Chocolate means many things to many people, invoking feelings of romance, decadence, comfort, celebration, and memories of childhood. And despite its ubiquity across most of the globe, chocolate has maintained an aura of lavishness, mystery, and prestige. Once a food item strictly for the elites, chocolate has kept its image as a luxury item even though it has been cheaply available for over a century. How and why did chocolate go from an exclusive luxury item for the privileged to a staple everyday treat for the masses? The history of chocolate, or cacao, the treated fruit-seeds from which chocolate is produced, and how it became commonplace is inseparable from the history of colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the industrial revolution. And the same is true of the history of sugar. Ultimately it was the evolution and combining of these two once-exclusive products that changed chocolate from an expensive, rare commodity for a small elite class to an affordable, mass-producible snack for the everyday citizen of the industrialised world.
Chocolate finds its origin in the cacao tree, or theobroma cacao, literally “food of the gods, cacao,” as it was named by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus.1 However, the word cacao had been used, as had the fruits and the seeds within, since long before Linnaeus encountered the species. Traces of cacao have been discovered on pottery dating as far back as 3,300 B.C. in Zamora Chinchipe, Ecuador,2 almost five thousand years before contact between Europe and Mesoamerica began. When Europeans first encountered cacao at the beginning of the sixteenth century, cacao was used as currency and consumed as a beverage by the ruling class of the Aztec empire. The drinking chocolate travelled first to the royal courts of Spain and then spread to the other major powers in Europe including, Italy, France, and England. Drinking chocolate prevailed until the middle of the nineteenth century when solid chocolate was first produced for widespread sale.
Sugar has been known in Europe since long before cacao. Cultivated into its crystallized form in India as far back as 500 A.D.,3 and spread through the Arabic conquests of the eighth century, it was and remained “a luxury, a medicine, and a spice”4 until the seventeenth century. With the discovery and conquering of the West Indies, Europeans colonialists began to cultivate and mass-produce the luxury items – cacao, tobacco, coffee, rum, tea, and sugar – that would dramatically change the economies of the world forever.
By the nineteenth century sugar had a become a necessity of British daily life. And it was during this century that Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented a machine that would lead to the ability to produce chocolate in its solid form. Van Houten’s hydraulic press separated the fat, cacao butter, from the cacao beans, leaving behind a powder we call cocoa.5 The British Fry family, who had been producing and selling drinking chocolate since the eighteenth century, discovered that by remixing this cocoa with the butter and adding sugar, a liquid that would harden could be made, and the first real chocolate bar was born.6
It should be stated that none of the major producers of solid chocolate who would come to dominate the market were the first to think to sweeten cacao for consumption. Adding honey to sweeten drinking chocolate had been commonplace in Mesoamerica before the arrival of the Spanish, and drinking chocolate recipes enjoyed by the aristocracy in Europe pervasively contained sugar. The change that took place that would significantly spread the consumption of chocolate was the pronounced increased, first, in the consumption of sugar. According to Sidney W. Mintz’s estimates, between 1800 and 1890 world production shot from approximately two-hundred and forty-five thousand tonnes of sugar to over six million, and he writes, “there is no doubt that the sucrose consumption of the poorer classes in the United Kingdom came to exceed that of the wealthier classes after 1850.”7 This transformative period in sugar production and consumption paired with Van Houten’s machine, which meant for easier and cheaper production of higher quality cacao powder and butter, set the stage for the mass-production and consumption of chocolate.
The public’s insatiable appetite for sugar has meant that chocolate production can be much cheaper, as the most expensive ingredient, cacao, can be used in less quantity. A good example of this is the enormously successful Hershey’s kiss that is just eleven percent cocoa and over fifty percent sugar.8 And the mass-production ideology that came with the industrial revolution led to astonishing manufacturing achievements. A good example of this is the lettering machine at the M&M factory that is able to print the M’s on M&M’s at, “200,000 M&M’s a minute, or 100 million M&M’s every eight hours:”9 needless to say, a far cry from the time-consuming procedure to make the drinking chocolate that was enjoyed by Mayans, Aztecs, and European “nobility” for the centuries and millennia prior. That milk chocolate can be legally called as such with just 10% cacao content has meant a form of chocolate can be made, and therefore bought and eaten, cheaply and regularly across class lines. So while there is debate as to the health effects of cheap chocolate and ethical concerns of cheaply sourced cacao, the “food of the gods” is now available to all mortals. And thank god for that.
Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. Page 5
While American and European consumers associate chocolate with romance, desserts, and luxury, the disparity between end product consumer and cacao producer is significant. One perspective is that northern consumers provide self-agency and opportunity through a free market economic exchange in an environment that provides few opportunities. While western Africa currently provides 75% of the world’s cacao (Coe &Coe, 2013) the African cacao grower has to rely solely on northern purchasers as they lack the economic resources to purchase, manufacture, or market their product. With labor as their only agency, the African cacao grower is in a disadvantaged position in the food production paradigm despite their high product yield. Corporate complicity in unethical labor, slave legacy that has left southern producers turning to raw materials for economic survival, and consumer apathy created by distance from the food supply chain have culminated in producing very opposing experiences for the cacao supplier and the chocolate consumer.
Success in Cacao
With the steady increase of cacao prices, the cacao-growing region of western Africa has seen steady socioeconomic growth in the industry for decades. According to “CNN Freedom Project,” an organization focused on labor practices worldwide, in 2008-2009 western Africa supplied more than 75% of the world’s chocolate, while Europeans and North Americans were consuming a roughly equal amount (2012). In their book Cocoa in Ghana: Shaping the Success of An Economy, Shashi Kolavalli, and Marcella Vigneri observe the steady increase of cacao prices have allowed for significant improvement via more investment in production yields through transport and infrastructure. (2012). Kolavalli and Vigneri further observe that so lucrative is the cacao production in Ghana that positive socioeconomic influences of the crop, and improvement in western Africa’s poverty, have been significant by stating,
“economic growth has been solid, averaging more than 5 percent since 2001 and reaching 6 percent in 2005–06. Coupled with the effects of greater access to education, health services, and land ownership (World Bank 2008), this rate of growth has contributed to the near halving of the national poverty rate since the beginning of the 1990s, from 51.7 percent in 1991/92 to 28.5 percent in 2005/06” (p. 205).
For cacao growing countries in Africa, maintaining this resource is critical to prevent sliding backward economically in an already impoverished environment.
Who is Eating All the Chocolate?
According to CNN’s freedom project, northern countries are driving the demand for chocolate. In this breakdown for 2008-09, Europeans and North Americans were responsible for eating an equal amount of western Africa’s entire production, which is 75% annually of the world supply. In simple terms, if you live in the northern hemisphere there is a good chance you are consuming on average between 9 to 24 lbs. of chocolate per year. (Satioquia-Tan, J. 2015)
World consumption of cocoa: 2008/09
Europe – 49.32%
North America – 24.22% (United States only – 20.19%)
Asia and Oceania – 14.49%
South America – 8.68%
Africa – 3.28%
The demand from northern consumers continues to increase steadily. In his paper, Cocoa production in West Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments, Marius Wessel projects necessary agricultural growth for western Africa to maintain its current supply when he states, “The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) forecasts a 10 percent increase in the world cocoa production and a 25 percent increase of the cocoa price in the next decade. … If West Africa wishes to maintain its present world market share a 10 percent increase in production is needed in the next decade” (Wessel, M., 2015). This is significant in that considerable investment will be required to meet the growing demand, which in turn will offer more employment from land developing to harvesting; boosting the economy even further. The staggering contrast of chocolate consumption between northern consumers and southern producers however, in relation to race and geography is no accident.
A History of Disconnection
After the chocolate drink of Mesoamericans made it to Europe via Spanish colonists in the 16th century, popularity of the drink in Europe began to rise. When Spanish colonists exhausted the Mesoamerican population as a resource for labor, they turned to the middle passage across the Atlantic to Africa for labor to meet the demand (Coe & Coe, 2013). On a continent that functioned tribally with no formal governments, it was quite easy to enslave people into labor for the remainder of their life, which on average due to hard labor and dismal living conditions was about 7 to 8 years after enslavement (Coe & Coe, 2013). This of course, required massive quantities of slaves, which Africa had in abundance. In his book Sweetness and Power Sidney Mintz observes that by the 18th century, the European lower proletariat was adopting the culinary habits of the aristocracy as a way of establishing equality for people in lower social stations (p.181, 1986). The biggest promoter of chocolate consumption for the masses According to Coe & Coe in their book A True History of Chocolate was the industrial revolution when they state,
“The Industrial Revolution, which changed chocolate from a costly drink to cheap food, [was] the driving force in this metamorphosis” (Coe & Coe, p. 232, 2013).
Before the industrial revolution the use of people from southern countries as a commodity for labor separated them from society and cultural habits of northern countries. Even had they wished to adopt the habits of their masters, there was no means or opportunity as a consumer base. Having never been ‘folded in” to European culture, they were completely disenfranchised as a chocolate consumer base. The exclusion of southern laborers and slaves from society as citizens, also found them ignored by the industrial revolution; leaving them to lag behind economically and industrially, unable to participate as consumers of chocolate.
State of Labor Today
After northern consumers developed a social conscience for disenfranchised populations and impoverished nations, one might be tempted to think everything has changed, but it has not. Still lagging from being on the outside of the industrial revolution, Cacao farming practices have changed little in the last hundred years. In villages of working adults there is a complete disconnect to their labor once it leaves the village. In her book Bitter Chocolate, Carol Off tells of a village where all but the chief were ignorant of where the cacao went, none knew how it was used, and only one had ever tasted chocolate. Micheal and Sophie Coe argue that it is not only adults and families working, but that millions of children are trafficked and forced into slavery from neighboring countries (Coe & Coe, 2013). Off supports this claim by observing that slavery is alive and well particularly in the Ivory Coast where child slavery is so common, it is a sub-industry of cacao with its own economy, as farmers finance networks to traffic children for forced labor who then suffer from starvation, disease and physical abuse while working on cacao farms (Off, C. 2006). While numbers of child slavery are at times sketchy and often disputed, no one denies it exists (Off, C. 2006).
Consumers Grow Distant
While slaves grow cacao, consumers grow distant. Though southern laborers have not advanced industrially, this is not the case for northern consumers. The industrialization of food completely changed northern food culture. Through mechanization, transport, and refrigeration, the distance between consumer and food source has grown. Mechanization produced food en mass cheaply, allowing access to goods that were more accommodating to lower budgets, while transport and refrigeration allowed food to travel further than it had before. (Counihan & Van Esterik, 2013) The biggest game changer in food culture was the mechanization of canning and preservation. With better preservation, food sources began to change, ingredients began change, and soon we had processed and prepackaged food embraced by women everywhere for freeing their time and labor (Counihan & Van Esterik, 81-82, 2013). After two or three generations of eating processed food transported from faraway places, with lists of ingredients that are rarely inspected, consumers today know very little about their food, or even what it contains. They are not unlike their southern counterparts in this way who do not know where cacao goes, or what its use is after it leaves the village.
Distance Creates Apathy
Capitalist consumerism breeds competition, creating incentive to keep the consumer
happy. As modern chocolate consumers in the north are far more concerned with inclusiveness, fair treatment, and food activism than previous generations, the power of the purchase is seemingly an easy solution to the poor working conditions and poverty that are still prevalent in the cacao industry despite its economic growth. Far removed from the supply chain, unaware consumers continue to purchase due to lack of transparency in food product, and manufacturers remain complicit in the absence of financial threat. Manufacturers however also have limited power. Even with strict purchasing policies, and government regulation it is still difficult to know if a supplier is using slaves without constant physical inspections (Martin, C. 2017), and blame shifts all along the supply chain making it easy for manufacturers to be complicit, and consumers to remain uninformed. Lack of transparency in food sourcing, blame shifting in the industry, and distance from food sources, culminate to create a culture of apathetic food consumers.
How It All Comes Together
The dichotomy between cacao consumer and producer today began with early Europeans and European colonists who failed to view southern peoples as sovereign and instead as a voiceless labor resource. Excluded from global interaction, Southern populations failed to participate in cultural trends, shifts, and innovations that were transforming society and industry elsewhere. Non-participation in the industrial revolution left southern continents behind in what would become a global economy with no agency for economic competition; turning to natural resources and labor for economic survival in a state somewhere between hunting and gathering and industry with little opportunity for growth. While mechanization followed by technology has created decadence in northern populations as compared to southern countries, northern consumers are today ignorant of their food supply chain because of these advancements, and unaware of the poverty and labor practices of those supplying it. Lack of transparency in food products add to this distance, and northern Chocolate manufactures as well as governments are complicit in unethical labor practices, shifting blame along the food supply chain leaving those who are aware unsure of who to even hold accountable (Martin, C. 2017). While northern consumers today have more of a social conscience than their ancestors, the opposing lifestyles of the chocolate consumer and the cacao laborer have failed to come closer together over the last several hundred years due to a legacy of “othering,” and complicit corporate interests protecting their revenue stream that has created an apathetic northern food culture.
Where We Go From Here
Consumer awareness is growing. Projects like Fair Trade, CNN Project Freedom, End Slavery Now, Slave Free Chocolate etc., have been working hard to inform the public. Many consumers now seek out fair trade products when available, and appear willing to pay more for ethical practices. In their paper, Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Multi-Store Field Experiment , Hainmueller, Hiscox, & Seguiera state,
“Total sales of Fair Trade goods in the United States in 2011 amounted to roughly $1.4 billion (FLO 2012) … But the average annual rate of growth in U.S. sales of Fair Trade certified goods was close to 40% between 1999 and 2008” (2014).
Fair Trade is not without its problems, as certification can be costly and marginalizes the poorest producers, but it is a start, and one of few ways to access transparency of the food supply chain in a consumer market that provides no source-to-store product information. Legislators are also working to intervene in child slavery practices. Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engen introduced a protocol to reduce trafficking in the cacao industry, agreed to by manufacturers and legislators from Ghana and the Ivory Coast as stated by the ILO, “that aims to reduce the worst forms of child labor by 70 percent across the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire by 2020” (ILO, 2017). Currently Fair Trade and other transparent and ethical alternatives have not achieved mainstream mass production, making it difficult for a consumer to use the power of the dollar against corporate complicity even when they choose to. Raising awareness and creating a demand for ethical products can aid in ending consumer apathy by closing the information gap, and denting corporate revenue streams that, with some work, will promote less disparity between southern suppliers and northern purchasers.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate (3rd ed.) London, ENG.Thames & Hudson Ltd.
Counihan, C., Van Esterik, P., (Eds.). (2013). Food and culture a reader New York NY. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
DFID, (2011) Children of the Ivory Coast [digital image]. Retrieved from Wikimiedia Commons Website: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Flickr_-_DFID_-_UK_Department_for_International_Development_-_Children_pictured_at_a_UNHCR_food_distribution_point_in_Liberia
You may be surprised to find out that the chocolate that we know today is a relatively new, tasty discovery- one that came about from the Industrial Age.
When the Industrial Revolution took place, the world revolutionized with it, and industries of all kinds were forever altered. The chocolate industry, still in the Mayan age, sprouted into a new field and its effects can still be traced today. The technology in the Industrial Revolution provided the tools to advance the field of chocolate, which allowed for mass consumption and commercialization, giving way to the “Chocolate Age.”
Chocolate’s “God-Like” Beginnings
Cacao was considered the “food of the gods,” and was treated as such: before the Industrial Age, chocolate was made the traditional way that the Mayans made it with a long, drawn-out process of cracking shells and traditional grinding to create a bitter chocolate drink (unlike the chocolate of today) (Szogyi, 1997).
Modern Mayan woman demonstrating how her ancestors
would grind cacao (Smithsonian)
This treat was considered to be a drink that was both a commodity and spiritual experience; although it was available to the masses, the wealthy certainly had more access to the treat because they could afford it. Cacao was taken as such a serious product that the Mayans used its seeds as currency; further, it was used to promote fertility and life, and cacao pods are found all over elite and ancient artifacts, temples, and palaces. Clearly, these uses and techniques demonstrate how luxurious chocolate was to them; these processes stayed this way even during the era of the Aztec empire and many centuries later (Horn, 2016 & Szogyi).
The Industrial Difference
This process of chocolate was so revered that it essentially did not change until the Industrial Age with a ground-breaking invention for grinding that used the newly-innovated steam and hydraulic process; in 1778, Doret, a Frenchman, invented a hydraulic machine that grinds cocoa beans into a paste (Beckett, Horn). Before then, the process of grinding was long and tedious and this machine allowed the process to become easier to create for the masses. Soon after, more inventions came along for grinding that further made consumption more popular. For instance, Dubuisson invented a steam chocolate grinder in France because it was even cheaper to replicate than Doret’s product, which allowed for an even higher level of mass consumption of chocolate. The Industrial Age created the environment to allow for this change – without steam and hydraulics, and the friendly and booming business atmosphere for support, Doret and Dubuisson would certainly not have been able to create these inventions. Where would be chocolate be today? One could reasonably predict that we could have eventually have had these technologies, but it is safe to assume that it would have taken the chocolate industry much longer to reach its glory.
The steam engine and hydraulic system are considered staples of this Industrial Age with new technologies across the boards for trains, factories, and buildings, but we can also appreciate how these technologies allowed for the advancement of chocolate technology. The value of chocolate significantly decreased because it was accessible to everyone; from here on, it was no longer an “elite” product or just a “food of the gods,” but, rather, a food for everyone. Thus, the Industrial Age that changed the world on so many fronts quickly churned into the “Chocolate Age” as well.
The idea of the mass consumption of chocolate from the Industrial Age can be traced along the later part of the history of chocolate. Quickly after the revelation with the cocoa beans came a new way to make chocolate an even more accessible product with commercialization – via “dutching” (Squiciarinni & Swinnen, 2016). In 1828, Van Houten, a Dutch chemist, invented a method to press cocoa by separating the cocoa butter by pressing it with alkali, making the matter soften up enough to produce cocoa powder, which was light and fluffy; unlike the current chocolate of that time, dutching made chocolate highly digestible, which would attract new consumers and open up a whole new market for chocolate – just like these technologies helped do so in other industries such as the construction field (i.e. making materials more affordable and attractive for building).
Van Houten’s cocoa press (World Standards)
Additionally, cocoa powder was the secret ingredient needed for the chocolate industry and companies to seamlessly make solid chocolate bars and coat them as well as bring in new flavors such as white chocolate. From there, a second wave of the Chocolate Age had been set and was about to take place.
A Second Wave of the Age – Mass Commercialization and the Chocolate Bar
With the mass consumption of chocolate from these new Industrial technologies came mass commercialization. Quite simply, we can see that chocolate companies would not be what they are today without this commercial influence; specifically, the dutching process sparked a spread of commercialization across Europe, which allowed for the worldwide chocolate industry we have come to know and love. For example, Cadbury, one of the largest chocolate companies today, and Joseph Fry (founder of what is known as Mondolez International today) bought the dutching press; these two companies are credited to be the first companies to create and sell the chocolate bar. They also made the chocolate bar a highly accessible treat with aggressive advertising; this marketing scheme raked in millions of dollars for these companies (Beckett, Horn). It was the catalyst behind the beginning of giant factories built to keep up with this demand.
Thus, the chocolate bar became (and still is) a symbol for a quick, delicious treat for everyone and anyone.
Fry’s chocolate bar packaging (Foods of England)
Moreover, the dutching system then inspired the chocolate exportation business that brought chocolate on to an international stage – a few decades after the start of the chocolate bar, the Van Houten presses became powered by steam engines, and, just like with the Dubuisson’s steam engine, came with another Chocolate Revolution. The mass consumption and commercialization of chocolate began in European countries such as Germany and France, which eventually led its way to the United States (Beckett, Szogyi). These countries then started their own chocolate giants such as Hershey’s and Nestlé, which embody the same mass consumption and commercialization ideals that have advanced the history of chocolate along and allowed it to further churn.
Without the Industrial age, chocolate would just not be the same. It is literally unrecognizable from its Olmec and Mayan roots. From the Industrial Age, the Chocolate Age churned on and on – all starting with the advancements in steam and hydraulics.
Beckett, S.T, et al. Industrial Chocolate – Manufacture and Use. Wiley Publishers: Hoboken.
Horn, Jeff. The Industrial Revolution: History, Documents, and Key Questions. (2016). ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara.
Squicciarini, Mara P & Swinnen, Johan. (2016). The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
Smithsonian. Retrieved from http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/power-chocolate-reveals-true-roots-celebrated-food
Szogyi, Alex. (1997). Chocolate: Food of the Gods. Greenwood Publishing Group: Westport.
The Foods of England. Retrieved from http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/chocolate.htm
World Standards. Retrieved from http://www.worldstandards.eu/chocolate%20-%20history.html
Chocolate is one of the world’s most beloved treats. The mixture of chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter and flavors like vanilla, creates an indulgent taste that would not be made possible without the key ingredient, cacao. However, cacao and chocolate weren’t always easily accessible. Previously reserved as a treat for the elite, as the popularity of cacao increased, so did it’s availability to a wider audience. During the 19th century, chocolate became available to the masses because of industrial changes in production, new recipes and the improved treatment of workers, culminating in a dramatic increase in the consumption of chocolate.
Cacao has had a long and arduous journey to becoming one of the most sought after products. Cacao comes from the cacao tree, which produces cacao pods that house the cacao beans. The cacao tree only grows in twenty degrees south or north of the equator, providing limited number of growing areas. In Mesoamerica cacao was an integral part of the culture and daily lives of the Aztec, Maya and Olmec civilizations. They made beverages out of cacao and used it as currency. When the Spanish conquered Mesoamerica they began to consume cacao and brought it back to Spain. Cacao later spread to Italy, France, and England, becoming as beloved as it was in South America. Drinking chocolate became widely popular, as well as confectionary deserts using cacao. These treats like covered mousse, marzipan, sugared almonds and ice cream became a status symbol for elites and royalty in the 18th century.
Private chocolate chefs typically prepared chocolate confections. The techniques used to make these chocolate deserts were the same as the Mesoamericans. For example, the Thomas Tosier, who prepared King George I and George II’s chocolate, used a metate grinding stone, exactly like the Mesoamericans used to prepare their chocolate many years earlier. By grinding the cacao beans by hand it was difficult to create a fine texture. However, in 1828, Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented the Dutch Cocoa Press, which reduced cacao into a finer grain than had ever been previously possible. As Sophie and Michael D. Coe note in their book, The True History of Chocolate, the cocoa press allowed for drinking chocolate to be sold at much cheaper prices and chocolate began the transformation from a liquid to a solid. This revolutionary press only was the beginning of a string of inventions that changed the way that chocolate was produced. In 1826, Philippe Suchard invented the mélangeur, which mixed the chocolate ingredients together. Later, in 1879, Rudolphe Lindt invented the conching process, which further refined cocoa powder. Lindt’s invention is the reason why modern chocolate has a smooth consistency. Without these advancements, chocolate would have not been able to be produced on a large-scale.
As Sophie and Michael D. Coe note, the Van Houten’s Dutch Cocoa Press marked the beginning of a modern era for chocolate. The Dutch Cocoa Press also changed the color of chocolate, making people think that the chocolate was stronger.Image courtesy of Flickr.
It was not just mechanical advancements that spurred the consumption of chocolate, new innovations in chocolate products and recipes were created in the 19th century that became the start of modern-day chocolate products. In 1847, the company J.S. Fry & Sons had the revolutionary idea to create bars of chocolate. This was the first time that anyone had made chocolate into a bar. This innovative idea is now a fundamental part of chocolate culture, as nearly everyone around the world has consumed a chocolate bar. In addition, one of the most beloved flavors of chocolate was created during the 19th century. Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate in 1879, by adding powdered milk to the chocolate recipe. This invention would not have been possible without Henri Nestlé, who invented powdered milk in 1867. These new recipes further added to the popularity of chocolate and thus consumption of sugar and cacao rapidly increased.
The solid candy bar that J.S. Fry & Sons had invented in 1847, was first consumed by the rich because the price was so steep. This new invention also led to J.S. Fry & Sons becoming the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world at the time. Image courtesy of Flickr.
Due to the increase in the production of chocolate, there was a higher demand for cacao. New farms started in areas outside of South America and the Caribbean, mostly in West Africa. The majority of cacao was produced by slave labor. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century it finally became clear that coerced and forced labor was wrong. However, it was not until the nineteenth century when slavery began to be abolished, which coincidentally was around the same time when new production machines were being invented. These changes in the labor force improved the public opinion of companies and thus increased the consumption of chocolate.
Chocolate companies like, J.S. Fry & Sons, Cadbury, and Lindt, among others, grew into large-scale enterprises that were often under public scrutiny. Companies would be publically shamed for unethical business practices like slavery. Cadbury was subject to this scrutiny when in 1907 an article was published exposing Cadbury for knowingly using slave labor sourced cacao from São Tomé and Principe.  The public was shocked by these revelations and as a result Cadbury’s public reputation was tainted. Cadbury rebounded from the scandal by ceasing to purchase cacao from plantations that still used slavery. The São Tomé Cadbury case, illustrates how invested consumers were in the chocolate industry and were concerned about where their products were coming from.
Bournville was created to house the workers of the Cadbury factory. Since the town was established by Quakers, they did not have any pubs or alcohol allowed in the town, thus creating an environment with no bad temptations.Image courtesy of Flickr.
In contrast, the employees in chocolate factories in Europe and the United States were treated much better than those who worked on plantations. Companies like Hershey’s and Cadbury built towns for their workers and their families to live in. These towns not only housed the workers in the factories but also had schools, parks, and community centers among other attractions. These chocolate towns were revolutionary and the quality of product likely improved because of this excellent treatment. In an article by Fortune, titled “Being Happy at Work Really Makes You More Productive”, they discuss a study that has proven results that happier workers lead to more productivity, which leads to an increase in sales. Both Hershey’s and Cadbury have become leaders in the chocolate industry, stemming from the quality products that their workers have produced.
As a result of these advances in production, recipes, and treatment of workers, consumption of chocolate spiked significantly in the 19th century. This trend has continued even today, as the average American consumes twelve pounds of chocolate per year. This includes candy bars, truffles, hot chocolate, cakes and pastries. All of these modern forms of chocolate treats would not have been possible without the revolutionary changes that occurred and made chocolate a commodity for mass consumption. Chocolate has become available globally and is no longer a treat just for the elite. The chocolate revolution allowed for everyone to be able to enjoy this modern treat.
 Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate (New York: Thames & Hudson), 19.
 Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 33.
 Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 218-219.
The chocolate prevalently consumed today isn’t the chocolate known to the ancient Mesoamericans, or elite Europeans of the past. What was once a rich, decadent drink of the wealthy has now become a common confection, easily attainable by all members of our society. Due to the many innovations introduced during the Industrial Revolution, now most readily available chocolate is heavily processed and adulterated with sugar.
The chocolate the Mayans and Aztecs sipped was made by a process of grinding roasted cacao seeds until they formed chocolate liquor. This bitter, fatty liquid was mixed with corn flour, a little water, and some spices to add flavor. A similar process was used in Europe when the Spaniards first brought back cacao seeds from the New World in the 1500’s. “For many years cacao beans were roasted and ground into a thick, grainy paste (cacao mass or liquor), by methods differing very little form the pre-Columbian metate grinding…”(Presilla, 2009, p. 30). Pictured below is a metate, the grinding stone that would be heated and used to grind cacao seeds.
Figure 1. A Mesoamerican Metate used for grinding cacao.
As chocolate gained popularity throughout Europe, its target audience remained the same. “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 125). Several inventions in the 1800’s would eventually change chocolate’s status as an exclusive drink, to a low-cost food.
This change was first precipitated in 1828 by Conrad Van Houten from the Netherlands. Van Houten devised a way to use a hydrolyzed press in order to extract the cacao fat from chocolate liquor; leaving both cocoa powder and the cocoa butter. Cocoa powder was quicker to turn into hot chocolate than the traditional method, and the cocoa butter had many uses, such as making soaps. He further invented an alkalizing process which helped to make less acidic, smoother tasting cocoa powder (Presilla, 2009, p. 40).
Figure 2. Modern Melangeur used to mix ingredients.
Pictured above is a modern day version of a machine introduced during the industrial revolution, the Melangeur. This is a large mixer used to combine ingredients into a uniform dough. This added greater consistency and speed to an otherwise laborious process. In 1879 Rodolphe Lindt, of Switzerland, developed a machine to take the smoothing and combing process one step further. With his conching machine all grittiness could be removed and a truly smooth, melt in your mouth, solid, chocolate was created. During that same year another Swiss inventor, Daniel Peter, came up with the process of adding dried milk (Prescilla, 2009, p. 41).
Through trial and error, a self-stable bar chocolate was made from conching cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and dried milk. The end result was a product that could be made inexpensively on a very large scale. As the price went down, the demand rose. This new form of chocolate could not have been mass produced so cheaply without its main ingredient; sugar. Mintz (1987) tells us sugar changed from a luxury of the wealthy to a dietary staple of the poor in Britain (p. 133). Pictures below are sugar cane workers on the island of Jamaica in the 1880s. As sugar consumption increased in staggering rates in Europe and North America, the need for affordable mass labor led to slavery. Even after slavery was abolished, the working conditions of laborers on plantations was terrible.
Figure 3. Jamaican sugar cane works in the 1880’s.
The strong consumer demand in our society for ever more sweet treats has led chocolate manufacturers to look for ways to continue to make mass produce quantities of chocolate for as little money as possible. Of course this has resulted in paying sugar and cacao farmers as little as possible. Historically, before food and drug regulations, this also meant a free for all on adding cheaper ingredients into chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 244). Large scale chocolate making meant, and continues to mean, a reduction in overall chocolate quality.
Before chocolate became the conched bar of sugar, dried milk and cocoa we know of today, the quality of beans used mattered a great deal. The most prized beans came from the variety called Criollo. This name has lost significance outside of niche markets due to the nature of modern chocolate making. Many things can go awry when making cacao ready for eating. Not only do varies varieties, namely forastero, potentially have a less ideal flavor, issues can arise during growing, fermenting, drying and roasting. Van Houten’s alkali treatment and conching can both help salvage imperfect beans (Presilla, 2009, p. 41). The high amount of sugar can also help mask unpleasant flavors. After the Industrial Revolution Priscilla (2009) notes “Even excellent chocolate had become faceless and anonymous, for the great majority of consumers had no way of seeing and judging the cacao from which it was made (p. 41.)
Chocolate was once a fine crafted drink of elite Mesoamericans. Then cacao traveled to Europe, and for many years, was kept in the same tradition of being sipped by the upper class. Innovation, and an unfortunate acceptance of slave labor, allowed chocolate during the Industrial Revolution to be transformed. It became a common, edible food available to all of our society. The origin and quality of the ingredients has become unknown to the average consumer. Today most think of chocolate as a highly sweetened candy. This has not always been true. Chocolate had a different life long before industrialization.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.
Mintz, S. W. (1987). Sweetness and power: the place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin Books.
Presilla, M. E. (2009). The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
When we think of the word sugar, our mouths salivate as we imagine a candy bar or our favorite sweet dessert. As Professor Martin cited in lecture, “food has a fundamental taste that is desired from infancy”. We recognize sugar as a guilty indulgence; a food that everyone enjoys but knows is unhealthy, a snack that you want in the moment but regret when you are done. This is why it is so popular and so addictive but also why it is associated with obesity and overall poor health. This perception of sugar is how modern society has come to view it but as we have learned, the perception of sugar has evolved over the years. Historical changes in sugar consumption have been effected by a number of factors including significant price decreases and the introduction of mass production of sugar. This essay will attempt to sift through the historical lineage of sugar consumption in Britain and try to explain one of the most fascinating production curves of any major food group in history.
Timeline of Sugar
Sugar, or sucrose is a naturally occurring carbohydrate historically extracted from the sugarcane or sugar beet plants. In 1000 AD, few Europeans knew of the existence of sugar. As Sidney Mintz outlines in her book, it wasn’t until 1200 AD that sugar was introduced to England. From the time period of 1200 AD until around 1650 AD sugar was used as a spice, as medicine, as a decoration and ultimately as a sweetener but it was reserved for the elite and was not available to the general population of Britain. One report from Sugar Nutrition UK suggests that sugar was sold at two shillings per pound in 1319 – the equivalent of 50 euros in today’s money – therefore it was far too expensive to be consumed regularly by most British people. By 1650 as Mintz writes, “the nobility and the wealthy had become inveterate sugar eaters, and sugar figured in their medicine, literary imagery, and displays of rank.” (Mintz) By 1800, “sugar had become a necessity – albeit a costly and rare one – in the diet of every English person and by 1900 it was supplying nearly one-fifth of the calories in the English diet.” (Mintz) Today approximately 150 lbs of sugar are consumed per capita every year.
Post Industrial Revolution Sugar Production and Consumption
So what led to this rapid increase in consumption and availability of sugar over the last 200 years? The primary reason is the industrial revolution and the introduction of more efficient ways to produce sugar. This transition allowed for sugar to be produced at much larger scales for much less money. This drastic price decrease allowed people of all financial backgrounds to afford and consume sugary products. By the 1900’s sugar had become a staple in the British diet, but it wasn’t solely because the price had decreased. During the industrial revolution prices of other crops decreased without experiencing the same exponential growth in production as sugar. So what else contributed to this phenomenon?
Effects of Sugar on the Brain
The best explanation is that sugar is a desirable taste from infancy that affects certain brain pathways, which induce cravings for sugar. Sugar activates the same reward pathways in our brain that sex and drugs do. Stimulating these reward pathways releases dopamine in the brain, which produces a pleasurable and harmless response. However, if the reward system is activated too often it could be sent into overdrive. It kick starts a loss of control, craving and increase in tolerance that leads to an addiction to sugar. This is the reason why sugar has become such a problem in developing countries and is associated with diabetes and obesity.
It is important to understand that sugar is not harmful in and of itself. The modern day medical issues associated with chocolate have to do with over consumption and less to do with how bad sugar really is. The issue in developed countries is that individuals consume so much sugar that the body can’t process it. According to the American Heart Association the average male should consume no more than 37g of added sugar a day, however, in 2008 the average intake was around 77g per person. As we have seen throughout history, sugar is a harmless source of energy consumed by people across the world. The problem is that we have reached a point where we are consuming far too much sugar than we should and since it is so addicting it reinforces these cravings we have to consume even more. Sugar consumption has seen a remarkable exponential increase in the last 200 years and we must do our best to limit this upward trend in order to promote healthy living.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.
“Healthy Living.” Healthy Living. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. Study on Sugar Intake
Throughout the 1800s, the consumption of chocolate and sugar increased significantly. This was due to a combination of decreased sugar prices and technological advancements in the chocolate production. Sugar went from being a rarity to a staple of many people’s diets. This was important to the production of chocolate because sugar was and still is a major ingredient in chocolate. Several people also invented new machines and methods that made it easier for chocolate to be available for the masses. Without the decrease in sugar prices and these inventions, chocolate would not have become as important a part of society as it is today.
In 1828, Van Houten made one of the first big technological advancements in chocolate production by inventing the hydraulic press. The hydraulic press separates chocolate liquor into cocoa powder and cocoa butter. This made it both cheaper and easier to produce chocolate. “Van Houten’s invention of the defatting and alkalizing processes made possible the large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses, in both powdered and solid form” (Coe & Coe 235). His hydraulic press is pictured below. It uses high amounts of pressure to separate the chocolate liquor. Without this invention it would have been much more difficult for further advancements in chocolate production to occur, like chocolate bars.
Thanks to Van Houten’s invention of the hydraulic press, another man named Fry was able to invent the chocolate bar. As Coe & Coe explains, “[w]ith Van Houten’s breakthrough, the Fry enterprise-and the Fry dynasty-was ready to move into high gear… A milestone was passed in 1847, when the Fry firm found a way to mix a blend of cocoa powder and sugar with melted cacao butter… this produced a thinner, less viscous paste which could be cast into a mold… this was the world’s first true eating chocolate” (Coe & Coe 241). Without the separation of chocolate liquor into cocoa power and butter, it would have been difficult to create a mixture that could have been combined in such a way. Below is an image of an advertisement for Fry’s chocolate bars. This image shows the shift from chocolate as something that only the rich might eat into something available for the masses, and specifically poorer families and children. Sugar and chocolate became a replacement for other foods as their prices decreased. The lack of time required for preparation also contributed to this.
In 1840-1870 there were big price drops in sugar. Mintz explains that “In the 1800s, the national consumption was about 300 million pounds per year; once the duties began to be equalized and the price to drop, consumption rose, to a billion pounds in 1852… Without the price drops, consumption could not have risen so fast” (243). If sugar prices had not decreased it would not have been so easy for chocolate bars like Fry’s to be made available to the general public. It is also interesting that “the biggest sucrose consumers, especially after 1850, came to be the poor, whereas before 1750 they had been the rich” (Mintz 148). This is especially important because part of the reason that chocolate is so popular today is that it is affordable for everyone. It is also interesting to note that Fry was able to produce chocolate bars around the same time that sugar prices drop. This likely would not have been possible without the drop.
In 1879, Rudolphe Lindt invented “conching,” which improved the quality of chocolate making (Coe & Coe 248). Conching led to an important improvement in the taste of chocolate. The taste and texture of chocolate that most recognize today is largely thanks to Lindt. As Coe & Coe explains, “After 72 or more hours of such rock-and-roll treatment, the chocolate mass reaches the desired flavor, as well as attaining a high degree of smoothness, due to a reduction in the size of particles. Before Lindt, eating chocolate was usually coarse and gritty; now it had achieved such a degree of suavity and mellowness” (248). A conche is shown in the image below. This specific machine was used at Hershey. The ridges and rollers pictured below create this “rock-and-roll” treatment. In some factories, like Hershey’s, there would be entire rooms filled with conche machines.
The production of chocolate was revolutionized thanks to the above inventions and the decrease in the cost of sugar. Without these things, chocolate would likely not be as pervasive in society as it is today.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
The popularity of cane sugar in Britain quickly rose from the 17th through the 20th centuries, after its introduction from the New World, but its uses changed several times throughout this period. In Sweetness and Power, Mintz breaks down sugar use in Britain during this period into 5 categories: medicine, spice, decoration, sweetener, and preservative (Mintz 78). The most popular, or common, of these uses varied over time; for example, in the 17th century, when sugar remained an expensive rarity, it was more commonly used as a medicine, spice, or decoration. By the end of the 19th century, however, sugar’s popularity was firmly rooted in its use as a sweetener. Mintz points out that at this time it had become a “virtual necessity” (Mintz 148), yet fails to effectively incorporate this into his categorization of its uses. How can any one, or a combination, of these uses explain the enormous part that sugar came to play in the diet of the average English person, representing one-fifth of daily caloric intake (Mintz 5-6)? Rather, by the beginning of the 20th century, a sixth use developed for cane sugar, which is able to more thoroughly explain its rise in status from luxury to necessity. After the industrial revolution, sugar came to be used as a nutrient, an absolute requirement for the sustenance of many middle class families, due to its source of cheap energy during a time when the rise of an industrialized economy necessitated such sources for productivity.
There is remarkable alignment of the changes in sugar consumption and the manufacturing economy in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. The industrial revolution, which was the major turnover in manufacturing processes to the large-scale use of machines, took place in England roughly between the mid 1750 and mid 1840 (Landes 3-8). While it is difficult to determine causality between the industrial revolution and the rise of sugar consumption, we should note that this period of time contains the only roughly exponential change in the rate of increase of sugar consumption in British history (Image 1). This reflects a strong correlation between the rate of change of sugar consumption and the rate of mechanization of the British economy, as demonstrated by the change in fuel use during this time (Image 2). This change in sugar consumption was due to a massive transition in sugar consumption demographics, from consumption only by the wealthy in the early 18th century to consumption by all middle class British citizens by the mid 19th century (Mintz 147-148). Just after 1850, the price of sugar dropped dramatically, enabling its purchase in massive quantities by the middle class, and setting the stage for the use of sugar to expand beyond Mintz’s categorizations and into a staple of the diet. Though these changes in sugar consumption may have not been directly caused by industrialization, their co-occurrence allowed sugar to enter into use as a fundamental nutrient of the English diet.
So why does industrialization align so well with the dramatic changes in sugar consumption we see at this time? Industrialization necessitated cheap sources of quick energy for both the workers and for non-working family members (usually women and children). Carbohydrates were incredibly important for both agricultural and industrial workers, which is reflected in the prominence of bread in their diets, on which working class families spent anywhere from 50-70% of their food budget (Griffin 16 and Feinstein 635). With the sudden increase in the availability of sugar just after the industrialization of the British economy, another source of cheap, even quicker, energy could be introduced to their diets. Further, though workers did consume sugar for energy, especially industrial workers, who consumed twice as much as agricultural workers (Griffin 14), sugar became even more important to the families as a means of cheaply boosting energy of the non-workers. High protein foods, such as meat, were expensive for these families, and so a great majority of products like these were reserved only for the working men of the families (Martin and Griffin 11). Even in situations where the women or children in a family worked, it was often thought that they needed less protein than men, and so this inequality in consumption was maintained. For this reason, sugar became incredibly important to the diets of women and children, taking up roughly 20% of their daily caloric intake, as discussed earlier. This type of consumption is clearly reflected in the advertising of sugary drinks and candy bars at this time, which were heavily targeted at women and children and noted such products’ abilities to prevent exhaustion and give nourishment (Image 3).
An analysis of the change in sugar consumption and availability during the 18th and 19th centuries, together with an understanding of the dietary needs of workers in an industrialized economy, allows us to more completely understand the rise of sugar consumption—a rise that continues today. In examining these factors and the advertisements that reflect the culture of sugar consumption in this period, we realize that Mintz’s categorizations of sugar’s uses was incomplete. The industrial economy and the need for cheap, quick, energy that it propelled, both at work and in the home, drove sugar to move beyond its earlier uses, and to become considered a necessary nutrient.
Feinstein, Charles H. “Pessimism perpetuated: real wages and the standard of living in Britain during and after the industrial revolution.” The Journal of Economic History 58.03 (1998): 625-658.
Griffin, Emma. “Living Standards in the British Industrial Revolution: Evidence from Workers’ Diets.” Living Standards in the British Industrial Revolution: Evidence from Workers’ Diets. Academia.edu, n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.
Landes, David S. The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present. London: Cambridge U.P., 1969. Print.
Martin, Carla D. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 24 Feb. 2016. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Image: Sugar advertisement. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 24 Feb. 2016. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao.” Image: sugar consumption over time. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 17 Feb. 2016. Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.
Rautner, Margaret T. “The Industrial Revolution – Infogram, Charts & Infographics.” Image: fuel use over time. Infogram. Infogram, n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.
Chocolate’s life journey is a captivating tale that spans almost three millennia, but its most crucial juncture might have been the influence of inventions during the time of the Industrial Revolution. Chocolate, today, hardly resembles its late 18th century predecessor and has undergone a major shift in consumption and social status since. The innovations explored below chronicle the Industrial Revolution as the catalyst that generated a seismic shift in both status and consumption of chocolate; and demonstrates how converging 19th century innovations repositioned chocolate from a luxury item to a commonplace snack.
According to Coe and Coe (232), “for at least 28 centuries, chocolate had been a drink of the elite and the very rich,” and the Industrial Revolution was the driving force that metamorphosed chocolate from a costly drink to a cheap food. Crucial to this transformation was a group of pioneering chocolate makers whose ingenious inventions converged to truly transform chocolate. The harbinger of future mechanization arrived when twelve year old Swiss, Philippe Suchard, upon realizing the cost of chocolate at the time, decided to make his own. By 1826, Suchard had not only succeeded in making chocolate, but had invented “the world’s first mélangeur or mixing machine” (Coe & Coe, 232).
However, the turning point for chocolate production occurred in 1828 when an invention by Dutch pioneer, Coenraad Van Houten, facilitated groundbreaking advancement in chocolate making. Van Houten’s hydraulic press refined the process by removing most of the cacao butter from cacao liquor, leaving behind a solid “cake” of cocoa, which could be repurposed in many ways. Van Houten further refined cocoa powder by treating it with alkali substances that significantly reduced its bitterness thereby creating the perception of stronger flavor (Coe & Coe 234). It was these key improvements that ushered in a new era of chocolate making. Coe and Coe put it this way:
“. . . in the year 1828, the age-old, thick and foamy drink was dethroned by easily prepared, more easily digestible cocoa. Van Houten’s invention . . . made possible the large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses . . .”
The hydraulic press made mass produced chocolate a feasible endeavor and chocolate entrepreneurs envisioned the possibilities that this breakthrough created. By 1847 J. S. Fry & Sons had achieved a major milestone: they discovered a method for molding chocolate into bars, “which they christened Chocolat Délicieux a Manger . . . the world’s first true eating chocolate” (Coe & Coe, 241). In so doing, Fry paved the way for future possibilities . . .
By 1867, Henri Nestlé, a Swiss chemist, “discovered a process to make powered milk by evaporation,” and fortuitously laid the foundation for future enhancements in chocolate making. Nestlé had developed the key ingredient that fellow countryman Daniel Peter would later add to his chocolate production—and so it was that the milk chocolate bar was born in 1879 (Coe & Coe, 247). By then, chocolate’s makeover was well on its way, but there was one more wrinkle to be smoothed—chocolate bars still had a hard, grainy consistency.
This displeasing characteristic was apparently the impetus that drove another Swiss, Rodolphe Lindt, to keep experimenting with various techniques—he was determined to make chocolate’s consistency more agreeable (Lindt.com). Lindt’s perseverance paid off in 1879—enter the conche and a technique Lindt called “conching.” The mechanics of Lindt’s conche machine transformed chocolate’s grainy consistency into a smooth, velvety, molten experience. Soon enough, the quality of Lindt’s fondant chocolate became the norm, setting the bar that still endures today .
These innovations forever changed the chocolate industry by creating the conditions for expansion and competition among manufacturers eager to capitalize upon the emerging market—“Chocolate confections had now become big business in Great Britain, the continent, and in America” (Coe & Coe, 242). This enormous increase in demand encouraged more manufacturing, which in turn lowered chocolate’s price point as manufacturers competed for a place of prominence. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Milton S. Hershey was fast becoming “a formidable rival to . . . European competitors,” and by the 1980s approximately 25 million Hershey Kisses were produced daily [Coe & Coe, 252]. Hershey was fast building a loyal following of consumers and would eventually become a household name in America.
Today, chocolate, a once opulent ambrosia has come full circle and can boast its own grand cru. But at the same time chocolate is also readily available in multiple forms via myriad brands, strategically positioned near retail checkout counters as an impulse-buy item available to all strata of 21st century society.
D’Antonio, Michael. Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. 2006. New York, NY. Simon & Schuster.
Coe, S. D. and Coe, M. D. (2013) The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson.
Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food Lecture Slides 2016.”
Boxes of chocolates, chocolate bars, cakes, a hot cup of cocoa, brownies, chocolate mousse, chocolate chip cookies… who doesn’t indulge in chocolate in some form or another? I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people love chocolate. And why wouldn’t we? There have been hundreds of variations of chocolate for every occasion and for many chocolate taste bud preferences. Chocolate seems to be a part of our everyday lives and we have had a long historical relationship with it. The journey of chocolate becoming a commonly consumed food item to enjoy is not only interesting but it is continually developing. Consumption and innovation throughout history have kept chocolate in demand. Different eras have added new and delightful versions and forms of chocolate that we consume today.
When chocolate made it’s way to England in the 1650s it became popular with the royals and aristocrats, but it was only the elite that could afford the expensive Spanish import (Klein, Christopher). Most commonly the wealthy enjoyed chocolate drinks as a celebrated elixir with salubrious benefits (Klein, Christopher). “As the popularity of chocolate grew, so did the number of cocoa growing countries in the world” (Discovering Chocolate). When more cocoa beans became available to a wider population this greatly contributed to the popularization of chocolate, and so “the price of cocoa beans gradually began to fall as greater quantities came onto the market” (Discovering Chocolate). In addition, in 1853, a significant reduction of import duties were made with the Industrial Revolution making transporting the commodity more lucrative (Discovering Chocolate).
It wasn’t until Johannes Van Houten invented the hydraulic press in 1828 that chocolate-making revolutionized. The hydraulic press squeezes the cocoa butter from the cacao beans producing a dry cake that then gets pulverized into a fine powder, or as we know it, cocoa powder. During this progressive time in chocolate’s history, chocolate began to develop from its drinkable form into other forms that we are more familiar with. Johannes Van Houten’s innovation permitted cocoa to be mixed with other ingredients which enabled it to be used as a confectionary ingredient. This development also created a drop in production costs, making chocolate more affordable to the masses thereby increasing demand.
From Johannes Van Houten’s creation came many other developments in chocolate’s journey, like Joseph Fry’s manufacturing of the first chocolate bars for eating in 1847. Henri Nestle mastered the art of powdered milk, which in turn enabled Daniel Peter to create the first milk chocolate bar in 1867. Each of these innovations contributed to the next chocolate transformation, bringing more varitys and ways to consume it.
As chocolate became increasingly more popular chocolate producers were stretching it with fillers to satisfy the growing demand. A scandal in production required the British government to intervene with an enforceable act to stop the chocolate producers from using inappropriate fillers to produce their chocolate products more cheaply. The Food and Drugs Act was passed in 1860. Cadbury’s name in particularly was tarnished when they got caught cutting their products with brick dust, iron filings, and lichen. Unsurprisingly the consumers were not amused. Cadbury came back strong from the scandal by developing improved products with their new slogan “absolutely pure.” The scandal did not prevent chocolate’s journey to become one of the most commonly consumed sweets in the world.
The next major and significant invention in chocolate production was Rudolph Lindt’s conching process in 1897. The conch is a kneading machine which refines chocolate into small particle sizes and creates velvety texture to chocolate with a superior taste(Klein, Christopher).
Chocolate became a mass-produced food product with ever-increasing consumer demand. The chocolate boom in the late 1800s and early 1900s has yet to fade (Klein, Christopher). If anything, chocolate consumption continues to rise. The average American today consumes 12 lbs of chocolate a year, Swedish people consume a whopping 20 lbs a year, and $75 billion is spent annually on chocolateworldwide (Klein, Christopher).
Modern manufacturing of chocolate is very industrialized and commercialized. For example, the most popular chocolate product is M&Ms. M&Ms are a Mars company product that generates $417.7 million in sales annually (The Daily Meal). There are multiple factories that produce M&Ms in a large industrialized fashion, as seen in the following video:
Although M&Ms and similar chocolate products are items commonly consumed, home cooked chocolate treats have a special emotional “factor.” Chocolate consumption that is made at home will more than likely be something more similar to chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cakes, or brownies very different from the industrialized M&Ms. With homemade sweet treats there comes an added sense of comfort. In Nigella Lawson’s double chocolate chip cookies recipe seen below, we can only imagine the comfort and satisfaction one might get from bitting into the delicious looking cookies:
The waychocolate is being made is continually changing. We have been making chocolate in a heavily commercial and industrialized way since the mid-1800s. However, now consumers seem to prefer chocolate made a more historic way, which is smaller scale than industrialized production, the slower and more attentive process creates more refined and flavorful chocolate. Fair trade and other alike qualifications are also becoming increasingly important for consumers purchasing choices. As production methods continue to evolve and the innovation of new products enter the market for reasons of price, taste, and now growing ethics, the demand will also continue to increase. It is however the industrialization of chocolate that is perahps the most significant milestone in chocolate’s historic journey which enabled chocolate to reach the masses. Humanity’s most enjoyed and indulgent foods for centuries owes the industrialisation era of chocolate to become a widespread and accessible pleasure to all. Without it chocolate may have remained and indulgent food of the elite.