When we consume rich, delicious chocolate, what we often fail to understand, more so than its impact on our health, is its history. There are two common misconceptions surrounding chocolate. The first of which is the assumption that chocolate is essentially the same as cacao; in actuality, chocolate is a product created through an extensive preparation of the seeds of cacao, a raw material taken from the tree. Second, we often make the mistake of believing chocolate found its roots in European history. This is a completely false impression, one which has been sustained by centuries of misleading advertisements and products. Spanish invaders actually “derived their earliest real knowledge of cacao, and the very word ‘cacao’” from the Maya, an ancient civilization of the Yucatán Peninsula (Coe, & Coe; pg 421). In fact, for these Mesoamericans, cacao served as much more than a flavorful taste. Cacao played a significant role in the social, spiritual, and ritualistic practices of the Mayan societies, earning a highly symbolic role in Maya culture.
The Rich Mayans:
For the Maya people, “cacao was a proper offering in healing rituals, to endorse marriage alliances, and to ensure successful travel,” as well as in banquets, weddings, and burials (Martin & Sampeck; pg 39). Through extensive research, archaeologists and Mayanists have determined that the Maya elite class would host special feasts in which a drink made from cacao would be consumed. Although there is evidence which proves the ceremonial use of chocolate by the nobility and the rulers, it remains unknown whether chocolate was also consumed regularly in more casual settings by all of the Mayan people (Davidson; pg 485). Nonetheless, the consistent presence of cacao in such meaningful traditions speaks to the undebatable importance of cacao in the eyes of the Mayans. This presence was able to be documented with confidence due to the hieroglyphic writing employed by the Maya. Through studying various texts and inscribed vessels, researchers determined that “among the things [Mayans] wrote about was cacao” (Coe, & Coe; pg 538). Unfortunately, due to the use of “perishable bark paper,” only four books still exist and can continue to be interpreted (Coe, & Coe; pg 538). Out of these four books, two contain noteworthy references to cacao: the Dresden Codex and Madrid Codex.
In the Dresden Codex, there are several sections which address the “ritual activities tied in to the Maya’s sacred 260-day cycle” (Coe, & Coe; pg 563). The text contains images which depict gods holding cacao pods, as well as dishes containing cacao beans. We can be certain that these beans are in fact cacao due to the discovery of a Russian epigrapher, Yuri V. Knorosov. In the 1950s, he deciphered how to interpret and read these Maya texts. Knorosov figured out the “phonetic part of the [hieroglyphic] script” (Coe, & Coe; pg 563). Thus, he unlocked our ability to observe the many explicit references to cacao pods and beans in these texts. In one section of the Dresden Codex, there is text above each deity which states “that what is held in the hand is ‘his cacao [u kakaw]’” (Coe, & Coe; pg 564). Additionally, a page of the Dresden “dealing with the New Year ceremonies so important in the Post-Classic Yucatán,” includes a segment where “the Opossum God travels a sacred road to the edge of the town carrying the Rain God on his back, while the associated text tells us that ‘cacao is his food [kakaw u hanal]” (Coe, & Coe; pg 563).
The pairing of cacao with powerful, spiritual figures, such as gods, lends credence to the concept that cacao beans were truly seen as valuable by the Mayans. Furthermore, cacao also appears in the Madrid Codex in a similar manner. In one instance, “an unidentified young god squats while grasping limbs from a cacao tree” (Coe, & Coe; pg 563). In another, there is a depiction of “four gods piercing their own ears,” and “scattering showers of precious blood over cacao pods” (Coe, & Coe; pg 564). Upon first glance these references to cacao could seem inconsequential; however, when considering the spiritual context in which they are presented, it becomes clear that cacao was indeed a keystone principle of Maya culture.
The Río Azul Vessel:
As aforementioned, cacao was utilized in both the marriage rituals, and rites of death in Maya society. In marriage ceremonies, the chocolate serving rituals were used to cement the union; the use of cacao could symbolize marriage negotiations or the dowry (Martin, 2020). In contrast, cacao was also present in the rites of death, or burial ceremonies, for the Maya elite class. Oftentimes, “the honored dead were lavishly accompanied by special offerings to sustain them in the afterlife” (Coe, & Coe; pg 576). Specifically, “pottery dishes, bowls, and cylindrical vases” which carried food and drink would be placed next to the body, for “the ruler or noble (or his wife) to enjoy in the abode of the dead” (Coe, & Coe; pg 576). These vessels would often contain cacao which at times would be dyed red to resemble blood (Martin, 2020). The cacao was meant to ease the soul of the dead, as they traveled to the underworld. It is assumed that this was done as the Mayans understood cacao as a provider of energy; therefore, it was seen as a useful aid to sustain the soul on its journey.
Much of the evidence for the “Classic Maya use of cacao survives on the elegantly painted or carved vessels that accompanied the elite in their tombs and graves” (Coe, & Coe; pg 576). In 1984, at Río Azul (a Maya city), archaeologists made a key discovery in a Classic Maya tomb. Through collaboration between archaeologists, Mayanists, and Hershey chemists, it was proven that the tomb was “full of the paraphernalia of chocolate consumption” (Coe, & Coe; pg 620). The Río Azul vessels were transported to the Hershey laboratory; it was there that they discovered that the vessels contained both caffeine and theobromine in the residue. This was critical, as “the only plant or organic material in all of ancient America that can produce those two chemical signatures together are cacao” (Ewbank, 2019). Consequently, it was concluded that the Mayans most likely placed several different chocolate drinks in the tomb of the dead lord (Coe, & Coe; pg 620).
Hall, Grant D., et al. “Cacao Residues in Ancient Maya Vessels from Rio Azul, Guatemala.” American Antiquity, vol. 55, no. 1, 1990. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/281499. Accessed 23 Mar. 2020.
In the sixteenth century, Spain and Portugal conquered the majority of the continental territory of the Americas. Civilizations that inhabited present-day Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, and other countries were conquered by Spanish conquistadors. The Spanish initially adopted traditional slavery as it had been practiced in the West Indies. But the encomienda was introduced in the early 1500s as an alternate form of forced labor as a response to a mandate emitted by Pope Paul III Farnese.
While scholars often refer to the Spanish encomienda as a system of labor, it should be highlighted that it was a form of slavery. The encomienda was forced labor with unrealistic and abusive expectations from workers. The Spanish encomienda was a type of slavery because the encomenderos controlled the work and lifestyle of workers native to the Americas. By calling the Spanish encomienda a “system,” scholars have suggested a dangerous separation from our idea of slavery. This separation is rooted in the rhetoric used by the Spanish monarchy to justify the implementation of the encomienda.
An encomienda was an organization by which Spaniards (encomenderos) managed property rights over the land and labor of natives from the Americas. Spaniards demanded a quota or percentage of the output from the labor of natives. This could be in the form of goods, metals, currency, or other types of services. Encomenderos would provide instruction in the Catholic faith, pay taxes to the Spanish Crown, and provide military protection over the land. The encomienda was established after “Pope Paul III Farnese published the bull Sublima Deus, excommunicating any Christian who enslaved [natives to the Americas]” in 1537.
This image above is a mural painted by Diego Rivera in Mexico’s National Palace. We see a clear depiction of the abuses that the Aztecs suffered when working to produce the output that the Spaniards demanded. There is a member of the high Spanish aristocracy in the middle of this mural receiving payment from another Spaniard, with an individual between them recording the transaction. This is probably a depiction of an encomendero paying a representative of the Spanish Crown his due taxes. The atrocities in this mural happen around this transaction and clear depictions of the involvement of Catholic instruction. Spaniards exploited and mistreated natives, as depicted in the strenuous work of Aztecs of chopping and carrying tree trunks while a friar raises the Holy Cross, with the justification of a need to spread Catholicism.
Although the rhetoric around the encomienda in the sixteenth century was that of a less brutal system to slavery, rules of the encomienda could make it even more brutal work than the slavery form of labor practiced when the conquistadores initially settled in New Spain. Encomenderos were forbidden inheritance rights. Encomiendas did not automatically transfer to future generations. They would revert to the Crown upon the death of the second-generation encomendero.
Inheritance prohibition, combined with the abolition of slave ownership, lead to incentives for encomenderos to destroy human capital more quickly than before. Second-generation encomenderos had no assurance that their family members would enjoy the fruits generated by their management and their workers after their deaths. Natives were not legally owned by Spaniards. Encomenderos, therefore, had no reason to watch for the health of Aztecs, Mayans, and other people native to the Americas. The encomienda prohibited the relocation of workers by the encomenderos. While this proved beneficial for keeping families together, the inability to trade and rent people forced to work under the encomienda to other Spaniards reduced economies of scale and incentivized Spaniards to demand higher productivity—even if that meant forcing working painfully long shifts in arduous conditions.
The encomienda prevailed for a couple of centuries and was especially popular in Soconusco and its neighboring fertile regions. Soconusco—home to the world’s premier cacao in the sixteenth century—is part of a large, Pacific lowland plain which runs all the way from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec down to the border country of Guatemala and El Salvador.
“So rich was this piedmont zone in this product that highland Maya kingdoms had vied for control of these lands, and the Aztecs had made their most profitable conquest by taking over Soconusco. Lured by the cacao, the Spaniards were here soon after the Conquest.”
Soconusco was an incredibly important region for the Spaniards not only because they needed to satisfy the growing popularity and demand for cacao in Europe, but also because cacao seeds were used as currency in parts of New Spain. The Spanish conquistadores therefore filled these regions with encomiendas that grew cacao in lands rich in conditions suited for the growth of Theobroma cacao.
The Spanish continued using the encomienda extensively in conquered lands, even by the beginning of the eighteenth century. The Sublima Deus emitted by Pope Paul III Farnese set up a path for Spanish Crown to justify the encomienda. The transition from slavery to the encomienda was surrounded by the rhetoric of a divine intervention and action. The narrative was that of a transition from brutality to a Pope-approved form of labor—even if cruelty did not cease. The Sublima Deus set up the encomienda, not because the Pope suggested such “system,” but because he affirmed that “the Indians are truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but, according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it.” The Spanish Crown therefore justified this form of forced labor by offering Catholic instruction, even if thousands of natives to the Americas fought to preserve their cultures and religions.
The Spanish Crown also justified the encomienda with the provision of “protection.” Yet the presence of Spaniards did the opposite. Spaniards brought diseases from Europe in their bodies, vessels, and cargos. The testimony of Bernal del Castillo evidenced the impact of the Spanish presence in the population of Soconusco:
“Let us turn to the province of Soconusco… it used to be peopled by more than 15,000 [heads of households]… and the whole province was a garden of cacao trees and was very pleasant, and now… it is so desolate and abandoned that there are no more than twelve hundred inhabitants in it.”
The Spanish brought diseases to the Americas to which the immune systems of the natives to the Americas had never been exposed. These diseases wiped out the vast majority of populations across New Spain, including Soconusco’s. The Spanish promised protection, but their proximity to those natives working under the encomienda proved more deadly than any war or famine these civilizations had endured.
Overall, there is no question that the encomienda was a form of slavery, even if scholars repeatedly dismiss this fact by constantly focusing on the organization of this “system” rather than its brutality. The Spanish used the spread of Catholicism to justify this form of slavery, mainly as a response to the Sublima Deus. The protection that Spaniards provided to those working under the encomienda was actually an attack on the safety and health of entire civilizations. Spaniards robbed natives to the Americas their ability to practice and pass on their culture, legacy, tradition, and religion by forcing them to work under the encomienda. And the production of cacao incentivized the spread of such form of slavery.
Coe, S. (2019). The True History of Chocolate.
Kaplan, Jonathan. “Cacao Heartland in the Southern Maya Region.” Research Gate.
McAlister, L. (1984). Spain and Portugal in the New World, 1492-1700 (Europe and the world in the Age of Expansion ; v. 3). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Pope Paul III Farnese. “Sublimis Deus.” Historia De México, Funación Carlos Slim, 1537.
Rivera, Diego. La Conquista Española De La Nación Azteca.
Yeager, T. (1995). Encomienda or Slavery? The Spanish Crown’s Choice of Labor Organization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America. The Journal of Economic History,55(4), 842-859. Retrieved March 22, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2123819
The influence of chocolate in Mesoamerica was seen in many aspects of Mesoamerican life prior to the arrival of the Spanish to the Americas: it was present in cultural, religious, and economic areas of life in Mayan communities. In Mayan culture, it is clear that they believed that the “gods provided recipes for making cocoa drinks, which gave those drinks high status and political significance”. 1 It is true that many aspects of Mesoamerican life changed after the arrival of Hernan Cortes and the Spanish in what is modern day Mexico and parts of Central America. The strong influence in Mesoamerican culture was one of the aspects of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican culture that did survive many of the transformations that occurred once the Spanish began to introduce European culture into the way of life of the Mayans. Although chocolate was still a mainstay in Mesoamerican society after the Spanish arrived, there were many aspects of the role of chocolate that did change from the time that chocolate was seen as a sacred item in Mayan society. One clear example is how in “ancient Maya religion cacao was the first food to grow from the body of the maize god.” 2 This shows how cacao was not only used practically in religious rituals, such as during Mayan marriage and baptism rituals 3, but it held a critical role in the sacred texts and stories that served as the foundation of what quotidian Mayan life was like. Similarly, cacao seeds were also seen as important because they were used as currency which you could use to buy food and other items in Mayan society.4 We see traces of the power that had been assigned to chocolate in modern Mesoamerica—which exemplifies the power that the cacao seeds had in Mayan societies since it was able to maintain a role culturally despite the massive cultural changes that were imposed on indigenous people once the colonial period began. The most striking example of how the role of cacao seeds has largely remained unchanged is how it is still used to make chocolate beverages that are still very similar to the recipes that were being used during the colonial period by the indigenous population.5 Although the essence of the chocolate beverage drink has remained the same since the Spanish conquered the Mayan people, there has been a couple of changes to the original chocolate beverage recipe: the indigenous people now use chocolate tablets when they start making the drink instead of starting from scratch with cacao seeds.6 What is most telling of the evolution of this ingredient is the fact that these tablets are usually purchased and they are made in a factory—quite different from the rigorous process of grounding the kernel and beaten with “water, flavorings, and usually maize to make a drink.” 7 Similar to this aforementioned change in chocolate, indigenous people now add sugar to the chocolate beverage recipes—which is different from the classic Maya hot chocolate and a byproduct of the evolution of hot chocolate once there was European influenced involved8, as you can see in the video published by National Geographic (that can be accessed through https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/guatemala/anitgua-maya-chocolate-making/ ). Yet, if we fast forward to modern day Mesoamerica we do see a more dramatic change in how current-day Mayans use cacao seeds in their culture and in their society. A significant change we can see is that Mayans no longer use cacao seeds as currency as they used to back in Pre-Columbian times since researchers have not been able to find any 20th century ethnographers that have been able to document the use of cacao as money. 9
An explanation for why people may no longer use cacao as currency is because the new generation of indigenous people in Mexico see a tie between chocolate and poverty since it is so laborious to cultivate and not financially sustainable.10 As mentioned in the video below.
Additionally, there are examples of how much more localized the use of cacao has become in modern Mayan societies. Indigenous communities in Guatemala and Honduras have a cacao market where trade is restricted within the “Maya and Ladino communities in which it is produced or between closely associated areas.” This is in contrast to the use of cacao and cacao-based feasts during feasts that were intended to create sociopolitical alliances between different tribes and different Mayan factions.11 All in all, the connection between cacao and Mayan culture has evolved and/or disappeared, but there are also many characteristics of Mayan culture that have remained the same throughout the years and throughout all of the political and cultural changes that started happening during the Colonia Period. However, it is certain that ever since 1900 BCE12 —the earliest record of cacao seeds, cacao has been a critical part of Mesoamerican culture that has transformed and evolved from the chocolate beverages that the Mayans prepared in Pre-Columbian times to the chocolate bars that indigenous people now use to help emulate the chocolate drinks that their ancestors drank. This is eloquently explained in the video below by Ted-ed.
1 Kristy Leissle, Cocoa (Cambridge: Polity, 2018), 21 2 Cameron L. McNeil, “Introduction,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica, ed. Cameron L. McNeil. (Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009), 14. 3 Ibid, 18. 4 Mary Ann Mahony, review of Chocolate in Mesoamerica, by Cameron L. McNeil, University Press of Florida, 2009. Review page 175 5 Cameron L. McNeil, “Traditional Cacao Use in Modern Mesoamerica,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica, ed. Cameron L. McNeil. (Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009), 346. 6 Ibid, 348. 7 Terrence Kaufman and Justeson, “The History of the Word for ‘Cacao’ and Related Terms in Ancient Meso-America,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica, ed. Cameron L. McNeil. (Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009), 117. 8 Gulnaz Khan, “Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate-Making,” National Geographic, September 11, 2017, Accessed March 14, 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/guatemala/anitgua-maya-chocolate-making/. 9 Cameron L. McNeil, “Traditional Cacao Use in Modern Mesoamerica,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica, ed. Cameron L. McNeil. (Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009), 356. 10 The Perennial Plate, “An Act of Resistance,” Filmed [February 2014], Vimeo video, 04:03. Posted [February 2014], https://vimeo.com/85727477. 11 Dorie Reents-Budet, “The Social Context of Kakaw Drinking among the Ancient Maya,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica, ed. Cameron L. McNeil. (Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009), 209. 12 Ted-ed, “The history of chocolate,” Filmed [March 2017], YouTube video, 04:40. Posted [March 2017], https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibjUpk9Iagk.
Chia seeds, coca, cacao and their derivatives were used by the ancient civilizations of the Mayans, Aztecs, Olmecs and Incans in a variety of ways for a variety of different reasons. They were used as sacrifices, as food, and even as a currency. Chia, coca, and cacao share a lot more in common than these words starting with the same letter; most people, however, do not know that. Exploring the relationships between these substances is vital to understanding how these substances had shaped the civilizations of the past and is still shaping ours today.
Chia seeds were a staple in the diet of Aztec civilizations along with beans, amaranth, and maize.There is ample evidence to suggest that Mayans also consumed chia seeds in their diet due to “chia” translating to “strength”  in Mayan and the region of Chiapas, which comes from Chiapan meaning “river of the chia”. The Aztecs offered these seeds to their gods during religious ceremonies and were consumed with the thought that it had supernatural powers. “Ancient warriors attributed their stamina to this tiny seed.”  It is worth noting that a diet consisting of the four aforementioned crops meet today’s Food and Agricultural Organization diet requirements. Chia seeds, as we now know, are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and dietary fiber. These supernatural seeds have an extraordinary ability to absorb water and it can be visualized in this video: https://youtu.be/ZyjK3nOxzjs. The reported “increased stamina” after consuming these seeds is because of this high absorption ability of them.
The coca plant is most commonly found on the Andes mountain range in Peru and Bolivia, the home of the ancient Incan civilization. The following excerpt from Sigmund Freud’s “Uber Coca” shows how coca was viewed and used by the indigenous people that cultivated it:
When the Spanish conquerors forced their way into Peru they found that the coca plant was cultivated and was closely connected with the religious customs of the people. Legend held that Manco Capac, the divine son of the Sun, had descended brought them knowledge of the gods, taught them the useful arts, and given them the coca leaf, this divine plant which satiates the hungry, strengthens the weak, and causes them to forget their misfortune. Coca leaves were offered in sacrifice to the gods, were chewed during religious ceremonies, and were even placed in the mouths of the dead in order to assure them of a favorable reception in the beyond.
Like the chia seeds, there is a religious significance embedded in the society’s use of the coca plant. Coca leaves like chia seeds were cited to have supernatural and miraculous powers. Freud points out the story of a sixty two year old man performing “laborious excavation work for five days and nights” all while sleeping no more than two hours and consuming nothing but coca leaves. Nowadays, tourists in the Andes are given a tea made from coca leaves that helps cure altitude sickness. Despite having many other uses, the main use of coca is that of a stimulant that increases the physical capacity of the body. However, nowadays the most common and far deadlier is the coca plant’s addictive derivative: cocaine.
The recipe for chocolate has been around for many centuries with traces going back all the way to the predecessors of the Mayan civilization, the Olmecs. They were thought to be the first to first develop the recipe for “chocolate”. Chocolate and cacao beans were used in a range of different uses from religious ceremonies and medicines just as the coca leaf and chia seeds were also used. It was even thought to be an aphrodisiac. The chemical name given to the cacao tree, theobroma cacao, translates to “food of the gods”. The Mayan hieroglyph below shows just that, as it depicts the God of Maize as a cacao tree. This depiction signifies the importance of cacao as a crop to the Mayan civilization.
Recent studies show that what we know today as “dark chocolate” contains two main alkaloids that are responsible for its stimulant properties, theobromine and caffeine. It is therefore safe to assume that even before the incorporation of sugar into chocolate recipes it had stimulant properties like coca leaves and chia seeds. And while there is no evidence to suggest that chocolate was used to perform “supernatural” and “miraculous” feats, it is not beyond the realm of possibility.
All of chia, coca, and cacao have been used in some sort of way as a drink mixed with other ingredients to release their stimulant properties. Moreover, chia seeds and cacao beans were used as currencies in the Aztec and Mayan civilizations respectively. More recently than the Mayan and Aztec periods, the derivatives of the coca leaf and the cacao beans, cocaine and chocolate respectively, have become highly addictive substances that are widely consumed nowadays. The former is illegal and the latter is not, however, the amount of money in both industries is in the multibillions, with the people at the top of the chain usually the ones to profit the most. Pablo Escobar, the King of Cocaine, reportedly burned two million dollars of cash to keep his daughter warm.
Cocaine’s exploitative and negative history came more recently in the 1900s when after seeing initial success in it being used as an anesthetic, later became thought of as a narcotic like opiates when the number of addicts rose. The War on Drugs by the United States of America on South American countries in the late 20th century saw many people die just as many Africans died during their life tenure as unpaid workers or even before their ship had docked in their forced destination.
WHY NOT CHIA?
Chia seeds and the history of their cultivation and consumption being free of controversy is very possibly the reason it was nearly forgotten and why people are not as aware of it now as they are of chocolate and cocaine. Spanish colonists banned the cultivation of both the coca leaf and chia seeds as they viewed the religious association of these substances as “heathenish and sinful”. Unlike chia, however, the Spanish later allowed coca cultivation as they saw that the Indians were unable to complete their labor without it. A combination of these factors led to chia not being widely present. In addition, there does not exist universally known brand names for a chia seeds product. Coca Cola (although it does not contain cocaine anymore), and Hersheys or Cadbury are synonymous with coca/cocaine and chocolate respectively. Furthermore, there are widely acclaimed and recognized movies about chocolate such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that instantly come to mind and many movies and television shows about drug dealers and the cocaine business like for instance, Narcos. Movies or shows about chia on the other hand, if they even exist, do not even ring a faint bell in one’s memory.
The association of all these substances to some religious deity or ritual, their perceived supernatural powers, and their wide range of uses are what initially elevated these crops to a higher regard in ancient times. What has kept these items in the current conversation though is their stimulant properties and the large amounts of profit associated with their respective industries.
 Amanda Macias, “10 Facts Reveal the Absurdity of Pablo Escobar’s Wealth.”
Kahn, Andrew, and Jamelle Bouie. “This Haunting Animation Maps the Journeys of 15,790 Slave Ships in Two Minutes.”
 Joseph F. Spillane, “Making a Modern Drug: The Manufacture, Sale, and Control of Cocaine in the United States, 1880-1920,” in Cocaine: Global Histories, ed. Paul Gootenberg (London: Routledge, 2006), 22.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.” docs.google.com/presentation/d/1KJFs2ZF_a-yamF8vy-75BrE3itqNR0t1eVIYRO8mgGo. Accessed 7 Feb. 2018.
Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” docs.google.com/presentation/d/1XF-lM9Z9iks0cVhUFRJ1QWBokKTRrdvZISwAJVSe_Ag. Accessed 31 Jan. 2018.
Spillane, Joseph F. “Making a Modern Drug: The Manufacture, Sale, and Control of Cocaine in the United States, 1880-1920 .” In Cocaine: Global Histories, edited by Paul Gootenberg, Routledge, London, 2006, pp. 21.
“The Tree of the Food of The Gods.” in The True History of Chocolate, by Michael D. Coe, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2013, pp. 31–58.
From its journey to Europe from the New World at the beginning of the sixteenth century all the way to its modern-day iteration, chocolate has become an important staple for people all over the world. Provided here is a brief history of its long and fruitful evolution through time – from Europeans first encounter with the substance through its development into an industrialized food.
The Olmecs (1500-400 BC) were almost certainly the first humans to consume chocolate. They would crush the cocoa beans, mix them with water and add spices, chillies and herbs – thus first creating, “the nectar of the Gods!”
Over time, the Mayans (600 BC) and Aztecs (400 AD) developed their own successful methods for cultivating cocoa. For these civilizations, cocoa was a symbol of privilege and abundance. It was used in religious rituals dedicated to Quetzalcoatl (the Aztec god responsible for bringing the cocoa tree to man) to Chak ek Chuah (the Mayan patron saint of cocoa) and as an offering at the funerals of noblemen.
Discovery and Commercialization of Cocoa (16th century) In 1528Hernando Cortez drank cacao with the Aztec emperor Montezuma and brought it back to Spain.
The Spanish court soon fell in love with this exotic elixir and adapted it to their tastes, adding cane sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and pepper.
In 1585, the first cargo of cocoa beans arrived on the Iberian Peninsula from New Spain, launching the trade in cocoa, resulting in the establishment of the first chocolate shops and a rapidly growing demand for this mysterious nectar from the new world.
The expansion of cocoa in Europe (17th – 19th centuries) During the 17th century, cocoa began arriving in other ports throughout Europe, effortlessly conquering every region’s palate. Chocolate beverages were first embraced by the French court following the royal marriage of King Louis XIII to the Spanish Princess Anne of Austria in 1615.
In 1650 chocolate beverages first appeared in England coinciding with the arrival of tea from China and coffee from the Middle East. For many years it remained a treat reserved for the upper classes.
In 1659 the first chocolate-confection maker opened in Paris.
In 1720, Italian chocolate-makers received prizes in recognition of the quality of their products. Then in 1765, North America finally discovered the virtues of cocoa.
Cocoa During the Industrial Era Industrialization has had a marked democratizing effect on chocolate, transforming it from a rare delicacy reserved for royals, to a widely available and readily affordable treat for the masses.
In 1828, Dutch Chemist Coenraad van Houten invented a process for extracting cocoa butter, allowing for the extraction of cocoa powder. This made chocolate more homogenous and less costly to produce. From this moment on, the history of cacao changed drastically.
In 1847, English chocolate maker J.S. Fry & Sons produced the first chocolate bar. The use of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks easier, but also made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar to create a solid bar.
In 1830-1879 Switzerland, chocolate flavored with hazelnuts was developed by Daniel Peteris followed by milk chocolate developed by Henri Nestlé.
In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine. This new machine made the process of making chocolate a lot faster, and also helped make chocolate smoother and creamier.
Within the United States in 1893, confectionist Milton Hershey found chocolate making equipment at the Worlds Fair in Chicago and began production at a factory in Pennsylvania.
Chocolate followed the French and American infantry into the trenches of the First World War, and effectively all US chocolate production was requisitioned for the military during the Second World War. In France, chocolate sweets appeared between the wars, and French pralines were considered the most fashionable. This further inspired chocolate producers to experiment with new and exciting flavors.
Converting cacao seeds into chocolate has now evolved into a complex, mechanized process. At the factory the cacao blended, roasted, cracked, winnowed, ground, pressed, mixed, conched, refined and tempered into candy bars. A few icons of the early 1900s still survive today, like Hershey, Cadbury and Nestlé. Either hand-made or as a fast food, it is now an established part of the world’s vocabulary and diet. Famous French gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin poetically summed up our universal love affair with chocolate, “What is health? It is chocolate!”
In these videos from Bon Apetit! you can see cocoa’s long and laborious journey from bean to bar.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Goody, Jack. Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. In Counihan, Carole. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.
Why do you love chocolate? Because it is good! It tastes good and makes you happy. It is all that is good in the world wrapped in a beautiful candy bar. What if you learned that your delicious candy bar is a by-product of something bad, the output of someone else’s suffering? A child’s suffering? Would you enjoy it just the same? Eating is not just a means to satisfy hunger; it is also an emotional and psychological experience. We like to eat, and we like to eat good food without any negative connotations. Chocolate does not taste as good when it is served with a side of guilt. Chocolate tastes better when you wholeheartedly know that it came from a good place and produced in an ethical and social responsible manner.
Did you know that the global chocolate industry is nearly $100 billion dollars a year? The United States alone spends a little over 18 billion dollars in chocolate (2015), and that the average American consumes approximately 4.3 kilograms / 9.5 pounds of chocolate a year (2015). In comparison, beating the Americans at chocolate consumption are the Swiss who consume approximately a little over 9 kilograms / 20 pounds per person, then tied for second place are the Germans and the Austrians who approximately consume 3.6 kilograms / 7.4 pounds per person (Satioquia-Tan). Chocolate can be found anywhere around the world and is affordable to the masses especially to those who live in the developed world. Chocolate can be found in candy bars, truffles, fudge, cakes, muffins, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pancakes, health bars, sauces, drinks, in your café mocha, and anywhere you can sprinkle chocolate syrup. You can buy it in a specialty shop, supermarket, mini-market, drugstore, or any corner street gas station.
The majority of chocolate eaters are rather naïve in knowing the history and the current nature of the chocolate-making business. They simply eat it because they love chocolate without really knowing what it is, where it comes from, who makes and how; or any related social issues. For those consumers who are more aware of the social and economic impacts of the chocolate industry are a little more selective in choosing and enjoying their chocolate. To fully appreciate food is to experience it through all the possible senses, the physiological and psychological (Stuckey 13). Only twenty percent of what we physiologically taste happens in our mouths, the rest of the tasting experience happens through our remaining senses of sight, smell, touch, and sound. We, also, want to psychologically feel good about what we are eating. We want to know about the origins, the farming practices, and the ethics of what we are tasting (Stuckey 14). We want to know the context, the beautiful story, of what we are eating so we can enjoy it fully. The other option is to choose to remain a little ignorant of the subject as not to sour our chocolate taste, however this pleasure would be more superficial and would not represent the fullest appreciation of what we are eating. To fully appreciate today’s chocolate, we will have to fully experience it with the body and mind in full awareness of its origins, present journey and social impacts.
What is Chocolate?
cacao beans (based on Wikimedia Commons, by Supermanu, CC BY-SA 2.5)
cacao pods sprouting directly from tree trunks (based on WikiMediaCommons, by Luisovalles, CC BY 3.0)
cacao seeds in pod, surrounded by a fruity, pulp placenta. (based on WikiMediaCommons, by Genet, CC-BY-3.0)
Cocoa is the main ingredient for all chocolate recipes. Cocoa derives from cacao seeds, or more commonly referred to as cacao beans, which grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree. Cacao trees are finicky trees that can only bear fruit in hot and humid tropical climates,twenty degrees from the equator at a specific altitude. These trees are highly dependent on midges, an insect, for its flowers to pollinate and bear fruit (Coe and Coe 19-21, 27). Cacao beans grow inside a fruity, pulp filled pod, approximately 30-40 beans grow inside one pod. Unlike most trees, where fruit grow dangling down from branches, cacao pods sprout directly from the tree trunk. In raw form, cacao beans constitute half its size in fat, cocoa butter. When cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean, what remains is the cocoa (or cocoa powder), the main ingredient of all chocolate (Coe and Coe 27). Before cacao beans turn into chocolate, cacao fruit is first farmed. Upon harvest, fruit pods are removed from trees and cracked open to extract its beans with machetes. Cacao beans are then fermented, dried, sorted, roasted, transported, winnowed (deshelled), ground to a liquor, pressed (to remove the cacao butter), conched, and then what remains is added to chocolate-making recipes. Chocolate is the result of a labor intensive and highly processed food.
Where Does Cacao Come From?
Cacao is native to the New World, the South American’s amazon basin region (Coe and Coe 25), and the Mesoamerican native cultures of the Mayans and Aztecs and predecessors were the first peoples to ever make chocolate dating back as far as 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe 33). Cacao was precious and a sacred food reserved for the elite, special occasions, and sacred rituals. Mayan and Aztecs Gods often appear alongside or in the form of cacao trees in their native hieroglyphs and surviving art (Coe and Coe 42). So precious, cacao beans were even used as a means of monetary currency. In 1545, documented is the commodity price of a tamale: one tamale equals one cacao bean (Coe and Coe 98-99). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish conquistadors were the first Europeans to discover and spread the taste of chocolate to Europe starting in the 1500’s (Coe and Coe 108). At the beginning of the chocolate history in Europe, chocolate was rare, expensive, and for the upper class. Then as time passed and soon after the industrial revolution, chocolate became relatively common and affordable to the masses.
After the end of the American colonial period, in the late 1800’s, the Spanish and the Portuguese introduced cacao to West Africa. Due to favorable climate conditions, cacao flourished in West Africa. Today, approximately seventy percent of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa (Wessel and Quist-Wessel 1). The Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two major countries that supply cacao. There are 2 million, small (3 hectares acres in size), independent farms (Ryan 52) in West Africa that supply three million metric tons of cacao per year (World Cocoa Foundation).
What Are the Social Issues Involving the Chocolate Industry?
Since the first Europeans, the Spanish conquistadors, landed in the New World, the cacao industry has been tainted with slavery and forced labor since 1650’s (Berlan 1092). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish forced the natives to pay tribute in labor and cacao to their new Spanish Crown. After millions of natives died of diseases, the Spanish, like other colonists in the Americas, resorted to using chattel slavery from Africa to extract New World resources (Presilla 24, 33). Chattel slavery officially ended in 1884, however it continued in disguise in Portuguese West Africa well into the 1900’s in the cacao industry and some reports state that it persisted until 1962 (Berlan 1092).
Today, cacao farmer incomes are very volatile for it depends on operating profits, and since cacao is a commodity, the market price. Farmers need to sell their cacao at a high enough price in order to pay off their operation expenses which includes labor, a major expense, just like most businesses. Unexpected operating expenses and / or a fall in market price can be devastating on farmer revenues/incomes. Cacao farmers, per capita, constantly live without the security of a reliable living wage. In 2015, cacao farmers earned 50 to 84 cents on the American dollar a day (Cocoabarometer). As it is, cacao farmers barely break even, and there is little economic incentive for them to stay in the cacao farming business. Due to local poverty and lack of other options, farmers continue to grow cacao under pressure to lower operating costs and often resort to desperate means to make a profit, break even, or just enough to pay for rice and cooking oil (Off 5).
In more recent history in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, a wave of newspaper stories and documentary films exposed the existence of child labor, trafficking, and slaves in West African cacao farms which caused much consumer outrage. The media graphically showed the world the extreme poverty and hard lives of cacao farmers in West Africa and the desperate measures farmers take to lower operating costs by using child slave labor (Berlan 1089).
The documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000), especially shocked viewers by showing how easy it was to find child slaves working on cacao farms and how the local people seem to accept the practice as a way of life. On camera, journalists were able, with relative ease, to overtly interview real child slaves and get first-hand testimony about their hardships, a farm owner who openly admitted to having slaves and in how to get them, and a local official who confirmed as matter of fact that at least 90% of the Ivory Coast farms use child slave labor. Ninety percent implies the existence of hundreds of thousands of slaves (Ryan 118). A 2000 US State Department report estimated that 15,000 Malian children worked on Ivory Coast cacao farms and that many of were under 12 years old and sold into indentured service (Off 133). Two of the local documentary crew even demonstrated how easy it was to buy slaves, posing as buyers, they went to the marketplace and were able to purchase two boys for the total of forty British pounds (approximately $40) within thirty minutes. Economics, low cacao market price, was credited as being the main reason why these farmers resorted to using slavery. With such low cacao market prices, farmers cannot afford to pay employee wages and still make a profit, and they have no other income options. In contrast, in a free and mature economy, if a business is not profitable it goes out of business, and one can start a new business or find a new job, this is not the case for the West African cacao farmers.
Since the West African child labor scandals, there has an increased awareness and legislation attempts to eradicate forced and most hazardous child labor. Child labor in general is so embedded into the West African culture, not all children who work on farms are slaves or working with hazards. Most children work as part of the family on their family farms. It was deemed impossible and impractical to create a law that would abolish all form of child labor, however a voluntary agreement, The Harking-Engel Protocol, was signed among the Ivory Coast and the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry in accordance with the International Labor Organization to end the worst forms of child labor in 2001 (Ryan 44, 47). Because of extreme poverty and lack of options, there are children who are better off working for they will at least have access to some food. Today, consumers are more aware, corporations have put efforts in demonstrating social responsibility in self-certifications, and nonprofit/advocacy organizations, have emerged and increased advocacy. There is still much poverty among cacao farmers, and many children are still working on farms and some are still suspected of being forced to work against their will. The child labor problems still exist today. We, the world, hoped for that the state of child labor in West Africa would be better, however it could be worse.
It is natural that corporations would seek to do business with a poorer and less mature economies so to benefit from cheaper labor costs, but there should be limits when business practices violate human rights and the ability for workers to make a livable wage. It is evident that cacao farmers need more money so can they afford to hire farm workers to help cultivate their labor intensive cacao farms. In the least, the cacao market price needs to go up. It may mean that consumers would have to pay a little more for their chocolate treats. Would you be willing to pay a little more for your candy bar if it would end child and forced labor?
I realize that blindly throwing more money at the problem will not necessarily fix it if local corrupt governments and other stakeholders are still there to scheme away the extra money intended for the cacao farmers. This is a complex issue which requires multi-approach solution. We, the consumers, the governments, NGOs, the corporations, the media (or lack of media), the farmers, are all part of the problem, and we could also all be part of the solution. West African farmers and their children need special consideration for they are the most powerless demographic group in the chocolate food chain. The ones with the most power in the chocolate food chain by default have the most ability, and therefore the greater responsibility, to effect change. Wealthy companies and consumers are in the best position to invest and apply influence in the solution. We, the consumers, should expect that our chocolate companies to conduct business in an ethical and social responsible manner or make better consumer choices if they do not.
Here, in the first world, we would not accept the practice of child labor or slavery in our backyard, and we should not accept it elsewhere and in the products that we use and the foods we eat. The West African modern-day slave issue is especially heartbreaking for it involves children in producing sweets that we all so enjoy so much. If we all knew that children were being kidnapped and forced to cultivate cacao, we would all enjoy the taste of our chocolate a little less. As consumers, we need to be more conscious about what we eat and learn as much as possible so we can make better consumer choices, maybe write a customer complaint to your chocolate provider or your congressman to influence change in law. There is no better tasting chocolate than the one that is free from social guilt. In the end, we should all have the right to enjoy good and good-tasting chocolate.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088-1100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2013.78004.
Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You Are Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. Free Press, 2012.
Slavery: A Global Investigation. Produced and directed by Brian Woods and Kate Blanchet. A True Vision Production in Association with HBO, 2000. TopDocumentaryFilms, topdocumentaryfilms.com/slavery-a-global-investigation.
Wessel, Marius, and Foluke Quist-Wessel. Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences., vol. 74-74, pp. 1-7, 12-2015. doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.
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
“Great chocolate, greater relationships”. That is the slogan for Tabal chocolate, a company that claims it is “chocolate’s power to bring people together” that inspires them to make their best chocolate (“History”). Through a chocolate exchange at the Denver Art Museum in 2014, the CelebrARTE and Journey programs began a partnership to help students create Mayan chocolate-inspired poetry and art and to “grow as artists and teachers” (Salazar). And in 2013, Milka chocolate came up with a fun project that required Argentine workers to link hands and work together to connect a cow statue with a vending machine and receive free chocolate bars (Cullers). In each of these situations, chocolate is seen as something that brings people together and this is not a new concept.
The Olmecs and Mayans
From the origins of cacao, society and people groups have gathered together to consume some form of chocolate. In as early as 1500 B.C., the Olmecs would remove the seeds from the pods by hand and prepare them for fermentation- a process that had to be done only when many people got together. Joel Palka, a director of an archaeological project around Chiapas, Mexico, still encounters people in the area who prepare chocolate as a family tradition and cultural practice. He says in a Smithsonian article, “like coffee in the Arab world, or beer in northern and Eastern Europe, it’s not only something that’s good, but part of their identity” (Garthwaite). There is also a Mayan word chocola’j that literally means “to drink cacao together”. The upper class in Mayan society found great significance in communal consumption and cacao became almost a luxury set aside only for special situations.
Recipes using cacao beans have been discovered in a 12th century Cistercian monastery where Cistercian communities, even to this day, gather to prepare and enjoy chocolate in a specific room located above the cloister called the “chocolateria”. Drinking chocolate became such a popular beverage for communal events that Catholics often debated over whether it could be considered a food and should not be consumed during fasting.
Monks preparing chocolate together in a Cistercian monastery
Once cacao was brought to Europe, it served a similar purpose. Chocolate was served at “chocolate houses” in England, where members of the elite upper class would gather together to drink their liquid chocolate, gamble, and share opinions on the pressing philosophical and political issues of the day. Soon, these “houses” became associated with one of the Parliamentary parties, and some evolved into a gentlemen’s club, like the “Cocoa Tree Club”, made up of Tories in England.
The Big Five
By observing some of the original advertisements of the Big Five chocolate companies, we can further understand how throughout history, chocolate is seen as something that brings people together. Many of Cadbury’s advertisements have shown families drinking and enjoying chocolate together, such as one (shown below) in which a woman is seen commenting “This is the nicest way to end an evening” (drinking chocolate together).
A Cadbury advertisement depicting people drinking chocolate together
Another advertisement depicts a family drinking cocoa for breakfast as a “substitute for milk”. Similarly, many older Nestle advertisements depict children playing together, while Mars and Hershey also focus on illustrating couples eating chocolate together.
A Cadbury advertisement depicting a family drinking chocolate for breakfast
This brings us to today. Chocolate companies are still advertising their products as being something that unites people – from couples to friends to even different social groups or cultures. A few years ago, Divine chocolate came out with a series of ads that portrayed female Ghanaian cacao farmers with different captions like “Just developed an appetite for fighting global poverty?” or “Craving a better world or just another piece?”, as if chocolate plays a role in large global issues (Leissle). Many Hershey ads include the motto “shared goodness”, which suggests that consumers are eating the chocolate with others and enjoying it together.
A Divine chocolate advertisement
Outside of how chocolate companies affect our perception of chocolate, society, in general, still gathers around consuming this sweet. It’s common to see families and friends drinking hot chocolate together on a cold winter night, or couples enjoying chocolate together around Valentine’s Day. To enjoy chocolate with others is to share love and joy. As Audrey Richards once said, the “need for nutrition brings people together and creates social groups”. Although chocolate may not necessarily be seen as a necessary nutrition and more as a luxury, it is evident that throughout history, chocolate has done the same.
Cullers, Rebecca. “For Free Chocolate, Strangers Must Hold Hands in Argentine Vending Stunt”. AdWeek. 3 Oct. 2013. Print.
Garthwaite, Josie. “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate”. Smithsonian.com. 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
“History”. Tabal Chocolate. Web. 10 Mar. 2017
Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements”. Journal of African Cultural Studies. (2012): 121-139.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.
Salazar, Madalena. “Chocolate Brings People Together at CelebrARTE”. Denver Art Museum. 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
The indulgence that we know as chocolate has its roots in a South American tree that can not exist without a symbiotic partner. Originating in the upper Amazonian River basin, as an understory tree of the rainforest, Theobroma cacao is a fascinating plant. Pollinated by a single type of insect, colorful melon like pods are full of sweet pulp and bitter seeds–which we refer to today as “beans.” These hefty pods have to attract the assistance of a hungry monkey, Toucan, or human to release the beans and the next generation of trees. Monkeys and birds like the sweet pulp, but when it comes to humans, we became addicted to the bean.
T.cacao migrated northward along the Pacific coast to take hold in a place that is now Central America. Although the details of the journey between continents is a mystery, the first evidence in the historical record that cacao was used as a food source is found in the Rio Ceniza Valley of modern El Salvador. (Martin)
Chemical analysis of pottery shows the Olmec culture made cacao pulp into an intoxicating beer-type drink at least 1000 years before the current era. Eventually the cacao bean byproduct fermented into its own food source and began to resemble chocolate–at least in its crudest liquid form. (Henderson) In the rural communities of the region today you can still find sweet pulpy drinks as well as meal-replacing beverages made from ground cacao beans and maize. These traditional ground bean beverages are bitter, filling, and stimulating enough to provide a morning or afternoon energy boost which keeps the drink popular despite being labor intensive to prepare. The stimulating caffeine and theobromine compounds that the Olmec people unlocked from the cacao bean became a driving force for the political relations and trade between nations until Cortez arrives in the modern era–usurping the entire region and economy for the Spanish crown.
The Classic Maya Civilization (250-900 CE) raised the imbibing of the rustic, gritty, cacao bean drink to a godly level. The artwork they left behind tells the story of how cacao was literally considered to be the food of their pantheon and used in rituals for pivotal moments in society and life. In The New Taste of Chocolate, Presilla points out that “from both the glyphs and actual pictured scenes on Maya posts we have been able to learn that chocolate made using particular recipes was drunk by kings and nobles. There is also evidence that it was used by people of all classes, particularly during rites of passage…” (12)
The gourds that most people used for drinking have not withstood the impacts of time but some ceramic vessels of the wealthy remain intact. These colorful jewels of Western Hemisphere art document the details about ritual life by describing events, attendees, and even the ingredients. Many of these vessels can be seen in art collections today; the Mayan drinking vase on display in the permanent collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is a fine example of storytelling. Slightly larger than a modern quart jar, the drinking vase has a wrap-around visual narrative that details a ritual, specifically noting out that kakaw (cacao) was one of the stimulating substances used in this event.
Although the Mayan people still live in the same region today, they mysteriously abandoned their cities around 900 CE and were eventually conquered by the Aztec civilization. Cacao beans not only survived the invasion from the north, they could well have been the cause. The Aztecs so valued the stimulating substance that they used dried beans as coinage to exchange for produce, meat, and other locally available consumables.
Unfortunately for the Aztecs, though their money grew on trees, those trees did not grow on the arid plateau that was the center of their empire. They solved this dilemma by strategically conquering trade routes into regions where cacao was cultivated. The wealth of these conquered regions was then extracted by political tribute–much of which was paid in the form of fermented cacao beans. This cacao wealth was then added into the Aztec economy both by putting it onto the consumable market and by stockpiling it as currency in treasuries. Used throughout their empire as form of payment and a beverage of celebration, cacao was also milled into portable nuggets to use as traveling rations for instant energy. The earliest documents of the Spanish settlers refer to how the native culture prepared cacao with maize into a cold frothy beverage that was used as a meal replacement in the extreme heat of the subtropical afternoons. (Presilla 17-24) Cacao literally fueled both the people of the working class and the general economy well into the Spanish colonial period.
Recently have we discovered the literal lengths that native peoples went to in acquiring this stimulating beverage. Modern gas chromatography analysis on Native American pottery has increased our understanding of which cultures had access to the only source of theobromine in the hemisphere. Testing of North American artifacts has shown that long before the Aztecs usurped the market on cacao, the trade routes of the Mayans had extended northward to the Anasazi nation of modern New Mexico. This 1200-mile path between where the vessels were found (in the Pueblo Bonito of Chaco Canyon) and the nearest source of cacao would have required 600 hours of backpacking through rough country and sweltering heat. As one researcher phrased it “That’s a long way to go for something that you don’t need for survival”, [something] that’s more of a delicacy…” Whether the Anasazi acquired this cacao through dedicated treks south–which would have taken weeks–or their pueblo was the endpoint of an even slower hand-to-hand, village-to-village trade route, acquiring the ingredients for a cacao beverage came at great cost. (Mozdy) Such an expenditure indicates how intensely desired this addictive substance was.
The historical record may not tell us how the first cacao trees made their way to a new continent, but we do know that once here, it helped fuel people, economies and trade for centuries. The stimulant properties that the seed contains spurred the native cultures of a continent to covet, acquire, distribute and control access to the plant itself. By affecting and connecting with humans in this way, the plant forged a symbiotic partnership with the indigenous peoples which ensured its survival and success throughout pre-Columbian era.
Henderson, John S., et al. “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Acad Sciences, 16 Nov. 2007, www.pnas.org/content/104/48/18937.full. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Revised ed., Berkeley, NY, Ten Speed Press, 2009.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.” 8 Feb. 2017, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.
Theobroma Cacao is the botanical name for the Cacao tree and cocoa tree. The genus TheobromaCacao was named by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, famed for formalizing the binomial nomenclature, in 1753. The Theobroma genus is native to the tropics of Central and South America, going as far North as the lower regions of Mexico. Theobroma encompasses 22 different cocoa species, and typically range from 4 to 8 meters in height. Interestingly, Theobroma are actually classified as evergreens, being related to the Malvaceae family, or mallows.
Cacao producing regions of Colonial Mesoamerica
The most important part of the Cacao tree is Cacao or cocoa. We can distinguish:
Cacao pods – the large colorful fruits of the Cacao These pods vary by type and origin. Cacao pods tend to change colors between stages of development; usually starting in deep hues of red, purple, or green, before maturing into shades of orange or yellow.
Cacao beans – the seeds of the Cacao pod.
Cacao and cocoa are both commonly used to describe the raw material from Cacao tree. The origin of the word Cacao comes from Central and South America. The cocoa is an Anglicization of the Spanish form – cacao. The Olmec (1500 BCE- 400 BCE ), predecessors to the Maya and first major civilization in Central America, are the first farmers of the Cacao pods, and the first plantations for the Cacao appeared in Guatemala and Southern Mexico around 400B.C.
Theobroma means Food of the Gods in the Mayan language. Of their myths, Mayans believed that the Plumed Serpent gave Cacao to them, after people were created from maize by the divine grandparent deity Xmucane. The Mayans to this time celebrate Cacao because they think that this is a gift from the God. The Aztecs also believe that the Plumed Serpent– Quetzalcoatl – discovered cacao.
In 250 AD the Mayans started to painting Cacao in hieroglyphic. In Dresden and Madrid Mayan wrote the codex in hieroglyphics, but since this time saved only 15 texts. In these images, Cacao was presented like food or drink consumed by the Gods. Mayans also named Cacao on the hieroglyphics Kakaw.
The Mayan and Aztec people used to prepare Cacao in many different ways as a food or drink. One such use was to turn Cacao into drinks for celebrations, and was imbibed by both the civilizations during the marriage ceremonies or religious rituals.
One important sacred document for the Maya is Popol Vuh or, “Book of Counsel”. Within this story of the creation of the universe, the Cacao is mentioned few times like a godly plant worthy of reverence. People believed that Cacao – as well as tobacco – is an essential to their social, spiritual and physical prosperity. Cacao also was presented in rites of death. Part of their beliefs was that the seeds could help the soul in travel to the underworld.
Cacao tree was also perceived like a connection between earth, underworld and sky, royal bloodline. Mayans thought that plant is integral to keeping cycles of death, life, and rebirth. Cacao was thought to boost energy and made the imbiber stronger.
Cacao for Mayan and Aztec population was something what they could exchange for the goods. For example fish wrapped in maize husks was worth 3 Cacao beans.
The Mayans and Aztecs used to make some Cacao or chocolate beverages which were stored in ceramic vessel. Archeologists found vessels dating to between 1900-900 BC. Vessels were labor-intensive arts & crafts; among the most important valuables a Mesoamerican owned, stamped with their personal insignia. The chocolate contained in this way used to be served like a liquid and mixed with spices or wine. A commonly held belief was that this drink could work like an aphrodisiac. Today, this beverage is known as Chilate.
Christopher Columbus in 1502 was the first person from Europe who came into contact with Cacao during his journey to Guanaja. He sent the Cacao to the King Ferdinand. While cocoa was rare for some time, around 20 years after Columbus’ first sample, Prince Philip of Spain received the cocoa drink from a Dominican friar. The reception to this was so positive that France and Portugal didn’t trade cocoa to the rest of Europe for 1000 years.
Cocoa consists of around 700 compounds. Apart from the taste, the most important benefit are antioxidants who helps us to avoid diseases, reduce cholesterol, lower the blood pressure, and is even believed to be a preventative of cancer. Cacao is rich in protein, fat, fiber, iron, magnesium and calcium. Mayan and Aztecs were treating Cacao like a good medicine. They believed that this is a gift from the god who helps them to stay healthy. They also treated Cacao as currency because very often they got something in exchange of cacao. As we can see, Cacao has been known for centuries. Cacao and chocolates are famous on the all world. We can eat and drink it. I think for people this product can be a connection of something really tasty and healthy. It’s good for our heart, mind and mood.
Gockowski & S. Oduwole (2003). Labor practices in the cocoa sector of southwest Nigeria with a focus on the role of children. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. pp. 11–15. ISBN 978-131-215-7
Olivia Abenyega & James Gockowski (2003). Labor practices in the cocoa sector of Ghana with a special focus on the role of children. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-131-218-1
Terry G. Powis; W. Jeffrey Hurst; María del Carmen Rodríguez; Ponciano Ortíz C.; Michael Blake; David Cheetham; Michael D. Coe; John G. Hodgson (December 2007). “Oldest chocolate in the New World”. 81 (314). ISSN 0003-598X. Retrieved 2011-02-15.
Watson, Traci (22 January 2013). “Earliest E SPONGEBOBca”. Science. Retrieved 3 March 2014.