Tag Archives: money

A Royal Indulgence: The Elite Origins and Introductions of Chocolate

Hundreds of years before Cadbury, Hershey and the like transformed chocolate into a mass-produced and affordable dietary staple, chocolate was a royal indulgence. Reserved for the most prestigious social classes in Mesoamerica, sumptuary laws in New World governed who was able to consume it and, according to some accounts, consumption of chocolate without sanction by commoners was punishable by death (Presilla, 18). The value and reverence the Aztecs had for chocolate made a strong impression on early travelers, who readily shared the frothed-beverage with their commissioners in the Old World, making the ruling elite of the 16th century among the first Europeans to regularly imbibe.

Elite Origins in Mesoamerica

Chemical analysis has allowed researchers to place chocolate over 38 centuries back, although not much is known about the drinking habits of early cultures such as the Olmecs and Mayans (Coe, location 464-578). The only surviving written evidence for classic Mayan use of cacao has been found on elegantly painted and carved cylindrical vases and vessels in the tombs and graves of the elite (Coe, location 578). Some of these excavated vases are externally marked with Mayan hieroglyphs denoting cacao, and internally bear chemical traces of alkaloids found in cacao and dark rims on the interior that suggest the contents were once liquid (Coe, location 625). There is not enough evidence to concretely conclude that chocolate was chiefly drunken by the ruling class, but the inclusion of chocolate provisions for the afterlife of the elite suggests Mayans placed a high level importance on the drink.

A Mayan lord sits raised above a servant on a platform next to a frothing pot of chocolate, forbidding the servant from touching the container. (Mayan Civilisation)

Much more is known of the chocolate consumption habits of the Aztecs than the Mayans. Aztec emperor Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina (c. 1398-1469 AD) issued a series of laws stating that “he who does not go to war, be he son of a king, may not wear cotton, feathers or flowers, nor may he smoke, or drink cacao” (Coe, location 1372). Only members of the royal house, the lords and nobility, long-distance merchants who endured dangerous lands and battles with foreign groups, and warriors were allowed to drink chocolate in Aztec society (Coe, location 1324). In Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España by the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún, Sahagún describes how stringently this hierarchical framework for chocolate consumption was followed by the Aztecs; cacao was very valuable and rare, and was proverbially referred to as “Yollotli eztli”, or the “price of blood and of heart”, because if people of the working class drank it without permit, it would cost them their life (“si alguno de los populares lo bebía, costábale la vide si sin licencia lo bebían”) (Moreno, 500).

Chocolate’s link to luxury and power in Aztec culture is further enforced with the cacao bean’s role in the economy. The Aztecs used cacao beans as currency: a rabbit cost about ten beans (Coe, location 832). When the elite drank chocolate, they were quite literally drinking money. This did not go unacknowledged by the Europeans, who quickly realized that cacao was as valuable to this group of people as gold and gems (Presilla, 18). Watch this video to learn a little more about cacao beans in Aztec culture and the introduction of chocolate to Europeans (Youtube).

Royal Introductions in Europe

In 1544, chocolate made its first documented European appearance in Spain. Dominican friars brought Mayan nobles to the courts of Prince Philip, who presented some of the wonders of the New World to the king: quetzal feathers, painted gourds, and containers of beaten chocolate (Presilla, 24). Forty years later in 1585, the first official cacao bean shipment reached Seville from Veracruz (Coe, location 1848).

A Spanish mancerina with a metal tray. Mancerinas were also made with porcelain trays to match the cup. (Tamorlan)

The Spanish altered the chocolate recipe slightly – preferring it hot as opposed to cold, as the Aztecs had taken it. The Aztecs would add ingredients they were familiar with such as vanilla, herbs, flower petals, and honey, and the Spanish did the same with sugar, cinnamon, hazelnut, anise, and almonds (Presilla). The Spanish sipped it out of mancerinas, a plate or saucer with a ring in the middle to hold a small cup and prevent it from slipping, rather than jícaras. One thing that didn’t change, however, was the elite ties of chocolate; making and drinking chocolate “involved special pains and paraphernalia” (Presilla, 25).

During the 17th century, chocolate spread throughout Europe. It was highly valued as an exotic, tasty alternative as well as a health-promoting drug and was treated differently than other foods. During the reign of Charles III of Spain, chocolate was sent directly to the “royal keeper of jewels” rather than the kitchen (Presilla, 32). France mimicked Spain’s royal consumption of chocolate, reserving it strictly for the aristocracy while England allowed it to hit the free market (Coe, location 2412). Any Englishman or woman was able to consume it so long as they had enough money to pay for it.

A woman drinks chocolate. Notice her elegant clothing and the chocolate paraphernalia on the tray next to her. (Raimundo)


Castriocto, Alessandro. “File:João V – Duque de Lafões.Jpg – Wikimedia Commons”. 1720. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

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

Mayan civilisation. “File:Mayan People and Chocolate.Jpg – Wikimedia Commons”. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Moreno, Wigberto Jiménez and Sahagún, Bernardino de. Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España: Libros I, II, III, y IV. Linkgua digital, 1938. Online.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print.

Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta. “File:Raimundo Madrazo – Hot Chocolate.jpg – Wikimedia Commons”. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Salvor. “File:Chocolate-house-london-c1708.jph – Wikimedia Commons”. 2006. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Tamorlan. “File:Macerina-Barcelona-03.Jpg – Wikimedia Commons”. 2010. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

YouTube. “This Is México – Cacao”. Royal Channel Cancun, 2009. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

When Money Grew on Trees: Cocoa Beans as Currency in Mayan and Aztec Societies

“Oh, blessed money which yieldeth sweete and profitable drinke for mankinde, and preserveth the possessors thereof free from the hellish pestilence of avarice because it cannot be long kept hid underground”

-Peter Martyr, an early observer of the Aztec society

In today’s society, chocolate is regarded as strictly a consumer good – a beloved, but perishable commodity whose value is primarily derived from its rich and indulgent taste. Aside from gold-foil covered chocolate coins enjoyed as festive treats, there are hardly any instances in which chocolate can be thought to resemble a currency. But for ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, chocolate, specifically the cocoa bean, also held commercial value and was widely accepted in barter. The use of cocoa as a store of value and the traction it gained as a currency that persisted even into colonial times truly speaks to the importance of cacao in these early civilizations. The widespread use of cocoa beans as money and its eventual acceptance by the Spanish, who were at first off-put by the bitter cacao taste, show that cacao’s value was widespread, deep-seated and far-reaching in Central America. It had permeated so many levels of these early societies – religiously, culturally, and even economically.


A Maya glyph of a cloth bag “xiquipilli’ that kept 8,000 cacao beans, a standard measure of unit of currency.

While the Olmecs were the likely the first civilization to consumer cacao, the use of cocoa beans as commodity money began with the Maya (The True History of Chocolate”). Cacao, originating from the Maya word “Ka’kau”, held great religious, commercial, and even medicinal value for the Maya. Unsurprisingly, the valuable commodity would naturally come to be used to barter for other commodities such as food, clothes, gems and even slaves. They were also exchanged for luxury goods and rare items such as jade, obsidian, and ceremonial feathers (“The Maya and the Ka’kau’ (Cacao)”). Maya farmers would strap baskets attached with Mecapal (a type of band for securing basket to forehead), full of cacao beans on their backs or use canoes to transport the beans for trade. Wealthy merchants would travel as far as Teotihuacan with porters, pack animals, and/or wheeled carts (“Maya Trade and Economy”).


The map above illustrates Mesoamerican commerce routes as well as flow of goods production. The concept of money via the bartering of cacao beans gave rise to a new social class: the merchants. This had tremendous impact on the political structure of the ancient Maya communities as it allowed for wealth and resources to enter the hands of individuals other than the traditional political elites (“Maya Trade and Economy”). In a sense, cacao helped bring about this redistribution of wealth and power.

When the Aztecs became the most advanced nation in Central America and overtook the Maya, they naturally adopted cocoa beans as a currency as well. The use of cacao currency persisted as a widespread form of money beyond the Aztec times through the Spanish Conquest, Colonial period, and far into the 19th century. In fact, by the time of the Spanish Conquest in 1545, cacao beans outranked gold dust as the primary currency in Mesoamerica. Around 24 years after the Spanish Conquest in, cacao beans were used to set market prices in Tlaxcalla (“Aztecs at Mexicolore”). By 1555, a fixed exchange rate was established in a decree, establishing the value of the cocoa beans at a ratio of 140 beans to one Spanish real (“A Tasty Currency: Cocoa”). Even in the mid-1850s, cacao beans were still observed as being used for small-change.


[Codex Kingsborough, British Museum] This graphic depicts the tribute tax the Spanish collected from the Aztec was in form of bags of cacao beans.

Although cacao beans would certainly not be a practical form of currency today, meeting just some of the 7 modern characteristics of money (durability, portability, divisibility, uniformity, limited supply, and acceptability), it made for an exceptionally well-received form of money during the Mayan and Aztecs empires. The use of cacao beans exemplified how markets in early civilizations flourished using commodity currencies. The widespread recognition of cocoa as a viable form of money in the Aztec empire really speaks to the amount of value they placed on this commodity.

Works Cited

Berdan, Frances. “Aztecs at Mexicolore.” Mexicolore. Web. 19 Feb. 2016. <http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/ask-experts/when-did-the-aztecs-stop-using-cacao-beans-for-money&gt;.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007 [1996]. The True History of Chocolate. pp. 1-105

“CHOCOLATE: Food of the Gods.” Albert R. Mann Library. Cornell University. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. http://exhibits.mannlib.cornell.edu/chocolate/moneygrewontrees.php

De Maré, Laurie. “A Tasty Currency: Cocoa.” Www.nbbmuseum.be. Museum of the National Bank of Belgium. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

“Maya Trade and Economy.” Authentic Maya. Web. 19 Feb. 2016. <http://www.authenticmaya.com/maya_trade_and_economy.htm&gt;.

“The Maya and the Ka’kau’ (Cacao).” Authentic Maya. Web. 19 Feb. 2016. <http://www.authenticmaya.com/cacao.htm&gt;.

Cacao as Currency: The Perils of a Perishable Money

To underscore the ubiquitous permeation of the cacao plant throughout ancient Mesoamericans’ daily life, chocolate scholars consistently remark upon a peculiar application of the plant: the cacao bean’s use as money. Alexander del Mar, a 19th-century economic historian, describes a Mexican empire whose “usual currency… consisted of flat copper pieces and cacao beans”(del Mar, 45). Sophie and Michael Coe describe cacao as a “drink and a currency,” and a “coin of the realm” with which many market and wage transactions were conducted (Coe & Coe, 98-99). Maricel Presilla depicts an Aztec society in the 1500s where “cacao beans had taken on the status of legal money,”(Presilla, 17) and Rene Millon authored a 600-page “Study of Cacao in Ancient Mesoamerica” titled When Money Grew on Trees. But is this designation appropriate? Does the ancient use of cacao really qualify as a currency, a type of money?

An academic understanding of money is a proper foundation from which to begin this examination. While modern economic texts describe money as “an officially-issued legal tender” which generally consists of currency and coin, this definition quickly digresses into delineated categories to explain its accessibility and liquidity (Money). The money supply is described in classes from M0 (cash and its close relatives) to M3 (value stored in businesses) (Money Supply). Given the ambiguities and technicalities inherent in this modern financial accounting definition, it feels appropriate to work with a more historic understanding of currency, for which we turn to Classical Greece:

Aristotle (384-322 BC)

Aristotle pronounced the four criteria of money as

1. Having intrinsic value
2. Portable
3. Divisible
4. Durable (Karimzadi, 206)


Cacao trade in ancient Aztec and Mayan societies certainly satisfies some of the above conditions; however, given the Aristotelian definition of money, cacao beans as used in pre-Columbian Central America fall well short of the oft-ascribed label of a currency or money. To illustrate this shortcoming, we test the four conditions in turn upon cacao bean application in Ancient Mesoamerican.

chocolate maya ruler
Mayan elite with chocolate drink

The intrinsic value of cacao beans is the easiest, and most palatable, condition to satisfy. As a well-documented food, cacao beans provided a source of nourishment in Mesoamerica. The bean was a staple from the governing elites to the poorest farmers, reflecting its universally accepted value beyond that of a currency (Presilla, 12-13). Further, in 1502, Ferdinand Columbus (son of Christopher) remarked on the odd reverence with which an indigenous person bent to collect a dropped bean, saying they stooped to pick it up “as if an eye had fallen”(Coe & Coe, 109).

The portability of the cacao bean is another evident property. Each cacao pod produces
“30-40 almond-shaped seeds” which, after fermentation and roasting, lend themselves well to travel and trade (Coe & Coe, 21). Cacao beans fulfilled this role of money to such extent that Aztec rulers included 200 loads of the seeds as part of their bi-annual tax collection, as illustrated in the sixteenth-century Codice Medoza record below.

Codice Medoza, illustrating bi-annual taxes due

Regarding the third property of currency, divisibility, cacao beans begin to stray from Aristotle’s definition. This property deals primarily with the orderly fractional and multiplicative qualities of a currency, such that one nickel can be broken into 5 pennies and 5 pennies can be exchanged for another nickel. While cacao beans are quite easily broken apart and formed into nibs, the edible portion, they are nearly impossible to reform (Coe & Coe, 22).

The final Aristotelian property of money, durability, is where cacao beans lose historians’ claim of a viable currency. Durability implies a reasonable longevity of the traded object. Aristotle described this attribute of money “as a guarantor of exchange for the future” (Karimzadi, 206). Good money allows its holder to forego present consumption for the implicit promise of higher consumption at a later date. Because cacao beans have a shelf life of six to nine months (depending on storage), they lose their nutritional value rapidly over time, along with their extended economic value (Paretts). It would be rather unwise to attempt to build wealth by amassing cacao beans. Therefore cacao beans, at best, only temporarily satisfy the durability requirement.

Ignoring the literal “farming out” of coinage (a role typically closely managed by the central state) necessary when using an organic substance as a unit of exchange, cacao beans do not satisfy the Aristotelian definition of money or currency. Therefore, anthropologists should consider modifying their claims of its use as such, instead referring to cacao bean exchange as, at times, “like money” or “as a means of exchange.” Having only fully satisfied two of the four conditions necessary, this adjustment is a minor correction that can satisfy all tastes.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print. 33, 98-99

Del Mar, Alexander. The History of Money in America; from the Earliest times to the Establishment of the Constitution. New York: B. Franklin, 1899. Print. 45

Karimzadi, Shahzavar. Money and Its Origins. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print. 206

Millon, René Francis. When Money Grew on Trees a Study of Cacao in Ancient Mesoamerica. 1955. Print.

“Money Definition | Investopedia.” Investopedia. Investopedia, LLC, 24 Nov. 2003. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

“Money Supply Definition | Investopedia.” Investopedia. Investopedia, LLC, 24 Nov. 2003. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Paretts, Susan. “Storage & Shelf Life of Raw Cacao Beans.” EHow. Demand Media, Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print. 17

“Advertisers are selling us something else besides consumer goods: they are selling us ourselves”

The evolution of chocolate production changed the way in which chocolate was available and advertised to the public. Historically, chocolate was known as a luxury item, only available to the elite, the rich, or those with connections to the trade. In the late 19th century, chocolate shifted from being provided in liquid form to a solid candy. As competition between chocolate confectioners increased, their outreach to attract customers shifted as well. The earliest known chocolate promotions were posters, sometimes detailed illustrations that took advantage of new advancements in lithography, graphic arts, and commercial advertising (Grivetti, p. 193).

chocolat ideal hot-chocolate

Members of the chocolate history group at the University of California, Davis spent two years searching and finding over 500 chocolate advertisements from 11 countries, during this period. In their synopses of the advertisements, similar themes repeat throughout:

  • Incorporation of children – especially young girls and infants (of both genders) – holding chocolate bars, playing games with chocolate, being mischievous
  • Most adults within the advertisements were women, either a mother or caretaker.
  • The mother-child relationship was highlighted: the mother was giving or receiving chocolate from a child, or having a ‘moment’ (drinking hot chocolate together) with their child
  • Most adults (primarily women) were portrayed as being from a higher socio-economic class
  • The health, energy, joyful benefits of consuming chocolate
  • Incorporating a sense of nationalism or romanticism in chocolate – people were portrayed in their traditional dress or courtship scenes included chocolate (Grivetti, pp. 193-198)

200 years later and the messaging in chocolate advertising is still the same. Again, as the narrative of chocolate – its history – has evolved, so have the connotations around its production, promotion, and purchase. Ellen Moore states it succinctly:

“The examination of chocolate companies’ advertisements allows a glimpse into how different identities – including gender, ethnic, and national – can be constructed through a consumption of chocolate. The stereotypes presented for the consumer through advertisements serve to reinforce cultural notions of ethnically homogenous British and U.S. national identity [while also concealing] the realities of chocolate production in Africa and Central America. The consumption of chocolate is thus almost exclusively associated with whiteness, while production is largely associated with exotic “Others”’ (Rubin, p. 67).

The advertisement below was created for the 2012 Super Bowl. It takes a unique perspective on the ‘other’ as it involves an interaction between people of white/European descent and an anthropomorphic entity – a piece of candy that has been given human characteristics. The traditional, stereotypical tropes around femininity and chocolate, as well as the racial disparity, are all more subtly apparent:

Ms. Brown, is the M&M ‘spokescandy’ highlighted under the tagline “not your average chocolate”.  This was her introduction. Until 2012, the only ‘female spokescandy’ was Miss Green, whose persona is vastly different. Miss Green is characterized as sensual and seductive, from her movements, to her voice, to the promotions in which she is seen. In contrast, Ms. Brown, titled the “Chief Chocolate Officer”, is portrayed as intelligent, well-spoken, and successful. Her appearance differs as well. Ms. Brown wears glasses and comfortable, what would be referred to in the business world as ‘no-nonsense’ heels. Her voice and persona seem to command respect.  The conversation she is having with her girlfriends at the party, before being interrupted, references a meeting with a head of State.

Ms. Brown, M&M Miss Green M&M

However, this promotion still slips into the stereotypical trends prevalent in chocolate advertising and societal gender dysfunctions. Before she is interrupted, the story that Ms. Brown is sharing highlights gender stereotypes around women’s place in business. Ms. Brown is heard saying “Mr. Prime Minister (PM), I’m flattered that you love chocolate, but I’m here strictly in a professional manner.” This infers that the PM was not focused on their business meeting but in making (sexual) advances to Ms. Brown; possibly because she is female or because – as we see a moment later from men at the party – he also assumed that she was ‘naked’.  This is similar to the harassment that women regularly receive in the workplace; further there is an allusion to the sexualization of an anthropomorphic being.

The interruption also implies the childishness of these men. They are snickering because of Ms. Browns supposed nudity. It is an oblique reference to the ‘sinful’ pleasure associated with chocolate, a fascination with the exotic, and the associations of sex already incorporated into chocolate mythology (Robertson, p. 68). However, in a crisp, condescending tone she acknowledges their assumption and corrects them. Then Red, a male M&M arrives, sees Ms. Brown, and removes his ‘clothing’. The ad ends with the song “Sexy and I Know It” playing, Red dancing, and Ms. Brown disgustedly looking on. Though the song is Red’s anthem and he too plays into the immature male persona; the advert and the chocolate promoted, is still a gendered product. While Ms. Brown is portrayed as a ‘modern, business woman’ this, and most advertisements, clearly imply the subjectivity of a female consumer. Women have been recognized as the gate-keepers of chocolate – the primary purchaser for themselves and their families, as well as the primary consumer (Cooper, 2004) so the advertising must strongly appeal to women. It is interesting that in this advert, that role has been fulfilled wholesale – our ‘woman’ is more than a purchaser or consumer, she is chocolate. Ms. Brown has become the ultimate ideal.

Further, this advert alludes to Moore’s earlier presumption that the primary identity of the chocolate consumer is white. Ms. Brown’s friends are white; in the background of the club, all of the attendees are white. Ms. Brown and Red are the only ‘beings of color’ at the event. This is a clear ethnic distinction and it can be assumed that this active construction of an ethnically homogenous chocolate consumer, is partially based within the history of chocolate and its early consumption by rich, white Europeans. Finally, in their appearance, from the figure flattering clothing to their jewelry, it can be assumed that their (her, her girlfriends and background people) socioeconomic background could be higher than middle class. The background music and ‘party atmosphere’ are more upscale and relaxed than the strobe lights and pounding music of a night club.

Sidney Mintz shares that “food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions of age, sex, status, culture, and even occupation” (Mintz, p. 3). These distinctions can be uniquely noted in this advertisement. They can also be turned on their head, as shown below:

This ‘twist’ on the M&M advertisement still acknowledges the atmosphere of friends getting together, but the norms have changed. The immaturity is missing; they are all of an age, enjoying their time together – eating, talking, possibly listening to a story. The friends are all mixed (gender and ethnicity) groups of (what could be) varying socioeconomic backgrounds. The new tagline ‘how do you eat your M&Ms?’ replaces ‘not your average chocolate’ to highlight the communal experience of enjoying M&Ms, instead of focusing on an anthropomorphic piece of candy with feminine characteristics that is possibly nude and unexpectedly intelligent.

The focus is more gender neutral, as no one member of a photo can be immediately sexualized and previous stereotypes of class, race, and national identity within an audience have been set aside. Finally, the song emphasizes the idea of “being friends” and not being “sexy and knowing it”.


Cooper, Glenda. Women and Chocolate: Simply Made for Each Other. New York Times. 13 March 2004. Web. 09 April 2015. < http://www.cacao-chocolate.com/choclove/women.html >

Grivetti, Louise E. and Shapiro, Howard-Yana. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken. 2009. Print.

History timeline. Mars Company Website. History. N.D. Web. 10 April 2015. < http://www.mars.com/global/about-mars/history.aspx >

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York. Penguin Press. 1985. Print.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press. 2010. Print.

Rubin, Lawrence C. Food for Thought: Essays on Eating and Culture. McFarland and Company Publishers. 2008. Print.

Multimedia resources:  

BestCodTrolls. M&Ms Super Bowl Commercial 2012 – I’m Sexy and I Know It. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 05 February 2012. Web. 8 April 2015. < https://youtu.be/Pc7BnT5X1tw >

Character photos. Ms. Brown and Miss Green. M&M. N.D. Web. 10 April 2015. < http://www.mms.com/#character >

Mucha, Alphonse. Chocolat Ideal, 1897. Web. 10 April 2015. < http://www.artnet.com/artists/alphonse-mucha/chocolat-ideal-a-fDVy2jZnfv6prLHLQxw8jg2 >

Nyree1luv. Friends: A Chocolate Production. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 10 April 2015. Web. 10 April 2015. < https://youtu.be/voUcekR2kfA >

Vintage 19th century French poster. Chocolat Delespaul-havez. N.D. Web. 10 April 2015 < http://www.museumoutlets.com/vintage-french-posters/chocolat-delespaul-havez-vintage-french-advertising-poster >

Chocolate Ads and the Opacity of the Chocolate Supply Chain

Most chocolate advertisements today focus so much on consumers and sales that they ignore the important social issues that complicate chocolate production.  One such neglected issue, is the opacity and inequality of the chocolate supply chain which enables child labor and exploitation.  Since large chocolate companies have the power, means, and platform to make an impact, they could, and arguably should, be using some of their advertisements to advocate for transparency in the chocolate supply chain.  In doing this, they would be able to raise awareness of this important issue.  In addition, chocolate companies should also commit more money to solving this problem.  These strategies will not only reveal and fix discrepancies in the chocolate supply chain, but will also encourage the general public to be more ethical consumers.

One promotion that could have been used to make such a statement was the wildly popular “Cadbury Eyebrows” commercial that aired in 2009 (Figure 1 below).

In the commercial, viewers witness two young children in nice clothing about to take a school photo.  Then suddenly, the boy plays a tune, and the children start eyebrow dancing.  The video reveals children letting loose and enjoying the moment.  A probable intention of this advertisement is to show that chocolate brings people joy and to encourage children to ask for chocolate.  Although this commercial was well received by the public and makes people laugh, when looked at critically, the ad is irrelevant to chocolate, is overly fixated on consumer entertainment, and demonstrates the opaqueness of the chocolate supply chain.

The fact that the ad isn’t even about chocolate and spends a whole minute entertaining consumers is somewhat troubling.  It implies that chocolate companies may be only focusing their attention on the consumer part of the supply chain rather than making sure there is equality and transparency in the entire chocolate supply chain.  As a matter of fact, studies have shown that there are worrisome issues within the supply chain, but the opacity of the chain makes many consumers and even chocolate companies unaware that these problems exist.  One example is the exploitation of children in the initial stages of chocolate production.  In a 2009 Tulane University study, it was revealed that over 500,000 children working on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana “worked in breach of the ILO guidelines and national laws on minimum age and hours” (Ryan, 49).  Furthermore, many of these children were exposed to dangerous conditions and over half reported having an injury (Ryan, 49).  This study reveals that child labor is rampant on cocoa plantations, and most consumers are unaware of it due to the obscurity of the supply chain.

It is important to note that Cadbury has addressed the issues of opacity and exploitative labor in the past and was somewhat successful (Satre, 13-32).  Continuing this mission would make the company look responsible and help them attract socially conscious consumers.  Furthermore, if Cadbury took a public position on these matters, it would enlighten consumers simply because “most people who eat chocolate don’t know where it comes from” (Off, 8).  As a profitable company, Cadbury could also invest money to improve the equality and clarity of the chocolate supply chain.  In general, all large chocolate companies should fund causes that would positively affect the supply chain because “the amounts of money [that could eradicate issues in the supply chain] are not large in comparison to the worldwide profits they make” (Ryan, 44).

Figure 2. “Response” Ad

In response to the “Cadbury Eyebrows” commercial, another advertisement was created to demonstrate how chocolate advertising can be used to make a powerful statement, reveal that opaqueness in the supply chain exists, and highlight that “there is a vast gulf between the [people] who eat chocolate and those who work their whole lives to produce it” (Off, 8) (Figure 2 above).  In the “response” ad, two girls delighting in their Easter basket filled with chocolate confections are contrasted with an African child carrying a basket of cacao pods.  The distinction seems clear: the girls are happy and anticipating the wonderful taste of chocolate while the African child seems malnourished and unhappy. When looking at the ad from left to right, a viewer would at first feel good, but then upon seeing the boy would reflect on the true costs of chocolate.  Therefore, this ad’s intention is to reveal that while chocolate is a tasty treat and it is not necessarily wrong to consume it, there are social issues that need to be addressed.  The ad also encourages people to question and reject companies that utilize harmful child labor because “child labor is not so sweet”.

Another interesting aspect of this “response” ad is that the photo of the African child may not be truly reflective of the supply chain and child labor.  As an image from Google search, the photo of the African child could very well be a boy gathering some cocoa fruit on the family farm instead of an exploited child laborer.  Therefore, in the context of the ad, this photo can not only be used to expose the inequality between consumers and producers, but also highlights the point that there is little transparency in the supply chain by the fact that we don’t really know how to identify child labor.

Overall, the “Cadbury Eyebrows” commercial falls within the larger trend of advertising in which companies focus too much on consumers and overlook the opaqueness and inequalities of the chocolate supply chain.  The “response” ad is meant to serve as an example of what an impactful ad could look like and further reveals that there is a lack of transparency in the chocolate supply chain.  The “response” ad rebels against advertising trends, raises awareness, promotes equality between consumers and producers, and encourages action.  If more chocolate advertisements emulated the “response” ad and chocolate companies used their influence and money to highlight some of the exploitative practices in chocolate production, hidden inequities in the supply chain such as child labor could gradually be reduced (Ryan, 61).

If you are interested in seeing another ad that makes a statement similar to that of the “response” ad” see Figure 3 at this link: http://www.treadkindly.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/free-trade.jpg

Works Cited:

Off, Carol. Bitter chocolate: Investigating the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2006. 2-8.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate nations: Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa. Zed books, 2011. 44-61.

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on trial: Slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Ohio University Press, 2005. 13-32.

Figures Cited:

Figure 1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVblWq3tDwY (Accessed April 6, 2015)

Figure 2. (left) https://smartypots.wordpress.com/tag/science-laboratory/ (Accessed April 6, 2015) (right) http://thefrogblog.org.uk/2010/06/12/eradicating-child-labour-how-rainforest-alliance-certification-can-help/ (Accessed April 6, 2015)

Figure 3. http://www.treadkindly.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/free-trade.jpg (Accessed April 9, 2015)

Changes in Britain’s Use of Sugar and Potential Causes

Only the very rich could afford sugar when it was adapted into the British culture. By the 1500s, royalty used it in edible art-figures or “subtleties” displayed or given to guests at feasts as a show of wealth and power (Mintz 1986:88). Sugar had also been adopted as a spice and as a medicine; these uses faded over time. However, its use as a preservative and as a food increased especially after tea, coffee, and chocolate were made available in the 1600s. The wealthiest initially controlled the use of sugar, but as it declined in price, other classes adapted its use to their life circumstances; choices concerning sugar were influenced largely by status, wealth, or necessity.

Sugar spread to rich gentry and middle-classes, who feigned greater status by copying the wealthiest in their use of sugar as food and décor. This happened because the British West Indies and Jamaica provided more sugar and the price fell by seventy percent between 1645 and 1680 allowing four times more sugar to be consumed in England (Mintz 1986:107&160). Wealthy groups, such as prosperous merchants, wanted to make the appearance of status beyond their income level. For instance, they created subtleties using pasteboard foundations (Mintz 1986:93). Coffee houses serving coffee, chocolate, and tea, began opening in the 1650s and were frequented by the wealthier groups (Mintz 1986:111-117). Sugar was craved by all classes. It is hypothesized that the British had acquired an earlier taste for sweet drinks because they had prepared malted grain ale and honey mead for centuries (Mintz 1986:136-137). Copying the tradition of “the tea” enjoyed by aristocracy, the middle-classes created their own tea tradition with a light lunch, and lower middle-classes created a late afternoon tea time (Mintz 1986:141-142). Traditions were adapted to fit the lifestyle of different income groups in other ways as well. For instance, by 1747 the middle-classes were making homey versions of subtleties they called “jumballs” (Mintz 1986:93), viewed here:


The modification saved sugar making this middle-class version less expensive. Because the use of sugar no longer represented highest status, sugar subtleties were replaced by the rich with new rarities such as porcelains, similar to this:


At this point, sugar had become predominantly a food and preservative, making its way into expensive products. For instance, by the 1830s high priced preserved fruits were marketed (Goody 2013:76). Overall, as sugar came within reach of each class it was adapted to their lifestyle and used to the extent of affordability.

Sugar’s potential to create wealth was noticed by sugar brokers and others. For instance, sugar broker George R. Porter, believed that the poor would consume much more sugar if they could afford it (Mintz 1986:174). Policies protecting West Indian planters that had kept sugar prices high were rescinded, allowing sugar prices to fall sharply after 1850 to free trade levels (Mintz 1986:177&148). Lower income classes were able to afford sugar. Coffee public houses were opened in the1870s by temperance societies to help people resist alcohol at pubs (Goody 2013:79). The timing of this would also have encouraged sugar consumption through tea. As larger amounts of sugar arrived, poor people who worked in factories bought sugar in place of other foods (Mintz 1986:118). Profits were increased by selling sugar at lower prices to all classes including the poor. These profits allowed manufacturing growth, larger bank deposits, more business loans, and other benefits to the upper classes (Mintz 1986:148). The poor bought high-calorie food that gave them energy to keep working in low-waged jobs. However, this does not mean the poor wanted to eat sugar more than other foods.

The poor were hungry and had to make choices out of necessity in using their small factory income. For instance, making bread at home had been traditional, as shown here:


However, it would have been difficult to keep making bread and also keep long factory working hours. Women and children working, cooking fuel costs, and exhaustion pushed families to begin buying bread (Mintz 1986:130). The little meat available was given predominantly to the father out of a feeling of moral duty to support his more strenuous labor (Mintz 1986:144). This rationing of time and food shows that the poor chose sugar out of necessity. After 1870, bread and jam became a very important food to the poor (Mintz 1986:129). It was a staple food in daily life either purchased or made, as seen here:


The poor assimilated tea and jam into routine and special occasions, as had higher income groups, but they intensified its use out of necessity to avoid hunger. It was a cheap, less nutritious, more convenient source of energy and became traditionalized into culture.

Overall, sugar consumption transitioned down through income classes as it became less expensive and changed in use according to the circumstances of differing classes; choices were made based largely on status, wealth, or necessity. Approaching the 1900’s, sugar consumption evolved with more prepared foods flavored and preserved with sugar and packaged for convenience (Mintz 1986:147). For instance, canned condensed milk used in Britain since the mid-1800s (Goody 2013:77) was sweetened and sold as a popular creamer (Mintz 1986:143). By the 1890s, cereals were invented (Goody 2013:80), which encouraged sugar use. Popularized by jam, biscuits also changed through time and mass production techniques, making them and other sugar products widely available (Goody 2013:74). By 1900, sugar was contributing about one sixth of all calories consumed in England, weighted toward the working class (Mintz 1986:149). Clearly, the use of sugar changed over time, becoming more widespread, diversified, and intensified as it transitioned from the wealthiest to the poorest.

References Cited

Goody, Jack. (2013) [1982]. Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.

  1. 72-88. Book.

Kandler, Johann Joachim. Meissenvanda. Circa 1750. Porcelain. Meissen Porcelain Factory

V&A Museum. Meissen, Germany. commons.wikimedia.org. Web. 8, Mar. 2015.


Makovsky, Vladimir. Vladimir Makovsky – Making Jam. 1876. Oil painting on canvas.

commons.wikimedia.org. Web. 8, Mar. 2015.


Mintz, Sidney W. (1986) [1985]. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin Group. Book.

Mitchell, S. Buttermilk Jumbles. 7, Dec. 2007. Photograph. commons.wikimedia.org.

Web. 8, Mar. 2015. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buttermilk_jumbles.jpg.

Walker, George. Yorkshire Woman Making Oat Cakes. 1813. Two dimensional art. New York

Public Library’s Rare Books Division Digital Library. commons.wikimedia.org.

Web. 8, Mar. 2015.


Slavery Then, Slavery Now: History Repeats for Big Chocolate

In 1879, Cadbury Brothers, Limited chocolate company shunned the stereotype of cold, inhumane industrialized factories and instead built a village for its employees complete with sanitized working conditions, childhood education, dental and medical care, and worker housing. Through publicizing these amenities and the Cadbury family’s Quaker roots, the chocolate company projected an image of ethical, idealistic management. That was before anyone looked beneath the wrapper. Analyzing the historical challenges to Cadbury’s business ethics reveals the origins of a supposedly concerned chocolatier and the hardships he endured to ensure fair business practices over the entire production cycle of his chocolates. Studying these trials and the changes they inspired raises concerns over chocolate producers’ main motivations and whether modern day consumer and corporate ethics have evolved.

Cadbury’s “factory in a garden” village served as an idealistic response to cold, impersonal factories of the time. It’s inauguration served as a symbol of Cadbury’s dedication to employee wellness, at least in England.
Cadbury’s “factory in a garden” village served as an idealistic response to cold, impersonal factories of the time. It’s inauguration served as a symbol of Cadbury’s dedication to employee wellness, at least in England.

Despite Cadbury’s marketing of morality, chocolate historian Emma Robertson  contends that the, “perceptions of…Cadbury and Fry as ‘enlightened,’ ‘model firms’ may be held in tension with the imperial and colonial origin of key factors of production such as sugar and cacao…. The buying and selling of cocoa for use in ‘British-made’ products …was thus clearly conducted under the inequalities of colonial rule and its consequences.”[1] Indeed, while Cadbury advertised morality, it purchased cacao harvested by poorly treated laborers in Sao Tome and Principe.

A ceramic marker for Richard Cadbury of the Cadbury Brothers Limited chocolate brand. The Cadbury family relied on their Quaker ethics to guide business and employee relationships.
A ceramic marker for Richard Cadbury of the Cadbury Brothers Limited chocolate brand. The Cadbury family relied on their Quaker ethics to guide business and employee relationships.


Historian Catherine Higgs frames William Cadbury as an anti-slavery man who went to Sao Tome and Principe to prove the reality of inhumane treatment occurring on cacao farms but who was made practically powerless by political and business rivals. During one trip, Cadbury reported that, “workers enjoyed excellent treatment on many estates” [2] but insisted, “that their death rates were too high and that the recruiting methods in Angola bordered on slave trading.”[3] How workers could have “excellent treatment” and yet a “too high” death rate conveys that Cadbury wanted to be factual in his reporting but political in his cause. Effectively, his report could be read to mean that all is not well, but well enough that he can keep buying from the plantations.

Cadbury’s rival newspaper, The Standard, libeled the company by insisting Cadbury was not investing in the plantations they sourced. Since Cadbury’s trips occurred at the same time as the libel lawsuit, it is unclear whether his trips were motivated by genuine concern or a pressure to uphold public relations. Considering the rivalry between Cadbury’s newspaper and The Standard, the harsh convictions seem more intended to tarnish the reputation of Cadbury than to champion fair labor practices. The jury sided in Cadbury’s favor and rewarded him less than a penny in damages. In this way, they communicated: “We agree that you were libeled. But you were also busted for buying inhumanely produced materials, so you do not deserve to profit from this suit.”

Cadbury’s findings of unfavorable conditions evoked hatred from Portuguese royalty who believed Cadbury’s motivation was to instigate a boycott of Portuguese cacao producers in favor of Britain’s Gold Coast producers. Indeed, as soon as Gold Coast cacao trees reached production age, Cadbury boycotted Sao Tome cacao and switched sources to mainland Africa. He attempted to stay in Portugal’s good graces by not publically releasing his findings. This supports a conclusion that Cadbury’s actions were politically or PR-inspired all along. He simply needed to be seen caring about the workers’ conditions not actually changing them.

Sadly, the history of slavery in cacao plantations has repeated itself. According to Higgs, today’s chocolate production in Cote D’Ivoire regularly involves child slavery. [4] Big Chocolate has ignored these findings or not responded compassionately. During Cadbury’s campaign, the Marquis of Vale Flor defended Portugal’s humanitarian record dismissing Cadbury’s photos as “fakes” and could have been, “taken in any part of the black Continent, even in London.”[5] When current US chocolate manufacturers saw reports of child labor on the plantations they sourced, they “expressed shock” and insisted, “that they had nothing to do with the practice” before concluding that the production chain was “outside of their control.”[6] When asked for a solution to these injustices, one cacao dealer suggested, “People should eat more chocolate instead of boycotting it so that farmers in Africa can make more money and poverty in West Africa will be eradicated.” [7] Another cocoa industry expert explained the “hazardous working conditions for children are just part of the culture of those countries.”[8]

This modern image references unaddressed child slavery issues on cacao plantations that persist today. Unfair labor practices on cacao plantations were brought to Europeans’ attention by Cadbury’s writings and sponsored reports from Sao Tome and Principe. Despite Cadbury’s protest of Sao Tome and Principe cacao production, chocolate producers simply sourced from other African countries where unfair labor was only less cruel or less publicized. Hence, the practice continues today.
This modern image references unaddressed child slavery issues on cacao plantations that persist today. Unfair labor practices on cacao plantations were brought to Europeans’ attention by Cadbury’s writings and sponsored reports from Sao Tome and Principe. Despite Cadbury’s protest of Sao Tome and Principe cacao production, chocolate producers simply sourced from other African countries where unfair labor was only less cruel or less publicized. Hence, the practice continues today.

Today, the vast majority of cacao is grown a continent away and marketed as a final product made “just down the street” by patriotic, moralistic chocolate corporations. Studying the history of Cadbury’s ethical challenges in Africa raises modern questions of who should bear the burden to relieve cacao farmers’ hardships. Should governments set—and enforce—standards so that all cacao buyers are required to play along? Is it the chocolate corporations who must self-enforce? Or should consumers be to blame for their unwillingness to pay more money for chocolate bars that could give companies a higher profit margin with which they could afford more expensive beans produced by farmers who can pay higher wages and live above subsistence level? Seen from any of these angles, beloved desserts produced in unfair conditions will always taste bittersweet.


[1] Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010. Pg 7.

[2] Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. 2012. Pg 141.

[3] Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. 2012. Pg 141.

[4] Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. 2012. Pg 135.

[5] Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. 2012. Pg 155.

[6] Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. 2008. Pg 140.

[7]Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. 2008. Pg 153.

[8]Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. 2008. Pg 153.

Mass Commoditization of one of the World’s Most Difficult to Grow Crops

It sometimes seems like the world just can’t get enough chocolate.  We eat it plain, add all sorts of interesting things like raisins, chilies, and caramel to it, and even form it into the shape of a rabbit around Easter time.  From the omnipresent Hershey’s to small boutique chocolatiers, this global food phenomenon relies on the tiny seeds of the cacao tree. Yet the cultivation of this crop does not mirror the ease with which people can consume the finished product.  Growing cacao is incredibly difficult work that’s done almost completely by hand, and international demand has had a significant impact on the types of cacao that are grown.  As a result, cacao has become a commoditized monocrop, endangering both its heritage and its future.

In order to grow cacao, you first need a region of the world where temperatures will sit between 60-95 degrees.  You then need to find some land where this picky plant will be shaded from the sun, preferably underneath a banana tree.  Next, you must make sure that the cacao tree has enough moisture, but that monsoons don’t flood it.   When you add in the manual labor, subjective and objective knowledge necessary to grow this crop, and possible 50% losses due to disease, you may finally end up with a viable product that is ready to be processed (Martin, February 18th).  Once the cacao pods are harvested from the tree they must be cracked open, where the insides are scooped out and left to ferment for several days in order to remove the pulp from the seeds (Martin, February 18th).  Next, they are left out in the sun to dry.

Séchage du cacao - Coopérative Konafcoop, Cameroun (2011)

As seen in the picture, these seeds are sometimes placed right next to roads or other less than sanitary locations, meaning that consuming cacao beans raw isn’t quite the best idea.  Finally, the beans must be roasted and winnowed to remove the shells (Martin, February 18th).  Once this last step is complete, the leftover nibs can then be further processed into several different final forms.

Even though this process is incredibly labor intensive, demand for cacao hasn’t decreased.  Major chocolate producers simply looked for a way to get the greatest amount of product for the lowest cost.  As a result, there is a clear split between two different types of cacao.  The first is fine cacao.  This classification is mostly made from Criollo and Trinitario varieties of the plant, which produce a lower yield and are more susceptible to disease.  In return however, they have a much higher quality of flavor and as a result sell for higher prices.  Today fine cacao accounts for only 5-7% of product grown, whereas it used to be up to 50% of worldwide production up until the 1900s (Martin, February 18th).  The second classification is bulk cacao, which dominates current production with 93-95% market share.  These are usually Forastero varieties, are more disease resistant, have higher yields, and sell at a much lower rate.  However, the lack of fine flavor and sometimes even the presence of bad taste accompany the bottom-basement pricing associated with this classification (Martin, February 18th).

The need for massive amounts of product at commodity pricing creates some interesting labor implications.  In the first video linked below, a cacao farmer is asked what the cacao beans are used for.  He doesn’t know, and after being told that it’s turned into chocolate, he tries a piece for the first time in his entire life.  He is absolutely thrilled with it, and runs off to share it with the people he works with.  Due to the desire for cheap chocolate, this cacao producer doesn’t have the spare money to try the final version of the product that he labors over.  In contrast, the second video showcases a Fair Trade farmer.  He is able to skip selling to a broker, and can actually thrive on growing cacao instead of just surviving.  The difference is night and day, and perfectly illustrates how labor practices directly influence the quality of life for these growers.

The demand for chocolate will never go away.  However, the way we think about and source cacao beans will have to change if we wish to continue consuming this heavenly treat.  While there are about nine primary strains of cacao, the push towards low pricing means that one particular style is used for its commercial qualities (Martin, February 18th).  This allows knowledge about how to grow the other strains to slowly fade away into history, erasing the cultural ties of the strains along with it.  All that is left is a legacy of profit seeking.  Furthermore, a monocrop culture becomes unsustainable in the long run, relying more and more on pesticides and fertilizers, putting the entire production at risk of a single vulnerability (Wikipedia). In order to protect its past as well as its future, it is important to maintain cacao diversity and to fully support the farmers growing it all over the world.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe, and Ryan J. Huxtable. The True History of Chocolate. London, Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x Lecture 7: Sugar and Cacao.  Conducted February 18, 2015.

“Monocropping.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Feb. 2015. &lt;https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monocropping&gt;.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Random House LLC, 2009.

The Social Value of Chocolate

Chocolate was once very expensive. Almost every store today will offer chocolate right at the counter, at very low costs. But there is a high cost associated with the entire process of making chocolate, which is oftentimes unrealized because it is figured in a social cost. In the course of chocolate’s (un)celebrated history, there have been few periods where chocolate was as inexpensive as it is now, whether the costs are figured in terms of capital, labour, or social currency. As chocolate has become integrated in cultures worldwide, the advance of technology has propelled this shift from a monetary cost towards one that is far more socially punishing. Chocolate’s social value has grown from once being a food for the elite, to being a widely accessible part of the human diet.

To begin at the start of the chocolate-making process, growing cacao is extremely labour intensive. The cacao tree is hard to grow, and requires particular weather conditions that aren’t too sunny, too shady, too cold, or too hot. Cacao is a finicky tree to grow. In the Aztec society, the Aztecs could only obtain cacao beans through the efforts of Pochteca merchants. These merchants carried cacao from the Mayan lowlands to the Aztec highlands, but at great costs because upon arrival they were celebrated with elaborate feasts. (Martin, Feb 4). Simply put, merely obtaining cacao in early Mesoamerican culture was a considerable cost in terms of labour and money.

Once available in the Mesoamerican markets, cacao was valued very highly, to the point where it was a viable form of currency. But chocolate was also appreciated in a social sense – the Mayans had the word “chokola’j”, meaning “to drink chocolate together” (Coe & Coe, 61). The Mayans valued not only chocolate, but the act of drinking with another person. Interestingly enough, in Aztec culture the chocolate drink was also favoured as a social alternative to octli, a “mildly alcoholic” beverage (Coe & Coe, 75). However, chocolate was still “an ambrosia from the rich and exotic lands of Anahuac, not something to wash down one’s food” (Coe & Coe, 95). Thus, chocolate clearly did have a social value early on in its history.

White’s Chocolate House, London, c.1708

That social value grew more prominent once chocolate spread to Europe and was hybridized. Food is inherently a social activity, and chocolate even more so. Chocolate even had social value after it was popularized in Europe. At first, there was still “the association of drinking chocolate with high social standing” (Presilla, 25), but soon the taste for chocolate had spread to the masses. In the 1600s and 1700s, chocolate houses were fashionable places where people could meet their friends to enjoy various rich chocolate drinks, as seen in the image below.

Upcoming Easter themed chocolate from Russell Stover

In today’s society, chocolate is still very much a social activity. We go out for hot chocolate, socialize over the fires making s’mores, and delight in fondue with friends. Chocolate has become so very cheap to buy. Every holiday seems to be accompanied by massive sales of themed chocolate. If you enter a store today, you will undoubtedly find an aisle overflowing with Easter candy.

But even chocolate that is sold at relatively low prices can have high social value, especially in today’s society. We gift chocolate like no other – according to Nielsen research from 2009, consumers were expected to purchase more than $345 million in chocolate candy for Valentine’s Day. That figure shows how much value we place in giving and receiving chocolate, which is not even considered expensive today. We think that chocolate is inherently valuable as a social good, and so we continue to give and get, fueling the industry and our sweet addiction to chocolate.

Works Cited
– Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
– Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print.
– Professor Carla Martin. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 4 February 2015.
– “U.S. CONSUMERS SHOW THEIR LOVE FOR CHOCOLATE ON VALENTINE’S DAY.” Nielsen. N.p., 02 Apr. 2009. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

– Easter Sweets. Digital image. Russell Stover. Web.
– White’s Chocolate House, London. Digital image. The Story of Chocolate. National Confectioners Association, n.d. Web.

Drinking Money: How Did Chocolate Become so Popular?

Chocolate is almost a necessary food in our diets today. However, this was not how it was first received by the Europeans in the 15th and 16th centuries. Although the Maya and the Aztecs worshiped the cacao bean religiously, the initial impressions of cacao by the Europeans was disgust. Chocolate only truly became popular in Europe after they added their own flavorings such as sugar and vanilla, compared to the popular chili peppers added by the mesoamericans. Just how did this seemingly repelling food product become incorporated into the daily European diet?

Not many people know this today, but chocolate is made from the beans contained within this cacao fruit.

The entire concept of chocolate has changed since its first form consumed by the mesoamericans. The food we now call chocolate used to be a drink, instead of a candy bar. And instead of a sweet treat, it was often a bitter drink used as a meal replacement. The first encounter of Europeans with cacao beans occurred when Columbus traveled to Guanaja, an island off of Honduras. He witnessed the value of the cacao bean when he observed that, “they seemed to hold these almonds [cacao beans] at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stopped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen” (Coe & Coe 108). As the Spanish conquistadors stayed longer in the New World, they realized that the Maya and Aztec actually used the cacao beans as a form of currency.

Social anthropologists agree that the island of Guanaja was the site of the first encounter of Europeans with cacao beans.

Surely, the amount of value the Aztecs placed on the beans piqued the interests of the Spaniards. Some researchers speculate that the cacao bean naturally became the unit of currency in the mesoamerican region because of its similarity to coins. They are light and therefore relatively easy to transport. Additionally, it is simple to establish units with these beans (Schoko Museum). The Nahuatl document of the Aztecs details some of the trades that could be made with the cacao bean. For example, one male turkey would cost 200 cacao beans (Martin, February 9). The taste, however was less enticing. The famous historian, Girolamo Benzoni once asserted that chocolate seemed more like a drink for pigs than for humanity (Martin, February 11). It was the fact that Europeans believed these peoples to be savages that kept them from trying chocolate at first, even though only the elite in Aztec society could drink the beverage. Chocolate was a noble, precious drink. Additionally, if a commoner tasted the drink, this violation was possibly punishable by death (Presilla 15). When Benzoni finally deigned to taste the drink, he found that it was very practical—it provided energy and was very filling. Others, however, did not enjoy the taste, as practical as the chocolate drink seemed.

Chocolate, for Aztecs, was a drink fit for gods and kings. This glyph shows the serving of a frothy chocolate drink to a king.

The Europeans did not enjoy the taste of cacao until they added their own flavors. But how could this bean, from what these people would have called a savage region, become so popular in Europe? In Aztec society, as mentioned before, the chocolate beverage was associated with the elite. It is said that the Aztec king Motecuhzoma stored more than 960 million cacao beans in his warehouse and drank thousands of cups of the beverage throughout his lifetime (Coe & Coe 96). Then so too did it become the drink of the elite in Europe. With the exception of Great Britain, only the nobles could afford to drink chocolate in the 16th and 17th centuries—they were literally drinking money. Beginning with Great Britain, the drink was slowly democratized. Men from all strata of society would congregate in the English chocolate houses, drink chocolate together, and criticize the king and his court (Martin, February 11). Chocolate would later become a food accessible to all.

Why is this important? Chocolate arrived in Europe before coffee or even tea, and the way they treated chocolate would determine how people would enjoy stimulant beverages (Martin, February 11). Though this characteristic of cacao beans may not be the entire story of how chocolate became a staple in our diets, it may lead to more insight into the history of chocolate and perhaps even the role of chocolate in our lives. The Spanish conquistadors may have looked upon the Aztecs as savages, but today we still maintain many of the chocolate traditions that were practiced back then.


Works Cited

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

Presilla, Marical. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Pres, 2009. Print.

Professor Carla Martin. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. 9 February 2015.

Professor Carla Martin. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.11 February 2015.

Schoko Museum. “History.” The Schoko Museum: The Fascinating World of Chocolate. 2015. Web. 20 February 2015. <http://www.schokomuseum.at/en/knowledge/history>.