Today, we tend to think of cannabis and cacao consumption as a treat or indulgence. Yet, the use and cultivation of these two plants date back through antiquity. Back then, the beliefs about the purpose of cannabis and cacao consumption was much different and far less restrained by negative social or biological implications.
While much of the eurocentric understanding of cacao is extrapolated from studying the Aztecs, the Mesoamerican origins of cacao can be traced back even further to the Olmec civilization. The Olmecs, possible ancestors of the Mayans, created a flourishing society in the humid lowlands of the Mexican Gulf Coast around 1500 BC. The humid, tropical rainforest climate created ideal conditions for growing the Theobroma Cacao Tree, but terrible conditions for archeological preservation. That being said, linguistics experts have deduced the origins of the word “cacao” to the Mixe-Zoquean language used by the Olmecs in 1000 BC. Further, excavators discovered a stone bowl with chemical remnants of cacao (theobromine) at the Olmec capital city (San Lorenzo) and reasonably conclude they were among the first to discover the chocolate process (Coe & Coe, 84).
Postdating the Olmecs, The Maya existed from 250 AD until its collapse in the ninth century. The Maya thoroughly advanced wisdom and is remembered particularly for its contributions to agriculture, food, and spirituality. Cacao, then pronounced “kakaw,” played an important social role for Mayans, even earning its own hieroglyph. Archaeologists find cacao heavily present in the primary source database, especially in connection with the gods. In visual and written documents, cacao is presented in a sacred light—something consumed by the gods to support supernatural vitality. Specifically, this is evidenced in the Dresden Codex and Popul Vuh, which both feature cacao in direct connection with the gods. For this reason, many historians refer to cacao as “the food of the gods.” Drinking chocolate was the premier means of cacao consumption in Mayan society, serving a certain symbolic importance in marriage and fertility rituals. Beyond its connection with the gods, cacao was also considered to be of medicinal value in Mayan society; the Maya used cacao for its digestive, anaesthetic, anti-inflammatory, and energy related benefits (Martin).
The Aztecs, from 1300-1521 AD, also believed cocoa had a religious significance. The Theobroma cacao tree was considered divine—a bridge between earth and heaven. Beyond the ritualistic significance of cacao consumption to connect the Aztecs with the supernatural world, they also used chocolate for medical purposes. Archaeologists have uncovered Aztec documentation of healing rites including cacao in ancient codices. Two manuscripts specifically, Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams, describe the proper medicinal applications of cacao for physical ailments and spiritual afflictions (Martin). Cacao was administered in a variety of different ways to treat a range of illnesses, including skin eruptions, fevers and seizures. Above all, chocolate was believed to foster vitality and improve love.
The use and cultivation of cannabis dates back through antiquity as well. In ancient China, 2700 BC, Emperor Shen Neng prescribed tea with cannabis dissolved in it to treat a number of illnesses. Marijuana was popular as a medicine, not a delicacy. Its effectiveness led to the proliferation of cannabis as medicine throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Africa (Stack). Primarily, cannabis was used as a stress and pain relief medication—especially effective during childbirth (Prioreschi). Ancient documents reveal a caveat to the overconsumption of marijuana, marking its negative side effects as impotence, blindness and seeing demons. By the late 18th century, cannabis as medicine made its way to the occidental world as a remedy for inflamed skin, incontinence and venereal disease. Specifically, one Irish doctor named William O’Shaughnessy praised the medicinal benefits of marijuana and preached about its ability to effectively alleviate pain and nausea (Stack).
While cacao played a sacred role in their society, there is ample evidence the Maya used cannabis to understand the universe as well. Mayan hieroglyphs and art also depict the act of smoking, whether it be tobacco or marijuana. Archaeologists contend the Maya cultivated marijuana in farms and ground cannabis to create psychoactive beverages. As alluded to earlier, drinking was also the preferred method for cacao consumption in their ancient society. The psychoactive effects of cannabis allowed the Mayans to communicate with the gods and pray off demons. Similar to the medicinal uses of cacao, cannabis was used to treat bug bites, snake bites, and alleviate other physical ailments (Civilized).
Today, just as our perception of these ancient civilizations, our realms of knowledge surrounding cacao and cannabis are quite different. As we move forward from ancient times through history, we begin to see the understanding of cannabis and cacao develop alongside disciplines of knowledge. For example, the further development of scientific methods and documentation of natural phenomena continues to help society understand these plants with a more robust fact base. While it has been treated as an illicit drug in America for hundreds of years, cannabis has recently been proven to remedy severe medical impairments, such as epilepsy, and alleviate chronic pain, especially for chemotherapy patients (Zurer).
Scientists have found many similarities between chocolate and marijuana. In 1996, researchers found cacao consumption to activate cannabinoid receptors in the human brain providing users a subtle “high” similar to the effects of marijuana. While three substances in cacao were proven to activate cannabinoid receptors, the most prevalent finding was an increase in anandamide levels. The paper explains, “anandamide is a lipid that binds to cannabinoid receptors and mimics the psychoactive effects of the drug” (James). Because chocolate is believed to enhance the effects of cannabis consumption, these findings imply that medical marijuana can be cushioned and moderated by combining the dose with cacao (Zurer).
These findings have affected not only the medical realm, but the legal realm as well; one lawyer sought to recuse his client by arguing the client tested positive for cannabis due to high levels of chocolate consumption (Tytgat, J., Van Boven, M. & Daenens, P.). While this bogus argument was refuted, it still goes to show the sociopolitical landscape is changing as science elucidates more and more botanical similarities between these two plants. Perhaps it is time we retreated from our perception of chocolate and marijuana consumption as gluttonous indulgences back to the ancient purpose of fostering wellness.
The conquistadors may have invaded Mesoamerica in the 1500s, but chocolate has invaded the hearts and minds of individuals around the world ever since. Once a commodity meant for the royalty of England, chocolate has evolved over the centuries to become accessible by virtually everyone in the developed world, regardless of class or their geography. Although it certainly helped, this evolution wasn’t caused by the typical factors of production simply making chocolate cheaper; it was done through capitalistic marketing over the centuries, creating holidays and products, widening appeal while maintaining the idea of self-indulgence. Today, chocolate has it’s hold across industries and products unlike any other(Allen), depending on the context, its marketed as healthy yet indulgent(Howe), romantic yet for juveniles, a stimulant yet a stress reliever. Just searching twitter briefly and you will see the dynamics of the good.
Any mention of chocolate is sure to entice happiness or excitement(Nehlig), which is exactly what happened when I offered to host a chocolate tasting to a few friends. I wanted to test people’s perception of chocolate in relation to its labeling and marketing. By using five different varieties of chocolate bars from different brands, stores, and additives, I hoped to find out what people thought of chocolates without knowing where it comes from, and if that’s different than the perception when they are aware of its branding and everything in accompany. The results were curious, and what was more interesting was the social interaction that came about it.
The Set Up
I had 5 different chocolates, and thus 5 different note cards. In order to truly compare the affects of marketing, I had a few of my friends act as subjects partake in a half-blind tasting. For ever chocolate, half of the tasters saw the labeling or packaging the chocolate came in and the other half didn’t. Because I had 7 different chocolates, I had 7 rounds of taste testing. After every round, I had the subjects write what they thought about the chocolate, as well as provide any comments on what they tasted. Lastly, I had them rate the chocolate on a 1-5 scale with 1 being bad and 5 being extraordinarily good. I’ll make note that the subjects could best be described as “novice” in their experience with chocolate tasting and perhaps even “drunk” to describe their physical state. Nevertheless, I feel that this is irrelevant as these chocolates are marketed specifically the particular demographic of my subjects. It wouldn’t make sense to test the impact of marketing or taste if the marketing wasn’t aimed at the subjects. Each chocolate was presented similarly, and the tasters were encouraged to keep comments to themselves until after they wrote them down. Here are the chocolates’ pictures here (Plus two more that I didn’t get to use), I took it myself.
Five chocolate bars were used, they were:
“The dark chocolate lover’s chocolate bar”, Smooth and fruity, From trader Joe’s, 85% cacao, Colombian
“Chocolove, Orange peel in Dark Chocolate”, from cardullo’s, 55%
“West Africa Dark Chocolate”, Neuhaus, 52%, from caudullos
“Potato chip”, chuao chocolatier, milk chocolate, from cardullo’s
Raaka Virgin chocolate with coconut milk, 60% cacao, from cardullo’s
The first interesting part of the tasting was the expressed assumptions about the chocolates used. Some assumed the chocolates were of a relatively higher quality and expensive without any suggestion of such from myself. I had to make clear that most of these chocolates were bought locally and are reasonably priced in Harvard Square.
The first chocolate tasted was the “Dark Chocolate Lovers” from Trader Joes. Comments received by the blind tasters were:
“Distinct, fruity taste 3/5”
“Smells better than it tastes 3/5”
“Very bitter, a bit harsh 2/5”
Comments received by those who read the label were:
“Fruitiness coming through nicely, dark but not unpleasantly so, less than I would have expected 4/5”
“Dark, but smooth 4/5”
Outside the written comments, one taster asked me why in the world the producers of the chocolate bar wouldn’t add sugar with obvious disgust and disappointment in their first sample. I take this all to mean an obvious and distinct expectation when one consumes chocolate, but if warned, it can still be enjoyed, as shown by the non-blind tasters. This is important as you consider what chocolate “should” taste like to people, and also explains the subtle, yet blaringly intentional warning about the intensity of dark chocolate.
The next chocolate tasted was the one made with coconut milk, comments of the blind tasters were:
“I don’t like coconut 2/5”
“Smoother and milkier, toasted-tasting, somewhat lower acidity 3/5”
“Milk chocolate and solid 3.5/5”
Comments received by the non-blind tasters were:
“Milky and sweet 4”
“Milky and coconutty 4”
With such a rich coconut flavor, one’s opinion of this chocolate can very well be conditional on your opinion of coconut. It was rated poorly by members of both groups of tasters, and was merely average otherwise. Still, the comments weren’t as particularly harsh as some of the other chocolates, but was still rated as one of the worst ones. When reading the label to the non-blind tasters, they seemed excited to try a taste of it, but were seemingly left largely disappointed. I take these results to show that people will not conform tastes and preferences for what looks or sounds good. What’s emphasized in this round is that there is an extent to which people will enjoy additives to chocolate, even if they enjoy the additive on its own.
The third chocolate tasted was the West African Dark Chocolate, comments from the blind tasters were:
“Taste like cocoa butter 4/5”
“Semisweet and quite creamy 4/5”
Comments from the non-tasters were:
“Milkier, more palatable 3/5”
“I like it! But it doesn’t taste expensive 4/5”
At 52% cacao, I feel this chocolate plays to the robust, earthy taste associated with dark chocolate while satisfying the need for sweetness associated with chocolate in general. It contrasts to the first dark chocolate tasted and seemed to be more widely enjoyed. The two non-blind tests commenting on its cheap taste and greater palpability would assume a deviation from their expectations about the chocolate based off the labeling. However, this deviation was taken as a good one, evident by the high ratings. I would hypothesize that the high sugar content enabled the dark chocolate to taste smoother and sit easily on the palate, which made both groups happy.
The fourth chocolate was the bar with Orange peel, comments of the blind tasters were:
“Fruit works nicely in the chocolate 5/5”
“Too dang fruity, 3/5”
“Fruitier than I prefer, but I like the crunch 3/5”
Comments received by the non-blind tasters were
“ love the crunch, 5/5”
“don’t like the orange 2/5”
“Orange really makes it bitter 2/5”
Much like the second chocolate bar tasted, which was made with coconut milk, a lot of the opinions came down to the favorability of orange in the chocolate. Some loved it, other despised it, and those thoughts came separate of prior knowledge of its presence. If anything, looking at these two bars makes me wonder if those who were expecting the coconut or orange flavor had a set expectation of it’s taste in their mind, and the bitterness associated with this tasting and the milkiness associated with the second tasting was off putting. If this were true, it would make more sense for marketers to set expectations on the product more clearly, if only to surpass said expectations, rather than deviating from them.
The fifth chocolate tasted was one with potato chips added, creating an exceptionally sweet and salty taste. Comments of the blind tasters were:
“Does this have potato chips? Yum! 5/5
Comments received by the non-blind tasters were
“liked it 4/5”
“Salt and texture complemented chocolate, super sweet, not rich 4/5”
Considering this was the last chocolate tasted while I had planed to do two more, I wonder if the subjects were suffering from fatigue, as seen in their short and generic answers. Regardless, this chocolate was well liked, and probably the most liked of all the chocolates tasted. For the non-blind tasters, I think the texture was a pleasant surprise, even when they knew what was inside. And for the blind tasters, the sweet and saltiness was thoroughly enjoyed. What I learned from this round is that a well done chocolate product often surprises and fulfills the customer, the surprise in this case came from the salt and the sense of fulfillment came from the sweetness from the milk chocolate content.
Thoughts and Conclusion
While hosting a small chocolate tasting was fun, it was more fun for me to see the interactions people had with chocolate while tasting them. It wasn’t hard to convince the subjects to participate in a tasting, but the hard part was teasing out their thoughts, which became harder as the night went on. Nevertheless, everyone involved had fun, and it seemed as if the chocolate connected the subjects to one another as they talked about what they tasted and how they felt. I’ve been to wine, cheese, and chili tastings, and I can’t say the same connectivity was felt there, something about chocolate and it’s Mesoamerican roots makes it something special in a way words cannot articulate.
Of course, that’s not to say nothing could be improved, if I were to do this all again, I would sit down the subjects and provide a bit more background on the tasting, teach them what to taste for and how to taste, as well as require a bit more thorough responses across the board. I also would have liked to test at least two more chocolates, just to get a wider variety, my subjects got pretty full of chocolate by 5th round, and essentially refused to go continue. Regardless, I feel that I found results that at least started to explain the questions I had.
Fundamentally, I saw how someone’s perception of the quality of a chocolate bar could change if reality dealt a hard blow to their expectations. It seems it’s almost better for the chocolate producers to have their consumers have 0 expectations as oppose to any, because missing those expectations could mean dissatisfying the consumer. While this thought concept might lead a marketer to cut back on their marketing in order to stem high expectations, the opposite ought to occur as there is a very high premium on meeting expectations set by the consumer, or surprising them in a pleasant, satisfying fashion. Either way, you can draw out a few key points:
The success or failure of a chocolate bar relies in consumer’s perception going into the tasting.
Additives can help compliment the product, but nobody likes it when it’s overbearing.
Sugar always helps
If you present your product as dark, give them dark, but give them what they really want (sweet)
In today’s society, chocolate is inescapable, it can be found in smoothies, candies, ice creams, nature bars, cereals, covering fruits, and even in alcohol. It makes sense that the average American eats 11 pounds of it a year, and is a 100-billion-dollar industry. How we interact with it is important, because we don’t interact with chocolate like most consumer goods. Examining this concept was fun, but I know there could deeper research done on the topic.
@crewefoodfest. “#Sweet tooth? #Chocoholic ? or just a little treat… #Chocolate Infusion at #CreweFoodFest 27th & 28th May” twitter, 4 May 2018., https://twitter.com/CreweFoodFest/status/992377201449369601
Lunch time on a Saturday seems like as good of a time as any for an all-you-can-eat, opulent Chocolate Buffet. At the request of my pregnant wife and her pregnant friend, I was summoned to the Chocolate Room to indulge. After talking about the Chocolate Room for weeks, we met up with the other couple for a visit to the Boston Langham Hotel where the event would be hosted. When we arrived, we tipped the valet, tended to our reservations, and didn’t so much as flitch at the forty-five-dollar charge to attend the Chocolate Room. Exceeding already-high expectations, it was worth every penny. While dollar-chocolate at the local convenience store is mere feet from home, why would any couple be compelled to spend over one-hundred dollars just to experience a room of chocolate?
While it is clear that chocolate varies in taste and quality, the experience chocolate warrants, and the experience that Langham creates, set a high value on the entire experience. It is worth exploring to what extent the gustatory perception plays in the social behavior around chocolate. The Chocolate Room experience invoked questions that I will use to probe at the value of the experience. This will help to understand whether the taste of chocolate, or the social and human experience, is a more powerful determining factor in assessing the value of chocolate. Ultimately, we will find that while the pleasantry of taste is what allows us to enjoy it so much, it is not always what compels us to enjoy it so much. When taste is paired with the experience of chocolate, it greatly influences a person’s love for the flavor of chocolate.
Love for chocolate: Natural vs. conditioned?
Is the human affinity for chocolate innate and then discovered in each person, or is it truly socially conditioned? On the topic of the development of food preferences in general, and not just chocolate, psychologist Jamie Hale explains what preferences are pre-programmed, or innate in humans. Hale explains that sweet, savory, and salty substances are innately preferred, whereas bitter and many sour substances are innately rejected (Jamie Hale). However, Hale further explains that “these innate tendencies can be modified by pre- and postnatal experiences.” This means that while taste, a component of flavor, is detected by the olfactory system, it is also strongly influenced by early exposure and learning beginning in utero and continuing during early infant milk feedings (Jamie Hale). In a close study of child consumption, it was found that eighty-six percent of two to three-year-old American children consume some type of sweetened beverage or dessert in a day (Alison K. Ventura). These early experiences set the stage for later food choices and are important in establishing life-long food habits. While this is true, it cannot be ignored that flavors are enjoyed or not enjoyed by natural compulsions as well. In regards specifically to chocolate, studies show that multiple characteristics of chocolate, including sugar, cocoa and the drug–like effects experienced, play a role in the desire to consume chocolate (Nasser et al.) It is thought to be a combination of both early exposure and a naturally tendency to enjoy all that chocolate offers that ultimately shapes behaviors around chocolate. However, this understanding of a human affinity for chocolate does little to explain why chocolate is consumed as a treat.
Why is chocolate a dessert?
When we looked around the chocolate room, there is more than just chocolate desserts. Although the vast majority of the treats are chocolate, there are also many other sweets. So, why when are so many chocolate centric? The obvious observation about chocolate is that desserts are often times thought of as a treat. We reward ourselves with something that we deserve. Often times toward the end of the day we may convince ourselves that “we’ve earned this”. Treats are pleasant and something we look forward to. The less obvious observation is that chocolate is a pleasantry beyond just taste. For more reasons that we will continue to explore, chocolate makes us feel good emotionally. According to psychology Doctor Susan Albers, we crave chocolate for the feeling that it gives us. She described in Psychology Today that it “Taste good. It smells good. It feels good when it melts on our tongue. And all of those ‘feelings’ are the result of our brain releasing chemicals in response to each chocolate experience” (Albers). As we learned, all these perceptions are part of the flavor of chocolate. A common thing happens when we feel good; our body release chemicals. The experience of eating chocolate results in feel good neurotransmitters (mainly dopamine) being released in particular brain regions (frontal lobe, hippocampus and hypothalamus) (Albers). If we are rewarding ourselves with a dessert what would a better way be than to do so with chocolate.
Am I getting a daily dose of dope with my chocolate?
It was originally thought that chocolate contained compounds that could activate this dopamine system directly (like cigarettes and cocaine do) (Albers). Chocolate does contain theobromine, caffeine, fat and sugar. Theobromine can increase heart rate and bring about feelings of arousal. Caffeine can make us feel awake and increase our ability to work and focus. Fat and sugar are preferred food sources for humans because they are calorie dense. However, experiments in which the components of chocolate were separated out indicated that just ingesting the chemicals in chocolate without the mouth-feel and taste does not decrease craving for more chocolate (Albers). This means that our bodies have a desire for the entire chocolate experience, and not just one chemical that is in chocolate.
What is chemically unique about chocolate?
In the chocolate Room, the effect chocolate had on our body, mood and emotions was evident. Starting with a chocolate crape with chocolate sauce, fruits and chocolate rum, my pallet was primed for more chocolate. We continued to explore the room in search for the next treat. After each sitting and each plate consumed, our joy and excitement continued to build for our next treat. We each shared a common affinity for chocolate. Chocolate’s effect on our body goes beyond the tongue. It enticed sense beyond taste and has a positive effect on our emotions. Chocolate transcends the senses and takes over inhibition. What seems like an insatiable desire for chocolate gradually transitioned to a glucose high, and feelings of stimulation. The joy’s of chocolate were compared to kissing in a study by psychologist David Lewis. The study found that letting chocolate dissolve slowly in your mouth produces as big an increase in brain activity and heart rate as a passionate kiss—but the effects of the chocolate last four times longer (BBC). Researchers at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California say chocolate also contains a feel-
good chemical called anandamide, which is found naturally in the brain, and is similar to another one called anandamide THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) found in marijuana (Woodford). Its name comes from ananda, the Sanskrit word for “bliss”(Senese) (Fig3). Blissful is exactly how I would to describe the experience in the Chocolate room. I must have been experiencing ananda.
If chocolate transcends taste, what other senses could be enticed?
In an effort to recognize that the experience of chocolate extends beyond the taste buds, the Langham was certain to maintain an elevated experience for each of the senses. According to Dr. Carla Martin of Harvard University, the “sound of the environment and of the food and beverage itself has been known to impact the experience of flavor” (Martin). This idea of a multisensory environment encompasses elements that entice all the senses. Dr. Charles Spence from the Crossmodal Laboratory at Oxford University explains that the flavor experience for anything from coffee and wine to seafood and chocolate can be altered when careful attention is given to the texture, temperature, feel and esthetics of the mugs, chinaware and silverware, and chairs, as well as the lighting in the room, the sound of the environment, and the context of how the food is being presented (Spense) (Vid 1). The senses come together in a way that change the flavor. The multisensory environment prepared by the Langham was replete with elements to arouse all the senses including fine utensils, live musical string instruments, all compound to add to the ambiance (fig 4).
After being seated, we were immediately introduced to the layout of the room and explained that the room was segmented into the bodily senses. They have items prepared at separate tables to stimulate sight, sounds, touch, taste, and sent. Treats from the sight table we perfectly plated, meticulously garnished, and delicately placed with care. Desserts prepared for the smell table were chosen for their strong and pleasant aromatic properties such as Grilled Pineapple with chocolate beads, Orange Mouse, Milk chocolate Creamoux with Candied Violet and Rosewater Pana Cotta. Choices on the Sound table included items that audibly contributed to the experience, such as milk chocolate lined rice crispy treats, a crisp milk chocolate crème brulee, and some silent but delicious tarts topped with a fresh crisp strawberry. The touch table sought to tickle my fingers with tactile treats such as a chocolate bubble tapioca, chocolate mini waffle cones, chocolate cake pops, and Black Forest Triffle, rich red velvet cake with a light and airy whipped topping. The Taste table was curated to entice by pairing either rich and creamy or strong and dark chocolate with bold flavors such as cinnamon, spices, and citrus offerings. Not to be omitted, at the center of the room was a glorious fountain of chocolate ready to accept a dip from fruits and confectionaries such as pineapples or marshmallows (of course that included chocolate marshmallows).
Notes on culture:
Looking around the room, it was a joy to know that many more people than we were enjoying this multisensory experience. While all our senses were enticed by each offering, it was an experience that seemed universally enjoyed by people from all cultures. At the Langham, as a destination hotel in a major city, international travelers seeking a reprieve from their journey all found comfort in the room alike. Asian, Hispanic, African and European people, all speaking their own languages, found commonality in their human affinity for chocolate. This universal love of chocolate not only transcends the taste buds and has a multifaceted effect on the body, but transcends race, gender, age and culture as a universally beloved delicacy thanks to transcontinental trade and migration hundreds of years ago. So ubiquitous is the love for chocolate, I’ve often found that it is expected that I enjoy chocolate. Is this projection cast on everyone by everyone? That expectation would seem to be projected onto all those aforementioned classes and ages. This universal love would seem to have no issue contending with the idea that chocolate is simply conditioned and is not an innate trait.
Would sugar alone have the same effect?
To support this idea that the love for chocolate is innate, Dr. Albers reminds her readers that you probably did not have to learn to like chocolate. She explains that “the sensory experience is enjoyed on an innate, biological level, but it is likely that you received chocolate as a treat, reward, or for holidays, especially if you are American” (Albers). This reward based consumption can often times contribute to it being a comfort food. This association alone can bring someone into a better mood, even before the chemical effects of sugar set in. While the thoughts of sugar can allow someone to feel good, the distinct flavors of chocolate also hold a unique ability to socially and psychologically associate with a positive experience in someone’s life. This reinforces the idea that the popularity of chocolate in desserts is no coincidence or due to a lack of alternatives, but rather to meet the demands of human desire.
Socially we have come to think of chocolate as a food that is comforting and can bring us into a better mood. The nature of chocolate candy being a sweet desirable stimulant is more attractive with sugar, but not because of sugar. Sugar alone can often times have an adverse effect on mood and can often times act as a depressant. In a study on the effects of sugar, David Sack explains that “the roller coaster of high blood sugar followed by a crash may accentuate the symptoms of mood disorders” (Sack). His research has tied heavy sugar consumption to an increased risk of depression, even worse in people with schizophrenia. One theory is that sugar suppresses activity of a hormone called BDNF that is already fairly low in individuals with depression and schizophrenia (Sack). Humans love for chocolate has historically persisted without the additive of sugar. Consider the ancient Mayan Cacao beverage prepared and a hot coffee-like drink made from the cacao bean and simple spices alone. This was a beloved Beverage of the God’s long before the refinement of sugar (Coe and Coe).
Sweet Treats room vs Chocolate room: why chocolate?
Is chocolate necessary in order to invoke this described response? As unique as chocolate is, it is one of many foods that can do what it does. While we were presented with bountiful chocolate offerings, the chocolate-less pastries couldn’t escape notice. While tarts, a glass of milk, tapioca pudding, cotton candy, strawberry shortcake, cream puffs, and even popcorn stood out from the chocolate theme, they had a role in contributing to the overall experience. After all, what good would chocolate cookies be without milk? We were told by the server these alternative treats, devoid of all chocolate as they were, allowed a reprieve from a chocolate over-load, while the salty popcorn offered a “pallet reset” that would allow us to extend our chocolate consumption further. We were advised that if we were to slow down and desire an extra boost to be able to continue, grab a hand full of popcorn to be able to carry on.
If the room was only full of options deplete of chocolate offerings, the experience would have lacked appeal. Whether socially conditioned or innate, the human affinity for chocolate could not be accessed and leveraged as a draw for people to enjoy the room. While the ladies were excited to invite us men to the Chocolate room, and we were glad to accept the invitation, the we men would likely have attended a “Sweet Treats” room with less enthusiasm than a Chocolate Room”. Was the fact the two pregnant women invited their male husbands a fulfillment of the gender based stereotype of women craving chocolate? As Thrilled as the women were to invite the men, it was no more a womanly compulsion than a gender natural human desire.
Our chemically motivated, socially reinforced desire, evident in all cultures, was satisfied in the Chocolate Room. Visiting the Boston Langham was an opportunity to satisfy and explore our most natural desire for the experience of chocolate flavor. The extent gustatory perception played in our social behavior around chocolate was the satisfaction of the craving for the taste of chocolate, but it did not address our deepest yearning for the full flavor experience that we craved. The social and human experience played the most powerful role in our enjoyment. Taste and flavor; experience and gustatory joy, are the ultimate pairing for chocolate.
Albers, Susan. “Why Do We Crave Chocolate So Much?” Psychology Today Feb 11, 2014. Web. May 5 2017.
Alison K. Ventura, Julie A. Mennella. “Innate and Learned Preferences for Sweet Taste During Childhood.” Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, , Vol.14(4), pp.379-84 Vol.14.(4) (July 2011): pp.379-84. Print.
BBC. “Chocolate ‘Better Than Kissing’.” BBC News 2007. Web. 5/10/17 2017.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third edition. ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.
Jamie Hale, M.S. “The Development of Food Preferences.” Web.
Martin, Carla. “Lecture 12: Psychology, Terroir, and Taste.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 19 April 2017. Lecture.
Nasser, Jennifer A., et al. “Psychoactive Effects of Tasting Chocolate and Desire for More Chocolate.” Physiology & Behavior 104.1 (2011): 117-21. Print.
Sack, David. “4 Ways Sugar Could Be Harming Your Mental Health.” 2013. Web.
Senese, Fred. “The Bliss Recptor.” Frostburg State University 8/17/2015. Web.
Spense, Charles. “Charles Spence: Multisensory Experience and Coffee.” You Tube. Oxford University May 27, 2014. Web. May 10 2017.
Woodford, CHris. “The Science of Chocolate.” ExplainThatStuff 2016. Web. 5/10/17 2017.
Over the years, chocolate has drastically changed, in terms of preparation style, taste, who it is consumed by, etc… Chocolate is no longer seen only as a food of the elite, but the variability of chocolate has allowed for it to become a ubiquitous and accessible treat to many. The evolution of chocolate has gone through many stages, however, it has always served as a political, social and economic symbol in society . This is evident through the uses of chocolate in the Aztec Empire, the Industrial Revolution and post world war II uses.
Chocolate in the Aztec Empire
Going back to the times of the Aztec Empire we already see politically charged moves motivated by cacao. Focusing on the “Aztec conquest taking place during the reign of Ahuitzotl,” we can see their motives were to economically driven.(coe and coe71) This conquest was to obtain the land of “Xoconochoco… already famed for the high production and top quality of its cacao.”(71) Cacao held great economic power in the Aztec empire which motivated the conquest of land. Already, we can see that the Aztecs revered cacao economically. Cacao also served as political and social symbol for this empire as well. This is evident by those who consumed chocolate or cacao. “The Aztecs considered chocolate a far more desirable beverage, especially or warriors and the nobility.” (78) Drinking chocolate in this time period was a symbol of nobility, signifying ones wealth and status.
With the introduction of chocolate into Europe, again we see chocolate become a symbol of aristocracy. “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, be feathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe.” ( coe and coe, 125) As we move into the the Industrial Revolution chocolate comes to take on a different meaning and symbol. The industrial revolution is characterized by improvements in transportation, materials, machinery, etc. For chocolate, industrialization stood as a large social change, allowing chocolate for the masses. With the popularization of chocolate amongst the masses, chocolate served as a symbol of economic efficiency. Moving along in history, the establishment of the companies like Cadbury, Fry’s and Rowntree, “had a social conscience in the midst of all this money making, unlike many Victorian captains of industry.” This had important social implications, as these companies because branded and known for “ factories with adequate housing for their workers, even a dining room and reading room.” (245) Not only was this effective on a local scale but on a global scale. “The Fry family was deeply distressed by the wretched working conditions, approaching slaver, which then prevailed on the plantations of Portuguese West Africa and they boycotted cacao from those parts until the situation improved.” (245) In these times we can see that chocolate has held a special place in society. It was once for the elite and then it was accessible to everyone. It had been a symbol of wealth and eventually through the social conscientiousness of certain brands became a moral symbol.
In 1948-1949, Post World War II diplomatic relations among countries were tarnished. Germany was split up into Eastern and Western zones. The West was divided by France, Britain and the U.S while the East was controlled by the Soviet. Tensions soon began to grow between the Soviet, it the East, and the Allies, who were in the West. The Soviet formed a blockade allowing no supplies to the west, even thought the roads were blocked, the Allies thought of “supplying the cities with supplies by air.” (The Candy Bomber) Though the soviet was blockading the West, these airlifts helped prove the blockade useless. One of the Airlift pilots, Halvorsen, wanted to do more, as he saw children on the East, excited by the idea of candy. Though these relations between the East and West were rocky, one pilot wanted to do more, to make a diplomatic gesture. In the case of Operation Little Viddles, chocolate and candy was the mending power that brought these zones to better terms. “Nearly overnight, Halvorsen became the face of the Berlin Airlift and a symbol of American goodwill.” (Volk). In this instance, it is clear that the gesture of providing these kids with chocolate was a political and diplomatic move, trying to better the relationships between the East and West of Germany, while also easing the relationship with Germany and the U.S.
Chocolate over the years has gone through many alterations. In different cultures, chocolate has served as different types of political, economic and social symbols. In the Aztec empire chocolate was used to signify wealth and nobility. This symbol stayed the same as chocolate traveled to Europe. Through the industrial revolution and the Victorian age, chocolate and certain brands came to symbolize morality. In post War War II chocolate and candy were important for symbolizing a diplomatic gesture. Chocolate is always changing and varying, however, it always finds its place in society
Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky, and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Vol. 29. London: Thames and Hudson, 2007.
Volk, Greg. “How One Pilot’s Sweet Tooth Helped Defeat Communism.” Mental Floss. N.p., 13 June 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2016
“The Berlin Candy Bomber.” The Berlin Candy Bomber. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.