Tag Archives: sugar consumption

Sugar’s Twist: The Change in Chocolate Consumption

Introduction

Today, chocolate is a foundational treat in the Western diet. The way in which we consume cacao, the critical fruit in any chocolate creation, has drastically changed overtime. What began as the key ingredient in divine medicinal energizer drinks in Mesoamerica has drastically changed to a sugar-infused, unhealthful dessert in modern society. In turn, treats such as chocolate are seen as villains in modern day obesity problems.

In this project, I seeked to understand the modern chocolate palette and contrast that with more traditional chocolate recipes. Thus, I compared subjects’ reactions to common, modern brands such as Hershey’s with that of a pure 100% cacao bar as well as several recipes between these extremes. I interviewed these subjects to better understand their taste palette. In doing so, I hoped to gain a more concrete understanding of why this shift occurred. To do this, I need to outline the greater history of chocolate and compare that to my own study.

In doing so, I more clearly saw the ties chocolate has to class as certain chocolates are associated with nobility and others are seen as the chocolate of the common man. This class structure has deep historical roots that continue to affect the way we see chocolate today

Chocolate in Mesoamerica

In Mayan, Aztec, and other native american cultures, cacao was a holy fruit. Originating around the equator in the American continent, cacao grows on a tree of the same name. Classical prints suggest that the most common form of chocolate consumption was as a beverage. The oldest known depiction of chocolate consumption is on the Princeton Vase, a work from around 750 A.D (See image above). On the right hand side of this image, we see a women  pouring a chocolaty beverage from one container to the other. We believe this to have been a method for raising the foam, which was considered the most popular part of the beverage (Coe 48).

It should be noted, however, that it would be quite simple minded to believe that these people consumed chocolate in a singular way. As modern chefs have the skill to craft a plethora of dishes from a few simple ingredients, mesoamerican chocolatiers too had the ability to prepare numerous chocolate treats including beverages, porridges, and powders (Coe 48).

These cultures mixed in several savory flavors with their chocolate such as chilli, maize, and ceiba (Coe 86). This is very different, however, from the sweet, sugary treats we often associate with chocolate today. During our tasting session, we served some chocolate options with little to no added sugar. When we served a pure 100% cacao bar, there was instant disgust. The subjects compared the taste to that of a branch or chalk. One subject went so far as to claim that, if served in another context, she would never associate the flavor with that of chocolate. That is, counterintuitively, she doesn’t recognize cacao, pure chocolate, as chocolate at all.

Additionally, we served a Taza chocolate that was 87% cacao. Taza tends to market themselves as traditional mesoamerican chocolate. Similarly, there was some disgust amongst the subjects. They were disappointed by the lack of intensity of flavor and the limited sweetness. One subject commented that she feels like she doesn’t like the chocolate because she is uncultured. This mindset reflects the common notion that artisanal chocolate are for high-class “chocolate snobs.” To a certain degree, this idea matches the structure of mesoamerican chocolate culture. In Aztec culture, for example, chocolate was typically saved for warriors and the nobility. It was difficult and expensive for lay people to consume the treat (Coe 75). In other words, chocolate was only for the elite members of society.

Introduction in Europe – Sugar

When the conquistadors arrived in Mesoamerica in the 16th century, europeans were introduced to cacao for the first time and witnessed the local chocolate customs. Soon after, the product was introduced to Europe itself and was immediately sought after due to the exotic nature of the product. This was during the Baroque period in Europe and it was in the iconically extravagant baroque mansions where the product was first enjoyed in Europe. As was the case in Mesoamerica, only the elite could afford chocolate. Thus, chocolate was immediately associated with the gilded and marble halls that defined the period. Undoubtedly, this created a strong connection between chocolate consumption and nobility.

At first, it was consumed in very similar ways as in Mesoamerica, as a warm beverage with some mix of spices to enliven the flavors. One of those spices was sugar. Sugar was first introduced to Europe around the 12th century. For the first few centuries, it was thought of as a spice (Mintz 79). Sugar was inaccessible to most and even the wealthiest needed to carefully ration the expensive product. Humans, however, have a powerful natural liking for sugar. Thus, it was used to sweeten other bitter food groups. Included in this list of foods that europeans mixed with sugar was chocolate. The introduction of foreign products such as tea, chocolate, and coffee increased the demand for sugar in Europe.

The opportunists across the Atlantic in the New World hoped to take advantage of this demand. Sugar production, however, was very labor intensive. Tragically, the chosen solution for this dilemma was one of human existence’s greatest crimes: slavery. The inception of the triangle slave trade brought African slaves to the new world to do hard physical labor (See the map to the left for details). This free labor allowed europeans to produce sugar and other goods more affordably and to a greater quantity.

With greater sugar supply, the price of sugar plummeted to an accessible price in Europe. By the turn of the 17th century, sugar could be consumed by all people and in greater quantities (Mintz 86). In turn, when europeans used sugar as a sweetener for other foods such as chocolate, they would use it in much greater quantity. For example, in a Spanish chocolate recipe from 1644, for 100 cacao beans, ½ a pound of sugar was added (Coe 133). Thus, sugar was clearly not a sprinkled on spice anymore, but an essential element in a chocolate recipe.

In addition, the increased production of cacao and sugar changed the image of class associated with chocolate. Once the prices dropped so that it was more accessible, it was no longer a luxury reserved for the few.

During our chocolate tasting, we had bars such Cote d’Or that we conjectured are similar to the flavors enjoyed in Europe during 17-19th centuries. Relative to the bars with more cacao content, this bar was quite popular. The students appreciated the sweetness and the mix of flavors. One subject even said that, relative to the Taza bar, he felt this type of chocolate was “more accessible.”

Rise of Big Chocolate

The chocolate industry transformed during the industrial revolution when mavericks like Forrest Mars and M.S. Hershey created their brands. With distinctly sweet recipes and crisp business models, they created the chocolate giants we know today.

Hershey and his partners experimented with various chocolate recipes. They soon came to their perfect solution when they added a ton of milk and sugar. It created a smooth, creamy chocolate that melted in one’s mouth. It had a bite similar to that of “al dente” pasta (D’Antonio 107). This iconic chocolate bar exploded into a sensation. In the process, however, they ran into the issue of collecting all the ingredients and relying on others for some of the processing. To alleviate this dilemma, Hershey sought to vertically integrate the industry. That is, he attempted to control as many of the processes himself as possible. For example, when he had issues getting a consistent source of milk, he founded his own dairy farm so that he could control that supply chain. He did this by founding a town dedicated to his brand — Hershey, PA (D’Antonio 115).

The natural appeal of chocolate gave the industry an inherent public relations advantage and the idea of a perfect little town dedicated to chocolate resonated with many progressives. Hershey easily sold this idea to the public and they ate it up. He was going to make the ultimate chocolate dream come true (D’Antonio 116). Everything about Hershey screamed a people’s brand — it was chocolate for everyone. Their product was sweet, creamy, and affordable and still to this day, people can’t get enough.

This popularity was matched in our study. Upon blindly trying a piece, one subject simply exclaimed, “This is dat good s**t.” The cheapest bar in our collection was also perhaps the most well-liked. Some subjects suggested that it reminded them of their childhood. Thus, big chocolate brands benefit from an exponential path to success. That is, as many people have eaten a Hershey bar before, they are more likely to enjoy it again in the future as it will remind them of positive memories. Thus, a sweeping step in the market of young children creates a set of loyal lifetime customers.

Along these lines, it’s interesting to compare the methods of marketing of a big chocolate brand like Hershey’s against earlier chocolate cultures and modern, high-class chocolatiers. Both of the latter chocolates were targeted to the upper class and aimed to sell a degree of nobility. Hershey on the other hand has a simple branding that is designed for everyone. We see that in one of the original design for their brand that can be seen below. The notions of class that preceded Hershey both in mesoamerica and Europe have evaporated with their affordable, delicious chocolate.

Health Concerns

With brands like Hershey drastically increasing the amount of sugar in a typical chocolate bar, the health concerns around chocolate changed as well. Today, the health concerns around big chocolate are well-advertised, but that fact wasn’t always so clear. In fact, in 17th century Europe, sugar was used as a medicine. Upon sugar’s arrival in Europe, some scholars alluded to classical Islamic texts which raved about the medicinal purposes of sugar (Mintz 96). The stimulant became a standard sight at apothecaries across Europe and some even believed it was a type of panacea (Mintz 101).

For years, researches struggled to undoubtedly prove the negative effects of sugar. For years, big sugar was able to swerve criticisms and even would go as far as claim that sugar helped people lose weight (Taubes 2). Because there was not a consensus about the negative effects of sugar, big sugar companies did not need to cover anything up. Instead, they simply needed to maintain this level of uncertainty (3). With large PR schemes, these companies wanted to maintain the notion that sugar was safe for consumption (6).

Eventually, however, as we know today, the truth did come out: sugar can cause conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Regardless, americans and other people around the world continue to eat the sweetener in great quantity (See figure on the left). Because of this, obesity has risen concurrently. In our little study, we saw that people typically enjoy a good deal of sugar in their chocolate. When I asked the subjects to rank our six chocolates, there was a strong correlation between enjoyability and sugar content.

Conclusion

The way in which chocolate has been prepared and consumed has drastically changed overtime. Notably, today, we use a lot more sugar to prepare chocolate. Thus, people today recognize chocolate for the creamy and sweet flavors of milk and sugar.

On a positive note, these changes broke down the class structure associated with chocolate. No longer is chocolate reserved for the wealthiest and most noble. People of all ages, classes, and genders love and enjoy the treat.

On a darker note, the increased sugar content in chocolatey treats have contributed to the health defects caused by too much sugar consumption. In the 20th century, we saw a steep increase in obesity and that effect has a direct link link to sugar consumption.

Regardless of how you interpret this trend, you cannot refute the claim that we consume and see chocolate in a drastically different way than how it was when it was first introduced to europeans. These drastic changes walked foot by foot with the increase in sugar’s role in both chocolate consumption and our daily diets as a whole.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 1996.

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey. Simon & Schuster 2006.

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power.. Penguin Books, 1985.

Taubus, Gary and Kearns Couzens, Kristin. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Lies.” Mother Jones.  November/December 2012.

Sugar-Free Chocolate: An interview with a chocolate lover who can’t eat chocolate

“Chocolate is sensual, it’s attractive, it’s flavorful, it’s palatable, it’s elegant, and it’s pretty; that’s why I like it”.  Many can agree with this description of chocolate shared by the interviewee and may feel the urge to eat a piece after reading this statement. Unfortunately, the interviewee can’t share this urge and even though he’s very attracted to it, he can’t eat chocolate due to its sugar content. Sugar and other sweeteners have been added to chocolate recipes since its invention, some might argue that chocolate without some sort of sweetness is not chocolate at all. Some contemporary chocolate companies have found alternatives to sugar and added them to their products, marketing them as sugar-less. But for someone like the interviewee, it can be very hard to find a safe option when consuming this delicious treat, risking his health for a small bite.

A Life Without Sweets

The interviewee is a middle-aged man who grew up and lives in South America. He shares a genetic illness with two of his sisters, they can’t eat sweet foods without endangering their health. None of their children or grandchildren have inherited this biological sensitivity to sugar. He calls it an allergy to fructose or an allergy to sugar, but after repeated medical tests done throughout his lifetime, the cause remains a mystery and there hasn’t been a formal diagnosis. Even though he has lived his entire life without sweets, this hasn’t stopped his curiosity from trying them and enjoying them, especially when it comes to chocolate.

“My body is programmed to reject sweets” he said. No one told him he couldn’t eat sugar; he always knew he couldn’t have it and got used to excluding it from his diet. He explains how his reaction to sugar has changed over time, now he immediately gets diarrhea and stomach pains, but when he was a child, he would face a sudden fall in his blood pressure inducing vomiting, convulsions and symptoms closely resembling anaphylaxis. “I almost died once; I fell into a short coma. I survived because the doctors knew of this illness through my older sisters”. He was given medication to increase his blood pressure during every episode, saving his life, but leaving him feeling weak for the following days. Due to this, he got used to avoiding sugar at an early age.

Picturing a childhood without eating sugary treats is almost unimaginable, it even seems cruel if you’re the only one who can’t eat them. He grew up watching his schoolmates eat candy, lollipops, cakes, chew gum, and drink hot chocolate during first communions. He would be tempted to try them but knew he couldn’t. Yet, his curiosity didn’t stop him from tasting some of the desserts that attracted him the most, “I remember I was fascinated by chocolate covered vanilla ice cream bars. One day I secretly ate a whole one, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I got very sick and was afraid I’d get in trouble if I told my parents what I had done”. To curve his craving, he would find unconventional alternatives to sugary treats, sucking on natural gums or eating black licorice that had a bitter taste with a hint of sweetness. He was also able to satiate his need for sugar snacks by adding flour products, cheese and saltine crackers to his diet, but chocolate has always remained irreplaceable and fascinating to him.

Attraction to Chocolate

In the interviewee’s own words, “The two foods that attract me the most are cheese and chocolate, knowing that I can eat cheese, but I can’t eat chocolate. It still attracts me; I don’t care about not being able to eat it”. It attracts him more than ice cream, candy, cakes or any other desserts. He was introduced to chocolate as a child and has been able to try different varieties throughout his life. He is able to take small bites of chocolate and enjoy it in small doses, a ball of chocolate such as a Ferrero Rocher truffle can last him up to a week. Through small tastes, he’s been able to define not only which chocolate varieties he prefers and which ones he dislikes, but also those that are less damaging to his health. For example, he dislikes chocolates with fillings and caramel as well as dark bitter chocolate, but enjoys milk chocolate and white chocolate, which he can eat if they have small quantities of sugar. His favorite are mixes of milk with white chocolate due to these being less sweet.

When asked about how often he eats chocolate, he replied “Whenever I feel like it. Nowadays if I buy chocolate, I end up giving it away”. Yet even though he doesn’t purchase it most of the time, he described how he always visits the aisle with chocolates in the supermarket and also visits chocolateries, curious about new products available and attracted by their distinctive smell. His interest in chocolate despite his inability to safely consume it is undeniable.

Chocolate and Sugar

In order to understand the pervasiveness of sugar and sweeteners in chocolates found in the market today, it’s important to briefly go back in history when this practice first begun. According to Coe and Coe, cane sugar was introduced to Mesoamerica by the Spaniards, who craved sweetness (111-112). As told by Mintz, sugar was added by Europeans to bitter substances to make them taste sweet, since sweet substances were more appealing to new consumers than bitter ones (109).

Mesoamerican chocolate tasted very different from what we now consider chocolate, “chocolate was commonly (though not invariably) used as a food flavoring or sauce without sweetener in its original tropical American home” (Mintz 109). The Spanish influence quickly changed chocolate preparation at the time, “the cold, bitter, usually unsweetened drink had to undergo its own process of hybridization” (Coe and Coe 114). Therefore, the term chocolate was coined for a beverage drank hot and sweetened with cane sugar (Coe and Coe 117).  Chocolate recipes introduced to Europe after the Conquista included sugar as one of its main ingredients (Coe and Coe 122-166), and so it remained once chocolate bars began to be mass produced in the 19th century (Coe and Coe 231).

Nowadays world’s biggest chocolate brands that dominate the markets of Europe and North America feature a vast array of chocolate products sold in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, and themes (Leissle 73) containing sugar or sweeteners (Leissle 73-75). Sugar has been a prominent ingredient found in chocolate recipes since its popularization; accordingly, sweetness is now considered to be a characteristic and attractive quality of chocolate.

Sugar and Health

The consequences of eating sugary foods are not exclusive to the interviewee, they can affect everyone else’s health as well, especially when consumed in large quantities. Experts have argued that sugar doesn’t provide as many health benefits as it was originally thought, it’s considered to be harmful to one’s health instead (Albritton 343-344).

One of the early uses of sugar in Europe was as medicine, it was meant to cure illnesses such as “fever, dry coughs, pectoral ailments, chapped lips, and stomach diseases” (Mintz 99) as well as “chest coughs, sore throat, and labored breathings” (Mintz 105). Its use as medicine diminished during the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was mass produced for use as a sweetener and as a preservative (Mintz 108). These uses led to an even higher increase in the consumption of sugar (Mintz 108), especially when paired with other foods such as chocolate.

According to Taubes and Couzens’ article about the health effects of sugar, sugar consumption rates have steadily increased in the past decades, reaching an all-time high. This is not without consequence, as the percentages of obesity in children and of adults with obesity, heart disease and diabetes have greatly increased since 1980 (Taubes and Couzens). These changes are especially true in the United States, since “fat and sugar constitute 50 per cent of the caloric intake of the average American” (Albritton 343). Sugar was also found to be addictive; it’s been compared to tobacco addiction because it produces craving and many sweet products are easily affordable (Albritton 344). Yet government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture continue to consider sugar as safe (Taubes and Couzens), as a result, cheaper foods with sweeteners have become staples in the American diet (Albritton 343-345).

The Sugar-Free Chocolate Market

Chocolate is not exempt from the harmful effects of sugar, as Coe and Coe put it “As for obesity among so-called “chocoholics,” this would probably be the result of overindulgence in milk chocolate, which has high levels of sugar, in combination with a sedentary lifestyle” (34). On the other hand, there’s been an increasing interest in finding the health benefits of chocolate (Coe and Coe 34). As evidenced by Howe’s study of the Kuna case, some claims of the health benefits of chocolate have been based on wishful thinking rather than tangible evidence (Howe 50). Even though its effects in humans need to be studied further, there is a belief that “quality dark chocolate probably is good for you” (Coe and Coe 35).

The chocolate market has changed as a result of the increased awareness of the health effects of sugar and dark chocolate. In fact, it’s been predicted that dark chocolate sales will substantially increase over time (Leissle 10). As Leissle describes it, “Demand is rising for dark chocolate, with its lower sugar content (at least, lower than that of most milk chocolate and bonbons), and for chocolates that claim additional healthy properties, such as “raw” or organic” (9-10). This view is reminiscent of the interviewee’s observations on the contemporary chocolate market “Nowadays it’s easier to find chocolate without sugar because sugar is harmful to our health and also because there is a tendency towards organic and natural foods, especially in chocolate”.

Although we can now find several varieties of dark chocolate in convenience stores, drug stores, and supermarkets, finding sugar-free dark chocolate is still challenging. A look at the sugar-free dark chocolate varieties and a taste test of unsweetened chocolates available at Whole Foods Market can provide some insight on the difficulties the interviewee faces when searching for an alternative to traditional sweetened chocolate. Whole Foods Market was chosen due to the interviewee’s personal preference for organic foods and due to its vast array of chocolate products. The findings are as follows:

  • Sugar-Free Chocolates: In the candy aisle, twenty-one sugar-free chocolate bars were found made by five brands. They include alternative sweeteners such as honey (made by Cocofuel and Pure 7 Chocolate), stevia (made by Lily’s), maple syrup (made by Not Your Sugar Mamas Martha’s Vineyard), and coconut sugar (made by PrimalChocolate). These brands offer various flavors of sugar-free chocolate such as milk, dark, caramel, almonds, coconut, rice, raspberry, and lavender. There are also different percentages of cacao available, 40% for milk chocolate bars (two bars found) and 55% – 85% for dark chocolate bars (nineteen bars found). Each of these bars prominently display wording in the front of the packaging indicating the sweetener used instead of sugar, “Stevia Sweetened”, “No Sugar Added!”, “Sweetened Only with Honey!”, “Made with Organic Coconut Sugar”, “Free of Gluten, Dairy and Refined Sugar”.
  • Unsweetened Chocolates: In this case ‘unsweetened’ refers to chocolates without cane sugar or any sweeteners. Only two unsweetened chocolate bars were found in the candy aisle, 100% Cacao Pure7 Dark made by Pure 7 Chocolate and Midnight Coconut made by PrimalChocolate. Both bars contain 100% cacao and are marketed in the front of their packaging as “Artisanal Chocolate with No Added Sweetener” and “No Sugar Added Organic Certified” accordingly. In terms of ingredients, the main difference that exists between the two is that the Pure7 bar has Himalayan pink salt, while the PrimalChocolate bar has organic shredded coconut.

Twenty-three sugar-free chocolate bars were found in total, the great majority of them being dark chocolate. This number is low in comparison to the overwhelming variety of products and brands found in the candy aisle containing sugar. There are options available that fit each consumer’s individual taste preferences, yet the number of bars available pales in comparison to the number of bars that include sugar. It’s clear that these companies want to separate themselves from sugar to attract consumers, especially those knowledgeable about its harmful effects, but they can also be seen as novelties.

In terms of the interviewee, the alternative sweeteners added to the sugar-free bars mentioned above are too sweet for him to consume safely, leaving unsweetened bars as his only options. Even though there are two bars of unsweetened chocolate, he can only eat one of them without worrying about risking his health. Since the PrimalChocolate bar includes coconut, which he considers to be sweet, Pure 7 Chocolate’s bar is a better choice. Pure 7 Chocolate’s unsweetened bar maintains the consistency of chocolate, but its flavor is very faint and indistinct. Unfortunately, due to the lack of chocolate’s unique flavor in this bar and limited variety, we can predict that he would continue to be attracted to sweetened chocolate despite its risks.

Conclusion

Even though he has lived his entire life without being able to eat sweets, the interviewee considers chocolate to be attractive and unique. His medical condition and sugar’s harmful effects on his health haven’t stopped him from being able to enjoy chocolate, even if it is in minute quantities. Sugar’s harmful effects are not exclusive to him, they are widespread and becoming more prevalent as consumption continues to rise.

Sugar and chocolate appear to be linked since it’s invention and popularization, but the number of chocolate brands offering sugar-free varieties proves us that this doesn’t have to be the case anymore. Undeniably, replacing sugar with other healthier sweeteners in chocolate bars is a move on the right direction, but there aren’t enough unsweetened options available for those who can’t consume sweet foods like the interviewee. Chocolate manufacturers should consider not only seeking healthier options to sweeten their products, but also offering chocolate without sweeteners that are flavorful and cater to consumer’s varied taste preferences.

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and Culture: A Reader, Third ed., Routledge, 2013, pp. 342–352.

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

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, pp. 43–52., www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.43.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. 1st ed., Polity, 2018.

Piggylita. “Interview with a Chocolate Lover.” 21 April 2019.

Taubes, Gary, and Cristin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.” Mother Jones, 2012, www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/10/sugar-industry-lies-campaign/.

Multimedia Sources

Piggylita. “PrimalChocolate – Chocolate Bars Sweetened with Coconut Sugar.” 2019. JPEG file.

Piggylita. “Lily’s – Chocolate Bars Sweetened with Stevia.” 2019. JPEG file.

Piggylita. “Pure 7 Chocolate – Chocolate Bars Sweetened with Honey.” 2019. JPEG file.

Piggylita. “Not Your Sugar Mamas – Chocolate Bars Sweetened with Maple Syrup.” 2019. JPEG file.

Piggylita. “Cocofuel – Chocolate Bars Sweetened with Honey.” 2019. JPEG file.

Piggylita. “PrimalChocolate – Unsweetened Chocolate Bar.” 2019. JPEG file.

Piggylita. “Pure 7 Chocolate – Unsweetened Chocolate Bar.” 2019. JPEG file.

The Social Drink of the Spanish Elite: Chocolate and its Significance in the Enlightenment Era

The Enlightenment Era, also known as the Age of Reason, took place in Europe and North America prominently in the 17th and 18th centuries. This time period is most known for advancements in philosophy, art, and culture among educated intellectuals. The era is characterized by using reason and logic to question longstanding truths surrounding Christianity and science, as well as prevailing government practices, and freedoms surrounding the human condition (Power, 2002).

In the Salon of Madame Geoffrin in 1755 painted by Lemonnier in 1812

It is often overgeneralized that the “salon-like” philosophe social gatherings were similar in structure, however, during this period across Europe, patterns of socialization were unalike and individual in their own respects. Each gathering was unique to its region and largely influenced by cultural tradition with respect to chocolate. Out of all of the different social gatherings observed in the Western World during the Enlightenment Era, chocolate being served as a drink was most prevalent in the Spanish Tertulia social gatherings. Such gatherings played an essential role in shaping European Enlightenment culture, although this influence is often overlooked and underplayed.

Tertulias were social gatherings of the wider Spanish social classes where chocolate was served during the latter end of the 18th century Enlightenment Era (Samper 2001). These gatherings happened periodically, like a modern-day book club would convene, to discuss and debate current political issues, philosophical dilemmas, the arts, or even upcoming social gatherings such as bullfighting. These social gatherings took place in private, and semiprivate areas, and were an important catalyst for political, and cultural change in the Enlightenment era. Tertulias, in particular, were known for sharing and circulating various literary works and art. They shaped patterns of socialization, facilitated the exchange of ideas, and helped the spread of information amongst Spaniards with chocolate playing a pivotal role at such events.

A Gathering in Santiago, 1790 by Claudio Gay in 1854

Chocolate was first adopted by the upper classes of Spain as a type of entertainment drink. It became so popular especially among the noblewomen who hosted each other for social gatherings. This was in part because Spanish noblewomen were marrying French royalty, and the Jesuits were bringing over the custom of drinking chocolate (Llopis, 1998). Chocolate was a regular offering at such tertulias along with various sweets, pastries, ice cream, and shaved ice. Traditionally in Spain, chocolate refreshments were served hot and made with a water base; however, as the Enlightenment era progressed Spaniards started crafting the drink the French way by using milk. Chocolate was a central component to the offerings delivered and was deemed the star of the gathering as it was the trendiest drink to be served.

Hot Chocolate by Raimundo Madrazo y Garreta in 1884

These chocolate drinks were a signal of elegance, sophistication, and extravagance.. These chocolate refreshments were plentiful and free-flowing within the tertulia. Chocolate took on a prestigious, and rich connotation because the chocolate drinks at this time had become an important staple amongst the Catalan nobility. Chocolate was the favorited drink among the Spanish enlightenment socialites from the 16th century until the 18th century, when coffee became popular in a similar fashion to how chocolate had been served at social gatherings. Overall, chocolate was the prevailing favorited non-alcoholic drink of the Spaniards at these tertulias.

When one thinks of the Age of Reason, often the first thing that comes to mind is the French salons. Surprisingly, among the French philosophes, coffee was a more popular drink than chocolate (Coe, 2013). In Tastes of Paradise, Schivelbusch describes chocolate in Europe as being Catholic, aristocratic, and particularly southern, while coffee is described as northern, protestant, and middle class. It was truly at Tertulias in the south of Spain where chocolate drinking was so vital to the Spanish upper class. While chocolate was still being served in different forms in countries such as England, Italy, and America as part of food, medicine, and even poison at the time, chocolate took on a level of popularity in drink form in Southern Spain that was unseen anywhere else during the time. Chocolate drinks were essential to the Tertulias and played a central role in gathering Spaniards to discuss relevant Enlightenment issues.

Works Cited

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

“En Ce Moment Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture.” Lemonnier, Anicet-charles-gabrie ||| History ||| Sotheby’s N08952lot4csp3fr. Accessed March 22, 2019. http://www.sothebys.com/fr/auctions/ecatalogue/2013/old-master-paintings-n08952/lot.93.html.

Gay, Claudio, 1800-1873. Una tertulia en Santiago, 1840 . Disponible en Memoria Chilena, Biblioteca Nacional de Chile http://www.memoriachilena.gob.cl/602/w3-article-99696.html. Accedido en 3/21/2019.

Llopis, Manuel Martínez. Historia De La Gastronomía Española. Barcelona: Altaya, 1998.

Madrazo Y Garreta, Raimundo. Hot Chocolate. 1884.

Power, Marcus. “Enlightenment and the era of modernity.” The companion to development studies (2002): 65.

Samper, María de los Ángeles Pérez. “Spaces and practices of sociability in the eighteenth century: social gatherings, refreshments and coffee in Barcelona.” Notebooks of modern history 26 (2001): 11-55

DEMOCRATIZING CACAO INTO THE AMERICAN HOUSEHOLD

https://ispot.tv/a/7kif

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

Chocolate for the Elites

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

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

Cacao and Sugar

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

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

Entering the Realm of the Homemaker

A 1905 advertisement for Peter’s Original Swiss Milk Chocolate

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


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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Direct Citations


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

[2] Lucas.

[3] “Brownies.”

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

[5] Hill, xxiv.


[1] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 144.

[2] Mintz, 146.

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


[1] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 83.

[2] “Brownies.”

[3] “Brownies.”

[4] “Brownies.”

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


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

[2] Coe, 112.

British sugar: How we got here

It is no secret that sugar is a major part of the modern diet. In the United States, according to the CDC, “In 2005–2010, the average percentage of total daily calories from added sugars was 13% (average intake of 335 calories) for men and 13% (average intake of 239 calories) for women aged 20 and older” (“Know”). In Britain, according to the BBC, “The latest NDNS report found that all age groups were eating more added sugar (technically known as non-milk extrinsic sugars) than the 11% level but that children were exceeding it to the greatest degree” (Jeavens). The British have been consuming sugar long before the United States even came to be, so how did it become so prevalent in British diets? One potential reason for the run up in sugar consumption is the versatility of sugar and its uses. It could be used as medicine, spice-condiment, decorative material, sweetener, and a preservative (Martin, slide 12). Another potential reason is that slavery helped to produce sugar for cheap, and sugar duties that propped up the price of sugar were lifted, making sugar more accessible and cheaper for the people of Great Britain.

From 1700-1800, British sugar consumption jumped from about 4 lbs. per person in to 18 lbs. (Mintz 97). However, it grew even more rapidly from there. As you can see from Figure 1 below, sugar consumption has skyrocketed in Britain since 1800. In the early days of sugar, it was a luxury reserved for the rich. When it first came to Europe “around 1100 A.D., sugar was grouped with spices—pepper, nutmeg, mace, ginger, cardamom, coriander, galingale (related to ginger), saffron, and the like. Most of these were rare and expensive tropical (and exotic) imports, used sparingly by those who could afford them at all” (Mintz 111). Sugar, like these other spices, was quite expensive and hard to get. But, it uses were incredibly versatile. Sugar could be used as a spice, used in jams, used in tea and coffee, and used to sculpt subtleties. “By no later than 1800, sugar had become a necessity—albeit a costly and rare one—in the diet of every English person” (Mintz 32).

The Transatlantic Slave Trade, also known as Triangular Trade, aided in the spread of sugar because it could be produced for cheap. Since sugar was so profitable, colonizing countries used the West Indies to grow tons of sugar, and forced African slaves to grow it and work the land. As you can see in Figure 3, slaves flowed into the West Indies from Africa, and sugar (along with other goods) flowed into Europe and the American colonies. Much of the major economic trade was built on the backs of slaves—trade of which they never saw any benefit themselves as they were worked to death and sold to work in the fields as “property.” On top of the cruelty of slavery driving down production costs, after the 1870s, “the abolition of the sugar duties made sugar cheap and plentiful; jam contains 50 to 65 per cent of its weight in sugar…. Most of the produce of the jam and preserves factories was for domestic consumption…. Urban working classes…consumed much of their fruit in the form of jam” (Mintz 164). Thus, with sugar becoming less expensive thanks to the repeal of sugar duties, giving more people access to sugar at a lower cost.  Thus, “the jam manufacturers, with the exception of Blackwell and Chivers who made expensive preserves as well, agreed in 1905 that their most extensive and lucrative market lay in the working class to whom jam, once a luxury, had now become a necessity, and a substitute for the more expensive butter” (Mintz 164).

The versatility of sugar was very important to its rise, as well as its ability to fuel caloric intake. Men out working in the factories needed high amounts of protein in their diet in order to fuel their labor intensive work. Unfortunately, animal protein was expensive and hard to come by for the working poor. Thus, with the introduction of sugar, it was a cheaper way for the women and children of the family to meet some of their caloric needs. As shown in Figure 2 below, sugar was used as for caloric intake as well as energy to get yourself through the day. By 1900, sugar was about one-fifth of the calories in the English diet (Mintz 32).

Sugar has become a major part of our lives, and continues to grow on the world stage. “World sugar production shows the most remarkable upward production curve of any major food on the world market over the course of several centuries, and it is continuing upward still” (Martin, slide 3). There are many potential factors that caused the rapid rise of sugar, but I believe that its versatility, use as caloric fuel, and rise in production and the drop in price were major contributors that shaped the way sugar has affected our society. Sugar consumption doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and it’s hard to see it slowing any time in the near future.

FIGURE 1
SOURCE: Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 3).
FIGURE 2
SOURCE: Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 20).
FIGURE 3
SOURCE:
“The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” Crispus Attucks, Crispus Attucks on-Line Museum, 5 Nov. 2012, http://www.crispusattucksmuseum.org/the-transatlantic-slave-trade/.

Works Cited

Scholarly sources

-Jeavans, Christine. “How Much Sugar Do We Eat?” BBC News, BBC, 26 June 2014,

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27941325.

-“Know Your Limit for Added Sugars | Nutrition | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-

statistics/know-your-limit-for-added-sugars.html.

-Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of

Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation.

-Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Penguin Books, 1986, Apple Books.

Multimedia Sources

-Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of

Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 3).

-Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of

Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 20).

-“The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” Crispus Attucks, Crispus Attucks on-Line Museum, 5 Nov.

2012, http://www.crispusattucksmuseum.org/the-transatlantic-slave-trade/.

The Economic Impact of the Slave Trade on Great Britain and the rest of the world

Dominating primarily from the 17th century to the 19th century, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade shaped history in ways beyond one could imagine. During this time, we saw this sort of agricultural revolution take place in which the New World was cultivating many crops that were demanded on the global scale.  The increase in demand for these crops such as sugar, tobacco, cotton, and many more gave more prominence to the slave labor market in needing wide-scale labor to keep production up with demand (Hogendorn, 1984).  As this was a trade system, while slaves were being transported in mass numbers to the New World, West Africa was receiving things such as weapons, rum, textiles and more that they had not previously been able to acquire (Hogendorn, 1984). I give this brief history to give background to the Atlantic slave trade as a way of helping better understand what I am trying to convey. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade was vital in shaping history by changing the economic and social culture of countries across the world. The image below is powerful in showing just how massive the Atlantic slave trade was and the millions of enslaved people that were transported.

            In studying the economics of the slave trade, researchers have looked at the effects of these mass numbers of slave laborers on country’s agricultural production. Researchers Ralph Austen and Woodruff Smith discuss the effect of the Atlantic slave trade on the British economy, and specifically how the slave trade and sugar trade was vital in affecting this culture by changing British food consumption for a long time (Austen and Smith, 99). They show statistics on how in the late 17th century consumption was at around 4.6 pounds per person, and then show how in less than a century that number spiked to 16.2 pounds per capita (Austen and Smith,99). How does the slave trade factor into this? By the exchange of slaves into South America, Central America, and the Carribean allowing for much greater production of sugar and therefore provided greater trade opportunities that Great Britain acted upon as demand for sugar rose.

           These vast changes in consumption derive from changes in eating and drinking culture in Great Britain. Seen during this time period were different uses for sugar that were greatly popularized such as using in tea, coffee, in the production of chocolate, and much more. The graph below shows the consumption changes of tea during this time period in Great Britain and the great increase is directly correlated to the great increase in sugar production and consumption previously mentioned. Austen and Smith detail how this change in consumption changed the culture of Great Britain in this sugar consumption being a sign of respectability and higher social class (Austen and Smith 105). Sugar changed the way people interacted, and became a luxurious commodity in not only Britain but many European countries. Without the prominence of the slave trade, it is difficult to say if there would have been such a large economic and consequential cultural impact on Great Britain and the rest of Europe.

            An additional way in which the Atlantic slave trade transformed the culture and economy of Great Britain was through the British textile industry taking off. Joseph Inikori details in his work the statistics behind the textile industry’s growth in that it was one of the sparks of the Industrial Revolution. He specifically argues that while this industry boomed in Great Britain itself, the export market part of it proved difficult but was able to get itself off the ground through the Atlantic slave trade in many ways (Inikori 157). Inikori provides statistical evidence in that these cotton checks were able to produce goods that were valuable to the people of West Africa in the trade as well as providing much of the clothing material for slaves being transported across the world (Inikori 157).  By being a way to spark the export market in the textile industry in Great Britain, the slave trade was instrumental in facilitating the beginning of the Industrial Revolution that changed the future of production and economies not only in Great Britain but across the entire world. This map, opposed to the other map, gives much better description what was being traded and how the textile export from Europe and Great Britain specifically was an instrumental component of this massive trade network.

            On top of these specific examples of the economic impact of the Atlantic slave trade on not only Great Britain but around the world, more generally the slave trade set the framework for the economic potential of a slave labor system. This of course translated to the system of slavery seen in the United States for many decades as well as many parts of South and Central America that were plagued with intensive slave labor systems.  When reflecting upon this time period and the effects of the slave trade system, one must first acknowledge the moral horror of this time in the human race’s history as millions of innocent lives were thrown away at the expense of production. The slave trade though is responsible for providing many countries with a new economic impact through agriculture that transformed modern industrial systems as well as affecting countries’ cultures specifically through aspects such as social class hierarchies. In more ways than a few, the Atlantic slave trade changed the path of history as we know it.

Works Cited

Atlantic Slave Trade [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://historycei.pbworks.com/w/page/70660475/2Z ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE

Austen, R. A., & Smith, W. D. (1990). Private Tooth Decay as Public Economic Virtue: The Slave-Sugar Triangle, Consumerism, and European Industrialization. Social Science History, 14(1), 95-115. doi:10.2307/1171366

Engerman, S. L., & Inikori, J. E. (2007). The Atlantic slave trade: Effects on economies, societies, and peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Durham: Duke Univ. Press.

Hersh, J., & Voth, H. (2009, September 3). Tea Consumption 1690-1850 [Digital image]. Retrieved from https://voxeu.org/article/new-goods-malthusian-world-welfare-gains-coffee-tea-and-sugar

Hogendorn, J. S. (1984). The Economics of the African Slave Trade. The Journal of American History, 70(4), 854-861.

Slave Trade from Africa to the Americas [Digital image]. (2011, November 14). Retrieved from https://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/atlantic-slave-trade

The Rise of Sugar in England

In the contemporary western world sugar is a staple in the average diet. In every meal most people will consume sugar in some way or another. It can be consumed through a refreshing can of Coca-Cola during a meal or through that delicious piece of chocolate cake for dessert. The thought of not consuming sugar in ones diet seems impossible by today’s standard. However, there was a point in time where people almost never consumed sugar in their diet. Sidney Mintz provides a brief history of the rise in popularity of sugar, more specifically sucrose, when she writes

In 1000 A.D., few Europeans knew of the existence of sucrose, or cane sugar. But soon afterward they learned about it; by 1650, in England the nobility and the wealthy had become inveterate sugar eaters, and sugar figured in their medicine, literary imagery, and displays of rank. By no later than 1800, sugar had become a necessity- albeit a costly and rare one- in the diet of every English person; by 1900, it was supplying nearly one fifth of the calories in the English diet. (Mintz 5-6)

This increase in consumption over such a relatively short time period produces a number of questions. The idea that sugar could go from not being known to a main provider of calories in the English diet in a few hundred years is astonishing. This post looks to explore the various factors that lead to this growth and will analyze the English diet prior to sugar’s introduction as well as the rise of chocolate in England that contributed to the increase in sugar consumption.

The rapid rise in sugar consumption can be seen in the graph above

To understand the rise of chocolate in England one must first understand the diet the English population was consuming before introduced to sugar. It was at this time that “most people in England and elsewhere were struggling to stabilize their diets around adequate quantities of starch (in the form of wheat or grains)”(Mintz 13). Today this type of diet is known as “one starch ‘centricity’”(Mintz 14) and still today is what leads to a number of world hunger problems. With this in mind one is able to see how the introduction of sugar to the English population could have an effect not just because of the taste but the nutritional element as well. This is not to say that the taste, the sweetness of the sugar did not play a large part in the increase of consumption as well since sugar both “satisfies the human appetite for sweetness and contributes calories to our diet”(Galloway 437). Having the ability to satisfy our cravings for sweetness is a big deal seeing that many researchers believe that “there is a built in human likeness for sweet taste”(Mintz 14). In addition to this research “many scholars have promoted the thesis that mammalian responsiveness to sweetness arose because for millions of years a sweet taste served to indicate edibility to the tasting organism”(Mintz 15). Therefore, the rise of sugar in England during this time does not appear to be a random occurrence. One is able to see that sugar was a very dynamic resource to the English population at this time. However the caloric value and sweet taste many not be solely responsible for sugars growth.

The social aspect of chocolate displayed above

In addition to the qualities mentioned above, sugar consumption grew so rapidly as a result of new types of foods and drinks that were mixed well with it. Making its way around Europe was this new beverage that was gaining in popularity. This beverage was called the ‘chocolate drink’. “In France, chocolate was strictly for the aristocracy, while in England it was available to all those who had the money to pay for it, and it was on offer to all who patronized coffee-shops. Chocolate was becoming democratized”(Coe 166). The greater access that the English had to chocolate the greater their consumption compared to those in other countries. English consumption of chocolate would increase further when Johannes van Houten invented the cocoa press in 1828. With this invention “the age-old, thick and foamy drink was dethroned by easily prepared, more easily digestible cocoa. Van Houten’s invention…made possible the large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses, in both powdered and solid form”(Coe 235). This lead to a product more similar to what we know today a chocolate. It is in this form that cocoa was mixed with sugar along with other ingredients to make milk chocolate. It was also at this time that those in England began to mix sugar with other beverages, like coffee, and foods to add a sweeter taste. The combination of all these factors leads to the growth of sugar consumption in England.

Van Houten’s new form of chocolate

Sugar became popular in England at a time when so much change was occurring throughout the nation. As more and more people in England were exposed to the resource its popularity grew at an increasing rate. It was able to do this as a result of the caloric value it provided in addition to the natural sweetness it could provide to the human taste bud. With the help of the introduction of chocolate as well as other food and drinks, sugar was able to continue its expansion into other food groups until it became a staple of the English diet.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Galloway, J. H. “Sugar.” The Cambridge World History of Food, edited by Kenneth F. Kiple and Kriemhild Coneè Ornelas, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 437–449.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power : the Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.

All images taken from WordPress image media library

One Thousand Years of Sugar: The Transition from Medicine and Elite Consumption, to Everyday Life in Great Britain

Most of the Burden of Producing Sugar for the British Empire fell upon the shoulders of Slaves in British colonies like Barbados and other Islands in the West Indies

In today’s world, sugar is one of the most widely found consumables across the globe. From soda, to candy, baked goods, and everything in between, sugar’s presence in 21st century life is undeniable. But it hasn’t always been this way – less than a millennium ago, sugar was an item reserved for the very wealthiest of society. Viewing the historical change in sugar through the lens of the British Empire is an apt way through which to understand sugar’s rise to quotidien usage, both on the European continent, and across the world. Over time, sugar went from being utilized in British medicine and serving a luxury good for only the elites of the country, to firmly entrenching itself as a staple of mainstream British society. This change, which can in large part be attributed to the increased production of sugar across the British colonies, especially in the West Indies, represented a shift in the way sugar was perceived across the country and continent. Previously seen as an example of the chasm present between socioeconomic classes within the British Empire, sugar’s broad appeal and its versatile usages, from decorative material to spice, medecine, preservative, and finally sweetener, were predominantly responsible for its rise to prominence.

A Diagram Demonstrating the Spread of Sugarcane Cultivation, Originating in the Ganges River Valley

Sugar has been grown since as early as 500 B.C., where it was harvested in the Ganges River Valley of modern-day India. However, it took over 1,500 years for the substance to appear with regularity in Europe – the first example of which was seen entering through the port of Venice (Rivard, 422-423). When sugar first appeared on the European continent, its function was markedly different from what it has become in the 21st century. The arrival of sugar to the continent in the early 12th century was characterized primarily by its usage as an expensive, exotic spice, reserved for usage by only the most wealthy members of society (Mintz, 79-80).

A Portrayal of Sugar’s Initial Restrictions in the British Empire – Exclusively for the most Elite Members of Society

In the centuries that followed, sugar’s impact in the British Empire remained relatively minute, with the exception of its role in health and wellness. Sugar was frequently used as a cure for ailments, building off of many Islamic and Byzantine doctors’ proclivity for using the substance for medicinal purposes. Sugar’s place in the medical community of Europe and Britain specifically became so significant from the 13th century onward, that the expression “like an apothecary without sugar” became a commonplace phrase to describe a state of desperation (Mintz, 101). While the utilization of sugar as a remedy was not without its controversy, the English’s adaptation of the substance as a potential remedy to cure illness helped bring sugar into a more prominent role within the British Empire. Although its widespread consumption from a gastronomical perspective would not occur for several centuries, sugar’s importance within the medical and elite communities of the Empire helped set the stage for its emergence into everyday English life.

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/04/07/396664685/tea-tuesdays-how-tea-sugar-reshaped-the-british-empire

While its initial presence in the British Empire was restricted to only the most affluent elites of the period, the 1400s and 1500s saw a significant uptick in the harvesting of sugar, especially in the colonies of Great Britain (Rivard, 423). Although its status in the 1500s and 1600s remained that of an “object of a sustained vogue in Northern europe”, its consumption in England increased 5-fold in the ensuing century  (Godoy). A series of political events, like the Dutch Revolt and the loss of the Spanish Armada to the British also played a part in this shift. Coupled with the rampant popularity of sugar amongst those it was available to, the resulting effect was a significant uptick in the shipments of sugar from Barbados and the other British colonies of the West Indies (Rivard, 423). These shipments allowed British consumer culture to As this rise in sugar consumption continued, the British government steadily reduced the tax on the product through the 18th and 19th centuries, until it was completely eliminated in 1874. As a result, the per capita consumption of sugar rose from four pounds per year in 1700, to a jaw-dropping 90 pounds per year by 1900 (Rivard, 423). This over 20-times increase was a reflection of both the populous’ love of the substance, and the quickly growing sugar industry’s willingness to meet the demands, often by ethically questionable means.

A Graph Depicting the Immense Rise in Sugar Consumption in Great Britain

In order to keep up with the widespread desire for sugar across Great Britain, the Empire turned to slavery to help bridge the gap between supply and demand.  The slave trade, particularly in Jamaica, became an extremely lucrative endeavor, and a viable manner by which the British Empire could fulfill the desire for sugar amongst the British citizenry. A 1770s survey conducted by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, a member of the British parliament, revealed that 59 percent of Jamaica’s slave population was tasked with growing sugar, desperately trying to keep up with British demand (Thomas, 33). The number of resources that were dedicated to producing sugar in the islands of the Caribbean and West Indies was truly staggering. By the year 1773, Jamaica alone featured at least 775 sugar plantations across the 150 mile-long island, rendering the colony one of the most valuable components of the entire British Empire (Thomas, 33). This large-scale commitment to the manufacturing of sugar allowed the substance to become more and more prevalent in Great Britain, from drinks, to chocolate, and everything in between. This rise resulted in books like “Mrs. Hannah Glasse’s special confectionery cookbook”, produced in 1760 and outlining the variety of recipes incorporating sugar, finally available to the middle class of Britain (Mintz, 117). Even the poor citizenry of Great Britain had reason to supplement their diets with sugar. The preparation of “hasty pudding”, a type of oatmeal porridge, as well as molasses and tea, were quotidian treats for the working-class of the empire to enjoy sugar as well (Mintz, 118).

Hasty Pudding Was an Example of the Types of Foods that Even the Working Classes of Great Britain would Consume with Sugar

Compared to its initial appearance in the 1300s and 1400s, the prominence of sugar in Great Britain became practically incomparable by the late 1700s. Not only was there a revolution in the demand for the substance, but the British Empire, in response, markedly increased its production across the West Indies and Caribbean. Barbados and Jamaica were particularly responsible for the influx of sugar into Great Britain and Western Europe, often through slave labor or indentured servitude. These ethically questionable means were an inevitable step taken by the British Empire, who saw an opportunity to greatly increase the monetization of the “sugar colonies”, and meet the demand of the middle and working classes of Great Britain in the process. Initially a substance reserved exclusively for medicine, and only the most elite of British society, the ensuing centuries resulted in a country-wide, and continent-wide, obsession with sugar, that led to an increase of over 20-fold in the per capita consumption of Great Britain. The factors of consumer culture, political colonization, and evolving taste preferences, all played significant roles in this transformation. The case of sugar in Great Britain is an apt case through which to study these different conditions, and the effects they had across several centuries.


Bibliography

Photos

https://www.quora.com/What-s-the-biggest-mistake-ever-made-in-history?no_redirect=1

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-origin-of-sugar-cane

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/04/07/396664685/tea-tuesdays-how-tea-sugar-reshaped-the-british-empire

http://www.pilotguides.com/articles/a-short-history-of-slavery-and-sugar-cane-in-jamaica/

https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/historical-changes-in-british-sugar-consumption-and-potential-causes/

https://www.eater.com/2015/11/14/9724662/what-is-hasty-pudding

In Text Citations

Godoy, Maria – “Tea Tuesdays: How Tea + Sugar Reshaped The British Empire” https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/04/07/396664685/tea-tuesdays-how-tea-sugar-reshaped-the-british-empire

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and power : The place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin Books.

Rivard, C., Thomas, J., Lanaspa, M., & Johnson, R. (2013). Sack and sugar, and the aetiology of gout in England between 1650 and 1900. Rheumatology,52(3), 421-426.

Thomas, Robert Paul. “The Sugar Colonies of the Old Empire: Profit or Loss for Great Britain?” The Economic History Review, vol. 21, no. 1, 1968, pp. 30–45.



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Sugar: A Sweet Transformation

In the second millennium, the introduction of sugar transformed the Western diet. Today, the extreme rate of consumption is both a major health concern and a staple of the modern diet. Only a handful of centuries ago, sugar was a rare commodity reserved only to be used sparingly by the wealthy. Within time, however, production increased and with that came an increase in the accessibility of sugar. In the 18th century alone, British sugar consumption nearly quintupled (Mintz 67). Throughout Europe, sugar consumption transformed from a delicacy to an essential ingredient used as a sweetener, a medicine, and a preservative among other things. Today, we continue to experience the outcome of this landmark growth.

The figure shows a sharp and consistent increase in sugar consumption over time.

Sugar as a Spice

Historians estimate that sugar was first introduced in Europe around the turn of the 12th century. At the time, traders grouped the product with ‘spices’ (Mintz 79). This trend was matched in the kitchen as when studying the ‘cookbooks’ of the era, one can see that sugar was considered only but a ‘spice’ or condiment as they used it only in very small quantities in their recipes. This was due in large part to the exorbitant price of the new commodity. The product was only accessibly priced to the rich and even they struggled to afford it.

New Uses for Sugar

Soon, however, drawn by the natural human liking to sugar’s sweet flavor, people found ways to increase the production of sugar. By the 16th century, sugar had become more plentiful and more affordable. In turn, the product was no longer reserved to be used in small quantities by the wealthy (Mintz 86). Therefore, there were various new uses of sugar that emerged. First, artists used the the pure, white, and durable nature of sugar to make decorations (87). These artists would combine sugar with other foods to create sculptures such as animals or palaces (89). Due to sugar’s continued luxury status, these decorations gloriously boasted one’s class and wealth (95).

People still use sugar as a decoration today when they make chocolate bunnies or wedding cakes.

Second, many used the sweet stimulant, ironically, as a medicine. Today, experts agree that, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, sugary products can cause obesity (Coe 31). When sugar was first introduced to Europe, however, scholars pointed to the the medicinal lore of sugar referenced in classical Islamic texts (Mintz 96). Many went so far as to argue that sugar was a type of panacea. Soon, the stimulant was a staple of apothecaries across Europe (101).

Additionally, sugar was used as a preservative. Sucrose, the chemical compound found in sugar, has a capacity to draw out moisture. This prevents microorganisms from developing a breeding environment (Mintz 123). Thus, sugar can be used as a seal for edible materials against destructive bacteria. Recognizing this, people used sugar to protect an array of edible goods ranging from fruits to cheeses. This revolutionized the shelf life of nearly every food, thus impacting the common diet of Europeans.

Human’s fundamentally and innately enjoy the sweet taste of sugar. Watch this baby’s first taste of sugar! The natural appeal made sugar a useful sweetener.

Perhaps the most important usage of sugar, however, was as a sweetener. This effect was highlighted in juxtaposition to the introduction of exotic products such as coffee, tea, and chocolate (Mintz 108). In the 13th century, a Marco Polo led expedition connected the Western world to the Silk Road, a trade route that traversed Asia. Two centuries later, Christopher Columbus sailed the Santa Maria to the New World. These new discoveries introduced Europe to a myriad of new foods and flavors. These culinary discoveries famously include modern staples such as tea, coffee, and chocolate. All three of these products were introduced to Europe with luxurious undertones; the exotic nature of these products naturally made them delicacies that were associated with the wealthy and thus heavily sought after. Each has a bitter taste, however, that can be repulsive at first. People needed a second flavor to sell their taste buds on these products (109). Their solution was sugar: a flavor so sweet and naturally appealing to the human tongue that it can save any bitter flavor. This preference shined in arguably the most pivotal centuries of culinary history. With newfound globalization, new foods and beverages were being introduced and incorporated into daily life at a staggering pace (120). With these new food and beverages came new tastes and new urges to enjoy different tastes. At that moment, sugar shined as the great sweetener that it is. It no longer was the rare spice of the 12th century but an ingredient of foundational importance in everybody’s diet.

Concluding Thoughts

Sugar consumption in Europe rose brilliantly in the 2nd millennium in Britain and the rest of Europe with wonders such as candy decorations and delicious chocolate. The joyful increase in consumption emerged hand-in-hand with a darker rise of production. With a big, untapped market for sugar, people needed to find ways to produce the crop more plentifully in the middle of the millennium. The dark solution to this problem was slavery. Europeans stole people from Africa to be used as slaves in the Caribbean to produce enough sugar to match the demand at home. The two ends of the Gulf Stream showed two very different realities of sugar. While Europeans enjoyed the sweet taste of sugar at home, African slaves were victims of the cruel business of sugar production in the Caribbean. Each sweet grain of the final product was sadly built on the shoulders of men who dare dream of nothing sweeter than freedom. The legacy of this tragedy today is a continued, heavy sugar trade imbalance where poor countries like India tend to produce most of the sugar and rich countries like the U.S. consume more than their share (USDA). The ubiquitous sugar universe we live in today is all thanks to centuries of injustice, and the health issues that arise from the modern rate of consumption are perhaps a late piece of karma that is pounding down the foothold of the sugar industry.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 1996.

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power.. Penguin Books, 1985.

United States Department of Agriculture. Sugar: World Markets and Trade. November 2018.

An Analysis on the Significant Increase of Sugar Consumption in England

Before the discovery of sugar, many Western societies had meals that were centered around common carbohydrates. Sidney Mintz, one of the founders of the Anthropology Department at Johns Hopkins University, stated, “The most striking [aspect of the] English diet at that time was its complete ordinariness and meagerness…. Most Europeans produced their own food locally” (74). The majority of families in Britain did not eat rare foods, or even meat, dairy, or fruit. The most common foods in British households stemmed from grains and starches. Members of the nobility and wealthy families were able to obtain and dine with more extravagant foods, since they could afford to purchase them from distant locations. Accordingly, when sugar was discovered and brought to European civilization in the mid-1600s, only this wealthy class of people had access to it. There was a sense of power and high social status that coincided with the ability to consume such a product. After over a hundred years, there was a large shift in the British appetite for sugar. British consumption of sugar accelerated at almost an exponential level from the mid-1800s to the end of the 20th century, which was caused by newly discovered uses of sugar, increased access to sugar by the working and lower classes, and the plantation system that was implemented in the Caribbean, allowing for the mass production of sugar.

Sugar consumption increased at almost an exponential rate after the mid-1800s in England. The two major dips in sugar consumption were due to World War I and World War II.

Source: Johnson, Richard J. et al, Sugar Intake per Capita in the United Kingdom

When sugar reached the families of Western society, several uses were discovered that made sugar a vertaile product. Mintz stated, “In 1000 AD, few Europeans knew of the existence of sucrose, or cane sugar. But soon after they learned about it; by 1650, in England the nobility and the wealthy had become inveterate sugar eaters, and sugar figured in their medicine, literary imagery, and displays of rank” (5). Members of the nobility deemed sugar to be much more than a food with a new, distinct taste. Sugar had medicinal value and was used for a variety of ailments. This medical association was derived from Greek medical practices that were embraced by many British physicians. Discussing the history of sugar, The Guardian published, “[Sugar’s]  consumption rose rapidly among European populations from the 17th century. Like tea, coffee, tobacco, chocolate and rum, it had physiological, consoling effects, particularly in children.” The consumers of sugar had many positive associations with the product and believed that it played a pivotal role in the healing process. This association of sugar and healing continued for centuries. In addition to the medicinal value placed on sugar, there were several other important uses that the British realized. Mintz stated, “Sucrose can be described initially in terms of five principal uses or ‘functions’: as medicine, spice-condiment, decorative material, sweetener, and preservative” (78). Even though in today’s era sugar as a sweetener seems to be a given, in the 1800s, sugar was even more useful as a spice. Sugar was presented to Europeans along with the other spices that were seen as rare at that time. The modern association of sugar being a main determinant of taste was a construct developed many years after sugar had been ingrained in European cultural and dietary habits. The various uses of sugar that the British explored made it extremely popular. Vincent Mahler stated, “With the turn of the nineteenth century the sugar boom seemed likely to continue indefinitely: colonial sugar was England’s single most important import in every year from 1703 until 1814” (473). The British were infatuated with the idea of sugar, and they began to associate it with all realms of life: religion, nutrition, politics, gender, and sexuality.

The British elite and wealthy were the first individuals in England to be introduced to sugar. They believed that the consumption of sugar was a representation of their high social status. Sugar was served with several foods and beverages, including tea.

Source: Tenre, Henry, Five O’Clock Tea

The largest growth in sugar consumption occurred when the working and lower classes gained access it. Access to sugar was expanded due to the mass production of sugar, which made each serving cheaper, the production of lower quality, less refined sugar, and the increase in wages of the working class. David Richardson stated, “Contemporary writers referred also to the wider use of meat, tea, and sugar in northern working-class diets. Such dietary changes were made possible by relative improvements in real wages after 1750 in industrializing counties” (752). These areas focused on industrialization gave the working class the ability to pay for sugar and utilize many of the aspects of sugar enjoyed by the wealthy. One of those aspects of sugar that was used heavily by the working class once the use of sugar became more widespread was its function as a preservative. Mintz stated, “Sweetened preserves, which could be left standing indefinitely without spoiling and without refrigeration, which were cheap and appealing to children, and which tasted better than more costly butter with store-purchased bread, outstripped or replaced porridge” (130). It saved time for wives in working and lower class families that had jobs outside of the home. This use of sugar as a preservative made the product even more appealing to families who already were drawn to the taste itself. Tea, which was also considered a luxury in Europe when it was first introduced, had trickled down to the realm of the working class and had been used in conjunction with sugar. Richardson stated, “Explanations for the growth of British sugar consumption and its divergence from continental levels have largely focused upon changes in taste and diet, particularly the growth of tea and coffee drinking in Britain” (748). This phenomenon led to the increased use of sugar as well.

The growing domestic demand of sugar in Britain was met because of the foothold the British established in the slave trade and the plantation system in the Caribbean. Slaves worked in unbearable conditions and were essential to mass production.

Source: Clark, William, Slaves Cutting the Sugar Cane

With the growing interest and consumption of sugar, production needed to be expanded in order to meet the demand. The British used the slave trade as an avenue to meet their economic goals, and they were viewed as being at the forefront of capitalizing off of the institution of slavery. Mintz stated, “England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system. The most important product of that system was sugar” (38). The British recognized the opportunity to not only meet the increasing demand of the country, but also profit off of the use of free labor. They established plantations throughout the Caribbean, beginning in Barbados and expanding into Jamaica, transporting millions and millions of slaves to produce sugar in mass quantities. Richardson stated, “Published estimates have suggested that British traders may have carried between 2.5 and 3.7 million slaves from African between 1701 and 1807” (741). The production of the large amounts of sugar that was dependent upon slave labor allowed the British to meet the growing demand for sugar domestically, while also allowing them to export the product past the country’s borders. Mahler stated, “Britain’s possessions in the Caribbean had entered the nineteenth century as perhaps her most valuable foreign economic interest” (474). The British dominance in the Caribbean boosted England’s economy and expanded its reach as an economic and political world power.

Sugar served as a very powerful and influential tool in Britain, especially after the beginning of the 19th century. Even though the wealthy families of England were the first to be introduced to sugar, it quickly garnered traction throughout the country and was popularized as a food that many individuals in Western society wanted access to. With its versatile functionality as a medicine, spice, sweetener, preservative, and decorative material and its associations with religion, politics, and wealth, sugar became one of England’s most popular commodities. As demand increased and the working and lower classes had access to the product, Britain established a strong foothold in the slave trade and the plantation system in order to meet their domestic demands and profit off of the increased international consumption of sugar.

Works Cited:

“Britain Is Built on Sugar: Our National Sweet Tooth Defines Us.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 12 Oct. 2007.

Clark, William. Slaves Cutting the Sugar Cane. Antigua, 1823.

Johnson, Richard J, et al. “Potential Role of Sugar (Fructose) in the Epidemic of Hypertension, Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, Kidney Disease, and Cardiovascular Disease.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 86, no. 4, 1 Oct. 2007, pp. 899–906.

Mahler, Vincent A. “Britain, the European Community, and the Developing Commonwealth: Dependence, Interdependence, and the Political Economy of Sugar.” International Organization, vol. 35, no. 3, 1981, pp. 467–492.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking, 1985.

Richardson, David. “The Slave Trade, Sugar, and British Economic Growth, 1748-1776.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 17, no. 4, 1987, pp. 739–769.

Tenre, Henry. Five O’Clock Tea. Paris, 1906.