Tag Archives: Multimedia Essay 1

Hate Hershey’s? The Changing Taste of Chocolate Throughout History

As both an international student and self-professed chocolate lover, I simply cannot stand the taste of Hershey’s. In a nutshell, I would rather eat no chocolate at all than consume a Hershey’s product; quite the statement for a big chocolate fan. Throughout history, events which may have seemed insignificant at the time have had drastic impacts on the ways in which we perceive chocolate around the world today. We often talk about the different types of chocolate which exist, but we rarely discuss (and explain) the differences in tastes of chocolates both today and how these have evolved throughout history. Our society seems to understand that chocolate today is much sweeter than it was in the past, but the true narrative is much more nuanced than that. Furthermore, given chocolate’s incredible presence in our generation, a question we can ask ourselves is: did the recipe for chocolate adapt to changing taste preferences, or did these preferences change as a result of chocolate’s intense popularity? Upon research, it seems as though the answer is likely a combination of the two, with different time periods presenting different directions of causality. In this blog post, we can briefly examine events from the first tasting of chocolate thousands of years ago to the giant manufacturers we see in the world today; discussing what contributed to such a changing taste and its unexpected effects on the rest of the world.

The first Mesoamerican cultivation of cacao was thought to be as long ago as 1500 BC by the Olmec (likely Mayan ancestors). During the classical period of 150-900 AD, the Mayans were documented for using cacao (or, “kakaw”) in many of their practices, including marriage rituals, funerals and other sacred gatherings. It appears as though cacao was used for more spiritual and practical purposes rather than the primary purpose of taste it is used for today. However, even centuries ago there are instances where it seems as though cacao was indeed exploited for its unique taste. Despite much of the literature stating that cacao was consumed solely as a drink in Mayan society, it was also used as a flavoring in food; considered a spice rather than simply a food in its own right.

Many of us understand that chocolate was not always sweet. In fact, sugar was only introduced into chocolate in the 16th century by the Spaniards, after their conquest of the Aztecs. The addition of sugar allowed the unfamiliar bitterness that Europeans did not enjoy to be counteracted and thus minimized. Chocolate would likely not have been accepted as a normal beverage by the Spanish had it remained cold, bitter, and unsweetened. It became heated, sweetened with cane sugar, and spiced with more familiar substances such as cinnamon. (Coe & Coe 250).

% of Colonial European Chocolate Recipe with Specific Ingredients: Carla Martin 2020

Britain commonly used cinnamon as an addition to chocolate in early colonial times; even more so than the more common vanilla (and in some cases, sugar) that we associate chocolate with today. This was, in part, due to Britain’s proximity and colonial ties to Asia, where cinnamon was endemic. It is clear that chocolate has geographically distinctive tastes, but why is this not the case for many other foods? Sampeck & Thayn suggest that this is primarily as a result of the fact that cacao has an unusual transformational ability, where it can be liquid, solid, scent and flavor (73). They argue that this made cacao a “colonial superingestible,” allowing for divergent (yet often connected) tastes.

This is just an example of how a change in consumer taste demographics can result in a fundamental changing of the chocolate recipe; presenting a case for causality in this direction. As another example, in the US, annual sugar consumption per person rose drastically from 2lbs in 1800, to 123lbs in 1970, to its current peak of 152lbs today. In all the societies to which it was introduced, sugar started out as a glamorous luxury for the rich – then worked its way down to the middle class, before becoming a staple for even the poor (Mintz 122). As these transitions occurred, its production increased; and so did its inclusion into chocolate recipes.

US Sugar Consumption Over Time: Stephan Guyenet and Jeremy Landen, Whole Health Source 2012

But this still begs the question: why do I (and my other international friends) have such a visceral distaste for North American chocolate? The answer lies in the history of Hershey’s, and how its creation shaped the taste buds of Americans today. In 1903, Milton S. Hershey and John Schmalbach discovered a method to create chocolate quicker – and therefore cheaper – than the Europeans were able to do so during the same time period (D’Antonio 108). However, one noticeable difference came to fruition as a result: the taste. D’Antonio states: “From the very beginning, Hershey’s milk chocolate has had a distinctive flavor. It is sweet, like the others, but it also carries a single, faintly sour note” (108). The added acidity that D’Antonio describes began as the result of the fermentation of milk fat; an unanticipated byproduct of Schmalbach’s process of slow and low-heat evaporation. D’Antonio adds: “Anyone who knew Swiss milk chocolate would have detected the unusual taste and may have found Hershey’s candy unpleasant. But in the mouths of people who had never tried the stuff made in Europe, Hershey’s milk chocolate would be a revelation” (108). The process of scaling-up chocolate for North American production is ultimately what gave Hershey’s its distinct flavor. The mass-production giant that it is, Hershey’s has come to define the taste of chocolate for Americans today. It’s incredible that an entire nation’s perception of chocolate was decided at the exact moment Milton S. Hershey decided to enlist the help of John Schmalbach on a whim; disregarding the chemists who had previously failed him. Had that process not been discovered in their random experimentation, it is likely Americans would have a vastly different taste of chocolate today. This is just an example of how the causality between changing tastes and changing recipes of chocolate can be reversed; the recipe/preparation techniques helped shape the taste of an entire nation.

The Chocolate Wars: American vs British Cadbury, Vanity Fair 2015


  1. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2007[1996].
  2. Sampeck, Kathryn E., and Jonathan Thayn. Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica. University of Texas Press, 2017.
  3. Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Viking, 1985.
  4. D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster Paperback, 2006.
  5. Spices: Exotic Flavors and Medicines (Chocolate), UCLA, 2002, https://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/biomed/spice/index.cfm?displayID=4
  6. CHART OF THE DAY: American Per-Capita Sugar Consumption Hits 100 Pounds Per Year, Business Insider, 2012, https://www.businessinsider.com/chart-american-sugar-consumption-2012-2?r=US&IR=T
  7. Martin, Carla. Colonial European Chocolate Recipe Ingredients, Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture Slide 30. Spring Academic Year, 2020.
  8. The Chocolate Wars: American vs British Cadbury, Vanity Fair, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lUkZH2pIYM

Candied Ceramics: The Relationship Between Ancient Mayan Pottery and Cacao Storage

When archaeologists find remnants of cups, bowls, and plates, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that these items were used for eating and drinking. However, this is not always the case. In today’s culture, one might reserve certain silverware for only the most important dinner guests or have some plates that are meant to be displayed instead of eaten off. Archaeologists are learning that similar cultural practices may have been implemented by the ancient Mayans in regard to their pottery. The difference between today’s fancy china and decorative vases from ancient Mesoamerica, though, is that ancient Mayans are no longer alive to verbally explain the specific purpose and use of each piece in their ceramics collection. This job falls onto the shoulders of archaeologists are anthropologists, and they can assure us it’s a trickier job than first meets the eye. Some vessels were once thought to hold liquid cacao because they were labeled as such. However, analysis that goes beyond the words on the vessel leads experts to believe that the uncovering the uses of such containers is not as simple as reading a label (Loughmiller-Cardinal, 2018). It turns out that the Mayans were similar to us in that they had different uses for different shapes, grades, and qualities of ceramic containers. Below is a detailed differentiation of these types of vessels and their uses.

Drinking Vessels

Archaeologists have discovered that the Mayans used different vessels to drink from than the ones they used as decoration (Loughmiller-Cardinal, 2018). This is analogous to a modern-day drinking cup vs. a modern-day vase. You could drink out of a vase if you wanted to, but it would be largely inefficient. Mayan drinking vessels were often much smaller than vases and vessels used for decorative celebrative purposes. Additionally, the drinking vessels would have fewer engravings and carving adorned on the exterior. The drinking vessels were most commonly small cylinders or bowls. Below is an image from the Rufino Tamayo museum in Oaxaca. Figure 1 depicts a bowl that was most likely used for the consumption of liquids. While there are some carvings on this bowl, these decorations are minimal compared to those on vases that were put on display or set out at special events. This bowl would be the equivalent of a coffee mug with a simple pattern on it while the decorative vessels would be the equivalent of artistic and elaborate vases or jars. 

Figure 1: A small, minimally-decorated bowl that was likely used for the consumption of beverages. Source: Museo de Rufino Tamayo Oaxaca

Decorative Vessels

Many Classic Mayan vessels are adorned with similar strings of characters that seem to identify to whom the vessel belongs and what is inside of it (Macri, 2005). This syntactical pattern is known as the Primary Standard Sequence, or PSS. Figure 2 details the pattern of the PSS and gives a few examples of what this may have looked like on Mayan ceramics. 

Figure 2: The Primary Standard Sequence broken down with examples. Source: Artstor

While many Mayan vessels adorned with a PSS include the glyph for cacao, it can be argued that these decorative vessels were not used to store liquid cacao. The PSS on these specific vessels may have been referring to raw cacao ingredients, such as seeds, that could have been stored in the containers (Loughmiller-Cardinal, 2018). Another theory is that the PSS is referring to a scene drawn or etched onto the vessel. For example, if the scene depicts a king sipping from a jar, then the PSS might refer to the king and his cacao beverage in the scene, regardless of what was inside the vessel itself. Figure 3 shows a decorative vessel with a PSS around the top rim and a battle scene on the exterior. The battle could have been a reason for celebration and cacao libation.

Figure 3: A decorative vessel with a PSS across the top rim. The battle scene depicted might have been a reason for celebration. Source: Cleveland Museum of Art

In comparison to the drinking vessels, the decorative vessels were larger, bulkier, and ostensibly harder to drink from. In addition to the inconvenient size and shape, chemical and visual analysis supports the idea that these larger decorative vessels were not used to hold liquid, including liquid cacao (Loughmiller-Cardinal, 2018). Residue analysis run on decorative vessels with a PSS, for the most part, return a negative result for theobromine as well as other alkaline chemicals found in liquid cacao. Additionally, a visual scan of these vessels will find no traces of liquid being held inside the vessels. What it will find, however, is small chips and divots on the interior of the decorative vessels. This suggests that dry goods, such as raw cacao beans or seeds, may have been stored in these vessels. Dried goods would not leave behind a chemical residue like liquid would because the porous ceramic would not absorb particles from the dried goods. An exception to this rule of thumb is the Río Azul cacao pot. This elaborately designed piece of pottery both features a PSS and tested positive for cacao residue (Stuart, 1988). Figure 4 shows the Río Azul pot. It might look recognizable, as it is one of the more famous pieces in the field.

Figure 4: The Río Azul cacao pot that contained chemical residue of cacao and features a PSS across the top. Source: Carla Martin, Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”


Glyphs: various kakaw (cacao) drinks recorded in the Primary Standard Sequence: Ref.: drawing. Retrieved from https://library-artstor-org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/asset/ARTSTOR_103_41822003733423

Loughmiller-Cardinal, J. (2018). Distinguishing the uses, functions, and purposes of Classic Maya “chocolate” containers: Not all cups are for drinking. Ancient Mesoamerica, 30(2019), 13-30.

Macri, M. J. (2005). Nahua loan words from the Early Classic period: Words for cacao preparation on a Río Azul ceramic vessel. Ancient Mesoamerica, 16(2005), 321-326.

Martin, C. (2020). Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods.” [Google Docs Slides]. Retrieved from URL: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1c6fZMj2cW7A-bByTKzaP-YS7pLdm0dmVPidneg4T4XU/edit#slide=id.gef490479d_2_25

Stuart, D. (1988). The Río Azul cacao pot: Epigraphic observations on the function of a Maya ceramic vessel. Antiquity, 62(234), 153-157.

Liquid to Solid: Chocolate Recipes over time

Today when we hear the word chocolate, we often picture a chocolate bar or small treat. We think of a sweet taste and often consumed as a dessert or delicacy. In various forms from luxurious truffles to drugstore bars, chocolate is often found in a person’s life today in a much different way of the past.  First discovered by the ancient Mayans, chocolate consumption was not only bitter but also found in different forms than the most commonly present on the market today.  The flavour that today’s society associates chocolate with is unparalleled to its original ways of consumption transformed by humans’ decisions to combine cacao powder with various other flavours and spices.

Historically known as cacao in reference to the raw material, cocoa was born as a result of the anglicization of the word cacao in reference to the commodity to be sold or processed. With consumption linked to “unhealthy” or “treat like” ideas, it is to some’s surprise that the main substance in chocolate is found on a cacao tree. Grown on the cacao trees we find cacao pods which are a colourful fruit encapsulating a seed within; the cacao bean. Undergoing processing, cacao beans become a chocolate liquor which can also be referred to as cocoa liquor. Processing this chocolate liquor, we arrive at cocoa butter, which is described as waxy and rather than the brown colour we usually associate chocolate with is actually and ivory-yellow solid (Lecture 2). By pressing the cocoa butter, we get cocoa powder which is frequently used in baking today. To arrive at the chocolate, we know today the seeds of the cacao plant must be roasted, husked and ground, then combined with other flavours, usually sugar and vanilla, to create your favourite chocolate bar.

Going back in time:

Going back in time to the 16th century, Mesoamerican’s classified chocolate as a native good similar to that of beans and squash. Through the use of a Geographic Information System, researchers are able to depict the areas and times in which chocolates flavours differed and how they evolved to the common good today. Representing a luxury during that time, cacao beverages were the most common form of consumption of cacao. These drinks however, were found in combination with goods we don’t usually consume today. Experiences described as “flowery immersion” (Sampeck 2017) provide imagery for the flower additives to the cacao beverages. Having been a luxurious edible as well as medicine, the numerous combinations define its use during early consumption. Cacao was viewed as quite a unique substance at the time, varying from its liquid form to a solid, was solely based on its preparation and preferences of the consumer. With strong ties to religious beliefs, ceremonies, and “superpower” like traits, chocolates ability to be consumed was taken much more seriously in comparison to our consumption today. The evolution of the tastes and flavours associated with each new transformation of chocolate has significant ties to historical advances over the substance’s lifetime.

Recipes: spicy to sweet to floral to umami to nutty to starchy

Chocolate during the 16th century did not describe the solid substance we consume today but rather described one of many cacao drinks. Tools used to create various recipes have also proven to have evolved over time. Originally made with a molinillo, a special type of stirring stick; the finished product was kept in a spouted pot and finally poured into a steep-sided cup. These tools used are much different to the large machines and factories presently involved in the production line for chocolate. Molinillos allowed Mesoamericans the ability to froth the beverage acting similar to a whisk, giving volume to the fatty liquid. In addition to the whisking, pouring from a great height allowed for air bubbles to enter the liquid on its way into the steep cup from the spouted pot. It was most important to the Mesoamericans to ensure that the preparation process such as the one described above be completely accurately in order to achieve the desired flavours for the beverage. Additionally, the variety and degree of ripeness of the cacao bean were just as important as the processing of cacao. Inscriptions in Mayan pottery and archeological remains describe the combination of cacao with honey, flowers, aromatic herbs, achiote, sugar, vanilla, chili, and various fruits (peaches, apricots, oranges) (Sampeck 2017).Original tastes seem to fair on the bitter side while pre-Columbian and colonial period recipes begin to incorporate natural sweeteners.

Mayan Artifacts:

Used for centuries to whip up a foam on hot-chocolate drinks in Mexican and Central American kitchens

The Princeton Vase: Women on far right demonstrates pouring of chocolate beverage from height

Silver chocolate pot

With recipes varying mostly by geographic locations, the availability of resources determined which flavours were used in combination with the cacao to achieve each concoction. Records show that common spices used in combination with cacao for Europeans include cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, saffron, nutmeg, ginger, and clove (Sampeck 2017). It is evident based on these flavours that the tastes in various parts of the world seem to take individual themes. With Europeans inclined to a earthy, musky, spicier flavour, the Mayans and Spanish preferred a sweeter sensation. The commencement of trading of substances among countries jumpstarted the wide array of recipes that blossomed from attaining new spices and flavours from others. Although each spice added a new dimension to the taste and feeling of consumption of cacao, one of the most important and sought-after combinations for countries on either side of the Atlantic Ocean involved that of honey or fruit.

Recipes from the British impacted chocolate flavours by acting as a generic starting point for much of the creations across Europe having combined cacao with a wide array of ingredients, much more in fact than any other European place. With such a large array of recipes chocolate became an opportunity for each location to explore their environment and preferences to arrive at a combination they chose to consume.

Interestingly, certain recipes continued to have the chocolate name in them when in fact no cacao was included in the mixture. The name stuck due to the similar preparation style to that of chocolate beverages and included combinations of spices and flavours that would typically be found in combination with cacao powder.

Evolution over time:

Beginning in the 18th century, recipes for chocolate began to shift from a liquid substance to a solid matter. As slavery became more prevalent, the production of cacao heightened, allowing it to be used by commoners.  The prestigious power of chocolate was stripped with mass amounts being consumed on the daily by all individuals of society. The famous chocolate company Nestle, gave rise to milk chocolate in the 17th century by combining condensed powdered milk, sugar and processed chocolate (Lippi). By 1847, the first chocolate bar was created by a company called J.S. Fry & Sons, made from cocoa butter, powder and sugar. Soon after Lindt curated the conching machine which allowed for production of the creamy chocolate ganache that fills their popular truffles (Klein). The 20th century opened the door to the creation and enjoyment of various chocolate flavoured solid treats, combining large amounts of sugar and other additives in order to ensure preservation and enjoyment (Fiegl).

Advertisement for Fry’s Chocolate, 1847.

Manufacture of first chocolate bar in England.

Work Cited:

Fiegl, Amanda. “A Brief History of Chocolate.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Mar. 2008, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/.

Klein, Christopher. “The Sweet History of Chocolate.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 14 Feb. 2014, http://www.history.com/news/the-sweet-history-of-chocolate.

Lecture 2 Slides: Professor Martin

Lippi, Donatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food.” Nutrients, MDPI, 14 May 2013, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3708337/.

Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “Substance & Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica”.  eds. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.

Multimedia Cited:

Edwards, Owen. “A Historic Kitchen Utensil Captures What It Takes to Make Hot Chocolate From Scratch.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Sept. 2007, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/kitchen-utensil-chocolate-stirring-from-scratch-cacao-161383020/.

Khan, Gulnaz. National Geographic, 11 Sept. 2017, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/guatemala/anitgua-maya-chocolate-making/.

Lecture 5: Professor Martin

“The Princeton Vase (y1975-17).” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, artmuseum.princeton.edu/collections/objects/32221.

“The Silver Chocolate Pots of Colonial Boston.” Colonial Society of Massachusetts, http://www.colonialsociety.org/node/1359.

Chocolate and the Slave Tade

Today there is no mistaking the interconnected state of the world. Trade is international, products are manufactured across border lines, and people can partake in ecommerce with others halfway across the world using the internet. While globalized economics is engrained within today’s society, it has been a reality of the world for centuries. One of the biggest international trade networks in history was the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This network involved the exchange of goods (most notably enslaved humans) between Western Europe, Africa, and the New World and some individuals, families, and countries very wealthy. Despite the moral implications of enslaving and trading human beings, the Slave Trade persisted for centuries due to the lucrative economic benefits to those exploiting humans for free labor. Slavery as an economic system prioritized the monetary benefits of industry participants over the liberty of the laborers. Because of the growing popularity of chocolate in Europe and American in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the opportunity for profit and satiation of a market outweighed the moral imperative to end slavery in cacao-growing regions, even after it was officially outlawed.

Below: Triangular Trade Routes

The version of slavery which employed Africans as laborers began in the fifteenth century by the Portuguese[1] and emerged as a solution to an economic problem. In simplest terms, Europeans were looking to maximize their profitability and in order to do that they needed a system which reduced the cost of labor as much as possible and prevented laborers from utilizing resources for their own benefit[2]. African slavery was not the only solution to this problem, Europeans tried to enslave natives in the New World however they were not a suitable population: their immune systems could not ward off European diseases and they died at rapid rates, and those who remained alive knew the land better than their captors and could escape. Europeans indentured servants were also brought in, but their numbers were insufficient, and they expected to be emancipated following the conclusion of their term of labor. Using African slaves provided massive numbers of laborers whose prior contact with Europeans allowed them to ward of disease, were unfamiliar to the land on which they toiled, and would be enslaved not only for life but for generations.

Slave labor produced goods which reached many corners of the globe and made the slave trade extremely lucrative. The Atlantic Slave Trade reached its peak in the 1780s, after which European countries began abolishing the trade of human capital and later the practice of slavery in the 19th century. While slavery was officially outlawed by European countries, the practice continued, especially in cacao growing regions. Monetary gain was the reason the system of slavery was implemented, and it was the reason it persisted despite being officially outlawed. Portugal––the pioneer of purchasing slaves from African–cultivated cacao on the island of Sao Tome off the coast of Africa. To obtain the labor for this production, Portugal had a significant presence in Angola where Africans were captured and marched across the country to the coast[3]. Though Portugal outlawed slavery in its colonies in 1858, this practice continued into the 20th century. An entire system of secrecy and injustice formed in the African colony to protect the slave trade there because the value of the labor was so high.

Below: Sao Tome

The reason Portuguese in Angola went to extreme lengths to cover up and maintain their slave trade in Angola even while it was being investigated was because of the profitability of the cocoa produced in Sao Tome. It was said that the taste of cocoa from Sao Tome was so irresistible that people could not abstain from buying it even with the knowledge of the means used to produce it[4]. Not only was the cocoa especially tasty, the market for it had grown significantly. In 1828, CJ Van Houten created a hydraulic press which drastically cost of chocolate production and in turn the price of chocolate[5]. What was once a luxury for the elite was now a commodity available to the masses, creating more of an incentive for companies to operate outside of Portuguese law and utilize slave labor.

Below: Van Houten’s Hydraulic Press

Slavery was instituted as a system for its economic benefits while its moral shortcomings were justified in all variety of ways. Eventually, the moral implications were too strong to be overlooked and abolitionist movements were successful in getting the practice outlawed… at least nominally. While slavery was officially banned, slave labor continued to be used, especially in cocoa-producing regions which were responding to a growing market. The demand called for supply, and the need to supply justified means of production and complicated the true abolition of slavery in these regions.

[1] “The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade · African Passages, Lowcountry Adaptations · Lowcountry Digital History Initiative.” Lowcountry Digital History Initiative, ldhi.library.cofc.edu/exhibits/show/africanpassageslowcountryadapt/introductionatlanticworld/trans_atlantic_slave_trade.

[2] Coclanis, Peter. “Economics of Slavery.” Shibboleth Authentication Request, www-oxfordhandbooks-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199227990.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199227990-e-23?print=pdf.

[3] Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1-32, 73-99

[4] Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 133

[5] Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 14

Works Cited

Coclanis, Peter. “Economics of Slavery.” Shibboleth Authentication Request, www-oxfordhandbooks-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199227990.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199227990-e-23?print=pdf.

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 133-165

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1-32, 73-99

“The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade · African Passages, Lowcountry Adaptations · Lowcountry Digital History Initiative.” Lowcountry Digital History Initiative, ldhi.library.cofc.edu/exhibits/show/africanpassageslowcountryadapt/introductionatlanticworld/trans_atlantic_slave_trade.

Multimedia sources:




Sugar in French and Haitian Cuisines

Sugar consumption had a dramatic rise tied directly to the expansion of the Triangle trade and shifting eating habits. Over time this simple substance became a cornerstone in European food. We can see just how cemented sugar is in modern cuisine by the sheer amount that we consume on a daily basis. In the U.S. the average person consumes a staggering 126.4 grams per day, followed by Germany and the Netherlands at 102.9 grams and 102.5 grams, respectively. England, who we’ll discuss again in this post, consumes a whopping 93.2 grams.

Infographic from the Washington Post

We’ve discussed this meteoric rise before in class, in particular the way sugar uses our instinctual love of sweet things to work its way into our everyday cuisine. But sugar hasn’t fully invaded all cuisines. France, even with a recent rise as processed foods enter common everyday consumption, consumes only 68.5 grams of sugar each day placing it 3rd to last among European countries for sugar consumption. Haitians consume even less, averaging about 41 grams each day or a third that of the average american (Helgilibrary). Why is this? Surely a craving for sweetness is a universal trait, but how have these cultures resisted the temptation so well? In this post, I posit that the low sugar consumption in France and Haiti can be tied directly to the cuisines in each country. As we’ll explore, there are peculiarities in each cuisine that bring about cooler relationships with sugar than that of other nations like England and the U.S. who heavily rely on processed and refined sugars.

The unusual health of the French people is a widely recognized phenomenon. In particular, their low intake of sugar is touted as the source of their lean statures. Diet blogs have published numerous articles on “How to Eat like the French,” which suggest cutting sugar and leaving high-fat foods like butter and cheese in one’s diet. We know that the French eat significantly less sugar per-capita than other European nations and the United States, but how did a country so complicit in the sugar trade through the 17th and 18th centuries keep such an indifferent relationship with the substance? The answer may lie in the French cuisine itself, a collection of fatty and savory tastes that, while leveraging sugar occasionally (primarily in baking), doesn’t have any central role for sugar to take on. In England, for example, we can see sugar taking on a central role as English tastes favored heavily sweetened tea and sugar-rich desserts both at meals and as snacks (Sweetness and Power, 189). With a heavy reliance on sugar for even everyday dishes, we can see why England consumes as much sugar as it does: it’s simply part of the cuisine now. In the case of French cuisine history, sweetened teas never supplanted wine (or coffee, for that matter), and dessert is dominated by cheeses (Sweetness and Power, 189). With both of these niches filled, sugar had little room to enter French cuisine outside of baked goods which have little influence on the everyday life of the average French person. Compare this with English daily tea practices and we can already see a source for the disparity in consumption. For these reasons, sugar hasn’t played a dominant role in French cuisine until more recent times as processed foods enter the everyday eating habits of everyone, including the French.

We’ve explored how France could avoid sugar despite owning sugar colonies, but what if you were a sugar colony? How could a place like Haiti maintain such a low reliance on sugar despite still farming and exporting sugarcane products? In some ways, fault may still lie with the French. Claimed by Spaniard Christopher Columbus in 1492, Haiti existed under sole Spanish influence until Saint-Domingue came under French control in 1625. With the treaty of Ryswick in 1697, these influences effectively split Haiti in half, setting up a century of heavy French influence until the Haitian Revolution that resulted in independence and the first Black Republic in 1804. With such a long period of influence from the French, it would naturally follow that Haitian cuisine would have strong similarities to French cuisine, but the low sugar-per-capita consumption remains an interesting quirk considering the history of sugar in the country. We know from reported statistics that Haitians consume almost a third less sugar than the French, despite whatever similarities might have been developed between their cuisines.

This could, in part, be attributed to economic pressure and poverty leading to difficult access to the sugar products that are produced in the country. However, there is also a unique and vibrant relationship to sugarcane in Haitian cooking that upon closer inspection can give us the ability to explain these statistics. It has much to do with the usage of non-processed sugarcane in dishes. For example, it is common practice to use sugarcane directly in Haitian cooking in the form of sugarcane juice to sweeten beverages or raw sugarcane as an ingredient to stewed dishes. Even rum produced on the island uses sugarcane juice as opposed to the traditional molasses, giving a unique flavor and name (Rhum) (Food by Country). What we see in Haitian cooking is a healthy relationship with sugarcane, not processed and refined sugar. By using sugar in a raw form as opposed to the concentrated and densified version in processed products, Haitians can actually consume less sugar than their European and North American counterparts.

A popular Haitian dish, Pate Kòde (Fried Haitian Patties)

Despite a growing reliance on processed, sugar-heavy foods that skew more recent statistics, France and Haiti have a rich culinary history that, in their own ways, resist an over-reliance on sugar compared to other cultures. While some of these resistances are habitual in nature, like in the case of France and their relationship with wine and cheese in place of tea and sugary desserts, others are more intriguing. I particularly found Haitian usage of sugarcane in cooking to be an interesting characteristic of their cuisine, similar to sources of sweetness in other cuisines like piloncillo in Latino and Mexican cuisine or palm sugar in Thai cuisine. In a way, there are many ways in which we incorporate sugar and sweetness into our foods, and while refined sugar is a convenient metric, it doesn’t always capture the depth of traditional dishes and sources.

Works Cited:

Why Did The Chocolate Industry ‘Need’ So Many Slaves?

The chocolate industry has always been a well recognized and significant abuser of slave labor throughout the centuries of chocolate production. However, often going unrecognized in popular media and education are the sheer numbers of slaves used in both cacao and sugar plantation settings to make the chocolate industry prosper. From pre-industrial revolution chocolate production to that of modern day, slavery has been a prominent source of labor for the raw materials required to make chocolate. Traditional slavery and modern slavery (such as forced servitude, debt bondage, coercion and the smuggling, underpaying of illegal immigrants etc.) encompass a significant portion of the conditions impressed upon the labors used to create our chocolate. As goal posts shift around the world between the definitions on what modern slavery/slavery constitutes and the punishments for those engaging people in slavery and servitude the actual numbers of people involved throughout history become more and more foggy but all current estimates are well into the tens of millions. Additionally our larger society becomes more and more disassociated from the production processes of our food which means those being forced and/or coerced into the labor harvesting cacao and sugar become more unrecognized, but the fact remains that large numbers of slaves and/or forced labor is used to produce the chocolate we consume, even today. So why does/did the chocolate industry ‘need’ to use so many slaves? The answer largely comes down to the cost effectiveness of slave labor, the intense physical demands of collecting and processing the raw materials needed for making chocolate, and the high demand and financial reward of chocolate itself. 


What may come as a surprise to many is the intensity of labor required to harvest both cacao and sugar. Cacao is grown in tropical conditions, especially in rain-forest environments which means it is difficult for machinery to not only gain access but also be used/maintained, additionally the cacao pods are rather delicate requiring further  human intervention to ensure pods don’t become damaged or rendered unusable. Therefore, people are forced to manually pick the cacao pods by hand and haul them through the jungle in which they are grown. With the aid of dangerous machetes slaves are made to cut pods from cacao trees and break them open to reveal the seeds inside. The seeds are then dried and husked often by hand. This is an incredibly labor intensive process and a clear violation of human rights that has been abused since the rise of chocolate. 

Above: This video demonstrates some of the effort that goes into harvesting cacao.

Similarly, sugar is the other component of chocolate that required vast input from slave labor. Grown in warm, sunny, frost-free climates; the planting, cutting and processing of sugarcane into sugar required a lot of manual labor, even with modern technologies that help aid efforts harvesting sugarcane remains a labor intensive job. The labor requirements of harvesting sugar cane were significantly higher pre the invention of the cane harvester, slaves were forced to cut the strong stalks with machetes and carry them to be processed further in sugar mills.

Above: A modern sugar cane harvester. These machines have reduced the need for manual cutting of cane.

Chocolate and the raw materials used to make it have been a very lucrative source of money throughout the evolution of chocolate. Sampek (2017) notes that because cacao was seen as such a valuable commodity from its time of discovery, not only as a food but as currency, has played a huge role in the degree to which people believe in the need for slavery (and the accompanying racism). During and after the industrial revolution, factories making chocolate grew to meet the demands of the public. Instead of reducing the need for slave labor as one may assume with the development of processing technology and the lower costs of running said machinery, the demand for more raw material was increased because the cost of the chocolate was lower and therefore the product was more accessible to the general public (Mintz, 1986). Slaves were required to fill the increased demand for raw materials. Nowadays labor abuse is largely that of grossly underpaying immigrant workers in conditions that can be considered those of modern slavery (ILO, Profits and Poverty). Both cacao and sugar plantations often required 18+ hour days from their slaves (Satre, 2005); the intense work conditions and long hours ultimately led to high rates of mortality and illness throughout the slave labor force.    

While laws regarding the use and abuse of slavery and forced servitude have changed dramatically since the rise of chocolate, slavery has persisted throughout the history of chocolate production because; ultimately using slaves for the harvest of cacao and sugar cane was and is a cost effective way for farmers and businesses to produce their chocolate products. In an account of slavery in Angola around the late 1800’s stated “The only motive for slavery is money-making, and the only argument in its favor is that it pays” (Satre, 2005), this quote sufficiently highlights the greed motivating the use of slavery in the production of chocolate for the last few centuries. There were few, if any laws regarding the feeding and basic care required for slaves  and these guidelines were rarely enforced (Mintz, 1986). This meant keeping slaves was relatively cheap, especially compared to paying workers fairly. The poor working and living conditions endured by slaves resulted in a high slave turnover and a near constant replenishment was required to supply the growing demands for cacao and sugar used in chocolate production, this was still more cost effective than fairly paying workers. In modern settings the slavery used on cacao and sugar plantations is generally reminiscent of traditional slavery but less extreme and comes under the banner of modern day slavery this includes; debt bondage, illegal selling and trading of people, smuggling of illegal immigrant workers, coercion etc. (ILO, Profits and Poverty

The chocolate industry has always had an intimate connection to slavery and servitude. In the early history of chocolate the number of slaves required to produce the raw materials cacao and sugar to satisfy the worlds demand for chocolate was well into the millions. With the abolition of slavery this traditional slavery was driven underground and became what we call modern slavery. The primary driver of slavery throughout history is money. Slaves are cheap labor for what is undeniably labor intensive jobs (harvesting and processing cacao and sugar) and they can reduce the need for expensive machinery. Slavery has thrived throughout the history of chocolate because of the money that it saves business owners and the money it generates in the chocolate industry.  


ILO. Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labor https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/–declaration/documents/publication/wcms_243027.pdf 

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books. 

 Sampeck, Kathryn E. “Cacao and Violence: Consequences of Money in Colonial Guatemala.” Historical Archaeology, vol. 53, no. 3, Dec. 2019, pp. 535–58. Springer Link, doi:10.1007/s41636-019-00206-7.

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1-32, 73-99

Sugar Cane Harvester in Australia – YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOwbvKz_VSU. Accessed 25 Mar. 2020.

Sugar Plantations ***. https://www.landofthebrave.info/sugar-plantations.htm. Accessed 25 Mar. 2020.

The Cultivation and Harvesting of Cocoa – YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrydEoCFpH4. Accessed 25 Mar. 2020.

A Mestizo Tradition in Cacao: The Introduction and Incorporation of Molinillos

The history of chocolate mirrors the history of mestizaje from Mesoamerica to modern-day Mexico and Central America, with the contemporary product serving as the result of both Mesoamerican and Spanish influences. Even the production of authentic, ancient, or traditional Mesoamerican cacao beverages and chocolate are infused with post-colonial influences, from the addition of new ingredients to entirely new techniques for crafting chocolate. Of these, the introduction of the molinillo, now considered a staple component in crafting traditional Mexican chocolate, represents the culmination of indigenous and Spanish techniques.

Pre-Conquest Mesoamerican Chocolate

Cacao was harvested and consumed as early as the Olmec civilization, with cacao originating from their word for currency, ka-ka-w [1]. The Mayans adopted cacao into their respective civilization–for consumption, as legal tender, and for rituals.

Cacao was essential for social, physical, and spiritual well-being, regarded for its medicinal, spiritual, and aphrodisiac qualities. The Mayan would prepare the batidos and other hot chocolate beverages from the ground cacao pulps. They were also used for arranging marriages, with the term tac haa, “to serve chocolate,” commonly used to describe the discussions in which they would determine marriages while drinking chocolate. Mixtec went a step further, using “cacao” as a phrase for royal marriage [2]. For the Aztecs, only the elites and wealthy consumed it because it couldn’t grow in Mexico, so they had to transport it 900 miles on their back [3].

Aztec sculpture holding a cacao pod.

Early pre-Columbian religious references to cacao are also prevalent in both Mayan and Aztec artifacts, with the Popol Vuh ascribing cacao with godly qualities and the Dresden Codex featuring cacao throughout, including consumption by the gods [4]. Likewise, in the Madrid Codex, Aztecs believed that cacao beans were the physical manifestation of Quetzalcoatl [5]. Other religious depictions included:

  • Cacao in fertility rites, with Ixchel and the rain god exchanging cacao.
  • Cacao tree depictions of royal bloodlines, with deities emerging from cacao trees with pods and flowers to symbolize their royal blood [6].

Figure: Aztec statue holding a cacao pod.

“Chocolate for the body; foam for the soul.”

Meredith Dreiss, Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods [7]

The foam produced was of special religious importance, with the foam seen as the most sacred part of the drink [8]. With this reverence toward the froth, the molinillo, as the instrument used to facilitate easier production of the froth, would also be revered and would become deeply intertwined in the chocolate-making process.

Molinillo in Mesoamerica? The Spanish Arrive

Many would expect that the Mayans and Aztecs used molinillos, since they are now regarded as crucial instruments when crafting authentic traditional chocolate beverages, but in fact, the molinillo was most likely introduced by the Spanish, possibly during the 16th century. While it is true that pre-Columbian texts mentioned turtle/tortoise shell stirring spoons and stirrers, there were no mentions of molinillos in pre-Columbian texts. Moreover, it was noticeably absent from the first Nahuatl-Spanish dictionary in 1571 [9].

Some of the possible confusion could stem from anachronistic depictions of the molinillo, such as the one below:

 “The artist has misunderstood the use of the metate [curved cacao grinding stone], and has mistakenly included the post-Conquest molinillo. (From J. Ogilby, America, London, 1671.) 

Instead, they used “small, hemispherical bowls” as drinking and mixing vessels, made with materials ranging from ceramics, to decorated calabash gourds (Crescentia cujete tree), to gold (huei tlatoani). Foam was created by pouring chocolate repeatedly between drinking vessels to produce the foam [10].

Left: 6-9th century Mayan ceramic vessel, Guatemala  | right: 7-8th century Mayan ceramic vessel, Mexico
Mayan woman producing foam via pouring technique

It wasn’t until 1780, when Jesuit Francesco Saverio Clavigero, mentioned the molinillo but not the traditional method of pouring the beverage to produce foam [11].

Molinillo: The Basics

The molinillo, a kitchen tool used to froth hot chocolate beverages, is a carved, handcrafted wooden stick, with a slender handle at one end and a knob at the other [12]. Its name is derived from its circular shape and its motion when used for producing foam resembling that of a molino (windmill) [13]. Each molinillo is unique and varies in size depending on the amount of beverage to be produced. The first iterations involved a simple ball or square at the end of a long handle. However, these soon were adapted to better facilitate frothing. Modern molinillos are crafted from a single block of wood, forming a slender wooden “whisk” with a long tapered handle and a carved knob with rings and other movable parts on the other end [14].

Each molinillo is unique, and the basic design can be flourished with details such as colored accents or ivory pieces, as well as square tops instead of rounded [15].

Molinillo with Color Accents
Molinillo with Squarish Top

Using a Molinillo

Frothing hot chocolate beverages with a molinillo is straightforward. Simply put, the slender handle is gripped between the palms, which are then rubbed together to rotate the carved knob back and forth. This motion grinds the chocolate discs used for the beverages against the pestle bottom of the drinking vessel [16], allowing the beverage to froth within a few minutes.

A Mexican Cook, “Using A Molinillo to Make Hot Chocolate.”

The motion is so simple, in fact, that the molinillo frothing process is even a popular rhyme among Mexican children and their teachers:

Bate, bate, chocolate,
tu nariz de cacahuate.
Uno, dos, tres, CHO!
Uno, dos, tres, CO!
Uno, dos, tres, LA!
Uno, dos, tres, TE!
Chocolate, chocolate!
Bate, bate, chocolate!
Bate, bate, bate, bate,
Bate, bate, CHOCOLATE![17]

Bate = Stir or whip
tu nariz de cacahuate = roughly "your peanut nose"
Uno, dos, tres = One, two, three

Crafting Molinillos

“Molinillo and chocolate depend on each other–one cannot exist without the other. “

Molinillos are carved from a single piece of wood rotating on an axis. Typically soft wood from trees like the aile mexicano (Alnus acuminata ssp. glabrata) are used for carving because they are odorless and flavorless as to not impact the flavor of the chocolate. The black sections of the molinillo are not painted; rather, the friction from the velocity of the wood spinning on the axis of the machine burns the wood a darker color, which the crafter then polishes. Once the base is completed with all the large grooves, all the smaller notch carvings (helpful for circulating the milk to increase frothiness) are completed by hand [18].

Molinillo Tradicional [Making a Molinillo from Wood]

Each molinillo is unique, and the basic design can be flourished with details such as colored accents or ivory pieces:

Artisanal Molinillo Crafting

For molinillo artisans in areas popular for their chocolate, such as 3rd generation crafter Jesus Torres Gomez, carving molinillos, among other wooden kitchen utensils, is both a skill and an artform, passed down for over 100 years as they continue to modify and perfect their craftsmanship. While he uses a motor to facilitate the rotation of the wood piece, all the carvings are completed by hand. He produces 3 types of molinillos:

  • Criollo, for making the foam for chocolate atole in the central valleys.
  • For making the foam for hot chocolate.
  • More elaborate item to serve as a decorative souvenir for tourists in Oaxaca (not meant to be used).

Similar to the more extravagant uses of chocolate and chocolate-producing equipment in Mesoamerica, these items are often also used for special events, including weddings and quinceañeras (coming of age celebration for 15th birthday) [19].

Jesus Torres Gomez, “Artesano de Molinillos”

Modern-Day Molinillos and “Authentic Recipes”

Contemporary molinillos serve more as a nostalgic artifact than a necessary tool for the average chocolate beverage consumer. For champurrado–traditional Mexican chocolate-based atole– and hot chocolate, recipes available online often include many modifications to traditional recipes, incorporating many ingredients not available to pre-Columbian Mesoamericans. For the thicker champurrado, they are often flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, cloves, and other spices, as well as grated piloncillo (raw, undefined sugar cane)[20].

Likewise, they often include milk instead of water, and they are frothed with whisks or spoons. For “authentic Mexican hot chocolate” recipes, chocolate beverages are not strictly based on traditional Mayan or Aztec chocolate recipes; similar to the effect of molinillos on chocolate crafting, they combine indigenous and Spanish influences. However, molinillos are still incorporated into more traditional recipes, particularly Oaxacan hot chocolate, which uses water instead of milk and is whisked with a molinillo [21].


  • [1] Khan, Gulnaz. “Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate-Making.”
  • [2] Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’”
  • [3] Festa, Jessica. “Sweet Guatemala: A Look At The Country’s Mayan Chocolate History And Modern Experiences.”
  • [4] Martin, Carla D.
  • [5] De la Fuente del Moral, Fatima.
  • [6] Martin, Carla D.
  • [7] Dreiss, Meredith L., and Sharon Greenhill. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods.
  • [8] Martin, Carla D.
  • [9] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate.
  • [10] ibid
  • [11] ibid
  • [12] Edwards, Owen. “A Historic Kitchen Utensil Captures What It Takes to Make Hot Chocolate From Scratch.”
  • [13] CORTV. Jesús Torres Gómez artesano en molinillos.
  • [14] Bowman, Barbara. “Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer).”
  • [15] ibid
  • [16] “Molinillo: Hot Cocoa Frother | Mexico, Wooden Stick, Traditional Hot Chocolate Grinder, Frothing Stick, Molinillos.” UncommonGoods.
  • [17] Fain, Lisa. “Mexican Hot Chocolate and a Molinillo.”
  • [18] Cocinando con Rita. Molinillo Tradicional.
  • [19] CORTV.
  • [20] Rodriguez, Vianncy. “How to Make Champurrado.”
  • [21] “How to Make Authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate.” A Side of Sweet.

Works Cited

Multimedia Cited

———. Molinillo with Squarish Top. Gourmet Sleuth, Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer). Accessed May 16, 2019. https://www.gourmetsleuth.com/images/default-source/articles/molinillo-3.jpg?sfvrsn=2.



Nestle’s 2012 advertisement emphasizes chocolate’s special place in the heart of the American home. Using cookies, the commercial weaves the ingredient into several nostalgic narratives—the college homecoming, grandma’s pride after a soccer game victory, and an afternoon with mom. Whether it be in candy bars, brownies, or cake, chocolate has a strong hold in the American identity and its classic recipes. But, if we know that chocolate originally belonged to the Mesoamericans, how did it become so incorporated with our own household pantries? We can better understand how this happened by briefly looking at the production and consumption side of cacao in relation to its sister good: sugar.

Chocolate for the Elites

While Americans today can buy convenience store chocolate for change in their pockets, early consumption of cacao was largely reserved to the upper classes. Predating to the Aztecs, cacao was taken as a frothy drink and used in fertility and sacrificial rituals, to fortify warriors, and to mark status.[1] As currency and tribute, workers would offer the drinks to lords visiting the cacao orchards. The nobility used cacao beans as currency, and so consuming them was a show of luxury and power. Later, the Aztec political tribute system surrounding cacao cultivation was extended by the Spanish to help subjugate the native population after 1521. Through this, chocolate continued to be recognized as a manifestation of political power. This association traveled with the beans sent back to Spain.

Chocolate’s high value bounced across Europe and remained an indulgence for royalty and nobility there. While originally sought by the Spanish as a form of medicine or nutritional supplement, chocolate drinks quickly became symbols of decadence. For the Mesoamericans, cacao drinks were more savory than what we are used to today, accenting them with achiote, vanilla, and ear flower. Although they did sweeten their chocolate with honey and fruits, “the Maya and Aztecs” had nothing approaching the European sweet tooth” that was looming in the future.[2]

Cacao and Sugar

There was a similar but distinct parallel in consumption between cacao and sugar. Similar to how chocolate was reserved for the rich, sugar was also scarce. First used as a spice, medicine, and sweetener, cane sugar was used in small amounts for the royal court around the 12th century.[1] As time passed, the royal court increasingly demanded more and more sugar as sweeteners and decorative pieces to entertain their guests. Coinciding but separate demand for chocolate and sugar by the privileged became supported by plantation work in colonies abroad, and the British colonies in America gradually became exposed to both foods. Chocolate first arrived in the British American colonies around 1670 and spread throughout New England’s wealthy just as it had done in Europe.[2] Consumption gradually rose, and America’s own chocolate industry was born from the strained “relationships with the British colonial government.”[3] With the Industrial Revolution, new technologies helped improve the efficiency of production of both goods, making them cheaper and more accessible by the public. In return, as the public’s appetite grew, larger amounts of the raw materials were grown. Cacao plantations relied even more “heavily on the slave labor prevalent throughout the European colonies, which kept prices down.”[4] 

Innovation and proliferation of sugar and chocolate merged in the American diet via the rise of chocolate giants. Hershey started “producing milk chocolate bars en masse in 1893 with German machinery purchased at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.”[5] Mars created chocolate bars in the 1920s with nuts and nougat. Both are examples of companies who remained competitive by making products with less cacao solids and cheaper ingredients, such as sugar. Mass-market chocolate came to dominate by playing on tastes for sugar and fat, despite pure dark chocolate being costlier and more valuable.  Here, while having traveled similar historical paths, chocolate and sugar crossed each other and became inextricably linked. More efficient production of both aided its adoption into an existing social structure associating female homemakers with sweetness.

Entering the Realm of the Homemaker

A 1905 advertisement for Peter’s Original Swiss Milk Chocolate

The American home was influenced by a division of labor inherited from the United Kingdom. In England, the late 19th century saw a decline in bread consumption and increase in meat and sugar consumption. [1] During this period, the man tended to be the breadwinner and therefore meat was reserved for him to provide him the energy to carry out manual work. In contrast, women and children would eat meat once or twice a week, and so their caloric intake was supplemented with sugar.[2] It is this relationship between sugar and women that would likely grease the wheels for incorporation of chocolate into the American diet. The 1905 advertisement above[3] draws on historic ideas of health. As mentioned before, cacao’s high fat content and concentration of iron, magnesium, potassium, and other minerals was recognized as far back as Spanish conquest and the Mesoamericans. Sugar was given to children as an energy boost. For these two reasons, mothers might be more inclined to buy it for their children as it was “as wholesome as bread and butter.”

A 1904 advertisement for Royal Chocolate, found on in the
The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics

Furthermore, incorporation of chocolate in homemade desserts was sustained by the rise of home economics. This movement placed the mother as responsible for running her household like a business. Eleanor Lucas writes in Practical Ideas for the Housewife that women are “the torch-bearers” for the “lamp of love and the lamp of science” that “should burn in every home.”[1] She asserts that household economics “is no petty effort to make the home prettier and the food more palatable, but a movement to safeguard the integrity of the home.”[2] A common belief was that the costly living expenses of the working classes were the result of “badly selected items of the daily regimen, of wasteful methods of preparation, of un-thrifty and hand-to-mouth methods of buying.” As such “housekeeping and cooking educators partnered with industry in the name of ‘domestic science.’”[3] Guides such as The Boston Cooking-School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics, gave homemakers household tips and recipes that increasingly incorporated the use of chocolate into desserts. These recipes included chocolate and cocoa, chocolate blanc mange, chocolate blanc mange with corn starch, chocolate icing, and chocolate pie with meringue.[4] These cookbooks also contained advertisements like the one above for cocoa powder that appealed to the desire to be efficient and economical.[5] In sum, it was a series of coinciding and often shared forces between chocolate and sugar that allowed both to be so prevalent today.

Works Cited

Alberts, Heike C., and Julie L. Cidell. “Chocolate Consumption Manufacturing and Quality in Western Europe the United States.” Geography 91, no. 3 (n.d.): 218–226.

“Brownies.” US History Scene (blog). Accessed March 16, 2019. http://ushistoryscene.com/article/brownies/.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Hill, Janet McKenzie. The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics. Boston Cooking-School Magazine, 1904.

Lucas, Eleanor. “Practical Ideas for the Housewife.” The Designer and the Woman’s Magazine XXVI, no. 5 (n.d.): 449.

Mintz, Sidney W. (Sidney Wilfred). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1985. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:EBSCO_9781101666647.

“Nestle TV Commercial For Chocolate Chip Cookies.” iSpot.tv. Accessed March 16, 2019. http://www.ispot.tv/ad/7kif/nestle-chocolate-chip-cookies.

Period Paper. “1905 Ad Lamont Corliss Co Milk-Chocolate Cookies Child Food Products New EM2.” Period Paper. Accessed March 16, 2019. https://www.periodpaper.com/products/1905-ad-lamont-corliss-co-milk-chocolate-cookies-child-food-products-new-york-104294-em2-572.

Direct Citations

[1] Lucas, “Practical Ideas for the Housewife.”

[2] Lucas.

[3] “Brownies.”

[4] Hill, The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics, iii.

[5] Hill, xxiv.

[1] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 144.

[2] Mintz, 146.

[3] Period Paper, “1905 Ad Lamont Corliss Co Milk-Chocolate Cookies Child Food Products New EM2.”

[1] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 83.

[2] “Brownies.”

[3] “Brownies.”

[4] “Brownies.”

[5] Alberts and Cidell, “Chocolate Consumption Manufacturing and Quality in Western Europe the United States,” 224.

[1] Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 95.

[2] Coe, 112.

Chocolaterie Through the Ages

    From its inception to the Second Industrial Revolution, the practice of preparing and serving chocolate can be defined by two essential qualities: the impression of luxury, and cookware designed to reflect the labor required to produce it. Throughout its history, methods of preparing and serving chocolate have changed along with the culture around its consumption, as chocolate moved from connoting wealth and power amongst Mesoamerican indigenous cultures, to serving as a social vehicle for the 17th century Western elite (Martin and Sampeck 39-43; Righthand). In each case, chocolate was a symbol of status, and the vessels used to store, cook, and serve it reflected that symbolism. From earthen vessels and molinillos to matching ceramic chocolate sets, the various methods of storing and serving chocolate in Aztec Mexico, seventeenth-century Europe, and post-Industrial Revolution America reveal the changing ways that chocolate’s status as a luxury item was entrenched visually as well as economically.

    Cacao’s status as a food of the elite originated in the culture behind its production and consumption in Mesoamerican tradition; in this case, the manual labor required to make chocolate drove its elite status – labor symbolized by the instruments used to prepare and store it (Coe 220). The cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao, is native to Mesoamerica and was adopted by the Olmecs, the Maya, and eventually the Aztec as a currency, spice, dietary staple, and most importantly as the primary ingredient in chocolate, a drink featuring spices such as vanilla and ear flower which served as a beverage of warriors amongst the Aztec (Coe 181-220, 1274). Chocolate was associated with the display of wealth and power; because cacao is a fickle fruit, requiring significant labor to grow and then process for consumption, restricting chocolate to those in positions of power – noblemen and warriors – was a testament of the power and social clout of the drinker (Coe 220, 1088). The physical embodiment of that clout were the vessels used to store and prepare cacao and chocolate. The Aztec king Motecuhzoma the Younger stored over 960 million beans in large, guarded bins coated with clay, and two thousand containers of chocolate daily were transported for consumption by his guard (Coe 1182-1194). Additionally, the preparation of cacao required an tool known as the molinillo, or chocolate mill, a slender, curved stick with a knob at one end, used to froth the cacao before drinking. Building and using molinillos required significant skilled and artisanal labor, as can be seen here (constructing the molinillo) and here (using the molinillo to froth chocolate), which depict the modern incarnation of the tool (Lange 131). To the Aztecs, the higher the amount of froth in the drink – and the more work performed with the molinillo – the greater the quality of the chocolate; this froth was highly prized and even consumed independent of the chocolate drink (Coe 1195, 655). Because of the labor it represented, the molinillo thus served as a cultural, culinary, and anthropological vehicle for enhancing the impression of luxury and labor which chocolate cultivated through its place of honor in Aztec culture.

    Chocolate was appropriated into European culture relatively quickly after its discovery during the Columbian exchange, and its luxury status was defined by the wealth and social connections required to procure chocolate – wealth then represented by the wares used to serve and prepare it. As the Spanish encomienda system ensured that cacao was available to the European elite, chocolate became renowned as a foreign curiosity, a medicinal stimulant, and a luxurious indulgence all at once; drinking chocolate became a public social endeavor representative of class and wealth (Martin 40-41). For example, it was introduced to the court of Versailles at the wedding of King Louis XIII, and throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the French monarchy cultivated a reputation both for opulence and a love of chocolate (Chateau de Versailles). Their influence popularized the French chocolatiere set, captured in this painting of the Pentheviere ducal family (PBS Learning Media). As pictured in the painting, such sets were made of ceramic, porcelain, and precious metals, a clear use of wealthy containers to augment the status of the drink they contained (Martin 42; Lange 132). Such sets were outsourced throughout Europe, as far as colonial America, where they were happily put to use by people such as Thomas Jefferson (Lange 133). Interestingly, while the design of European chocolate vessels were Mesoamerican in nature, including tall spouted pots, steep-sided cups, and molinillos, the materials used were distinctly and ultimately representative of a Westernized ideal of monetary wealth.

    After the second Industrial Revolution, and with it several innovations in the processing of cacao, chocolate became readily available to the public; “vessels” for holding chocolate were replaced by branded wrapping and packaging that ultimately represented chocolate’s universal appeal and accessibility. The invention of the hydraulic press, along with van Houten’s method of alkalizing cocoa, made chocolate more shelf-stable, cheaper, and thus more accessible to the working class (Lange 138). Higher demand drove chocolate companies such as Hershey to homogenize and brand their products through standardized processing methods, as a means of promoting these brands to the working class public (Counihan and Esterik 84-85; D’Antonio 106-109). In this case, chocolate’s value was indicated by size and complexity – for example, Milky Way bars were filled with nougat and caramel, making them larger than pure chocolate bars and thus of greater value, despite actually being cheaper to produce (Brenner 54-55). Yet, like many other once-luxury items such as tea and sugar, chocolate had become a product for the masses, not one for the elite, and chocolate producers deliberately designed their marketing and packaging of chocolate to reflect this shift (Counihan and Esterik 84-85). The loss of elaborate, personalized tools for making and consuming chocolate paralleled this transition of chocolate in the Western cultural psyche – the iconic, cheap packaging of Hershey’s and Mars candy bars indicated that chocolate was no longer a food of the elite, but rather accessible to the average, working class family.

    The role of chocolate in global culture has changed vastly from its origins as a bitter, frothy drink of the May and Aztec elite, and the way that chocolate is stored, prepared, served, and distributed has changed in tandem. When chocolate was an item of luxury, reflected by the labor required to produce it or the wealth needed to procure it, in Aztec and seventeenth-century Europe, respectively, carefully designed and expensively produced containers and preparatory cookware developed to suit and complement chocolate’s coveted societal place. However, with the advent of new processing methods, and an economic shift towards mass production for the working-class, chocolate’s packing and distribution has changed to give it the impression of universality, and to render it a symbol of the quotidian, in a branded, neat, and instantly recognizable package.

Works Cited

Brenner, Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate : inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. 1st ed., Random House, 1999.

Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik. Food and Culture: A Reader. Taylor and Francis, 2012.

Charpentier, Jean Baptiste. The Penthievre Family or The Cup of Chocolate, 1768. PBS Learning Media, 2018, https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/xir101763fre/the-penthievre-family-or-the-cup-of-choc-xir101763-fre/.

Coe, S. (2013). The true history of chocolate (3rd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson. Kindle edition.

“¿Cómo sacar espuma al chocolate caliente? Secreto de Cocina, Yuri de Gortari.” YouTube, uploaded by Cocina Identidad, 8 April 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgObquFVkhM.

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey : Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2006.

“Hot Chocolate in Versailles.” Chateau de Versailles, 2019, http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/key-dates/hot-chocolate-versailles.

Lange, Amanda, and Grivetti, Louis Evan. “Chocolate Preparation and Serving Vessels in Early North America.” Chocolate, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2008, pp. 129–142.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37–60. DOI: 10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37

“MOLINILLO TRADICIONAL.” YouTube, uploaded by Cocinando con Rita, 28 June 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wV78m1W4K2I.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot.” Smithsonian.com, 13 February 2017,
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/ .

The Revolution of Industry and Chocolate

In the 18thcentury, the transition from using human, animal, or water power to the burning of fossil fuels brought about a period of great change.  This change was called the Industrial Revolution, and was built on large deposits of coal and iron that were used to fuel advances in the technologies and factories responsible for manufactured goods. What headlined this Revolution was the arrival of an improved textile industry, steam powered transportation, and mass production. What is less discussed, however, is the effect that the Industrial Revolution had on the chocolate industry.

Previously, chocolate was considered in Europe and America as an exclusive drink for the elite and wealthy; either consumed in a cup at breakfast or during the day as a snack (Martin 2010).  Chocolate maintained a very polarizing reputation for its multifaceted uses. Some, like Benjamin Franklin, believed that it could be used as a treatment for smallpox (Martin 2010). Others associated it with being an aphrodisiac and others believed that the “exchange of chocolates between a man and woman was tantamount to a declaration of love,” (Quélus).  The reputation of chocolate and the invention of new production technologies enabled this exclusive commodity to become available to all people, leading to an increase in popularity of the product and profit from its sales.   

above is a picture of a conch used in Switzerland, Ammann was one of the first manufacturers to make conches available to chocolate produces in the late 19th century

The cocoa press and the conching machine are two of the biggest innovations that empowered the chocolate industry during the Industrial Revolution.  In 1828, Coenraad van Houten patented the cocoa press. This press burned coal to produce heat that would create enough steam and pressure to power the machine, which was a type of hydraulic press.  This process would separate fat from roasted cacao beans, and this butter would be pulverized into a fine powder called cocoa that would later be used to create solid chocolate (Coe & Coe). The cocoa press allowed a quick, inexpensive method of creating a chocolate drink, and this invention began the process of opening the window of accessibility.   The Conch Machine was the next invention to increase the accessibility of chocolate while also approving its taste and appearance. Invented in 1879 by Rodolphe Lindt, the conch was a machine that was built to give chocolate a texture that was easier to mold and preferable the solid chocolate currently in the market eaten (Giller 2017). This chocolate was described as gritty and crude, while the chocolate produced by the conch was tasty, smooth, shiny, and had a superior aroma.  The original conch consisted of a granite parts that would mix ingredients from as little as six to eighty hours at a time.  Secrets of the conch were so sought after that many manufacturers like Lindt either kept their methods a secret or to claimed the details of the process were “proprietary” (McClements 654). 

The final innovation that truly transformed the chocolate industry was the use of the assembly line.  The video above shows how manufacturers specialized the production of chocolate.  While some workers, like Lucy and Ethel, wrap the chocolates, other workers further down the assembly line will package the wrapped chocolate. Tasks were separated and specialized like this to create the most efficient production process possible.  In 1903, Milton S. Hershey founded a chocolate company that would be known for employing these principles from the Industrial Revolution.  Hershey’s Kisses offered a consistently identical product that could be efficiently mass produced.  Customers were guaranteed that when they unwrapped the foil, they would be met with a tasty milky chocolate that would satisfy the customer every time.  These principles put in place by Hershey showed the beginnings of the chocolate industry as we know it as today. 

Hershey’s Kisses, wrapped and unwrapped. 

This except from the popular television show, “I love Lucy” also shows that chocolate has played a role in the culture of our society.  While the video makes most viewers laugh at the small expense of manufacturing companies, its true purpose is to promote chocolate.  Richard Cadbury revolutionized the chocolate industry with his chocolate’s association with heart boxes and Valentine’s day. In 1859, Cadbury introduced his own brand of chocolate, and over the next decade he began to package his chocolate into heart shaped boxes. Heart shaped boxes were previously used for betrothal jewelry, sewing materials, and porcelain. By filling these boxes with his chocolate and associating them with Valentine’s Day, Cadbury had struck cacao gold. Sales skyrocketed because of the already present reputation of chocolate as being more feminine, an aphrodisiac, and a token of love.  Over a hundred and fifty years later and chocolates are still associated with Valentine’s Day, are still gifted to women, and still presented in heart shaped boxes.  

  A picture of a heart shaped Cadbury Chocolate box that are still sold today

In conclusion, the Industrial Revolution made chocolate accessible to more than just the elite and rich of Europe and America. Inventions during the Revolution increased the efficiency of producing chocolate as both a drink and a solid, while the assembly line further increased the mass production of identical products. Without the Industrial Revolution, we would not experience the same chocolate industry that we have today.


Giller, Megan. (2017, 3) Why ritual chocolate uses vintage machinery. Accessed, (2019, 3) http://www.chocolatenoise.com/chocolate-today/2017/3/28/why-ritual-chocolate-uses-vintage-machinery

Coe, S.D. & Coe, M.D.  The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Goody, Jack.  “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.”  2013.

Martin, Carla D. 2012. “Brownies: The History of a Classic American Dessert.” http://www.ushistoryscene.com/uncategorized/brownies/

McClements, D. Julian. Understanding and Controlling the Microstructure of Complex Foods. Woodhead Publishing 2007, 654.
Quélus, D, & Brookes, R. The Natural History of Chocolate: The second ed., Printed for J. Roberts, near the Oxford-Arms in Warwick-Lane.



Lucy and the Chocolate Factory high res – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkQ58I53mjk