Tag Archives: science

More Sugar! – The Causes of the Rise in British Sugar Consumption

During the 17thcentury all the way through the early 20thcentury, sugar had an incredible rise in production and consumption. This rise in consumption was especially prevalent in Britain. When sugar first arrived in Britain during the middle ages, it was primarily used by the upper class as a sparingly used spice. However, by the 18thand 19thcentury, sugar became a heavily used by all social classes. At the beginning of the 18thcentury the average British person was consuming 4 pounds of sugar per year. However, by the early 20thcentury that number had skyrocketed to about 90 pounds of sugar per person per year (Mintz). This exponential rise in British sugar consumption can be explained by a number of different factors. In this post I will outline the potential economic, practical, and scientific causes for this unforeseen rise in British sugar consumption. 

Graph showing the massive increase in British sugar consumption. 
Image Source 


First and Foremost, the rise in British sugar consumption was definitely caused in-part by the increased production and availability of sugar that the Triangular Trade provided. The Triangular Trade was a trans-Atlantic trade system that included the shipping of slaves from Africa to the Caribbean to work on plantations. In total, about “four million slaves were brought to the Caribbean, and almost all ended up on the sugar plantations” (Sugar and Slavery). This Triangular trade took place during the 17thand 18thcentury and was a huge part of the increase in sugar production in the Caribbean. This increase in production through slavery, created an enormous increase in sugar availability and consumption in Britain. Eventually, Britain began to question the ethics of sugar consumption because “slavery in England… had been deemed illegal since 1772” (Sugar and Slavery). However, even after the end of the Triangular Trade, consumption of sugar per capita continued to rise. Slavery, an increase sugar production, and the increase of sugar availability were all major factors as to why sugar consumption skyrocketed in England.

Image depicting the Triangular Trade and its vastness.  
Image Source

Another reason for the rise in British sugar consumption was the extreme versatility sugar had. Once the British began to trade for massive amounts of sugar, they realized it can have several purposes. Among other things, sugar could be used in medicine, jams, syrups, tea, coffee, fruit drinks, and in deserts (Mintz). Sugar also had decorative purposes as it could be formed into sculptures. However, the uses of sugar as a preservative and sweetener was definitely a major factor of the rise in sugar consumption. With sugar, the British could now preserve their fruits as jams which resulted in a major change in the British culture forever. Jam spread on bread evolved into a staple meal for the British in the 19thcentury. This was mainly because it was a quick and easy meal that provided a sufficient number of calories, especially as women and children entered the industrial workforce. This easy meal for women and children allowed the British economy to thrive “without increasing proportionately the quantities of meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products” (Mintz). This change in diet was heavily reflected in data because “by 1900, it [sugar] was supplying nearly one-fifth of the calories in the English diet” (Mintz). In the end, the cheap cost of sugar as well as its versatility definitely played a major role in the rise in British sugar consumption. 

The last potential reason for the rise in British sugar consumption was science. This was actually a reason for the rise in sugar consumption globally too. When you eat sugar there is a natural reaction by the body to release dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is linked to the “reward circuit associated with addictive behaviors” (Schaefer and Yasin). Essentially anything that causes the body to release dopamine can become very addictive because the only way to fulfill the dopamine high again is to do the same thing that caused the original high. Thus, when one eats sugar, the only way to feel that exact “high” again is to eat sugar again. Furthermore, since the body acclimates to things that cause dopamine releases, it requires higher amounts of sugar in higher frequency to achieve the original sugar “high” sensation (Schaefer and Yasin). This has been proven scientifically and some even believe that “sugar could be as addictive as some street drugs and have similar effects on the brain” (Schaefer and Yasin).  This addictive effect on the brain definitely had a big impact on why the British kept demanding and consuming more and more sugar as time passed. 

Diagram depicting the cycle of addiction that sugar can cause.
Image Source

In the end, it is safe to say that there is nothing that was the sole cause for the rise in British sugar consumption. It was undoubtedly a combination of all the things I have talked about in this post. The increasing affordability of sugar made it economically smart, the versatility of sugar made it practically smart, and the addictive properties of sugar made it scientifically irresistible. Together these factors combined to cause “the most remarkable upward production curve of any major food on the world market” (Martin).  

Scholarly Sources Cited

  • Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 4: Sugar and Cacao’” AAAS 119X, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University. 20 Feb. 2019.
  • Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking, 1985.
  • Schaefer, Anna, and Kareem Yasin. “Is Sugar the Next ‘Street Drug’?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 11 June 2015, http://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/experts-is-sugar-addictive-drug#1. Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE.
  • “Sugar and Slavery.” Sugar in the Atlantic World | Case 6 Sugar and Slavery, clements.umich.edu/exhibits/online/sugarexhibit/sugar06.php.

Media Sources Cited

Sweet Medicine: The science of chocolate and health



Chocolate had used as medicine since its inception. The Aztec king Montezuma is said to have consume anywhere from 20 to 50 glasses in order to remain virile. In more recent times, scientists have been looking into whether there are some medical treasures hidden in this scrumptious treat. Naturally, scientists have been zooming in on what it is in chocolate that gives it its health benefits. Scientists now believe these compounds in chocolate, called flavanols, have antioxidant properties and could help treat a variety of conditions and fight a variety of diseases. This has led to a lot of good research being done. There have been studies done that look at chocolate’s impact in fighting heart disease, diabetes, and cancer[1]. There have been studies looking at chocolate’s effect on cognitive function, memory, and blood pressure.  However, before you run to the pantry to self-medicate with chocolate be forewarned; this research, like all medical research, in fact like all science, has caveats. This particular group of research has a good deal of caveats, though not every study has the exact same caveats. Those depend on the strengths and failings of each individual study.

There is one caveat though that applies to this entire group of research; all the chocolate in these studies is all dark chocolate, that is to say to that it is at least sixty percent cacao solids. Milk chocolate is not included and for good reason. US law states that chocolate only needs to contain ten percent cacao in order to legally qualify as chocolate, the rest is mainly sugar, fat, and a few other things such as milk. According to professor Carla Martin, lecturer at Harvard University and director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, “A Hershey’s Kiss typically contains about, I think, 11 percent cacao content”. To put that in perspective, if you had a bar of typical milk chocolate that weighed one hundred grams (about the weight of an iPhone 5S[2]), then the actual amount of chocolate in the bar would be only about ten grams, or the weight of two nickels. The fact that milk chocolate has barely any actual chocolate means that milk chocolate has barely any of those cacao flavanols that are thought to provide the health benefits. Thus, anyone, scientist or otherwise, looking towards chocolate for health benefits has to look towards chocolate with a high cacao content.

Chocolate flavanols table
Figure 1


There are many pitfalls a research study can fall into. One of these is having a limited and/or small sample size.  Multiple studies on the effect of chocolate on health have had sample sizes of less than a couple hundred people. One such study, the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study had only ninety participants. The study found that regular cocoa flavanol consumption can reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction, but given such small sample size it is difficult to draw any large generalized conclusions for the general population, since there is a wide variety of differences across populations. Moreover, the CoCoA study limited their sample size in an attempt at prove clearer causation; because this was a study on aging all the participant were elderly, and the study also excluded Current smokers, habitual users of antioxidant supplements (including vitamins C and E), habitual consumers of chocolate or other cocoa products (daily consumption of any amount), or individuals prescribed medications known to have antioxidant properties (including statins and glitazones) or to interfere with cognitive functions (including benzodiazepines and antidepressants). This means for populations outside the participant group, the research has limited application, since the researcher did not look at how cocoa flavanol intake affects people with these additional variables. It has to be remembered that studies like this are jumping off point, they prove that there is something there that needs to be looked into, but further research is required in order to the proper applications and implications of the initial research.

Continue reading Sweet Medicine: The science of chocolate and health

BEAN to BARCODE: collecting, preserving, and producing premium chocolate from the wild



Chocolate is a billion dollar a year industry, and with an ever growing global demand, consumers are not only hunting for “something sweet”, but rather for premium chocolate that is produced and processed ethically and sustainably. There is a growing desire to locate, collect, and produce premium chocolate, but how do companies and consumers know that the chocolate they are purchasing is in fact “premium” chocolate? Many chocolate companies are addressing these social and environmental concerns by not only focusing on a quality product, but also the welfare of the people working in production and identifying wild populations to assist in protecting the land on which they grow. One company takes these social and environmental concerns very seriously, and works to connect scientists, chocolatiers, and consumers in a network that supports the production premium chocolate. Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve encompasses four major values: Quest, Race, Pursuit, and Experience. By focusing on these core values, Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve not only sets out to connect people with a quality, premium product, but it also addresses the future of the plant (Theobroma spp.) populations in the South America by documenting occurrences in the wild and sequencing the DNA (barcoding). Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve is an example of a company putting their “money where their (chocolate covered) mouth is” and in doing so, provides a network of support that allows for the distribution of the knowledge of chocolate “Bean to Bar” for future generations.

What is Premium Chocolate? The revenue generate from chocolate production is a billion dollar a year industry, but how is premium chocolate defined? Is it simply the packaging? Is it related to the origin of the beans? Is it the way in which it is processed? The answer is “all of the above”. “Like wine, chocolate is an agricultural product whose character and flavor are dependent on genetics, climate, soil and processing practices to yield a finished product. The higher the quality and care taken along the route from bean to bar, the better the finished product will taste.” (Fine Chocolate, 2017).  There are therefore five factors that determine “fine” or “premium” chocolate: origin and processing, production practices, ingredient quality, technical expertise, artistry and presentation. In accepting these criteria, it is the job of companies selling their products to make sure they are selling premium chocolate, but rather the whole supply chain from the field to the lab to make sure they are producing, processing, and selling a product worthy of the label “premium”. In doing so, the entire industry is not only looking to produce a quality product, but rather to create a quality process that looks out for the interest of the people and the planet.

Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve – established in 2016; the story of cacáo-into-chocolate, however, begins much earlier… rooted sometime around ~10millionBC. (“The Story”, 2017)

Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve, established in 2016 and launched in 2017, is co-founded by Mark Christian, the Director of HCP (Heirloom Cacao Preservation), and the creator of C-Spot™ (The Independent Consumer Guide to Premium Chocolate). C-Spot™ is dedicated to chocolate and describes two major points in its philosophy 1) “Other than the Christmas tree, no tree on Earth brings as much hope & joy to a troubled world and 2) cacao can play a role in creating a model for ethical capitalism that builds networks between the producing South & the consuming North based on mutual respect.” (“Philosophy”, 2017). Where C-Spot™ provides the public with multitudes of educational materials by describing the history of Theobroma cacao and the science of preservation (The Chocolate Atlas), a database of available chocolate products with statistics and reviews (The Chocolate Census), provides information regarding how to appreciate chocolate through taste (The Laws of Chocodynamics). Through the philosophy expressed by C-Spot™ and the efforts in preservation by HCP and the USDA, Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve builds on this expressed philosophy to bring the taste of their efforts, and vision of conservation, to the people themselves.

Video#1: HCP Google Hangout sponsored by HCP Co-Founder Pam Williams (Ecole Chocolat) and featuring her and fellow co-founders Dan Pearson (Maranon Chocolate) and Lyndel Meinhardt (USDA-ARS), as well as Jim Eber the HCP Director of Communication.

Landmarks Wild Chocolate Reserve: four major values

 “In establishing Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve™, this network recovers & protects humanity’s inheritance: the original prime root varietals – the crowns jewels / rock stars – of chocolate. It creates value to improve the livelihoods of forest families. A financial bulwark against cutting down the Amazon via logging, mining & drilling for cattle grazing, soybean farming, resort hotels & the like which contributes to climate flux & defacing the Earth’s surface. It impels still other forest communities to literally come out of the woodwork in pointing out these rarest treasures of cacáo trees to fortify the network so when a groundswell of wild reserves are landmarked the odds of deforestation are reduced if not eliminated.” (“The Story”, 2017)

Mark Christian developed the Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve label that uses DNA analyses (genetics) to not only identify wild beans, but also to assist in the preservation of the lands from which these wild varieties reside, and have resided for thousands of years. “The goal is to build a network in the region that can help fuel the specialty chocolate boom with the rarest flavors on Earth – and offer incentive to protect them.” (Gewin, 2017). Volker Lehmann (a cacao trader and owner of Tranquilidad chocolate) said “he even hopes that by engaging enough Amazon communities to sustainably harvest wild cacao, Christian’s label can help them secure World Heritage Site status, protections given to cultural or natural places that have outstanding value.” (Gewin, 2017).  This would be a huge step forward for conservation and preservation of the land for which Theobroma cacao is native, and for the many other important flora and fauna species that reside in the Amazonian rain forest.

World Heritage sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria: (http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/)

  1. to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
  2. to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
  3. to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
  4. to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
  5. to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
  6. to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
  7. to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
  8. to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
  9. to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
  10. to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

Value#1: “Quest: Recovers & protects humanity’s inheritance: the original prime root varietals – the crowns jewels / rock stars – of chocolate.” (“The Story”, 2017)

This first value, QUEST, describes the importance of finding populations of Theobroma from the “original prime root varietals” of the species. This description floods the consumer with images of the ancestral beginnings of not only the plant, but also of the people who were the first consumers of cacao, the natives of the Amazon. Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve focuses its efforts on searching for new plants and protecting new “Landmarks” in the hotspot of Cacao’s biodiversity (see image below).

originImage#1: (permission to use image granted by Mark Christian: image above courtesy of Samantha Madell) Species richness of genus Theobroma

Focusing on the center of genetic biodiversity of Theobroma cacao allows researchers to locate, sample, and preserve important wild lineages. Working not only to collect, process, and sell wild collected cacao beans, but also by contributing to the science and study to isolate DNA, maintain propagules (seeds and clones), allow for taste testing, and to share these wild strains with farmers around the world is required in order to produce cultivars that are resistant to witches broom, and that still produce the flavors that we have all grown to love. “Geneticists Raymond Schnell, Dapeng Zhang, & Motamayor of the USDA Agricultural Research Service are in the deep stages of identifying by busily fingerprinting the DNA of 3,000+ cacáo clones that should solve both the relationships & origins puzzle. By combing the genome of the tree for genetic markers linked with specific traits — such as fruit quality, environmental adaptation, & disease / pest resistance – they’ve developed filters to make corrections for common sequencing errors. Thousands of such genetic markers called SNPS (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) stand additionally as signposts pointing out the degree to how much or how little cacáo types are interrelated.” (“The Strains”, 2017). This research, by the USDA, not only assists with conservation work in the field, but also allows for research to understand the genetics of an extremely valued plant, and find ways to grow and produce viable cultivars that are disease resistant without sacrificing flavor.

“The ability to understand the genetic makeup of a single cacao bean is important to cacao research and to the fine chocolate industry in general.  We now have the ability to open a bag of cacao beans and identify the genetic makeup of those beans.  That information can be used to profile the cacao types that are represented in that bag of cacao; to authenticate them to a particular type, or identify adulterations and this ability could improve the sourcing and quality of cacao”. (Japhet, 2016)

DNA Barcoding allows researchers and farmers to identify and track the specific plants that are producing healthy plants, but also identifying specific plants (individuals) that produce premier flavors. HCP and the USDA have rigorous protocols for samples, testing, sequencing DNA, and taste testing new plants (or existing plants on farms). To read the protocols please follow this link http://hcpcacao.org/wp-content/uploads/HCP-Protocols-Submission-Through-Site-Visit.pdf.

AmazonImage#2: (with permission from Mark Christian; Photo by Mark Christian February 1, 2011) Rio-Amazon

“In its natural habitat, cocoa grows in the understory of evergreen tropical rainforest. It often grows in clumps along river banks, where the roots may be flooded for long periods of the year. Cocoa grows at low elevations, usually below 300 meters above sea level, in areas with 1,000 to 3,000 mm rainfall per year.” (“Theobroma cacao”, 2017)

“Rare & Wild Landmark Varietals

These landmarks shelter pure genotypes & rare flavor-cacáo. Their guardians – re: Bromans (tenders of Theobroma cacáo trees) — row, trek, hack & sweat their way thru jungle to pick wild cacáo.

Each tends to our most ancestral cacáo trees on mother Earth. Millennia in the Making.

Time-honored; time-tested; timeless.

Carefully selected & tenderly handpicked, then left undisturbed.

The kind of treasure you bring out by the rucksack, cargo pants pockets & a trunk. GL getting it all the way home.” (“Landmarks”, 2017)

genus-theobromaImage#3: (with permission from Mark Christian; photo by Mark Christian March 10, 2013) Species richness of genus Theobroma. Left: observed species richness in 10 minute grid cells and a circular neighborhood of 1 decimal degree; Right: modeled species richness in 2.5 minute grid cells.

Value#2: “Race: It creates value to improve the livelihoods of forest families” (“The Story”, 2017)

This again brings an image of indigenous people from times long past. The consumer may imagine as though they are consuming a piece history, and at the same time know they are literally helping to supporting indigenous communities of the present day. “Improving livelihoods for indigenous families in the Amazon means the global community can benefit from the abundance of the rainforest without destroying it.” (“The Story”, 2017)).  These factors allow the consumer to feel as though they are assisting with a bigger issue other than satisfying their need for chocolate. The Landmark™ label promises major social and environmental returns for those working to collect and process cacao from the wild.

Best organic

Bests Organic

Wild cacáo from the rainforest…
because nobody perfects like Mother Nature

Image#4: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Best Organic”, 2017

Fair Trade

Beyond FairTrade

Reciprocal Integration

Image#5: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Beyond Fair Trade”, 2017

Bargain Fare

Bargain Fare

‘Mindful Money’ investment
in affordable luxury

Image#6: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Bargain Fare”, 2017


Value#3: “Pursuit: A financial bulwark against cutting down the Amazon via logging, mining & drilling for cattle grazing, soybean farming, resort hotels & the like which contributes to climate flux & defacing the Earth’s surface.” (“The Story”, 2017)

The consumer is saving the forest! This value tugs at the hearts of those who wish to save the ever shrinking Amazon rainforest. There are many reasons why people are driven to protect such a valued asset, but the people who need the most convincing are the people who occupy the lands in and near the forest in the Amazon. As stated above, the Amazon is shrinking due to human activity, but with little regard to the huge loss that follows. The indigenous communities of the Amazon have a vested interest in land preservation, and many groups are turning to collecting and selling wild cacao, and even farming cacao plants, as a way to conserve the rainforest. “In Ecuador, one tribe has swapped hunting for growing cocoa. Another in Brazil has started managing its fish stocks. And one in Peru set up an indigenous local government to protect its environment from oil, mining and logging companies.” (Lopez, 2015). The indigenous communities are in need of protecting their traditional way of life, but also must deal with the reality of climate change, deforestation, and the competition between natives and corporations looking to profit from the declining resources of the forest.  “To combat the problem, an indigenous women’s group, the Association of Waorani Women of the Ecuadoran Amazon (AMWAE), created a program that gives cocoa trees to local women if their husbands stop hunting.” (Lopez, 2015). With more indigenous groups turning to the collection of wild cacao, and the farming of “premium” lineages, it is important that a mark ™ exists that promotes and supports these important efforts in the wild. This support not only assists in the protection of the land, but also supports the people who are part of this amazing environmental network.

Value#4: “Experience: It impels still other forest communities to literally come out of the woodwork in pointing out these rarest treasures of cacáo trees to fortify the network so when a groundswell of wild reserves are landmarked the odds of deforestation are reduced if not eliminated.” (“The Story”, 2017)

 Landmarks Wild Chocolate Reserve promotes Luisa Abram Chocolate Bar which is described as follows:

“Taste Adventure… Taste Straight from the Jungle

All across the world, people are re-discovering chocolate.

Most chocolate today is just flavored-sugar wrapped up in a candy bar. A ghost of the real thing.

The choice of chefs, chocolatarians & savvy sharp consumers like you, Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve™ re-introduces the original authentic chocolate.

For those who demand the finest & the wildest, Landmark™ sets the standard from pod-to-palette.

Comparable wines, single-malts, smokes, caviars & like specialties run $100+… yet this chocolate is every bit as elaborate & worth it as all those for but a fraction.” (“Chocolate Bars”, 2017)

rio-purus-70Image#7: (with permission from Mark Christian) Rio Purús Wild Cacáo 70%

Landmark™ Chocolate Wild Reserve provides detailed information for each bar of chocolate they highlight for sale on their website.

The Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve provides education for consumers and producers. There is a sense of pride expressed by those who use the label, and a sense of accomplishment in sticking to the values set forth. Luisa Abram takes her job seriously, and is working to make purchasing cacao beans from the collectors easier, and she also states that she does not work with people only looking for a profit.

Luisa Abrams:

“These people need a market to come to them,” he said. “They have no way of going to the market.”

Still, connecting the market to the jungle is rife with complications. In 2014, Luisa Abram and her father, Andre Banks, sourced her first cacao beans from a community in the Purus valley. But, the young Brazilian recounted, they had to abandon a promising deal with a community near the border with French Guiana because the middlemen were motivated only by profit.

Abram today sells a chocolate that is “81 percent wild cocoa” and bears the Landmark designation. She both wants to find new sources to explore her country’s flavor possibilities as well as to empower communities to help preserve the land they live on. “The Amazon is getting chopped up,” she said. “We are racing through time to preserve it.” (Gewin, 2017)

Video#2: (with permission from Mark Christian) Luisa Abram Purus Conclusion

The importance of companies such as Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve cannot be stated lightly. It is with the creation of a growing network, providing education and support that the movement for the preservation of the plants, flavor, and business will continue into the future. This network is able to work closely with the people who collect the cacao pods (fruit); focus on the sustainability and preservation of the land; understand and grow the science behind the discovery and preservation of wild populations; and maintain the historic evolution and preservation of the taste of chocolate for future generations in a way that the message is translated in various forms that all are able to understand. From the BEAN to BARcode, companies like Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve are making a difference in the world of chocolate, and it tastes great!


C-Spot, “Amazonia”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-sources/amazonia/)

C-Spot, “Philosophy”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/about/philosophy/) Accessed May 2017

C-Spot, “The Strains”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/) Accessed May 2017

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) “Fine Chocolate” http://www.finechocolateindustry.org/differentiate.php Accessed May 2017

Gewin, V., “A ‘wild’ label aims to help find and preserve rare cacao sources in the Amazon”. Washington Post February 2017. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/02/14/a-wild-label-aims-to-help-find-and-preserve-rare-cacao-sources-in-the-amazon/?utm_term=.0eec26056dfb) Accessed May 2017

 Japhet, S., “New Discoveries: The Importance of Cacao DNA”. Heirloom Cacao Preservation, March 18, 2016. Accessed May 2017

 Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve “Chocolate Bars”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/#) Accessed May 2017

 Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve “The Landmarks”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/landmarks/) Accessed May 2017

 Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve “The Strains”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/) Accessed May 2017

 Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve “The Story”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/the-story/) Accessed May 2017

 Lopez, P., “Amazon peoples change ancestral ways to save forest”, PHYS.org December 22, 2015 (https://phys.org/news/2015-12-amazon-peoples-ancestral-ways-forest.html) Accessed May 2017

 Plants of the World Online, “Theobroma cacao”, Kew Science, 2017. (http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:320783-2) Accessed May 2017

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

 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. “The Criteria for Selection”, 2017 (http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/) Accessed May 2017

Wikipedia, Theobroma cacao, 2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobroma_cacao

 Multimedia Sources:

 Image#1: Species richness of genus Theobroma https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/

 Image#2: Rio-Amazon by Mark Christian, February 1, 2011 https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-sources/amazonia/

 Image 3: Mark Christian March 10, 2013, “Genus-theobroma”, 2017  https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/

 Image 4: Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve, with permission from Mark Christian, “Best Organic”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/)

Image 5: Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve, with permission from Mark Christian, “Beyond Fair Trade”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/)

Image 6: Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve, with permission from Mark Christian, “Bargain Fare”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/)

Image#7: (with permission from Mark Christian) Rio Purús Wild Cacáo 70% (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/#)

 Video#1: “Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative”, 2017 http://hcpcacao.org/2015/12/20/the-hcp-video/

Video#2: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Luisa Abram Purus” (https://wildchocolate.org/the-story/)

Health vs. Profit – The Conflicting Responses by Scientists and Chocolate Companies to Advances in Scientific Understanding

Nutritionists and those in the food industry often find themselves with opposing opinions with regards to health and nutrition. It is often argued by chocolate companies that scientists do not have as strong of a grasp on the science of chocolate as they would lead you to believe (Nestle), and scientists argue that the food companies are too concerned with profits to care about the health of their consumers. Currently, nutritionists suggest limiting the consumption of candy and other high-in-sugar products. However, the scientific community’s stance on chocolate consumption has shifted with time – new advances in scientific understanding cause nutritionists to update their previous suggestions to better reflect the information available. Chocolate companies, in turn, are quick to point out how rapidly the nutritionists’ suggestions change, neglecting to mention how minute their updates may be. As the understanding of the nutritional effects of chocolate and sugar on humans has evolved, the scientific community has updated its suggestions on what individuals should be eating; however, chocolate companies have put much efforts into undermining the scientific advancements, both by attacking the credibility of scientific advancements, and by trying to persuade their customers that their products are healthier than they are.

To better understand the science of chocolate, it is important to discuss the perceived health benefits chocolate has had historically. Societies native to Mesoamerica, such as the Olmec and Mayan societies, consumed chocolate as early 1100BC (Squicciarini). The Aztec society thought cocoa pods were able to provide nourishment, fertility, and even an increased sex drive (Squicciarini). However, while “chocolate” in name, this chocolate is notably different than the chocolate we think of today. As the Mesoamerican chocolate migrated to Europe, chocolate began its human-induced evolution, as the Europeans added their own elements to chocolate, to fit their sweeter appetite, and extracted cocoa products (Squicciarini). Even still, this chocolate is not the chocolate we typically see in grocery stores. In the 17th century, European academics began considering chocolate as a remedy for certain illnesses. It is important to note here, however, that the illnesses of seventeenth century Europe were vastly different than those of modern day America. Twenty-first century health in America is characterized by obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses associated with overeating. However, in the seventeenth century, Europe often faced food shortages, and a much more common ailment was undernutrition (Lyons). Chocolate was considered a high-caloric food, and as such was able to fight malnutrition. Since the hallmark health characteristics of the seventeenth century are different than in today’s society, it seems rather silly to suggest that our chocolate could serve as a medicine in the same way. Moving into more modern times, chocolate has undergone even more changes. As our society built up a taste for sweetness, sugar was added in high amounts to chocolate, reducing its bitterness. Before 1914, hot chocolate drinks had nutritional value of high fat content and protein content, and were among the only hot drinks to have such properties (Squicciarini) Then, the Spanish started sweeting it with sugar cane, vanilla, and cinnamon, increasing its popularity drastically (Squicciarini). And even then, there were health concerns regarding chocolate. A characteristic ingredient of chocolate is theobromine, which is classified as a psychoactive alkaloid. This is the same class of molecules as nicotine, caffeine, and cocaine, and is often attributed to their addictive properties (Clarence-Smith). Let us take a look at both theobromine and caffeine.

Caffeine vs. Theobromine
Caffeine vs. Theobromine (Holsclaw)

Caffeine is a compound that is thought of as addicting (as well as vital for most college students). Its effect is greatly due to the fact that it greatly resembles the molecule cyclic adenine monophosphate (cAMP). cAMP helps expedite the process of delivering oxygen to the brain, and maintains blood pressure, both of which are important for remaining alert (i.e. feeling awake). The enzyme cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterase (cAMP-PDE) recognizes cAMP as its substrate, and will break the molecule down, resulting in the feeling of drowsiness. The enzyme cAMP-PDE has evolved to recognize the cAMP, a naturally-occurring molecule in our bodies (unlike caffeine), (Spoto). Since cAMP and caffeine resemble each other chemically, cAMP-PDE is not able to distinguish the two, and thus can spend its time breaking down caffeine instead of cAMP (Montoya). In other words, the part of our body that is responsible for making us tired (cAMP-PDE) has to waste its time breaking down the wrong molecule (caffeine), so our bodies can maintain higher levels of the molecule that helps maintain alertness (cAMP). This is actually how many psychoactive alkaloids work in terms of alertness (Horrigan). When the similarities between caffeine and theobromine were first discovered, many nutritionists compared chocolate to cocaine, and suggested minimizing its use (Wilson). Despite its similar structure, however, theobromine is unable to perform this same function. Theobromine and caffeine do look very similar to humans, and have somewhat similar reactivities, yet are not the same molecule, (Beckett). cAMP-PDE is not able to recognize theobromine, in part because it is a smaller molecule, and unable to fit into the enzyme as well as caffeine, or its natural substrate cAMP, (Spoto). The addictive properties of chocolate have previously been placed on theobromine’s classification as a psychoactive alkaloid, but this is not able to cause the explained effect.

Instead, the reason chocolate can seem so addicting lies in a different class of molecules, called saccharides, more commonly referred to as sugar. Americans are commonly said to be addicted to sugar, and add excessive amounts of sugar to everything. Sugar is commonly being added to more and more foods, and those foods are increasing in their sugar content over time (Hyde). Our chocolate products’ sugar content is increasing (Hegelman), and our modern-day scientists and nutritionists are alarmed (Nestle). Scientific studies have consistently warned us of the dangers of excessive sugar (diabetes, obesity, etc.), and as new research is performed, the results are increasingly worrying (Squicciarini). However, chocolate companies put an interesting spin on this – they claim that the new results in the scientific research must contradict each other, and as such are unreliable (Nestle). They also point out that different studies measure health through different techniques, and since it isn’t uniform, it must be open to interpretation. It is a quite brilliant strategy actually, to claim that the data presented by the scientific community, the data which scientists themselves admit to updating, is too inconsistent to be worth reducing chocolate consumption. These chocolate companies rely on the consumers to not fully understand the research, and agree with their argument that the scientific figures change with each update, instead of realizing that each update creates further evidence for limiting our chocolate intake. They are thus able to present themselves as more easily understood, and no less credible. This allows these companies within the chocolate industry to claim that no foods are inherently “bad,” and that dieting and nutritional advice is too variable by the individual to be applied so broadly. This continues the theme of scientific advancement reshaping the nutritional food pyramid into the future, as the chocolate companies are attempting to immobilize our consumption patterns, in direct opposition of nutritionists creating a change over time in our consumption patterns to help keep us more nourished.

However, this is not to say that chocolate companies are totally void of arguments involving science. Many chocolate companies use science in their advertisements to attempt to trick the consumer by using scientific and nutrition buzz-words that actually have very little meaning. First, to discuss this point, it is necessary to distinguish between two terms: chocolate and confectionery. Chocolate companies advertise themselves as chocolate companies, but focus most of their attention on chocolate confectionery. Chocolate is defined as “A preparation of the seeds of cacao, roasted, husked, and ground, often sweetened and flavored, as with sugar and vanilla,” (Martin), while confectionery refers to sweet foods, often sweetened with sugar. A more representative title of companies such as Hershey’s and Mars would be “confectionery companies,” rather than chocolate companies. This distinction is important because there are health benefits associated with chocolate that are not associated with confectionery. For example, chocolates have high polyphenol and methylxanthine contents (Ackar), both of which are antioxidants, and associated with antiviral, antiallergenic, and anti-inflammatory properties, among other beneficial characteristics (Manach). This is something which chocolate companies love to advertise, but is less significant than they claim (Squicciarini). By using chocolate in their confectionery products, these companies are accurate in claiming their product has these properties. However, when discussing this feature in chocolate in their advertisements, they fail to establish that the “chocolate bar” they are selling is not entirely chocolate, but instead has a certain (and often small) amount of chocolate in it. Looking at this Hershey’s advertisement shows how they use this sneaky tactic in promoting their brand.

Hershey's Dark Chocolate Kiss Advertisement
Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kiss Advertisement (Hershey’s)

Here, Hershey’s states “antioxidants in the chocolate reduce free radicals in your body and keep your skin looking younger longer.” While this information is not false, it is presented in a misconstruing way. The advertisement makes it seem as if their Hershey’s Kiss has a particularly high content of these antioxidants, and discusses their existence rather than their concentration or effectiveness. This is not an isolated incident within the food industry, many other advertising campaigns utilize similar scientific inexactitudes. Many products are advertised as “reduced sugar,” “whole grain first ingredient,” etc. Each of these phrases are buzz-words that seem to imply either an added degree of nutrition, or a lesser degree of unhealthy ingredients. And while these statements are technically truthful, these facts are rarely as relevant as they would appear. For example, when a chocolate company claims that its product has reduced its sugar content, that often means that the products’ sugar has been replaced with a sugar-like ingredient. Let us take the example of Heinz’ Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup. While their ingredients list does not list “sugar” anywhere, it instead includes the ingredient sucralose, a sugar derivative (Schober). It even specifies that sucralose is not an ingredient that they regularly include. Sucralose is an artificial sugar whose safety is still disputed within the scientific community: it has been shown to increase the pH level in the intestines (Abou-Donia), and increase body weight, levels of P-glycoprotein, and risk of leukemia (CSPI), and even DNA damage (Sasaki) in rats. And while some of these scientific studies have been contested, they are often done so by those invested in the products. For example, Trevor Butterworth claims, in vague terms, that these studies are inaccurate, and that it is important to “scrutinize the data,” (Butterworth). However, Butterworth has a history of attacking scientific research in the world of nutrition, and is known to have connections with GMO companies, who produce the products he defends (Malkan).

Annotated Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup
Heinz’ Annotated Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup (Coach Calorie)

Annotated Ingredients of Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup
Heinz’ Annotated Ingredients of Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup (Coach Calorie)





And this brings us back to the chocolate companies. They use scientific wording (inaccurately, mostly) when it suits them, and then attack (with vague wording and emotional claims) any science that opposes their views. This is not a tactic unique to the chocolate industry, but in fact was perfected by the tobacco industry beforehand. Marion Nestle examines the sales strategies within the tobacco industry in her book Food Politics. She states that “Cigarettes use science to sow confusion about the harm that cigarettes can cause,” (Nestle), in addition to techniques of targeting children, the impoverished, and expanding their market globally. This parallels how the chocolate industry, and the greater food industry, market their products. Just as tobacco targeted children in their advertisements, chocolate and fast-food companies do the same, through television advertisements, product placement in media, internet advertisements, and even within their schools (Story). And just as tobacco companies expanded their markets internationally, the chocolate industries are competing for China’s chocolate market (Martin) Just as the tobacco companies had great success, chocolate companies are seeing similar results (Story). As children are making more demands on their parents for chocolate confectionery products they see on television, their parents’ relent with the result that children are consuming much higher levels of sugar (Story) Nestle does discuss how to prevent this, by citing the largely successful anti-smoking campaigns. She discusses the four pillars of the anti smoking campaigns: the firm research base that smoking does cause cancer, the clear message telling consumers not to smoke, the clear strategy for intervention focusing on smokers and nonsmokers alike, and strategies that do more than just address education, but address cultural measures as well (such as taxing cigarettes and preventing them in restaurants). She puts forth a proposal on how to do the same for the fast food and confectionery companies which mirrors the anti-smoking campaign. However, attempts to reduce the appeal of high-caloric food advertising has been met with opposition – the FTC was restricted in their ability to censor TV advertisements in backlash to their proposal to prevent inaccurate claims by food companies directed at children (Story).

The scientific understanding of both chocolate and sugar has grown considerably since the introduction of chocolate in Mesoamerica, yet this science is often overlooked. The companies who stand to profit off of the sales of chocolate confectionery attempt to discredit any science that would hinder their sales, while advertising their own products through the use of overly-simplified, and thus irrelevant scientific oversimplifications. Chocolate is not inherently a toxin to be avoided at all costs (assuming you aren’t a dog), but chocolate confectionery is much more processed sugars than the original cocoa it derives from and is named after. The pursuit of scientific advancement, and of scientific inquiry on the individual level is vital to avoid falling victim to false claims, such that every chocoholic can know exactly what he or she is ingesting.


Works Cited:

Ackar, Djurdjica, et al. “Cocoa polyphenols: can we consider cocoa and chocolate as potential functional food?.” Journal of chemistry 2013 (2013).

Abou-Donia, Mohamed B., et al. “Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A 71.21 (2008): 1415-1429.

Beckett, Sheilah. The science of chocolate. Vol. 22. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2000.

Browning, Lynnley. “New Salvo in Splenda Skirmish.” The New York Times: Business Day. N.p., 22 Sept. 2008. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Butterworth, Trevor. “Controversial Italian Scientist Says Splenda Causes Cancer.” Forbes. N.p., 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Clarence-Smith, William Gervase. Cocoa and chocolate, 1765-1914. Routledge, 2003.

CSPI. “CSPI Downgrades Sucralose from “Caution” to “Avoid” – New Animal Study Indicates Cancer Risk.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

CSPI. “CSPI Downgrades Sucralose from “Safe” to “Caution” – Group Cites Need to Evaluate Forthcoming Italian Study Linking Artificial Sweetener to Leukemia in Mice.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

Hegelman, Carl. “How the Snickers Bar Changed Over Time.” Web log post. The Billfold. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Mar. 2017.

Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kiss Advertisement. Digital image. Hershey’s. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Heinz’ Annotated Ingredients of Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup. Digital image. Coach Calorie. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Heinz’ Annotated Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup. Digital image. Coach Calorie. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Holsclaw, Cindy. Caffeine vs. Theobromine. Digital image. Bead Origami. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017. <http://beadorigami.blogspot.com/2013/03/chocolate-molecules.html&gt;.

Horrigan, Louise A., John P. Kelly, and Thomas J. Connor. “Immunomodulatory effects of caffeine: friend or foe?.” Pharmacology & therapeutics 111.3 (2006): 877-892.

Hyde, Dan. “Does your breakfast cereal contain more sugar than before?” The Telegraph. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Lyons, Albert S. “Medical History — The Seventeenth Century.” HealthGuidance for Better Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Malkan, Stacy. “Trevor Butterworth Spins Science for Industry.” Web log post. U.S. Right to Know. N.p., 12 Dec. 2016. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Manach, Claudine, et al. “Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 79.5 (2004): 727-747.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 1: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” Harvard, Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 6: The rise of big chocolate and the race for the global market.” Harvard, Cambridge, MA. 8 Mar. 2017. Lecture.

Montoya, Gina A., et al. “Modulation of 3′, 5′-cyclic AMP homeostasis in human platelets by coffee and individual coffee constituents.” British Journal of Nutrition 112.09 (2014): 1427-1437.

Nestle, Marion, and Michael Pollan. Food politics: how the food industry influences nutrition and health. Berkeley, CA: U of California Press, 2013. Print.

Sasaki, Yu F., et al. “The comet assay with 8 mouse organs: results with 39 currently used food additives.” Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis 519.1 (2002): 103-119.

Spoto, G., et al. “Caffeine, theophylline and bamifylline are similar as competitive inhibitors of 3′, 5′-cyclic amp phosphodiesterase in vitro.” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF IMMUNOPATHOLOGY AND PHARMACOLOGY 10.2 (1997): 153-158.

Schober, Tony. “10 Ways Food Advertising Tricks are Misleading You.” Web log post. Coach Calorie. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Story, Mary, and Simone French. “Food advertising and marketing directed at children and adolescents in the US.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 1.1 (2004): 3.

Squicciarini, Mara P., and Johan F. M. Swinnen. The economics of chocolate. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2016. Print.

Wilson, Philip K., and W. Jeffrey Hurst, eds. Chocolate and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition and Therapy. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2015.

The Significance of The Cacao Genome Project

When we reach for that second chocolate chip cookie or place that Hershey’s bar in our shopping cart, we seldom think about the process or the origins of where these sweet foods come from. Chocolate owes its existence to the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) which is predominately grown in West Africa. In fact, 70% of the world’s production of cocoa

Cacao beans in cacao pods.

comes from here (O’Brien 2010). Cacao trees produce cacao pods, which are carefully cultivated and cut from the trees without damaging the integrity of neither the pod nor the trunk. From these pods, we derive the cacao beans, which are further processed to become a variety of cocoa products. But while we largely categorize chocolate products as heavily processed and essentially artificial foods, it is important to acknowledge that chocolate comes from agricultural origins.

Just like any other plant or living organism, the cacao tree is susceptible to disease. It has been estimated that fungal diseases can “wipe out up to 80 percent of the cacao crop, and cause an estimated $700 million in losses each year” (O’Brien). This is obviously a major problem since much of the world depends on these trees to satisfy consumer demand for chocolate goods. So, in efforts to attack this problem, Mars, USDA-ARS, IBM, NCGR, Clemson University, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Indiana University and Washington State University came together on the Cacao Genome Project.

The goal of the Cacao Genome Project was essentially to sequence the DNA of the

Future research will hopefully lead to learning about which pathogens affect the sequenced cacao strain, Matina 1-6.

cacao tree so as to “provide researchers with access to the latest genomic tools, enabling more efficient research and accelerating the breeding process, thereby expediting the release of superior cacao cultivars” (Cacao Genome Database). The preliminary release of the genomic sequencing in 2010 included 92% of the genome, with more work to be done. The Cacao Genome Database has made this information available to the public so as to provide people with the building blocks to conduct their own research as to how the

Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro, head of plant research at Mars, says that sequencing the cacao genome will help assure a viable future for cocao.

genome can be utilized to advance the health and growth of the cacao trees. Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro, head of plant research at Mars, says they wished to make the information available without “intellectual property restrictions” (Pollack 2010). In terms of the Cacao Genome Project, this seems to be a case of “a little more knowledge never hurt.” This new found information opens doors to help “identify traits of disease resistance, enhanced yield, efficiency in water and nutrient use, as well as climate change adaptability among the world’s cacao trees” (Mars). With greater and more efficient production, Mars will have a larger access to cacao at lower prices. And since this information has been made public, a monopoly of the benefits of the genome sequencing is avoided so that everyone benefits.

At the time of the genome’s release in 2010, the worldwide demand for cacao exceeded production (O’Brien). With further research and the application of the already discovered information, we theoretically already hold the pieces to erasing this problem on the global scale. But perhaps more importantly, the implications these scientific discoveries have on the micro scale of the families whose lives depend on the cultivation of cacao will be of great benefit to their overall standard of living. More advanced methods and strains of cacao will yield greater profit for cacao farmers and remove much of the volatility of agricultural production, hypothetically helping to greatly reduce the likelihood of devastating losses.

The communal approach to bettering the cacao situation as a whole is something to be applauded. The scientific advancement of what is known about cacao will ultimately advance the lives of all those connected the production and consequently the consumption of chocolate, a food that has become an essential staple in the diets of modern culture.


Works Cited

“Cacao Genome Database.” Welcome to the Cacao Genome Project. Cacao Genome Project, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

“Innovate With Mars | Case Studies | Cocoa Genome Project | Mars.” Science and Innovation. Mars, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

O’Brien, Dennis. “Related Topics.” Sequencing of Cacao Genome Will Help U.S. Chocolate Industry, Subsistence Farmers in Tropical Regions. USDA, 15 Sept. 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Pollack, Andrew. “Rival Candy Projects Both Parse Cocoa’s DNA.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Sept. 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.