolate by branding it as a symbol of love. Yet, it does not seek to place on a moral judgement on whether this is good or bad but simply raises the question of how even food can be instrumental in shaping gender dynamics.
“Why Chocolate For Valentine’s Day? | The Stories | ~GIVEAWAY~ | G.Y’s Food Talk |.” YouTube. N. p., 2019. Web
Martinez, Duran. “Stores Stock Shelves For Valentines Day.” 94.9 WMMQ. N. p., 2019.
Fahim, Jamal. Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate …Occidental College, scholar.oxy.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=sociology_student.
Bruinsma, Kristen, and Douglas L. Taren. 1999. “Chocolate: Food or drug?” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 10: 1249-1256.
A traditional view of the history of chocolate focuses on the growth in mass consumption of chocolate as a byproduct of democratization and the industrial revolution. With time, consumption of chocolate spread from Aztec elites to the European nobility to the common citizens of the Western world. However, I contend that the history of chocolate is not simply one of expanded access fueled by increased political and economic inclusiveness, but rather one of shifting patterns of exploitation. The expansion of chocolate consumption has tracked the political enfranchisement and growth in economic power of white Westerners, but has simultaneously resulted in the brutal exploitation of poor brown and black people, first in Latin America, and now in Africa.
The Elite Origins of Chocolate
In ancient Aztec society, the consumption of chocolate was confined to the elites, which included members of the royal house, lords and nobility, long-distance merchants and warriors. Consumed after dinner at royal banquets, it was considered an exotic delicacy and a gift from the gods, a precious treasure not to be wasted on commoners (Coe and Coe, pg. 95). It was also used in religious ceremonies, including marriage rites, to symbolize the sacred nature of matrimonial covenants (Coe and Coe, pgs. 97-101). When the Conquistadors brought chocolate back to the Old World from Mesoamerica, it quickly spread through Europe, becoming a delicious treat for European nobles. Through the displays and pageants of Spain’s Habsburg rulers, the drink quickly gained fame, with powerful oligarchs such as Cosimo de’ Medici becoming “chocoholics” (Coe and Coe, pg. 135). Curiously, chocolate came to be seen as more feminine, as it was popularized with ladies of the royal courts in Europe. It retained its association with marriage, as women intermarried among royal families and brought their love of chocolate with them (Coe and Coe, pgs. 136-137).
The image below displays the status of chocolate drink as both an elite status symbol and a beverage uniquely associated with the idealized image of the noble lady and her well-ordered household:
Chocolate Comes to the Masses
Despite chocolate’s elite origins, a different narrative took form around chocolate as production methods were refined and it became more broadly available to the masses. By the late 17th century in England, chocolate became associated with the intellectual movement towards democratic governance during the Enlightenment era. Chocolate houses and coffee houses became centers of democratic thought, prompting Charles II to issue an ultimately futile decree to close them down in 1675 (Coe and Coe, pg. 168). Chocolate was truly democratized in the mid-19th century, as technological innovation during the Industrial Revolution made chocolate far more accessible to ordinary people. In 1828, Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented the alkalizing process which gave chocolate its familiar dark color and made it milder in flavor. In 1849, Joseph Fry invented the modern chocolate bar, using cocoa butter to transform chocolate into a solid confection (Coe and Coe, pgs. 234 – 241). Simultaneously, sugar, which had come into common usage as both a preservative and an ingredient to supplement the caloric needs of working and middle class citizens in the West, came to be one of the most important components of both chocolate drink and the newly invented bars (Schartzkopf and Sampeck). As the narrative goes, the physical transformation of chocolate represented a revolution in accessibility, carried on a wave of political democratization and the industrialization-fueled growth in mass consumption.
The picture below displays three different styles of modern, mass-produced chocolate bar, complete with sugar for extra flavoring and the familiar dark coloring introduced by Van Houten’s method:
The Thin Veneer of Democracy
Though the history of the spread of chocolate is often portrayed as a triumph of mass democracy, in truth chocolate has been and continues to be a product of extremely unequal, hierarchical systems of racial and class-based oppression, in which poor brown and black people produce chocolate as a luxury good to be enjoyed by better off, mostly white Westerners. The oppressive hierarchies of Western chocolate production trace their origins to the encomienda system of the early 16th century, in which Spanish colonizers virtually enslaved the Native people of their American colonies, forcing them to harvest cash crops such as chocolate beans, often at the expense of their own lives (Yeager). Eventually, the encomienda system came to an end, and chocolate production in the New World gradually became the domain of newly enslaved Africans. As globalization increased, and outright slavery fell out of favor, production shifted from Latin America to Africa, with (technically illegal) slave labor still being used to produce chocolate in places such as Sao Tome as late as the early 20th century (Satre). In the modern era, the exploitation of African labor continues. 74% of chocolate was produced in Africa during the 2016-2017 season, but Africans only consumed a tiny percentage of the chocolate they produced, and received a comparatively small cut of the profits (Leissle, pgs. 4-7, 36-46). In the words of Ghanian farmer Mercy Asabea, when asked about the local scarcity of chocolate, “Ghana made Europe what it is…We have every resource here, yet Ghanians are not progressing at all” (Leissle, pg. 57).
The following chart shows a harrowing picture of the relationship between modern chocolate production and consumption, with the orange dots representing main exporters and the red dots representing export destinations:
Accusations of highly exploitative labor practices, including forced child labor, continue to this day. This video from the Stolen Lives Project details just a few of the abuses allegedly committed by the modern day chocolate production industry:
Ultimately, it is important for us to develop a realistic perspective on chocolate and its origins. One can both appreciate the expansion of access to this delicious treat, especially in the Western world, yet simultaneously reject purely Western-centered narratives which exclude the experiences of disadvantaged black and brown people in the developing world as they relate to chocolate production and consumption
of Black Swiss Chocolate.” Wikimedia
Commons, 8 Oct. 2015,
Francois. “The Afternoon Meal.” Wikimedia
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History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2013.
Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial:
Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.
Stacey, and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate
Colonialism.” Substance and Seduction:
Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf
and Kathryn E. Sampeck, University of Texas Press, 2017, pp. 73–99.
Lives Project. Chocolate Slaves. Vimeo, 2 Aug. 2015, vimeo.com/135172005.
Timothy J. “Encomienda or Slavery? The Spanish Crown’s Choice of Labor
Organization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America.” The Journal of Economic History, vol. 55, no. 04, 1995, pp.
Referring to chocolate, the
Italian conquistador Girolamo Benzoni wrote that it “seemed more a drink for
pigs, than a drink for humanity” (Coe and Coe 110). Given this statement, it
seems incredible that today in much of the world, we have come to know chocolate
as a sweet, decadent luxury food. Much of chocolate’s transformation – from a
bitter drink reserved for elites to a sweet, inexpensive candy – has to do with
changes that occurred in Europe beginning in the sixteenth century and
continuing through the Industrial Revolution. Colonialism, along with the
advent of plantation agriculture and industrial technology, all functioned to alter
the perceptions and attitudes surrounding chocolate in Europe and the New World,
democratizing it, until it eventually became the mass-produced food that so
many people know and love today.
Chocolate, the solid food that it is most commonly known today, comes from the fruit of the cacao tree. In ancient Mesoamerica, the cacao tree was sacred; images of cacao trees are linked to gods and the afterlife in Aztec and Maya religions (Leissle). This religious association is what led Linnaeus to give cacao the genus name Theobroma, which translates to “food of the gods” (Leissle). Archeological evidence also suggests that cacao was made as a drink primarily for Aztec and Maya elites. After Spanish conquistadors arrived in Central America and became accustomed to cacao, the association between cacao consumption and elites was transferred to Europe. The Spanish were the first to introduce cacao to Europe in 1544, when Dominican friars brought a Kekchi Maya delegation to meet Prince Philip of Spain, and they brought cacao with them (Coe and Coe). Soon after, consumption of chocolate drinks, inspired by Mesoamerican recipes, became popular in European royal courts. As chocolate’s popularity grew in Europe, its association with aristocracy was solidified. For example, it became a potent status symbol for French nobility to own a silver chocolatière, or chocolate pot, as seen in the image below. In Baroque France, distinctive silver pieces such as this one signified that the owner was of a high enough social class to be able to purchase cacao and enjoy chocolate drinks on a regular basis.
As European nations colonized the
Caribbean and Central and South America, the resulting increase in agricultural
production through slave labor allowed chocolate’s popularity to grow even
further as it became increasingly accessible to working-class people. The
establishment of New World cacao plantations and using the labor of African slaves
allowed European powers to control the production of cacao and import it at lower
costs (Martin and Sampeck). Additionally, transatlantic
triangular trade allowed cacao to be transported to West Africa and Indonesia,
where it was also cultivated for European consumption, with West Africa,
specifically Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, becoming the primary production center of
cacao after the abolition of slavery (Martin and Sampeck; Leissle). Thus, under colonial influence,
cacao production was able to expand to meet the growing demand for chocolate
among the upper classes.
This increasing desire for
chocolate was reinforced by the massive growth of the sugar industry at the
same time and by the same means of production (Mintz). However, it was not until
the rise of capitalistic economies and increasing industrialization that sugar
and chocolate consumption really increased dramatically in Europe (Coe and Coe). Until the Industrial Revolution,
chocolate was primarily consumed as a drink; a number of industrial processes
were important for transforming chocolate into solid food. For example, the process
for manufacturing Dutch process cocoa powder involved a more efficient method
of separating cocoa butter from cocoa powder, which allowed the powder to mix
more easily with water (Coe and Coe). Using this technology, the
Fry company was able to create a recipe for the first true chocolate bars,
involving cocoa powder, sugar, and melted cocoa butter. From then on, chocolate
was on its way to being considered primarily as a relatively inexpensive food,
especially as the number and size of chocolate companies grew and other
technological innovations emerged for creating desirable and marketable chocolate
Demand for eating chocolate and cultivation of cacao in West Africa mutually reinforced each other’s growth, which incentivized large chocolate companies to create more efficient and cost-effective manufacturing techniques. One such company is Hershey’s, an American-based enterprise which is responsible for creating a recipe for milk chocolate that could be mass produced faster and cheaper by using liquid condensed milk rather than powdered milk as European companies did (D’Antonio). The image below, from a booklet produced by Hershey’s, showcases an additional aspect that contributed to their manufacturing success: their factory. The photos of the interior of the factory underscore the massive scale of their operations, and this indicates that chocolate production had become fully mechanized at this point in time – a far cry from the small-scale production of chocolate by hand in ancient Mesoamerica.
The printing of this pamphlet also highlights not only that Hershey’s was committed to utilizing the most current manufacturing technology, but also that large companies’ success depended a large part upon public opinion of their operations. As chocolate became increasingly affordable and available to people in Europe and America, companies needed to compete for customer loyalty within the capitalist market. Advertising was and remains crucial for companies to target specific consumers and persuade them to buy their product instead of a similar product from another company. Ads such as the one for Fry’s chocolate below often associated chocolate with images of innocence and the desire for sweetness. The customer buying the chocolate is a young girl, which associates childhood, innocence, and femininity with chocolate and sweetness. The children outside are all gazing longingly at the chocolate, too, which suggests that Fry’s chocolate is something that everyone wants to enjoy. Most importantly, the Fry name is written all over the ad, so that everyone who views the ad remembers the name.
Advertising helped chocolate companies become household names, and led to chocolate brands developing recognizable, signature tastes. Thus, chocolate was completely transformed into a commodity for all people to enjoy. None of chocolate’s evolution to this status as an industrialized, highly processed, and popular food would have been possible without the increases in production of cacao and sugar as a result of colonialism and plantation slavery, as well as technological improvements during the Industrial Revolution. All of these changes allowed chocolate’s price to drop significantly, and it also led to chocolate’s shift from drink to solid food. So, when we eat a chocolate bar, we can credit its existence to the changes in production and consumption that corresponded to industrialization and globalization in the past few hundred years.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael
D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson,
D’Antonio, Michael D.
“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s
Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, Simon &
Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–26.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa.
Polity Press, 2018.
Martin, Carla D., and
Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.Hu,
vol. 3, 2015, pp. 37–60.
Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness
and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.
Hershey Chocolate Corporation. The Story of Chocolate and Cocoa Booklet. 1926. National Archives at Philadelphia (RE-PA), US National Archives Research Catalog, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/18558585. Accessed 14 Mar. 2019.