Tag Archives: #spanish

The Sacred, Ancient History of Chocolate

Maya Gods Bleeding Over Chocolate
The tremendous amount of importance the Mayas placed on chocolate would be considered silly today, but we are able to see how inscriptions of rituals and ideas that involved chocolate portrayed the true and intense historical importance of chocolate as pictured and explained, “Maya gods shedding blood over cacao, from the Madrid Codex. According to the hieroglyphic text, specific members of incense lumps and cacao beans are offered” (Coe and Coe 43).

Today, chocolate is widely known as a nice treat to eat, and a delicious beverage. The focus of this essay is on chocolate beverages. The many different modern recipes we know today of how to make and drink chocolate are important to us, because they yield delicious beverages. Usually, no second thought is given as to why we have been able to enjoy such recipes during modern times. The tradition of enjoying chocolate had to have begun somewhere and sometime ago to be able to have carried on into today. As is apparent by the photo and caption above, ancient Mesoamericans (in the case of the photo, the Mayas) greatly adored chocolate. In fact, the ancient Aztec, Mixtec, and Olmec peoples also had opportunities to enjoy chocolate during chocolate’s early history. Perhaps, the meaning behind the term, “food of the gods,” referring to chocolate, was taken more seriously in ancient times, allowing for progression of the custom (qtd by C. Martin “Mesoamerica”). By analyzing the historical accounts of ancient chocolate recipes and their social importance, we can see that the chocolate we know today has important underlying history.

Simply carrying on the tactful, thousands-of-years-old practice of experimenting with chocolate recipes that people often do today has historical importance.

Xocolatl Familiar
As we can see in the picture of this Spanish inscribed, nineteenth century dated notebook, variations of chocolate recipes can occur through inter-cultural contact. In the case of the picture here, the “xocolat familiar” recipe resulted from interaction between Spain and Mesoamerica (Presilla 42).

The discovery of chocolate is thought to be credited to the ancient Olmecs, who lived between 1200 BC and 300 BC along the southern Gulf coast of Mexico. The Olmec society evidently laid the foundation for the barely more recent Maya civilization (Presilla 9). Even though chocolate was discovered by the preexisting Olmecs, many historical traditions and customs surrounding chocolate have been developed by the succeeding Mayans, Mixtecs, and Aztecs. Some of the traditions that were developed by the ancient Mesoamerican groups are still culturally important today. Chocolate was involved in wedding rituals, death rituals, and celebrations. An important celebration in modern times, Dia de los Muertos, is a celebration that can be celebrated with chocolate beverages (C. Martin “Mesoamerica”). The variety of uses for chocolate is what really helps to portray how important chocolate really was to the ancient Mesoamericans.

Mayan Wedding Prep
In the picture, we can see ancient Mayans preparing for and planning a wedding engagement between a woman’s family and her admirer – a woman’s father was traditionally invited by her admirer to drink chocolate and discuss a marriage between the two mutually interested parties (C. Martin “Mesoamerica”).

In past and present cultures, great care is/was taken to make exceptional, authentic chocolate beverages. In modern times, many of us are used to preparing hot chocolate with a simple and quick recipe that includes a mix especially for adding to warm milk or water before being whisked or stirred together. Contrary to our well-known capitalistic version of hot chocolate, we might sometimes find people preparing recipes from scratch, as we can see in the video:


Per authentic Mesoamerican recipes, cacao beans are roasted, shelled, and ground into chocolate liquor. Most authentically, the chocolate liquor is added to warm water, usually along with regional spices. Regional flavors added to chocolate beverages include: “nuoc mam of Southeast Asia, the chili peppers (Capsicum species) of Mexico, West Africa, and parts of India and China, the sofrito of the Hispanic Americans, and so on” (Mintz 11). The care taken to prepare chocolate maintained its popularity, and allowed for continual use in modern times. Depending on the authentic recipe, there are certain ways to ensure that the chocolate drink is enjoyed with foam. For example, a molinillo could be used, or another way to create foam would be to continuously pour the chocolate between containers until foam forms (Cartwright). The “foam” tradition is seemingly unknowingly continued today with the use of marshmallows and whipped cream!

We can see in the picture an authentic molinillo that was used for creating foam in ancient Mesoamerica. The molinillo is still a quite useful tool for making foam in an authentic xocolatl recipe (C. Martin “Chocolate Expansion”).

As it is apparent, there are many ways in which the chocolate we know today has important history behind it. Of course, the original chocolate recipes have all been subject to variation throughout time. What is most important for someone who aspires to learn and appreciate chocolate is to understand its history, and appreciate the reasons behind the uses of such a delicacy. And the next time we decide to consume a chocolate beverage, we will have a better understanding of its historical origin in more technical terms than just thinking that, “such and such company processed this chocolate and distributed it in pouches before I bought it.” Perhaps, our better understanding of chocolate history will allow us to appreciate the chocolate beverages more than we previously have appreciated them.

Works Cited

Cartwright, Mark. “Chocolate.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike, 27 June 2014. Web. 09 Mar. 2017. <http://www.ancient.eu/Chocolate/&gt;.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third Edition. Thames &Hudson Ltd: London, 2013. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 8 Feb. 2017. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Viking Penguin, 1985. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009 Print.

The Sunday Supper Project. “Preparing Drinking Chocolate near Oaxaca, Mexico.”YouTube.YouTube, 25 Apr. 2010. Web. 09 Mar. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlAg7zIR57k&gt;.



Power. The ultimate aphrodisiac. It is intangible, yet felt, immeasurable, but detectible. We yearn for it, crave it, dream of it; it arouses us without hesitation. Each and every day we strive to empower ourselves, whether it be through education, exercise, style or socialization. From how we dress and walk, to what we eat and with whom we talk, all of our actions are rooted in an inherent desire to become more influential. As history has progressed, this universal appetite for power has been reflected in the societal standards of both the past and present. Consequently, we venerate the wealthy, distinguish those of status, and yearn for the sexual. Few possessions in the world display wealth, status, and sexuality more poignantly than chocolate. From its inauguration, chocolate has influenced the social issues that are both etched in our textbooks and echoed from our TV screens. Classism. Sexism. Racism. Capable of being both the “food of the gods” in one era and the “food of the masses” the next, chocolate has both widened and bridged the gap between the wealthy and the poor, the elite and the forgotten, and the pristine and the sexualized. Therefore, chocolate—both as an exotic luxury and a ubiquitous treat—exemplifies American society’s ongoing struggle between equality and empowerment.

Dating back as early as the Mesoamerican period, chocolate has played an integral part in the both construction and preservation of social classes. In fact, our understanding of the Mayan use of cacao is predominantly found etched upon elegant vessels unearthed in the tombs of the elite (Coe & Coe, 2013). Furthermore, some of these excavated vases contain chemical traces of alkaloids found in cacao, suggesting that their contents once were liquid (Coe & Coe, 2013). Thus, from both glyphs and painted scenes on these Mayan vessels, it is evident that chocolate was drunk both by kings and nobles (Presilla, 2009). However, evidence from concurrent excavations suggests that chocolate was used across all classes, particularly during rites of passage. Nevertheless, only the elite used and buried themselves with drinking vessels resistant to decay, symbolizing the dignifying effect of chocolate (Presilla, 2009). In addition, apart from regal furnishing in burial chambers, chocolate was a crucial element of opulent feasts amongst the elite; hosts of these feasts were obliged to present their guests with the finest vases they could afford to consume chocolate (Presilla, 2009). Cacao also was linked with many sacred Mayan traditions, such as fertility rites, marriage rituals, banquets, baptism, and rites of death (Martin, 2016). For example, during marriage negotiations in Mayan society, cacao drinks were essential during royal marriage and cacao seeds were often used as legal currency for marriage dowry (Martin, 2016). Furthermore, in Mayan warfare, cacao—due to the stimulating effects of theobromine—caused warriors to feel energized, stronger, even invincible. Therefore, for the Mayans, chocolate served as a medium of communicating power, distinguishing the common man from the noble through wealth and status in both life and death.

The exchange of cacao between Mesoamerican gods highlights its divinity.

Similarly, the Aztecs also use chocolate to illuminate the power of the elite. Instead of being accessible to all people, chocolate was reserved only for nobility, lords, royalty, and the warrior class (Coe & Coe, 2013). For example, in Historia general de las cosas de Nueva Espana, the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún describes the significance of cacao as unmistakably an elite food, recounting that it was proverbially called “heart and blood,” to be drunk by those of wealth and status (Martin, 2016). Additionally, cacao served as a cure to the skin eruptions, seizures and fevers, as well as illness that often were attributed to the Aztec gods; a number of botanical remedies included cacao in their recipes. Thus, cacao was viewed as a divine gift, a tangible, measureable embodiment of power. Such a treasured substance was the birthright of the distinguished; if one of the common people drank it without sanction from their superiors, it would cost them their life (Presilla, 2009). Thus, cacao was also referred to as yolloti eztli: the price of blood and heart. The severity of the crime for simply consuming cacao as a commoner exemplifies the conflict between equality and power observed hundreds of years before and after; for equality to exist, the elite must give up their divine gift, an unfathomable option. Consequently, those who dared to bridge the gap between the elite and the forgotten by—in this case—consuming cacao were met with indiscriminate punishment.

Thus, due to its immense value in Aztec society, cacao evolved from prestigious commodity and divine medication to a form of currency. Ranking amongst gold and precious gems, cacao reached the rooftops of imperial storehouses due to its usage in tributary offerings (Presilla, 2009). For instance, Motecuhzoma II (reigned 1502-1520) reportedly banked 40,000 xiquipilli or 960,000,000 cacao beans. Everything from avocados to full-grown turkeys could be priced by cacao (Martin, 2016). In effect, to simply drink cacao exhibited immense wealth and proved to be the ultimate display of power during the 16th century.

This marriage of wealth, divinity, and status through cacao subsequently was embraced by European nations. Arriving in the New World during the zenith of Mesoamerican chocolate culture, the Spanish deeply embraced the history of cacao consumption dating back to the Mayans. As a result, the central aspects of chocolate use in ancient Mesoamerica were preserved and disseminated throughout many of the Latin American colonies and as far as the Philippines (Presilla, 2009). Recognizing the power inherent to cacao, the Spanish conquistador Cortés wrote to the emperor Charles V requesting a grant of land for a Pacific Coast plantation containing two thousand cacao trees (Presilla, 2009). Not only did the farm prove immensely profitable, but it also catalyzed cacao’s entrance into Europe; both chocolate and cacao quickly became pillars of the Spanish economy. Naturally, people in Spain adopted the custom of drinking chocolate. However, just as in Mesoamerica, the relationship of the elite and the consumption of chocolate remained inseparable; arriving as an exotic luxury, chocolate was experienced first by the powerful (Presilla, 2009).

A painting of Spanish aristocrats enjoying chocolate, showcasing its association with the elite.

Requiring special pains, paraphernalia, and acutely roasted beans, chocolate consumption amongst the Spaniards was an elite privilege. However, as the production of cacao grew extensively amongst every rank of colonial society, chocolate closed the gap the elite and common man. Eventually, by the 18th century, chocolate drinking became routine from the top to the bottom of society (Presilla, 2009).

However, this ubiquitous consumption of chocolate that is observed today did not occur naturally. Rather, the growth in cacao production was largely the result of the African slavery and forced labor. From 1500-1900, between 10 and 15 million enslaved Africans were transported to the cacao growing regions of the New World in order to substantially increase cacao production (Martin, 2016). However, although the repercussions of African slavery included racism, racial characteristics did not factor into the decision of Europeans to use African slaves (Martin, 2016). Rather, due to geographical proximity to European nations seeking cheap labor, Africans and their descendants were condemned to enforced labor. Working painstakingly in 18-hour shifts, African slaves were forced to not only cultivate cacao, but also cotton, tobacco, rice and sugar (Martin, 2016). The labor that produced these commodity crops funded the development of capitalism in European society, poignantly illustrating the dichotomy between equality and power; unwilling to relinquish their newfound accumulation of wealth, the Europeans preserved slavery for centuries. As the widespread consumption of commodity goods, such as chocolate, bridged the gap between the lower-middle class and the elite, slavery readily became standardized (Martin, 2016). Subsequently, as chocolate lost its luxury status, European classism gradually diminished while racism rapidly took its place. Once European consumers tasted the power that had been locked behind the doors of being born into an elite family, abandoning slavery was a laughable proposition. Therefore, as Eric Williams, author of Slavery & Capitalism, states, no country thought of abolishing the slave trade until its economic value declined considerably (Martin, 2016). Ultimately, as Mintz (1986) elaborates, the power of chocolate led to it “being supplied to so many, in such stunningly large quantities, and at so terrible a cost in life and suffering.”

The greatest cost that slavery deferred to society was racism. Following slavery’s abolishment in the 19th century and the rise of big chocolate production on a global scale in the 20th century, the chocolate industry perpetuated the inequality across race and class observed a century before. Most notably, in order to display the power of both the company and their white consumers, many chocolate companies during the mid-20th century created ads that reinforced the 2nd class status of African Americans (Robertson, 2010). For example, in 1947, York-based chocolate company introduced a marketing character named “Honeybunch.” A caricature of Africans, Honeybunch’s broken dialect is drawn from stereotypes of black speech, turning her into a minstrel character.

Honeybunch reinforced the idea of supremacy and power of the English.

This cartoon, as shown to the left, is juxtaposed with real images of a white mother and her children who speak perfect English. Thus, the use of imperfect language by a black character is intended to amuse the white audience; the advertisement reinforces the idea of the supremacy and power of the English language, and more broadly of whiteness (Robertson, 2010). Conversely, Honeybunch’s depiction emphasizes ignorance and the lack of power in blackness. Nevertheless, following the progressive steps towards equality during the Civil Rights Movement, chocolate advertisers began to adjust the tone of their racist beliefs, specifically through sexuality (Robertson, 2010). As Oscar Wilde states, “everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” Hence, drawing upon the exotic origins of cacao, and thus of Africans, chocolate companies pushed forward the idea that vanilla and chocolate serve as cultural metaphors for both race and sex (Martin, 2016). Accordingly, chocolate is to blackness as vanilla is to whiteness. More specifically, whiteness exemplifies power in the old-sense: regality, purity, and wealth. However, in order to appeal to a more diversified and less discriminatory consumer base, advertisers began to promote sexuality, the most modern form of power. Hence, blackness embodies desire, impurity, and craving.

As a result, sexual depictions of black men and all women have been used both to sell chocolate products and maintain both the inequality of races and disempowerment of women in America. As detailed by Robertson (2010), the stereotypical depictions of black men and women of all races in the advertisements are not novel. Throughout the history of chocolate consumption and production, femininity and blackness have been used to create spectacles of the exotic and erotic for profit.

The sexualization of chocolate both empowers and belittles its audience.

This blatant objectification and simplification of black men and women not only mocks the consumers of chocolate, but also its producers; many African men and women invest their lives in the cacao production process (Kawash, 2016). Thus, the constant juxtaposition of beautiful women and chocolate along with the belittling of black men as exotic, physical specimens illustrates society’s ongoing struggle between equality and empowerment. Since the chocolate industry has forced fed the idea that sex and empowerment are two sides of the same coin, the inherent sexism and racism of these advertisements is largely disregarded. Although there has been public outcry in response to the most extreme versions of these advertisements, such as Honeybunch, those of the modern era profit by constructing a relationship between race and sex that masks racism and sexism through the power of beauty. Therefore, just like the Aztec elites and the proletariat of 19th century Europe, modern American society has chosen the allure of power over the altruism of equality.

Ultimately, chocolate is one of the most powerful commodities in the last millennia. Due to its divinity, luxury, and sheer necessity, chocolate has played a significant role in shaping the socioeconomic atmosphere of multiple continents. Due to its divinity, chocolate immortalized the Mesoamerican elite in death; due to its luxury, chocolate granted immense wealth to Conquistadors; due to its necessity, chocolate closed the gap between the European elite and middle class. At the same, chocolate left in its wake classism that ravaged the Mesoamericans, racism that enslaved over 10 million Africans, and sexism that objectified men and women across the globe. Consequently, due to its ability to empower, chocolate has seduced generations into embracing social norms that perpetuate inequality across race, class and gender.


Works Cited

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

Kawash, Samira. “Sex and Candy.” The New York Times. Web. 08 April 2016

Martin, Carla. “AAS 119x Lecture 16: Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements.” Web. 26 April 2016.

Martin, Carla. “AAS 119x Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the ‘food of the gods’.” Web. 26 April 2016.

Martin, Carla. “AAS 119x Lecture 3: Chocolate Expansion.” Web. 26 April 2016.

Martin, Carla. “AAS 119x Lecture 6: Slavery, abolition, and forced labor.” Web. 26 April 2016.

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

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, women, and empire: a social and cultural history. New York: Manchester University Press, 2009. 124-125. Print.

Multimedia Sources/Links

Godiva Appeals to Women with “Diva” Campaign. Digital Image. http://media260chocolate.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/2014/03/03/godiva-appeals-to-women-with-diva-campaign/. Web. 4 May. 2016

Mayan Gods Exchanging Chocolate. Digital image. University of Oregon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2016. <http://blogs.uoregon.edu/mesoinstitute/files/2013/11/Chocolate-2-1az3lcd.jpeg&gt;.

Norton, Marcy. “Conquests of Chocolate.” OAH Magazine of History 18.3 (2004): 14–17.JSTOR. Web. 4 May. 2016. Accessed at: http://www.jstor.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/25163677

Rowntree Cocoa: Screenshot from Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.












Precious Thing: Chocolate as Currency and Delicacy in Ancient Mesoamerica

Though many people are aware of the origins of chocolate in ancient Mesoamerica, fewer know that it was valued for more than its flavor: cacao beans, from which chocolate is made, were used as currency across Mesoamerica. Today, the idea of paying for goods and services with food seems foreign to most in the Western world. The practice of eating things that we consider currency, though, is certainly not unheard of: a rising culinary trend has restaurants and companies topping everything from sushi to Kit Kat bars with gold.

Gold leaf on chocolate bar gold donut - forbes
Eating money ostentatiously marks the one eating as wealthy and elite. Though gold leaf is easily available from specialty grocers, eating gold is fairly unusual today, in contrast to the regular consumption of cacao in ancient Mesoamerica. Images: James Cronin/Flickr; Forbes. 

The use of cacao beans as money was unique, even in the context of the barter-based trade economy that spanned the Americas, and reflects the elite status cacao held in Mesoamerican society. Cacao’s role as currency may have had a more important role than previously considered in its transition from the New World to the Old World.

Cacao and the Maya

Cacao had a central place in Maya society, one that is often overshadowed by its importance in the later Aztec Empire. Chocolate was consumed at marriage negotiations and weddings and elaborate feasts of all kinds, and high-status Maya burial chambers often contained vessels filled with chocolate beverages – ostensibly to accompany the deceased on their journey to the afterlife (Coe & Coe 42).

God L with the Hero Twins.jpg
On the far right, a woman prepares a chocolate beverage. The preparation and consumption of cacao beverages was a part of many Mayan rites of passage, as well as Mayan daily life. Image: Francis Robicsek, The Maya Book of the Dead. 

Cacao was an important trade good for the Maya, and a strong cacao trade emerged in the Late Classic period. The use of cacao beans as a quasi-stable currency likely evolved from the regular exchange of cacao for other goods. By the 10th century, the Maya held an important mercantile position in Mesoamerica, exchanging goods between Maya states and with other peoples both north and south (Coe & Coe 53). The centrality of cacao to the Maya economy may have played a role in its emergence as currency.

The use of cacao beans as money, with a fixed rate of exchange with various other goods, may have begun just as early or earlier. It certainly appears in several European accounts from the Colonial period: Francisco Oviedo y Valdés, a chronicler from the 16th-century, did not identify the cacao beans as cacao but noted that about ten of the beans could be exchanged for a rabbit and about a hundred could be exchanged for a slave (Coe & Coe 59).  Cacao beans were in widespread use as currency by the Colonial Period.

Tenochtitlan and the Aztecs

The cacao trade was just as important for the Aztec as the Maya, if not more: the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan did not have a climate that would allow the Aztecs to cultivate cacao on their own (Presilla 17). Aztec merchants traveled far and wide to barter for cacao and bring it back to Tenochtitlan. Emperor Motecuhzoma’s royal coffers were said to contain nearly a billion beans (Coe & Coe 83); the Aztecs certainly worked hard to have access to a great deal of cacao. Like the Maya, the Aztecs used cacao beans to make purchases: Colonial documents report the prices of male and female turkeys (200 and 100 cacao beans, respectively), avocados (three beans), and other foods (Coe & Coe 99).

Codex Mendoza folio 47r.jpg
Among the gifts brought from Xoconochco to the Aztec rulers  in tribute were nearly 24,000 cacao beans. The Aztecs prized cacao, and the royals at Tenochtitlan absorbed cacao from several smaller states through tribute. Image: Codex Mendoza, Wikipedia. 

But though the Aztec trade and currency systems surrounding cacao were similar to those of the Maya, the consumption of cacao (had different rules). The finest chocolate beverages were likely restricted to the Maya elite, but there is still reason to believe that cacao was consumed as well by Maya commoners. This was not the case with the Aztecs: chocolate was consumed only by Aztec royals, nobility, warriors, and merchants (Coe & Coe 95). This may have had roots in the stratified nature of Aztec society, or it may have been influenced more directly by the economic value of cacao. In a society that could not grow its own cacao at the capital, supply would need to be carefully maintained in order to continue to meet royal and noble demand.

European Interest

The early Spanish conquerers were first interested in cacao not for its flavor, but for its economic importance (Presilla 18). Ferdinand Columbus, traveling with his father, observed natives stooping to pick up spilled cacao beans and before even knowing that they were cacao beans, realized that they had value (Coe & Coe 109). If cacao beans hadn’t been used as currency, it is entirely possible that the elite stigma associated with chocolate consumption would have disappeared. Early European accounts did not praise the taste of chocolate: “It seemed more a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity,” Girolamo Benzoni wrote (Coe & Coe 110). Chocolate was first drunk in Europe when presented as a gift to the Spanish royal court by the Kekchi Maya in 1544 (Presilla 25). Without its place at the Maya royal banquets in the New World, it might never have been carried across the ocean at all. 

Without cacao’s dual role as beverage and currency, chocolate as we know it today might never have existed.


Works Cited

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

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

Studeman, Kristin T. “A 24-Karat Kit Kat Bar?: Why Edible Gold is Back in a Big Way.” Vogue. Condé Nast, 31 Dec. 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.


This is a work of fiction. All characters and scenarios appearing in this story are purely fictitious and originate from the imagination of its author or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents, living or dead, past or present, is purely coincidental. Now gentle reader, “look at this tangle of thorns.”

Dramatis personae:

Dr. James Baldonado……………………………..World-renowned cacao geneticist.
Warner Barrett ……………………..Chairman and largest stakeholder of Kranebury Foods.
Gerald Beard……………. Proprietor of Beard’s Bestes Sweets, a craft chocolate maker.
G. Elwood Dickens………………………………………Chief Executive, Pluto Foods Industries, one of the largest confection companies in North America.
Enzo Fannuci……………. Heir and chief executive of Fannuci Proteins and Nuts SpA.
Marla Heartens…………………………………………… Educator and social activist.
Millard Holmby IV……………………………………Heir and chief executive of Holmby Company, based in Ohio and the largest chocolate manufacturer in the United States.
Franz Tannenbaum………………………………………………….Managing Director of Nectar SA of Lichenstein, makers of chocolate and producers of beverages.
Don Jose Traficante…………………………South American cacao plantation owner.
Abe Watson…………………Craft chocolate maker and founder of Cacao Rebel Fine Sweets.
Emma Watson…………….Co-founder of Cacao Rebel Fine Sweets and wife of Abe Watson.
Itzel Zacapa………………………………………………………………Cacao laborer.


“I welcome you all to Cuba, and I thank you for momentarily placing aside our rivalries and sojourning here, not only for the warm yellow Caribbean sun and hospitable locals, but to discuss an issue that is a growing threat to all our interests,” G. Elwood Dickens smiled. “Mr. Holmby, of the Holmby Chocolate Company of Ohio. Signore Fannuci of Fannuci Proteins and Nuts. Mr. Warner Barrett, who has just taken majority control of Kranebury Foods. And Mr. Franz Tannenbaum, of Nectar, all the way from Lichtenstein.”

None of the men rose, but each nodded and smiled at each other.

“As you know, there has been a rising sea-change in attitudes in our markets. Our consumers are, quite annoyingly,” Dickens tightened his right hand into a fist, “starting to think for themselves.”

The other three men swayed their heads in disapproval as if one of the Cuban servers had toppled one of the tall drinks before them.
“This is true,” Warner Barrett interrupted. “Since purchasing control of Kranebury, our revenue in our top market lines have slowed and is threatening to flat-line.” Rolling his tongue in distaste, “In an environment of growing markets!”

“The main culprit,” G. Elwood Dickens stared hard ahead out of the window into Havana harbor, “is this so-called ‘craft chocolate’ movement. Those animals are raising the ceiling – and thus the floor – of consumer expectations.”


“Tell me what you think of this one,” Marla Heartens told the audience. “Wait not yet! All together. Remember. See the texture first. Then smell it. Snap it off, then let it sit on your tongue.”

The group began to fish the pieces of chocolate in their white paper cups. One boy emptied the contents down his throat at once, his head titled back. He began to chew.

“It’s a bit plumy, almost citrusy. Bit of woodish? A cedarish taste to it.,” smiled one woman, looking up.

“IT TASTES GOOD!” the eager boy replied, getting up to ask for more. “Its not as sweet like the stuff they give out on Halloween! I’ve never had anything like it,” he said, palming more pieces from a cloth covered table.

“Its different because unlike the confections you typically purchase from the drug store or given on Valentines,” Heartens replied. “Its single-sourced. The cacao beans that are the primary ingredients come from just one farm. It has its own unique terroir, a flavor, genetics and history unique to that one region. Regular chocolate doesn’t have much chocolate. Perhaps a few percent. Its mostly fat and sugar that’s chocolate flavored.”

The audience were no longer chewing, their eyes bright and heads titled up.

“Regular candy that’s flavored as chocolate – every step of production wants to eliminate that uniqueness you just tasted. The goal is for their products to taste and look the same all the time. Its costs less to do that and people no longer expect other flavors, just the one they sell you.” Marla Heartens looked at the audience. They were smiling.“Single-sourced chocolate also has another sweet side I think you’ll love even more!” Heartens scanned the audience.

They looked up.

“There’s almost no slave or child labor used farming the cacao. The small craft manufacturers – most of them as far as I know – have very close relationships with the farmers. They pay them very fair prices for their beans and this helps them make a decent living without resorting to cutting corners.”
The audience was beaming, the hungry boy even more so.


“Don Traficante, thank you so much for hosting us again.” Gerald Beard smiled and with both hands offered a large uncovered box of chocolates.

“Welcome. How is your location? I hear the real estate is ‘hot’ in your particular location.” Jose Traficante took the box without looking and handed it to a pair of hands, also without looking.

“Very much so, Don Traficante. The borough is changing. The useless people are disappearing. Probably to jail. The smart and good-looking people are now settling. They’re bringing safety, cleanliness, as well as money. Most of our sales are local.” Gerald Beard smiled.

“I wish fortune would grant us the same here. Too many useless, lost souls. I find it my life’s mission to guide them. Without me, without my farm, there would be chaos. Anarchy. They steal. They fight. They rape. With me, they work. It is my burden to keep the nation in order. Very hard work.” Don Traficante stood up. Gerald Beard again smiled.

Itzel Zacapa bagged the last cacao pod that would fit in her sack, which the taller, older natives had snipped from the tree and deposited in a pile. Her mouth was dry. The water bucket was two thousand feet away beside the husking shed. Itzel wished she and the fifty pounds sack of fruit could simply levitate like a bird and get to the water bucket.
She closed her eyes. FLIGHT!
Her bare feet lifted from the leafy jungle floor and Itzel and the fifty pounds of cacao were released from friction and gravity.
Two men dumped more cacao into the pile.

“Joven,” Jose Traficante said, looking out into the endless tall green horizon, from the wide, clear windows of the vehicle, “You, Gerald, remind me of me. This is the action of a wise man.”

“Yes Don Traficante,” Gerald Beard nodded. “The other men, they care too much about the work preparing the chocolate. Work no one sees. We focus on what people understand. They understand packaging. They understand image. These others, the chocolate is their craft. That’s money. Us, our packaging is the craft. Ink costs less than chocolate.”

“And a man sees before he tastes.”

“They’re suckers, Don Traficante.” Gerald Beard laughed. A waiter moved with a silver tray of drinks. “I almost have as much fun watching them buy the products as raking in the cash.”

Juan Traficante eyes shot and narrowed on Gerald Beard.

“Perception becomes reality, Don Traficante.”

The waiter lingered a bit, then moved to refill Juan Traficante’s glass.

“No Manolo,” Traficante brushed the air with his hand. He turned to Gerald Beard. “You are a capable man who understands the pragmatic world. My men will clear one hundred more hectares for production with the new CCN51 breed. They are rugged plants, strong. They cannot be felled by the fungus. If you remember, our Brazilian friends to the south have suffered much loss from this. I will not allow this here.” Don Traficante’s jaw tightened.

“I hope not Senor Traficante. Twenty years ago, the Brazilians in Bahia were the second biggest export region globally. Now they’re not even top five.”

“The taste will not be an issue correct?” Juan Traficante glanced an eye towards Gerald.

“No issue Don Traficante. Your new CCN51 forests will let us to ramp up production to meet demand. We’re hiring a new package designer, he’s helped sell a lot of shoes with his great artwork in ads. The other small guys don’t stand a chance. We’ll kill them off hard one by one and we’ll look good for the big ones, when they decide to buy in. They’ll pick the strongest pup in the litter.” Gerald Beard took a sip of cold pineapple juice.

“You will get your seeds then. As much as necessary. I shall increase my stakes in our partnership another twenty percent. Si?” Juan Traficante’s eye aimed towards Gerald and right arm outstretched.

Gerald Beard removed his fashionable black, thick framed non-prescription glasses and touched his forehead on Traficante’s hand. “Yes Don Traficante.”


In one efficient motion, Abe Watson held the cacao bag over the stainless steel table and sliced one end open. The beans poured into a brown volcano. His hands caressed the edge of the pile and drew a handful of beans. Abe put his face closer and smiled – this batch looks clean again. His careful selection of reliable farmers and cultivation by friendship and paying well more than fair prices ensured most of the beans that followed him up to his basement were usually outstanding.

“Emma! They’re great! The beans look great!”

Emma was in the kitchen and smiled. She remembered how much time she and Abe had spent making their very first batch – with all their learning errors, it took twice as many beans to make the first five hundred bars, than it will this latest batch. Emma smiled again. That first tasting at the farmer’s market, the most common reaction to Abe’s and her efforts were ‘What the hell is this?’ That was a close run day. Both were praying to simply break even. Towards the end of the day, and nearly despondent at having not sold very many, a well-heeled couple happened on their narrow frail table and found the chocolates to their taste – and bought out the batch.

“Great! Need any help down there?”

“Maybe in a bit!”

Abe could certainly handle the crafting part. He was self-taught. He came from making pastries and learned to bake – bake well. Going out on the ledge, he decided to try make chocolate, straight from the cacao beans. First, he learned how to select the cacao. Learned to differentiate between good beans and not so good ones. Learned to roast the ones that made his cut. Learned to grind. Not to mention learning to build many of his machines himself. Before the inevitable competition when the stronger fish ate the less quick, less strong, less well-connected and less lucky fish, and had gotten bigger, stronger and meaner; the pond was full of small chocolate manufacturers like the Watsons. Most of them used purpose-made machines. But those days were gone. If they were lucky, they might find an antique online that was made when Woodrow Wilson was still in the White House, that the owner was selling for its scrap value. Abe could fix those. A person who couldn’t fix the machines could probably not run them well, either. It went with the job. Other times, he found machines that approximated close enough for what they needed. And with the sorter Abe was using now, that was half of her effort. She had sawed, hammered, nailed – built much of it. Emma headed down. When Abe was working, you could never get him out of the basement.

“How’s it going?”

Abe looked up from the beans. He smiled.

“Just finished the orders. We have buyers from Shanghai again!” Emma smiled.

“Great! I really wish we had a website in Chinese.”

Both nodded in unison. They knew that unlike the American palette, which for generations tapped to the sweet taste of Pluto, Nectar, and Holmby, the Chinese tongue appreciated bitterness. Cacao Rebel Fine Chocolates – theirs, used cane sugar. That was it. The best cacao they could find and sugar cane. Most chocolates had everything but chocolate. Also, the price tag on their chocolates were more in a way more suited for the Chinese, who bought them as gifts. Cacao Rebel Fine Chocolate’s domestic market was trained to see chocolate as a quick – and cheap – treat. Anything above $4 was a non-seller. Emma’s phone twirled.

“Look! Look!” she screamed

“What!” Abe looked up, hitting his head on the bean grinder.

“Someone gave $3000, we’ve met the Puntkicker goal!”

“We’ve got to book tickets soon.”

Emma smiled inside. Financially, the chocolate gig meant life hadn’t been easy. But they were more alive and free than ever, when both had ‘real’ jobs. ‘Real’ as in working for someone else. A captive. Told what they had to do, how to do it, when to do it. And having to force a smile. Sure they were well-fed and were had a home. But so does a wolf at the zoo. There was quite a gap between an animal behind the glass and one out in its element.

“Look at this,” Abe held up a belt buckle.

“Are you serious?” Emma’s jaw fell.

“I’m kidding.” Abe smiled.

Before the chocolate thing, they once went on a tour inside one of the big boys’ factory, while visiting her mom in Ohio. Everyone had a one task and one task only. Management had broken down the production of the candy bar into the most simply and basic steps possible. How would Van Gogh’s paintings look if each brush stroke was categorized by shade, texture, and placement and each assigned to one man. There would be a lot more Van Goghs but they wouldn’t be Van Goghs. Here the masterpiece was theirs to create for the world. Emma put down her laptop and dug her hands in the aromatic volcano.

“Move over will you,” she smiled.


“Gentlemen – colleagues – I present Dr. James Baldonado, one of the foremost cacao geneticist in the world, and consultant scientist of Pluto Foods Industries!”

“Thank you Mr. Dickens.” James Baldonado adjusted his yellow tie, which did not match his green jacket. “As most of you know, the global market for chocolate is fast expanding. There is a great gap between the cacao the world demands, and what the world can produce. This is about 1 million metric tons.”

The eyes in audience took in the scientist.

“In fifteen years, this gap will increase to two million tons.” Baldonado could sense his audience tensing with his words. “The price of the commodity, meanwhile, has increased as well. From 1993 to 2007, the prices of cacao was an average of $1,465 a ton. In the last seven years alone, it has shot up almost 90 percent.”

The audience’s eyes were now narrowed and smoldering.

“With the support of Pluto Foods Industries, my lab believes we have discovered a solution,” Baldonado beamed. “Pests and diseases can decimate a third to 80% of cacao crop yield.”

A drink glass tipped on the table and a small waterfall of liquid cascaded on the floor. Several Cuban attendants appeared at once and rushed to the wet spot.

“We have bred a series that we call Pluto 1, Pluto 4, and Pluto 6. These strains are resistant to all known cacao diseases and exceeds the CCN51 strain in terms of flavor.”

G. Elwood Dickens jumped up. “That is all Dr. Baldonado. You may go.”

Baldonado was rushed from the hall along with all the entire wait staff. Only the principles remained.

“This Pluto Series will be our weapon against the craft-chocolate threat,” Dickens smiled. “Unlike other strains, the Pluto Series are proprietary. Due to the work of others in this room,” Dickens paused and looked out.

The men from Nectar, Fannuci, Kranebury, and Holmby smiled.

“Due to your efforts – and funding – we have finally achieved an amiable political climate, and as a result of our work, cacao boards sympathetic to our views are now forming in all major growing regions. Not a single bean shall be sold without the permission of these boards. We will provide free but binding licenses for the Pluto series to all the regions. Gentlemen, we will achieve standardization. There will only be three strains, which belong to us,” G. Elwood Dickens beamed.

The room thundered in applause.

“This so-called ‘craft chocolate’ movement will have even narrower choices. Choices without any logistical infrastructure.”

The crowd laughed.

“They’ll now pay triple in freight what they bid for the beans.” G. Elwood Dickens smiled. “That or they could walk it out like pack mules.”

“I have a concern, “ Franz Tannebaum of Nectar SA stood up. “Many of these craft makers are attempting to save production costs by dispensing with conching. What are your views?”

“Yes, our accounting department projects a savings of sixty percent in energy costs compared to a conched product,” Spoke Millard Holmby, heir and head of the Holmby Chocolate Company.
“This is true.” Dickens nodded. “Craft chocolate is indeed producing un-conched product. From an accounting perspective, the savings are not insignificant, as Millard has pointed out. And there is a market for it. However,” Dickens took a sip from his glass. “By dancing to their tune, we will loose the initiative. We will never allow them to set the market tempo. Through conching, we dictate the taste of the consumer. They are used it. We define good taste. We will continue to turn its high cost into an advantage, for us! The cost of conching is a massive barrier to entry and competition. They’ll run out of blood long before we do.”

More laughter.

“Also gentlemen, we have a reliable source that has informed us that a certain partnership between one of the most strongest – but not the finest as I understand – craft-chocolate maker and an independent grower are hoping for a buyout, from us. Our source tell us they cast themselves as premium only in marketing and expect premium buyout prices.”

Boos in the crowd.

G. Elwood Dickens stretched both hands and arms out to placate the grumbling. “They expect a bidding war from us. But, we’re all friends, aren’t we?”

Laughter in the crowd.

“If that foolish hipster and old Venezuelan, or any of these fellows think they can pry open our checkbooks…”

“They’ll get the boot,” someone roared.

“A boot with killer fungal spore,” added another.

“We always win, gentlemen,” smiled G. Elwood Dickens. “Or at least we try.”

The crowd laughed.

Chocolate’s Roots, according to Modern Day Advertisements

Today, African nations collectively produce around 71% of the world’s cocoa (Martin). Given the roots of cacao, it is interesting to see how modern companies choose to portray these roots or ignore them completely in their marketing of chocolate products. Chocolate companies have had varying degrees of success incorporating these roots, and it seems that more often than not, been faced with criticisms and controversy when doing so. The decisions companies make have far reaching consequences – they can shape the population’s perception of chocolate, socializing them to certain views or they can raise awareness for certain issues, purposely or not. We will look at the depiction of chocolate’s roots in two advertisements, one that perpetuates the stereotype and one that we created in order to defy it. Present day chocolate advertisements invoke historically-weighted, caricatured depictions of the relationship between chocolate’s roots and chocolate’s present consumer.

Conguitos is a Spanish chocolate product similar to M&M’s from the Lacasa compay, chocolate covered peanut ball shaped confections. According to the Lacasa website, their description is:

“We are the Conguitos. And we are very good, dressed in chocolate with a body made of nuts. Roasted peanuts with black chocolate! Very super delicious!” (translated from Spanish)

This sense that the Conguitos are animate, almost human-like creatures is perpetuated through their video advertisements as well.


The cartoon figures of the Conguitos seem to be a stereotypical representation of a Native/Indigenous culture. The Conguitos are primitive creatures, and as they march onto the scene carrying spears, drums and tribal music play in the background, adding to the Native mystique. The brown color of the Conguitos and the exaggerated mouths portray people of African descent, similar to how blackface was used by minstrels to the same effect in America. In contrast, the light-skinned hand that picks off the Conguitos is the white consumer, and as evidenced by the final scene of the light-skinned woman, the typical Spanish consumer that this ad is targeting. Given these differences, it is natural to question the starkly different roles each race plays, and the power dynamic between the two. The African, who is the largest producer of chocolate, is the primitive subservient to the civilized Western consumer, who is literally picking the scared chocolate peoples straight from the jungles of Africa.

In response to that advertisement, we created an advertisement to address the use of chocolate as a human and the relationship between chocolate and the consumer.

An example advertisement we created for Conguitos
An example advertisement we created for Conguitos

Like the authentic Conguitos advertisement, our advertisement utilizes cartooning as a way to express more pronounced caricatures. However, we do so in a very different way. Our advertisement focuses on the round shape of the chocolate confection and recasts the candy as a soccer ball, instead of as a human. Instead of depicting only two different races, this advertisement shows many distinct skin tones and even species, emphasizing the inclusivity that the soccer ball is bringing to the community.

The creatures in this ad are all smiling and showing happy emotions, as well as their desire for the chocolate soccer ball, as seen from the hearts in their eyes. The unequal power dynamic between light and dark is no longer evident in this advertisement because the soccer ball is an objective inanimate object and the diverse group of people are now working together to catch the chocolate soccer ball. This advertisement challenges the assumptions of Africans and the unequal dualism often used to portray the relationship between Africa and the Western world (Leissle 133).

Through the universality of soccer (or football) as a sport, this image appeals to consumers from all backgrounds. This advertisement depicts chocolate’s roots not as the African jungle, but instead of the multicultural world we live in today. Chocolate too is no longer a local commodity, but instead a global one, as its supply chain and production involves people and firms from Africa, and South America to America and Europe (Robertson 9). This advertisement reflects the global roots of cocoa with its use of multicultural people.

Although the first Conguitos ad is no longer running on TV, the problems with the marketing are still present. As seen on the company website, Lacasa is still trying to give the inanimate candies life. Current advertisements feature the Conguitos with faces that have exaggerated mouths, not too altered from when the original.

1 Kg bag of original Conguitos
1Kg bag of multi-colored conguitos

As consumers, we should be aware of the subliminal messages these advertisements send, and question them, especially, as in this case, when they represent power dynamics that perpetuate inequality.

Multimedia Sources

Conguitos Advertisement: https://youtu.be/wFOXOeBbhD8

Soccer ball image (edited): http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Simple_Soccer_Ball.svg

Soccer game image (edited): http://fc09.deviantart.net/fs70/i/2013/364/b/6/happy_new_year_with_fuleco_and_the_backyard_kids_by_marlon94-d702jg6.jpg

Conguitos 1Kg Bag: https://www.tienda.lacasa.es/672-pos_thickbox/conguitos-negros-1-kg.jpg

Color Conguitos: https://www.tienda.lacasa.es/670-pos_thickbox/conguitos-colores-1-kg.jpg

Works Cited

Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x Lecture 15: Modern Day Slavery. March 25, 2015.

“Conguitos Negros – 1 Kg.” Lacasa. Lacasa, n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2015. <https://www.tienda.lacasa.es/compra-conguitos/71-conguitos-negros-1-kg.html&gt;.

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24.2 (2012): 121-39. Web.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. 1-131. Print.


A water snake sheds its skin. State support of private enterprise across time has taken many forms. (Photo: Genius.com)

In the history of sugar, one faithful aspect has been omnipresent: the nurturing by the state of its domestic sugar industries. Various factors have insured that the degree of care has undergone a bewildering change over time. Some forms of state support such as military intervention were more prevalent in the ‘startup’ years, while other means, such as favorable tariffs follow, and in fact lead sugar across history. This lack of universal consistency in the vigor and application of state support reflect the varying needs of private commercial entities and factions across different periods, does not bequeath itself to an overly simple general pattern, but nonetheless reflects and speaks of a dizzying and powerful change over time.

The sugar colonies and the sugar planter have been described as “business ventures primarily” and “strictly a businessman” respectively[1][2]. From this we can ascertain that plantations nor the individual planter possessed any martial capacity other than the ability to discipline and subdue its own labor force through violence.[3] Plantations did not mount invasions and planters did not lead professional armies.

Jamaica, one of the “crown jewels”[4] of the British Empire was seized by a military expedition, which found the island easier takings than neighboring Hispaniola.[5] With its capture, the British state was able to offer “English sugar interests with as much Caribbean acreage as they wanted.”[6] State nurturing through military force of the sugar planters went beyond terra firma into the high seas. 127 years later, Jamaica was under threat by France and American colonists, who had just swiped six British sugar islands. The Royal Navy was dispatched and beat the French, “saving…the sugar islands”[7]

Islands firmly in hand, state support moved into another phase: providing labor. Sugar planters throughout history have been bewildered by the same issue – the need for labor. Begnaud states that “the central problem was, and is, the labor supply” and “the most acute problem of the planter may well have been securing the labor force needed in sugarcane cultivation.”[8][9] Before chattel slavery, the Crown was able to provide “thieves and whores rounded up” alongside “Scottish and Irish” POWs to the planters[10], who were then coerced to the Indies with indentured servitude contracts. With the Caribbean not exactly meeting the expectations of the “thieves and whores”, “the masters could persuade few laborers whose indentures had expired to stay on”[11] The final solution was the Royal African Company, which was granted the monopoly by the state to trade in slaves and “handled much of the English business between 1673 and 1711”[12] Third party runners who tried to sell outside of the monopoly were pursued by the Royal Navy. With two-thirds of all Black slaves shipped to the Americas “directly related to the production of sugar”[13] the state’s hand in ensuring the sugar plantations’ appetites were fulfilled appear to have been prominent and successful.

Among the presents of military force, poor White servants and Black slaves, another gift of the state to the planter was an insatiable market. To motor forward with industrialization, one needs a labor force. In England, this meant farmers, previously self-sufficient (aside from periods of famine) in food. The Enclosure Acts between the late 18th and early 19th centuries forced farmers to migrate from rural areas and into cities, where “they had to purchase their food”[14] With the steadily declining price of sugar, as slave labor worked fields in Caribbean secured by state military forces, this large, hungry urban population were able to enjoy “Sugar, cheaper and more plentiful than it had been.”[15]

Tariffs are one form of state support that, while varying in form across time, have been a consistent tool to carry favored groups. In the Mercantilist era, the British state set agreeable tariff rates for its West Indies planters, below that for foreign sugars, in return for locking them to the British economy, forcing them to only sell their sugar in Britain (perhaps 50% would be re-exported), but also to buy provisions from England. In exchange they enjoyed a “protected home market.”[16] Their American planter counterparts, a century later found themselves in the same dilemma. The difference was that American sugar was grown in America, and the need would be a protective tariff on foreign sucrose. “The one thing all sugar farmers agreed upon was the necessity for protection from cheap imported sugar, for their business methods were expensive,”[17] writes Begnaud of Louisiana sugar planters. Congress delivered and legislation in 1934 “saved…the domestic sugar industry.”[18] Hodson concludes that “like it or not, the U.S. sugar industry has long been a creature of government policy.”[19] Thus tariffs held back an avalanche of sugar from Hawaii, the West Indies and India from smothering the domestic U.S. sugar industry.

[1] Dunn 25

[2] Dunn 65

[3] http://revealinghistories.org.uk/africa-the-arrival-of-europeans-and-the-transatlantic-slave-trade/articles/life-on-plantations.html

[4] Alexander and Parker 1

[5] Dunn 152

[6] Dunn 21

[7] Abbott 172

[8] Begnaud 29

[9] Begnaud 33

[10] Dunn 69

[11] Dunn 72

[12] Dunn 229

[13] Kaplinsky 14

[14] Abbott 63

[15] Abbott 63

[16] Dunn 80

[17] Begnaud 42

[18] Burbin 83

19 Hodson 136


Abbott, Elizabeth. SUGAR: A BITTERSWEET HISTORY. London: Duckworth Publishers, 2009. Print.

Alexander, Robert J. and Eldon M. Parker. A HISTORY OF ORGANIZED LABOR IN THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING WEST INDIES. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2004. Electronic.

Begnaud, Allen. “The Louisiana Sugar Cane Industry.” GREEN FIELDS: TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF LOUISIANA SUGAR. Lafayette: University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1980. Print.


Dunn, Richard. S.. SUGAR AND SLAVES: THE RISE OF THE PLANTER CLASS IN THE ENGLISH WEST INDIES, 1624-1713. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1972. Print

Hodson, Charles. “U.S. Sugar Policy Since the 1930s.” GREEN FIELDS: TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF LOUSIANA SUGAR. Lafayette: University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1980. Print.

Kaplinsky, Raphael. SUGAR PROCESSING: THE DEVELOPMENT OF A THIRD-WORLD TECHNOLOGY. Delhi: Oxford Universty Press, 1983. Print.

Myric, Herbert. SUGAR: A NEW AND PROFITABLE INDUSTRY IN THE UNITED STATES. New York: Orange Judd Company, 1897. Print.

Life on Plantations: http://revealinghistories.org.uk/africa-the-arrival-of-europeans-and-the-transatlantic-slave-trade/articles/life-on-plantations.html




Chocolate as a Luxury for the Elite Throughout Time

Chocolate has been a defining food for several cultures throughout its history. From early Mesoamerica to modern Europe, it has been celebrates as, not just a rich and delicious dessert, but a significant cultural symbol. With the exception of Christopher Columbus and his compatriots, chocolate has almost always held a place among the elites of almost every society it has been a part of. This post will attempt to compare the treatment of chocolate by the elites of societies across time and space, from the Maya to renaissance Europe to present-day America.

While consumption of the cacao plant began with the Olmecs, centuries before the Maya civilization came to be, very little written record exists from that time, and those that do exist are somewhat indecipherable (Coe & Coe 39). Therefore, in the study of chocolate, historians often begin their discussion with the Maya. An understanding of the importance of the Cacao plant to Mayan society can be seen in its inclusion in their creation myth, the Popol Vuh. There remains some contention as to what level of significance cacao actually played in this story, but the fact remains that it must have been a relevant crop to be included at all (Coe & Coe 40). In Mayan civilization, cacao was accessible to many, but it was considered a food of the gods. One example of this is the Dresden Codex which says of the Rain God, “cacao is his food” (Coe & Coe 41). Many of the elites of Mayan society would be buried with cacao, a symbol of their wealth.

Among the Aztec elites, chocolate held an even more significant place than it did with the Maya. When the Aztecs discovered chocolate in Mayan civilization, it quickly became a favorite drink, replacing the traditional octli, which was mildly alcoholic (Coe & Coe 75). Additionally, the cacao bean became regarded as legal currency, signifying the stronghold the food had in Aztec society (Presilla 17). Cacao’s significance among the Aztec elite can be seen in its prevelance in Aztec art. The following is an Aztec sculpture of a man holding a large cacao pod.

Aztec sculpture of a man holding a cacao bean

Since the cacao tree was not native to the area of modern-day Mexico inhabited by the Aztec, it was imported from further south, restraining the product to the most elite members of society. Thus, in Aztec society, chocolate came to be revered more heavily than among the Maya, and drinking the beverage was a sign of great power and wealth.

Almost as soon as chocolate arrived in Europe, it became a drink of the elites. Maricel E. Presilla writes, “Chocolate arrived in Europe with the aura of an exotic luxury for the cognoscenti” (25). While chocolate eventually made its way to the lower tiers of European society, it was very much considered an extravagance for centuries. As shown in the following painting, English gentlemen would gather in coffee and chocolate houses during the 17th century to discuss politics. Chocolate did not truly become of food of the people until the introduction of “big chocolate” sometime later.

Painting depicting an English coffee and chocolate house

Throughout history, chocolate has been seen as a food of the gods, or at minimum, a food of the elite. The wealthy of every society with access to chocolate have taken it in as a standard part of their lives. Even today, chocolate preferences among leaders are interesting subjects of discussion. When asked what his favorite chocolate was, President Obama was prepared and immediately replied with the Seattle-based Fran’s Chocolate (Guzman). In the modern era, chocolate is highly accessible to many, but it has historically been a treat meant for the elites of society.

Works Cited

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

Greer, Rita. The Coffee House. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

Guzman, Monica. “How the Obamas Fell for Seattle’s Fran’s Chocolates.” Seattle Pi. Hurst Seattle Media, 18 July 2008. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

“Holding a Cacao Bean.” Latinamericanstudies.org. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

Ceremonial Cacao: The Permeation of Chocolate in Mesoamerican Celebration as the Setting for European Influence

For the people within the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations, chocolate served as a tool to bring humans closer to a higher power. The sacred nature of chocolate ensured its utilization during countless rituals and celebrations in Mesoamerica. The prevalent use of chocolate by the Maya and Aztec people was no mystery to the Europeans, whose exposure to the beverage at banquets and ceremonies was a driving force in the adoption of chocolate consumption overseas and eventually around the globe.

This Maya representation of the two gods Chac and IxChel exchanging Cacao provides evidence for the mesoamerican idea of divinity in Chocolate. This god-worthy substance therefore found a special place in many Maya and Aztec ceremonies, where Europeans first tried the beverage

Chocolate was commonly used in offerings to gods, such as the Sovereign Plumed Serpent, as well as in human sacrifices (Dillinger et al 2058s). Cacao was widely considered a food of the gods, depicted in many Maya creation stories as a divine gift. In one Maya creation story, cacao was given to humans by the god, Sovereign Plumed Serpent, directly after humans were created from maize (Dillinger et al 2057s). Before a human sacrifice would occur, the individuals awaiting death would consume a chocolate beverage for “comfort” (Dillinger et al 2058s). Banquets, during annual festivals and in honor of distinguished guests, featured large quantities of chocolate as well (Dillinger et al 2058s). Spanish Friars and colonists experienced these events within the Aztec Empire, and wrote first hand accounts of what they witnessed, presenting the European world with the wonder of chocolate.

Those who were awaiting sacrifice were often provided with Chocolate as a comforting elixir.

From the earliest European accounts of life in New Spain, it is apparent that chocolate was present for many of the initial meetings between the Spanish and the Aztec people. As a gift of hospitality, the Mesoamerican people offered chocolate to visitors, including Hernán Cortés and Fray Bartolome de las Casas, introducing the European explorers to a taste they had never experienced before. One of Hernán Cortés’ men noticed the powers associated with drinking chocolate stating, “this drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world…” (Coe and Coe 84). This statement was published in Venice in 1556, helping to bring the myth of chocolate to a European audience. Similarly, Fray Bartolome de las Casas sheds a light on the taste of chocolate as witnessed at “the emporer’s banquet,” stating “the drink is water mixed with a certain flour made from…cacao. It is very substantial, very cooling, tasty, and agreeable, and does not intoxicate” (Coe and Coe 96). Spanish women were also partially responsible for the adoption of chocolate in Europe, as some of these women were provided with “chocolate served in golden goblets” during a huge banquet in 1538 at the Great Plaza of Mexico and reportedly became, “addicted to the black chocolate” (Coe and Coe 114). Cortés and his men, de Las Casas, and a number of Spanish women began to experience the Spanish taste for chocolate in the new world, and seeking the taste back home as well.

Following Cortes’ arrival in the New World, he comes across ambassadors of Motecuhzoma II, who warn him to turn back, but eventually Cortes’ and his men are welcomed by Motecuhzoma II with a banquet. The banquets of Motecuhzoma II commonly featured chocolate, as he had a great store of Cacao beans. This is an example of European introduction to the taste of chocolate.

Today, the influence of cacao use during Mesoamerican rituals and celebrations can be seen throughout the world. The first documented introduction of chocolate as a beverage in Spain occurred in 1544 when Kekchi Maya nobles met with Prince Philip (Dillinger 2059s). Within a century, demand for chocolate spread to France, England and other European countries (Dillinger 2059s). Today, chocolate is a global entity consumed in mass proportions. In the United States alone, chocolate sales exceeded 20.6 billion dollars in 2014 (“Statistics and facts on the chocolate industry”). The existence of this enormous market for chocolate has its origins in Mesoamerica, and can be attributed to the sharing of chocolate between the Aztec people and the Spanish explorers before the conquest of the Aztec Empire.

Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2013. London. Print.

“Statistics and facts on the chocolate industry”. Statistica (2013). 1-92. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

Dillinger, Teresa L. et al. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate”. The Journal of Nutrition 130 (2000). 20572- 2072s. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

https://www.withfriendship.com/images/h/35977/the-scene-of-these-sacrificial.jpg http(Photo 1)

http://ageofex.marinersmuseum.org/mm_images/F1230CBA1_p93Cortez_large.jpg (photo 2)

http://blogs.uoregon.edu/mesoinstitute/files/2013/11/Chocolate-2-1az3lcd.jpeg (photo 3)

The Medical Hybridization– or Rationalization– of Cacao for Consumption

Throughout history, humans have been wary of the unknown. This constant vigilance has benefitted us throughout evolution by helping us to avoid possible dangers, especially in the context of items for consumption. Understanding the ways in which our bodies react to different food substances is crucial to our survival. In light of this, it is unsurprising that when cacao—an exotic commodity—was introduced to the Spanish diet in the 16th century, it was met with hesitation. Originally a Mesoamerican good, cacao was undoubtedly foreign and certainly questionable when it was first brought across the Atlantic by Spanish explorers (likely Hernán Cortés) in the early 1500’s (Coe 129). In order for this new product to be accepted by the Spanish (and later European) people, cacao needed to be transformed into a food and a concept that fit in with the already existing framework of diet and medical culture (120). By fitting cacao (in its various forms) into the ever-pervasive humoral scheme of medicine, the Spanish were able to hybridize chocolate into a form that was acceptable by the general population. However, there was a tradeoff for this hybridization: what the Spaniards gained in acceptance through the application of Galenic medicine, they lost in true knowledge of cacao’s medicinal properties. In this way, the medical hybridization of cacao in Spain and Europe was not comprehensive, but rather was a selective hybridization that excluded some of the most medicinally applicable aspects of cacao known to the Aztecs— a more ‘primitive’ people, but a people who understood the world around them better than the Europeans would for years to come (122).

Cacao, a sacred substance, as an offering to the Aztec sun god.
Cacao, a sacred substance, as an offering to the Aztec sun god.

In Aztec society, the tradition of cacao as medicine was well engrained in society. Cacao was used for digestion and elimination issues, anti-inflammatory purposes, or as a source of strength to name just a few (Dillinger et al., 2061S). The Aztec beliefs and disease etiology that backed these medical claims stemmed from an extensive knowledge of the native plants, as well as centuries of experience with substances like cacao (Coe 122). Cacao was no exception, and though they may not have known about caffeine per se, through experience and acquired knowledge of the Theobroma cacao plant, the Aztecs knew that it behaved as a stimulant, increasing alertness and providing energy. Cacao’s slew of medicinal properties added to its symbolic meaning for them—a meaning that was quickly stripped when the Spaniards adopted it into their own culture (126).

Francisco Hernández' publication detailing his botanical and zoological finds in New Spain (modern-day Mexico), 1615.
Francisco Hernández’ publication detailing his botanical and zoological finds in New Spain (modern-day Mexico), 1615.

Hearing of the abundance of medicinal plants growing in Aztec Mexico, Royal Physician Francisco Hernández of Spain was sent to study and classify the native botany in terms that the Spanish would understand (Dillinger et al., 2063S). Hernández recorded data on many plants, fitting them all into the theory of Galenic medicine that Europe so heavily relied upon. He classified cacao as a “cold” substance, concluding that it would be good to treat “hot” conditions like fever and hot temperaments. However, he also conversely concluded that depending on the flavorings added (chilis, etc), cacao could also be a “hot” substance used to combat colic (Coe 122-3). The contradictions did not end here. Physician Juan de Cárdenas reported that cacao could lead to fatigue, but physician Henry Stubbe concluded that it was a “speedy refreshment” that was especially helpful to restore energy (Dillinger et al., 2064S). In this way, there was no clear consensus about the medicinal effects of cacao in Europe, and this is largely a result of the general vagueness and inadequate evidence backing the heavily lauded humoral theory of medicine.

Yet, these inconsistencies did not seem to bother the Spaniards, nor the Europeans at large. To me, this suggests that the general population was not looking for truth in exchange for their approval of cacao, but merely a sense of familiarization and the 201012-w-hot-chocolate-lake-champlainreassurance of safety that we evolutionarily crave. The Aztecs had the answers behind the powers of cacao, and though they may not have been easily communicated, Francisco Hernández and others like him were so caught up in mapping the exotic plant onto their own mental schemas, that the real meaning (and symbolic meaning) was lost somewhere over the Atlantic. In this way, the introduction and subsequent hybridization of cacao was less of a hybridization and more of an adoption with appropriation to appease the masses. I can’t really be mad though, because as much as I’d like to know exactly what the Aztecs knew about chocolate, I can’t blame the Europeans for not needing a real medicinal reason to dive in to some cacao.

Works Cited:

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

Dillinger, Teresa L., Barriga, Patricia, Escarcega, Sylia, Jimenez, Martha, Salazar Lowe, Diana, and Louis E. Grivetti. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition 130 (2000): 2057S-2072S. Web. 18 February 2015.

Image Links:

Image 1: http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/images-ans/ans_21_05_2.jpg

Image 2: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8d/Francisco_Hernández_(1615)_Quatro_libros_de_la_naturaleza_y_virtudes_de_las_plantas_y_animales.png

Image 3: http://globalimmersions.com/Images/Hot%20Chocolate/201012-w-hot-chocolate-lake-champlain.jpg

Excursions with Ek Chua – Mesoamerica’s intrepid traders and beyond.


In exploring the long history of chocolate in Mesoamerican life, it is easy to see the importance of trade, and see that as with any journey, there are benefits and pitfalls. Thus it is seemly that such a land would host a god of the traveler, Ek Chua, portrayed with his pack and staff, seeking out the cacao tree. A town council report written in 1553 Tlaxcala provides us with an effective moment from which to view the effects of the journey – the cacao trade -on pre and post conquest Mesoamerica, affecting commerce, consciousness and community.

Image from the Codex Mendoza, Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell University
Image from the Codex Mendoza, Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell University

The Tlaxcalans, the council complains, seem to only know themselves through their cacao; how much they have; how much they can get:

“ …he is seen to have gold and cacao. That makes them proud and swells them up.”[i]

Cacao was not grown in Tlaxcala, rather arrived via long distance trade. Its significance is clear as cacao was mentioned eleven times in the short report and always as a sign of degradation. A code word for wealth, cacao exemplified the new disregard for proper living and a profound lack of foresight infecting the populace. The councilman concludes by warning,

“It is greatly urged that everyone cultivate and plant… if there were in people’s possession much money, cacao and cloth, will those things be eaten? …It cannot be. Money, cacao and cloth do not fill one up.[ii]

This crisis of cocoa morality was caused by excessive cultivation of cochineal, a cactus mite whose flesh produces a highly profitable red dye. Zeal for cochineal caused apathy toward food production, and Tlaxcala was at risk of a famine as the local barter system was replaced by the exchange of currency for cochineal. Among the most desirous of currenacy was cacao. [iii]

teo cylinder vase

Extremes in altitude in Mesoamerica lead to the complex market where cacao was money. The far-flung trade routes promoted the mingling of cultures in areas of coveted resource. Early evidence in Veracruz and Teotihuacan (AD 1 -750) is suggestive of a thriving exchange of Teotihuacan grey obsidian for Mayan cacao[iv] that cross-pollinated cultures along the trade routes. [v]

Later pochtecas, Mesoamericas outfitters linked Mesoamerican cities by mounting trading expeditions from the Aztec cities to as far afield as Xoconochco of the market savvy Putún Maya, who moved to the southern lowlands during the Terminal Classic period (AD 800 – 1200) to cultivate flourishing cacao orchards[vi] Xoconochco became the Aztec’s chief supplier of cacao, given as tribute and in trade for turquois by the Pre Conquest period (AD 1375-1521). Here the pochtecas acquired many luxuries for the Aztec royalty, including large quantities of cacao. In the Aztec kingdom, sumptuary laws restricted cacao use[vii].Map

However archeologist Fargher asserts that Tlaxcala adopted a form of council lead government rather than the kingships more common in the Aztec lands that surrounded them[viii]. This collective mindedness perhaps made the question of cacao use more a question of cash flow than breeding. By the time of our 1553 council meeting the Tlaxcalans, having allied themselves with Spain in the conquest of the Aztecs,[ix] were enjoying a measure of autonomy as payment for their cooperation; natives retained their property rights and lived apart from the colonists through the 16th century.[x] However they still found themselves under pressure by a tribute system craving cochineal and cocoa, all at the whim of the continent’s new European masters.

Considering that imperialism creates tension not only for the invaded peoples, but also for the invaders as they adapt to new foods, dress, social custom and language Chocolate historian Norton contests the notion that changes in the use of cocoa came immediately after its introduction to the Old World. Colonists and missionaries returning to Europe were initiated in the New World tastes, methods and culture of chocolate. These men, both parties that traded in cacao – Europe’s pochtecas – brought their New World experience of cacao to Europe, where only after considerable time did the chocolate culture take on a uniquely European flavor. Norton concludes, “The European taste for chocolate emerged as a contingent accident of empire [xi].”

Tlaxcala provides an example of the unforeseen pitfalls of alliances with people and with potions from far away places. Nevertheless, we are always in search of novelty. Ek Chua, with his staff and pack – perhaps loaded with cacao pods – continues his excursion around the world.

[i] (Kenneth Mills, 2002, p. 115)

[ii] (Kenneth Mills, 2002, p. 114)

[iii] (Kenneth Mills, 2002, p. 113)

[iv] (Pasztory, 1997, p. 40)

[v] (Clayton, 2005)

[vi] (Sophie D. Coe, 2013, p. 53)

[vii] (Sophie D. Coe, 2013, pp. 73-74)

[viii] (Lane F. Fargher, 2010)

[ix] (Alfredo López Austin, 2001, p. 191)

[x] (Kenneth Mills, 2002, p. 113)

[xi] (Norton, 2006)

Works Cited

Alfredo López Austin, L. L. (2001). Mexico’s Indigenous Past. (B. R. Montellano, Trans.) University of Oklahoma Press:Norman.

Clayton, S. C. (2005). Interregional Relationships in Mesoamerica: Interpreting Maya Ceramics at Teotihuacan. Latin American Antiquity , 16 (4), 427 – 448.

Kenneth Mills, W. B. (2002). The Evils of Cochineal, Tlaxcala, Mexico. In Colonial Latin America – A documentary history (pp. 113-116). Wilmington, Delaware, USA: Scholarly Resources, Inc.


Norton, M. (2006). Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics. American Historical Review , 111 (3), 660-691.

Pasztory, E. (1997). Teotihuacan – An Experiment in Living. University of Oklahoma Press:Norman.

Sophie D. Coe, M. D. (2013). The True History of Chocolate (3rd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson.