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Churning into the “Chocolate Age:” How Industrial Age Technologies Created a New Chocolate Era

You may be surprised to find out that the chocolate that we know today is a relatively new, tasty discovery- one that came about from the Industrial Age.

When the Industrial Revolution took place, the world revolutionized with it, and industries of all kinds were forever altered. The chocolate industry, still in the Mayan age, sprouted into a new field and its effects can still be traced today. The technology in the Industrial Revolution provided the tools to advance the field of chocolate, which allowed for mass consumption and commercialization, giving way to the “Chocolate Age.”

Chocolate’s “God-Like” Beginnings

Cacao was considered the “food of the gods,” and was treated as such: before the Industrial Age, chocolate was made the traditional way that the Mayans made it with a long, drawn-out process of cracking shells and traditional grinding to create a bitter chocolate drink (unlike the chocolate of today) (Szogyi, 1997).


Modern Mayan woman demonstrating how her ancestors

would grind cacao (Smithsonian)

This treat was considered to be a drink that was both a commodity and spiritual experience; although it was available to the masses, the wealthy certainly had more access to the treat because they could afford it. Cacao was taken as such a serious product that the Mayans used its seeds as currency; further, it was used to promote fertility and life, and cacao pods are found all over elite and ancient artifacts, temples, and palaces. Clearly, these uses and techniques demonstrate how luxurious chocolate was to them; these processes stayed this way even during the era of the Aztec empire and many centuries later (Horn, 2016 & Szogyi).

The Industrial Difference

This process of chocolate was so revered that it essentially did not change until the Industrial Age with a ground-breaking invention for grinding that used the newly-innovated steam and hydraulic process; in 1778, Doret, a Frenchman, invented a hydraulic machine that grinds cocoa beans into a paste (Beckett, Horn). Before then, the process of grinding was long and tedious and this machine allowed the process to become easier to create for the masses. Soon after, more inventions came along for grinding that further made consumption more popular. For instance, Dubuisson invented a steam chocolate grinder in France because it was even cheaper to replicate than Doret’s product, which allowed for an even higher level of mass consumption of chocolate. The Industrial Age created the environment to allow for this change – without steam and hydraulics, and the friendly and booming business atmosphere for support, Doret and Dubuisson would certainly not have been able to create these inventions. Where would be chocolate be today? One could reasonably predict that we could have eventually have had these technologies, but it is safe to assume that it would have taken the chocolate industry much longer to reach its glory.

The steam engine and hydraulic system are considered staples of this Industrial Age with new technologies across the boards for trains, factories, and buildings, but we can also appreciate how these technologies allowed for the advancement of chocolate technology. The value of chocolate significantly decreased because it was accessible to everyone; from here on, it was no longer an “elite” product or just a “food of the gods,” but, rather, a food for everyone. Thus, the Industrial Age that changed the world on so many fronts quickly churned into the “Chocolate Age” as well.

The idea of the mass consumption of chocolate from the Industrial Age can be traced along the later part of the history of chocolate. Quickly after the revelation with the cocoa beans came a new way to make chocolate an even more accessible product with commercialization – via “dutching” (Squiciarinni & Swinnen, 2016). In 1828, Van Houten, a Dutch chemist, invented a method to press cocoa by separating the cocoa butter by pressing it with alkali, making the matter soften up enough to produce cocoa powder, which was light and fluffy; unlike the current chocolate of that time, dutching made chocolate highly digestible, which would attract new consumers and open up a whole new market for chocolate – just like these technologies helped do so in other industries such as the construction field (i.e. making materials more affordable and attractive for building).

Van Houten’s cocoa press (World Standards)



Additionally, cocoa powder was the secret ingredient needed for the chocolate industry and companies to seamlessly make solid chocolate bars and coat them as well as bring in new flavors such as white chocolate. From there, a second wave of the Chocolate Age had been set and was about to take place.


A Second Wave of the Age – Mass Commercialization and the Chocolate Bar

With the mass consumption of chocolate from these new Industrial technologies came mass commercialization. Quite simply, we can see that chocolate companies would not be what they are today without this commercial influence; specifically, the dutching process sparked a spread of commercialization across Europe, which allowed for the worldwide chocolate industry we have come to know and love. For example, Cadbury, one of the largest chocolate companies today, and Joseph Fry (founder of what is known as Mondolez International today) bought the dutching press; these two companies are credited to be the first companies to create and sell the chocolate bar. They also made the chocolate bar a highly accessible treat with aggressive advertising; this marketing scheme raked in millions of dollars for these companies (Beckett, Horn). It was the catalyst behind the beginning of giant factories built to keep up with this demand.

Thus, the chocolate bar became (and still is) a symbol for a quick, delicious treat for everyone and anyone.


Fry’s chocolate bar packaging (Foods of England)

Moreover, the dutching system then inspired the chocolate exportation business that brought chocolate on to an international stage – a few decades after the start of the chocolate bar, the Van Houten presses became powered by steam engines, and, just like with the Dubuisson’s steam engine, came with another Chocolate Revolution. The mass consumption and commercialization of chocolate began in European countries such as Germany and France, which eventually led its way to the United States (Beckett, Szogyi). These countries then started their own chocolate giants such as Hershey’s and Nestlé, which embody the same mass consumption and commercialization ideals that have advanced the history of chocolate along and allowed it to further churn.

Without the Industrial age, chocolate would just not be the same. It is literally unrecognizable from its Olmec and Mayan roots. From the Industrial Age, the Chocolate Age churned on and on – all starting with the advancements in steam and hydraulics.



Beckett, S.T, et al. Industrial Chocolate – Manufacture and Use. Wiley Publishers: Hoboken.

Horn, Jeff. The Industrial Revolution: History, Documents, and Key Questions. (2016). ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara.

Squicciarini, Mara P & Swinnen, Johan. (2016). The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Smithsonian. Retrieved from http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/power-chocolate-reveals-true-roots-celebrated-food

Szogyi, Alex. (1997). Chocolate: Food of the Gods. Greenwood Publishing Group: Westport.

The Foods of England. Retrieved from http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/chocolate.htm

World Standards. Retrieved from http://www.worldstandards.eu/chocolate%20-%20history.html




Chocolate: Curse or Cure?

Although evidence for the medicinal use of chocolate appears in Mesoamerican artifacts as early as 600 B.C. (Dillinger et al. 2000), the health benefits of chocolate have only recently been evaluated in modern American society. Mesoamerican civilizations and European countries long ago recognized the ways chocolate could improve the conditions of those who were sick. One could even say the Mayans deemed chocolate a super food thousands of years ago, when they integrated cacao into their diet and rituals as they believed in its magical properties. Food was considered to be medicine long before contemporary sources of treatment prescribed by physicians. Mesoamerican sources of evidence include pieces of writing, the transmission of words across languages, and residue found in vessels made of pottery and materials stored in tombstones (Coe and Coe 1996).

The consumption of chocolate began in the New World among the Olmecs, and later made its way to the Old World in the 16th century. I explore its incorporation in three primary sources: the Badianus Manuscript, the Florentine Codex, and the Princeton Codex (De la Cruz 1940 and Sahagun 1981). Chocolate was used for preventative and healing purposes, according to these documents.

desta gente indiana y de los miembros de todo el cuerpo interiores y esteriores y de las enfermedades y medicinas contrarias y de las nationes que a esta tierra an venido a poblar, Mexico, 1577

The image above is printed on the Florentine Codex, an encyclopedia about central Mexico culture that Bernardino de Sahagun composed in 1590. “Book X [the tenth of twelve books in the series] is about Aztec society and covers such subjects as the virtues and vices of the people, food and drink, the parts of the human body, and illnesses and remedies. In this book, Sahagún describes the process of making chocolate from cacao beans, which is also depicted on folio 71v.” The Florentine Codex includes an exploration of medical treatments that used cacao. Among these health benefits were reducing agitation, asthma, cancer, thirst, and hoarseness (Stubbe 1662). Sahagun also described how different parts and methods of preparing cacao (cacao-tree bark, leaves of the cacao, and cacao as a beverage) could be used in order to cure or treat various illnesses.

The Badianus Manuscript was found in the Vatican Library in 1929, and provides pharmacological treatments for various diseases.

The Badianus Manuscript, written in 1552 in Nahuatl, presents the use of food in healing particularly through the use of medicinal herbs. The manuscript explores “the use of cocoa derivatives as nutrients or remedies for angina, constipation, tartar-related dental problems, dysentery, dyspepsia, indigestion, fatigue, gout and hemorrhoids” (De la Cruz, 1940). This primary source focus on the use of cacao flowers to cure fatigue. Finally, the Princeton Codex was discovered in 1914 in Yucatan and describes chants that were recited for patients who were ill. “At the conclusion of chants to cure skin eruptions, fever and seizures, a bowl of chacah (i.e., medicinal chocolate) that contained two peppers, honey and tobacco juice was drunk by the patients” (Princeton Codex 1965).

As chocolate was transferred to Western Europe, its consumption was deemed suspicious given its stimulating effects. In order to appeal to Galenism, the prominent medical philosophy at the time, doctors and scientists found evidence of the ways it improved the body (Lippi, 2012). There were various conclusions drawn pertaining to the health impacts chocolate provided from the 17th to the 19th centuries, though the results center on three medicine-related uses for cacao and chocolate: weight gain in emaciated patients, stimulating the nervous system, and improving digestion (Dillinger et al. 2000).

Chocolate is the New ‘Super Food,’ The Telegraph, United Kingdom, 2011

In a study by the Hershey Centre for Health and Nutrition, researchers found that dark chocolate contained more antioxidants and polyphenols than fruit “all of which are thought to protect the body from diseases such as cancer, and heart conditions” (Alleyne, 2011). Nutritionists and vendors alike have declared chocolate, especially dark chocolate, a super food. Cocoa products have been proven to slightly lower blood pressure and have even been linked with lower rates of cancer (Steinberg et al. 2003). However, most studies on the health benefits of chocolate have focused on cocoa extracts, not chocolate, and the distinction must be made in order to consider the impact of the addition of sugar and fats in modern American society.


Alleyne, Richard. “Chocolate is the New ‘Super Food’” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, United Kingdom [Online Image.] 7 Feb. 2011. Retrieved 02-14-16 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/8306796/Chocolate-is-the-new-super-food.html.

“The Badianus Manuscript.” America’s Earliest Medical Book. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

Coe, S.D., Coe, M.D., 1996. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, London

Dillinger T.L., Barriga P., Escarcega S., Jimenez M., Salazar Lowe D., Grivetti L.E. Food of the gods: Cure for humanity? A cultural history of the medicinal and ritual use of chocolate. J. Nutr.2000;130:2057–2072.

De la Cruz M. The Badianus Manuscript, Codex Barberini, Latin 241, Vatican Library: An Aztec herbal of 1552. Johns Hopkins University Press; Baltimore, MD, USA: 1940.

Libro decimo de los vicios y virtudes desta gente indiana y de los miembros de todo el cuerpo interiores y esteriores y de las enfermedades y medicinas contrarias y de las nationes que a esta tierra an venido a poblar, Mexico [Online Image]. 1577 CE. The World Digital Library. Retrieved 02-14-16 from https://www.wdl.org/en/item/10621/.

Lippi D. History of the Medical Use of Chocolate. In: Watson R.R., Preedy V.R., Zibadi S., editors. Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Humana Press; New York, NY, USA: 2012. pp. 11–21.

Roys, R. L. Ritual of the Bacabs. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK: 1965.

Sahagun B. General History of the Things of New Spain [Florentine Codex, 1590] School of American Research, University of Utah Monographs of the School of American Research, and Museum of New Mexico; Santa Fe, NM, USA: 1981.

Steinberg, Francene M., Monica M. Bearden, and Carl L. Keen. “Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: implications for cardiovascular health.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 103.2 (2003): 215-223.

Stubbe, H.. The Indian Nectar or a Discourse Concerning Chocolata and Nature of the Cacao-Nut and other Ingredients of that Composition is Examined and Stated According to the Judgment and Experience of Indian and Spanish Writers. J.C. for Andrew Crook, London, UK: 1662.



How Cacahuatl Became Chocolate

Many modern-day chocolate enthusiasts are surprised to learn that when the Spaniards first encountered Mesoamerica they were repulsed by the cacao-beverage of the native Aztecs. Due to its gritty texture and bitter taste, some even said it was more of a drink for pigs than humans and even barbaric, due to the sight of Aztecs with red-stained mouths as if they had been drinking blood due to their achiote-laced chocolate. Spanish aversion to drinking cacao eventually dissipated, partly due to the filling, nonalcoholic nature of the beverage and out of necessity. Having palates familiar with Old World flavors, the new settlers imported livestock such as cows and sheep as well as crops such as wheat, sugar cane, and peaches. The Maya and Aztecs used honey as a sweetener but had nothing close to the sweet tooth cravings of the Europeans. Not surprisingly, hybridization began to occur between the two cultures. An entire generation of Spanish Creoles born, and this was the context in which chocolate was eventually transplanted to Old Spain and the rest of Europe, which led to the introduction of chocolate to the European colonies in North America, the Caribbean, and around the world through trade. If the original Mesoamerican cacao beverage had not undergone extensive hybridization with European customs such as taste modification and linguistic changes, then chocolate as we know it probably would have never existed.


Imaginary scene of Aztecs creating chocolate, from John Ogillby’s America, of 1671. The artist has misunderstood the use of the metate, and has incorrectly included the post-Conquest molinillo. (Coe 113).

There is much debate concerning the origins of the word “chocolate”. In many old documents and letters chocolate is referred to as “cacahuatl”, (“cacao water”). One compelling reason for the linguistic switch among its white consumers is the reality that words and word roots in one language can become awkward and even offensive once transferred to a foreign cultural and linguistic setting. In most Roman languages, the word “caca” is a vulgar term for feces. (The term cacafuego—“shitfire” even appears in an early 18th century Spanish-English dictionary.) It is understandable why Spaniards would be uncomfortable with a word beginning with “caca” to describe a thick, brown drink they wanted to introduce to Europeans back home. One popular theory of where “chocolate” came from is the Maya word “chocol” and the Aztec word for water “atl”. It is safe to say if this name change had not happened, then the drink would have probably never become popular back in Europe, and without introducing the new methods of preparing and serving the drink, (i.e. the introduction of sugar), then chocolate would have remained a local delicacy of Central and South America among the native elites, not eventually a global phenomenon consumed by all social classes.

The chocolate drink was originally served as a cold, bitter, unsweetened beverage, probably in part due to the warm climate of Central America. The Spanish insisted on drinking their chocolate hot and regularly sweetening it with cane sugar, as well as replacing spices such as “ear flower” and the foreign chili pepper with more familiar flavors such as cinnamon, anise seed, and black pepper. Europeans also needed to figure out a way that they could transport chocolate across the ocean on long voyages back to Spain; chocolate was too perishable. The Spaniards manufactured the finished beverage from a dried wafer or tablet of ground cacao that just needed hot water and sugar added to it. Guatemalan nuns may have invented this method, but Aztec warriors were also issued similar “instant chocolate” for sustenance during military campaigns. The Spaniards used these wafers as a convenient way to store and ship the cacao as a dried product, not unlike the instant hot cocoa we continue to drink today.



Image from nationwidecandy.com (2015)

And finally, the last change required in order for chocolate to become popular in Europe was its marketing. Unlike the sacredness and spirituality of chocolate in the Aztec context, in Europe it was marketed as medicine beneficial for all humoral temperaments (a desirable trait in the Baroque medical terminology of the time). Similar to other common drugs of the time (i.e. tea and coffee) the medicine became recreational, not unlike the Coca Cola phenomenon in the Americna South. All of these drinks engendered a craving for them by those who drank them, (due to their stimulant nature) and chocolate became a mainstream component of the European diet.


The Family of the Duke of Penthievre or The Cup of Chocolate by Jean-Baptiste Chapentier. (mystudios.com)

Ultimately, at the time Europe had the most widespread access to the majority of the globe through colonization. In order for the Europeans to have spread chocolate to their territories, they would have to had developed a craving for the beverage, which would not have happened if hybridization of the Mesoamerican beverage had not occurred through taste, language, and initial branding as a health food.



Coe, Sophia D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson. 2007. Print. Chapter 4: Encounters and Transformation, Chapter 5: Chocolate Encounter Europe, pp.106-176.  

Chapentier, Jean-Baptiste. The Family of the Duke of Penthievre (The Cup of Chocolate). 1768. http://www.mystudios.com 20 Feb 2015

Dakin, Karen and Wichmann, Soren. Ancient Mesoamerica. Vol 11 Issue 1. Jan 2000, pp. 55-75.  http://dx.doi.org  08 September 2000. WEb. 20 Feb 2015. Abstract. 

Ogillby, John. America. 1671. Engraving. The True History of Chocolate. Coe, Sophie D., Coe, Michael D. 2nd ed. 2007. 113. Print.

Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows. online posting for sale. http://www.nationwidecandy.com. 20 Feb 2015