Tag Archives: #sugar

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.

Pot May be the New “Sugar”: The Rise of Cannabis Chocolate

The combination of sugar and chocolate used to be the most pleasing with sugar consumption skyrocketing, mostly through the consumption of chocolate. Now the combination of chocolate and marijuana is beginning to have the same effect. Sugar was initially added to beverages such as tea and coffee and grew more popular after joining with chocolate. The historic consumption curve of sugar can be used to predict future marijuana consumption. Pot could become the sugar of this century. Similar to sugar and chocolate, marijuana has taken on medicinal uses. Its legalization in many states is analogous to when sugar became cheaper and more readily available. A n expanded market of people now can partake in chocolate and pot in cannabis chocolates. With the combination of marijuana and chocolate entering the market, its uses are similar to sugar’s, which is also often added to chocolate and cacao is becoming a conduit for a new type of drug as edibles sales are on the rise. The similarities between sugar and cannabis do not end there because their uses extend beyond just their addition to chocolate, such as expansion and marketing strategies. Noting this parallel between sugar and marijuana is helpful in considering how cannabis may be used in the future, perhaps being added to drinks or facial creams to appeal to a broader audience and create a pot revolution. 

Sugar was thought to have medicinal properties, which aided in its mass consumption and demand. When sugar first entered diets, the majority of English people did not consume enough food or the right kinds of food. They suffered nutritional deficiencies due to lack of income or food safety. However, cane sugar started as a luxury and supplemented their diets (Coe & Coe, 2013). Sugar was seen as medicinal, as it was an ingredient in many medicines and could be applied to open wounds (Coe & Coe, 2013). The taste was pleasing, and some would use it to help consume their bitter medicine. The movie Mary Poppins depicts how sugar played a role in a health context.

The lyrics “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” explain how sugar can sweeten the bitter taste of medicine and improve mood afterwards. Demand grew and production expanded; eventually sugar became cheaper and more available. It was added to cereal in breakfast, trail mix in afternoon snacks, salad dressing, and many beverages. In 1910, one-fifth of the English diet calories came from cane sugar (Martin, 2019). Although sugar today is seen as contributing to the obesity epidemic in America, its medicinal properties aided in its wide popularity historically, and one of the favorite things it was added to was chocolate beverages and bars. Before comparing sugar to cannabis, it is important to provide context for one of the ways in which sugar has been used.

Marijuana also has served medicinal purposes. The whole marijuana plant or just extracts can be used to treat specific sicknesses. There are chemicals in marijuana called cannabinoids. The main psychoactive ingredient is delta 0 tetrahydrocannabinol, abbreviated THC, that gives people a “high” (Huddelston, 2019). Chocolate contains cannabinoid and anandamide, a neurotransmitter that affects the same structure as THC in Cannabis (Parker et al., 2006). Cannabidiol CBD, on the other hand, is in marijuana from the hemp plant but does not cause a high” (Huddelston, 2019). These properties of marijuana have led to two FDA-approved medications that contain cannabinoid and used to relieve anxiety, chronic pain, seizures, and acne. Animal studies have even shown that parts of marijuana can help kill cancer cells (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018). Marijuana has been recognized for nutritional benefits as have chocolate and sugar; it is accepted as a way to treat specific illnesses and is featured in many medications.

It is perhaps logical then that the food to which sugar and marijuana have been added has a similar relation to medicine. Chocolate also was believed to have medicinal properties as it contains antioxidants and can improve mood. Mesoamericans acknowledged chocolate as healthy. Mayan warriors would wear cacao pods on their belt to give them energy for battle (Martin, 2019). Also, it was used as medicine to treat seizures and fevers. Cacao could be combined with many ingredients, such as pepper and honey, to form botanical remedies (Coe & Coe, 2013). The Spanish even thought that chocolate had the potential to increase chances of becoming pregnant so it was used in many rituals. Cacao was seen as nourishing and still is thought to have aphrodisiac qualities. Men gift it to women on Valentine’s Day for this reason. Sugar and chocolate both developed their popularity partly due to the medicinal properties associated with their consumption.

While sugar and chocolate may seem different from a drug like marijuana, they have addictive properties and chocolate could be considered a drug. Chocolate affects neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin that deal with mood regulation and appetite. It contains flavenols, a physiologically active plant compound (Mintz, 1986). Flavenols in cocoa can help with cardiovascular diseases and blood clotting. In addition, caffeine and theobromine affect consumers psychologically (Mintz, 1986). Although the amount of anandamide is minuscule, chocolate is so addicting and mind altering that some do consider it a drug. A Belgian chocolatier Dominique Persoone even created a device to snort cocoa powder as one would do to intake a drug (Youtube, 2010).

The video shows how the chocolate shooter can be used by putting cocoa snuff powder on the spoon and catapulting it into the nose to create a chocolate high. Chocolate has many drug-like properties and it makes for the perfect delicious addition to conceal the weed flavor of cannabis.

The mixture incites calm, happy feelings as shown in this meme (Davidwolfe, 2015).

The demand for recreational marijuana is growing, and the combination of cannabis and chocolate is a popular one. Just as sugar and chocolate had medicinal properties and were combined, marijuana and chocolate are now being added together.

In the same way that sugar and chocolate were viewed as medicinal and a dietary supplement for the British, cannabis chocolate is being marketed as a health product. One example of a cannabis chocolate brand is “Good Vibes” (Freeman, 2019).

The label shows a beach and indicates the relaxed feeling that comes with consuming the delicious product.

There are several other similar successful brands, such as “Therapeutic” and “Leif Goods.” “This is Not Pot” targets consumers by playing up the health benefits of the product.

The edibles are sold in a vitamin-like container (Vegan CBD Gummies).

They are made of hemp but sweetened with maple sugar, raw cacao, and contains the herb ashwagandha (Vegan CBD Gummies). Its bottle contains the words “chill af,” “cbd,” “happy hemp,” and “not pot.” It is technically “not pot” because it only contains CBD. THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid but is not an ingredient. The way “not pot” is sold in a vitamin container depicts it as a dietary supplement to calm spirits. Products containing marijuana are increasing in popularity, but there still are flaws in edibles.

Sugar, chocolate, and marijuana are similar in how their consumption expanded. One of the main ways sugar was consumed was in chocolate. While chocolate was mostly consumed by the elite in in Baroque Europe, it was enjoyed more broadly in England (Martin, 2019). During the democratization of chocolate in England, “chocolate houses” emerged where people could converse about politics or social matters over a chocolate drink (Coe & Coe, 2013). People grew fond of the sweet taste, and many alterations of the treat formed. In 1828, the Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houton invented the hydraulic press, which produced solid chocolate by withdrawing cocoa butter from the beans (Coe & Coe, 2013). This creation led to the first chocolate bar in 1847; subsequently small candies featured chocolate and sugar (Coe & Coe, 2013). New inventions during the industrial revolution, such as the steam engine, allowed for mass cheap chocolate production. 

Analogous to when sugar became cheaper and more accessible due to the slave trade, marijuana is now becoming more accessible due to legalization in many states. Sugar was never illegal but was limited to the elite class due to high prices and shortages (Mintz, 1986). Marijuana was limited to only those who needed it for health reasons but is now fully legal in ten states (Forbes, 2018). Other states have legalized medical marijuana or have allowed for CBD products, which can be used to treat anxiety or muscle pains but do not cause a high. Both medical and recreational marijuana sales have added to $125 million in January this year, approximately 6% higher than sales in January 2018 (Mitchell, 2019). Millennials are now using pot in social circumstances just as sugar and chocolate were consumed in groups in the past. The relaxation of marijuana laws has allowed for it to be more socially acceptable to smoke. Only 25% of millennials smoke alone as of 2018, and the percentage of 12th graders who use marijuana daily has risen (Paul, 2018). Recently, marijuana consumption has increased similar to the past spike in sugar consumption.

Just as chocolate production technology became more advanced and allowed for branching products from chocolate beverages, the production of cannabis chocolate is experimenting with new methods to create different products. Factories combine chocolate with cannabis in varying ratios of THC to CBD, with the most common being 1:1 (Freeman, 2019). “To whom it may cannabis” focuses on creating nutty truffles and boozy bon bons.

The video shows how they start their creations by first mixing cannabis oil and coconut oil.

They use graduated cylinders, distillation apparatuses, flasks, and pipettes. The most difficult part of the process it to control temperature to avoid “blooming,” which is when a layer of sugar forms on top of the chocolate (Chester, 2019). There is an intricate process to make the products as it is even more complicated than making pure chocolate given the presence of cannabis. Successful brands often have strict regulations on ingredients, methods, and recipes in order to assure their products do not have varying ratios of drugs and different effects, but the process will be altered as brands work toward various products containing cannabis to satisfy demand.

Chocolate sweetened with sugar and chocolate containing marijuana have been used to target specific emotive effects.  One example of example of sugary chocolate changing emotions in people is in Snickers commercials.

The marketing campaign includes the slogan “You are not you when you are hungry.”

The commercial depicts how the treat can not only make you feel different but literally transform you into a different person.  Now companies have added cannabis to delicious chocolate and have altered the recipes to target specific mind-altering effects in consumers. Chocolate conceals the “weedy” taste and blends well with hemp CBD oil. 1906 Chocolates markets “new highs” (Chester, 2019). They offer products with names such as “high love” and “pause.” “High love” plays on the aphrodisiac quality of chocolate. It is composed of herbs that increase blood flow to the pelvic and thus lead to more sexual desire. “Pause” makes one feel relaxed and relieves anxiety. “Midnight” is to help with pain and insomnia; it is made of the plant corydalis (Chester, 2019). “Bliss” improves energy and attitude. Finally, “go” is packed with caffeine, the amino acid l-theanine, THC, and CBD. Therefore, it increases energy and can be used for athletes. A new brand Serra offers a completely customizable experience for its customers. People can enter their stores and fill out a card describing what feelings they desire (Giller, 2017).

The image shows a “feeling card,” where customers document what kind of product they want.

Sugar and marijuana have played similar roles in diets by being added to chocolate in order to achieve a specific emotive change.

While they have played similar roles in diets, sugar and marijuana both have taken on multiple purposes in society. When people from all classes were introduced to sugar and chocolate, sugar gained even more uses than just a sweetener and medicine (Mintz, 1986). Sugar also was a preservative, decoration, and spice. It was used to preserve jams and jellies, preventing the growth of yeasts and other microorganisms. It was also a main ingredient, not only in decadent desserts but in decorative centerpieces on tables. The versatile ingredient was used a spice to season foods such as meat, similar to how salt is used. Sugar was versatile and accessible, which is why its consumption accelerated from zero to millions of tons annually; marijuana is beginning to show the same properties. From this combination of chocolate and cannabis, there are potential new uses and wide marketability. There is potential for cannabis chocolate to be used in many facets of life, since it can be a workout enabler by increasing energy or a sleep aid by relaxing muscles. Serra employs a chocolatier in addition to a compliance officer to make sure they are following legal medical and recreational marijuana laws (Giller, 2017). Their stores are clean, organized, and respectable, which leads to a mass appeal and avoids making marijuana seem illicit.

The products are featured in chic glasses with “quality drugs” written on leaves to resemble marijuana plants.

For Serra, cannabis has already spread beyond chocolate. They sell pre-rolls, concentrates, topicals, and soaking salts (Forbes, 2018). Chocolate was immediately loved for its aphrodisiac qualities and medicinal properties in the past. Now weed is being taken advantage of as people enjoy choosing the feelings the drugs will bring and are open to different types of products. Soon marijuana will be featured in more skincare products, drinks, pills, shampoos, and edibles.

Sugar and marijuana have commonalities in medicinal uses, expansion, and role in diets. The main overlap is their popular addition to chocolate. Sugar in the 1800s resembles pot today. Its consumption was limited initially, but later it was used in various contexts and consumed in great quantities. Marijuana’s consumption was illegal except for medical purposes until recently, and it is now being added to chocolate. Sugar and marijuana have played similar roles in diets by causing a change of emotions, and their uses have greatly expanded. Just as sugar was used as a decoration, preservative, sweetener, spice, and medicine, marijuana is being added to chocolate and now skincare products and beverages along with medicine. CBD can be extracted from cannabis and hemp plants to be added to pills, vaporizers, creams, shampoos, cocktails, and more. Pot is becoming as mainstream as sugar did when it became more affordable. The striking similarities between sugar and marijuana provide insight into how cannabis use may expand even further in the future.

Works Cited

Chester, Britt. “Cuckoo for Cannabis: 1906 Chocolates Aim for Specific Effects.” Westword, 4, 14 Mar. 2019, http://www.westword.com/marijuana/1906-edibles-aim-for-specific-marijuana-effects-in-chocolate-and-beyond-11235027.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013 [1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition.         London: Thames & Hudson.

Freeman, Jeremy. “Best CBD Chocolate: Who Won Our Taste Award.” Pure Green Living, 2019, puregreenliving.com/best-cbd-chocolate.

Giller, Megan. “This High-End Edibles Startup Targets A New Kind Of Cannabis Consumer.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 20 Apr. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/megangiller/2017/04/20/this-high-end-edibles-startup-targets-a-new-kind-of-cannabis-consumer/#33d261647313.

Huddleston, Tom. “Why People Love CBD – the Cannabis Product That Won’t Get You High.” CNBC, CNBC, 10 Nov. 2018, http://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/09/what-is-cbd-these-popular-cannabis-products-wont-get-you-high.html.

Humphries, Barbara Sally. “Spoon Full of Sugar – Mary Poppins.” YouTube, YouTube, 24 May 2008, www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrnoR9cBP3o.

Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao.’” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 13 Feb. 2017. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

Mitchell, Thomas. “Marijuana Sales on Pace for New Heights in 2019.” Westword, 4, 12 Apr. 2019, http://www.westword.com/marijuana/colorados-2019-marijuana-sales-on-fast-pace-11266948.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Marijuana as Medicine.” NIDA, June 2018, http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana-medicine.

Parker, Gordon, et al. “Mood State Effects of Chocolate.” Journal of Affective Disorders, Elsevier, 20 Mar. 2006, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016503270600084X.

Paul, Kari. “Why Millennials Prefer Cannabis to Booze: ‘Zero Enjoyment out of Drinking’ (and Pot’s Cheaper, Too).” MarketWatch, 27 Oct. 2018, www.marketwatch.com/story/millennials-appear-to-like-cannabis-more-than-booze-2018-09-26.

“Snickers Commercial – Football – You Are Not You When You Are Hungry.” YouTube, YouTube, 19 Dec. 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbpFpjLVabA.

“The Science of Chocolate and Cannabis: How They Combine To Make Powerful Medicines.” DavidWolfe.com, 11 Oct. 2015, http://www.davidwolfe.com/the-scientific-secrets-of-chocolate-and-cannabis-how-and-why-chocolate-and-cannabis-are-medicines/.

“Vegan CBD Gummies, 30-Day Supply.” Not Pot, notpot.com/products/vegan-cbd-gummies.

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

From Foam to Milk: The History of Chocolate Ingredients

March 2019, Multimedia Essay 1,

Around 1500 BCE, the Olmecs discovered cacao, which was later introduced to the Maya and Aztecs and eventually reached Europe and the United States (Coe & Coe, 2007). The way in which chocolate was made throughout time remained relatively similar; however, the ingredients that were used in the different regions and time periods differed. Depending on where one lived and the geographical and economic conditions of that region, the specific ingredients aside from the cacao pods were unique. While some individuals added more flowers and/or chili, others added more cinnamon and/or milk. This continuous addition of different ingredients slowly transformed chocolate to what we know it as today (Coe & Coe, 2007).

Chocolate Food Products

Maya and Aztec Chocolate:

Earlier civilizations such as the Maya and Aztecs placed great importance on the froth-producing process. By transferring the liquid from one vessel to another at a specific height, foam would be produced. The foam was considered to be the most favorable part of the chocolate drink (Coe & Coe, 2007). The image depicted below, as well as other evidence from the period, demonstrates that both the early and late Maya and Aztecs highly valued the foam making process.

Princeton Vase: Collecting the foam

The Maya typically consumed their chocolate hot rather than cold. Two essential ingredients that the late Maya incorporated into their drinks were vanilla and ear flower. In the Americas they also incorporated chili (Capsicum annum), achiote, flowers, sugar and vanilla, which touched upon different taste types, such as spicy, sweet, floral, unammi, nutty and starchy (Sampeck & Thayn, 2017). Because of the economic situation and lack of resources in some regions, not all individuals were able to use a variety of different ingredients to make the drink. However, they still were determined to create a chocolate drink, so they instead substituted some of the more expensive ingredients for others that they could afford. For example, the Batido made by the Guatemalan Indians included vanilla, achiote, ear flower and ground sapote kernels which was then mixed with black pepper and cacao. However, because this region did not have the financial means to purchase and consume a large amount of true cacao, communities learned to preserve the cacao and conceal the flavoring of their drinks with the addition of black pepper. In the Batido, there was much more black pepper added compared to cacao (Coe & Coe, 2007).   

The Aztecs shared similar practices with the Maya but differed in the ingredients and the way in which the drink was consumed. Similar to the Maya, the Aztecs treasured the foam that was produced from the drink, stating that the foam was the healthiest part of the chocolate drink (Coe & Coe, 2007).  However, instead of consuming the chocolate drink hot, this beverage was usually served cold.

The Aztecs, just as the Maya, began adding a variety of different ingredients which would then be used for different occasions and given to different individuals. There was never one single form of chocolate recipe but rather a large variety of different recipes and ingredients that would be used to make them. Some of these ingredients included maize, seeds from the Ceiba tree, vanilla, and flowers (Coe & Coe, 2007). Among this wide range of ingredients, the Aztecs highly valued three essential ingredients: Hueinacaztli, Tlilxochitl, and Mecaxochitl. Hueinacaztli was the ear-shaped petal from the flower of Cymbopetalum penduliflorum, Tlilxochitl was the black flower, which today we refer to as vanilla, and Mecaxochitl, the string flower, was related to black pepper. (Coe & Coe, 2007).

Highly Valued Foam collected from the Vessel Pouring

European Chocolate:

In the late 1500s, the Spanish, who were fascinated by the chocolate drink made by the Aztecs and its potential, brought chocolate back to their country (Editors, 2017). Soon after, they transformed the cold and bitter drink that was once consumed by the Aztecs into a much more rich and desirable drink. They followed the processing techniques created by the Maya and Aztecs but used different tools to make and serve the chocolate. Rather than pouring the chocolate from one vessel to the next, they would use the molinillo to gather the foam from the liquid. As more European countries such as Italy, France and Britain began exploring different parts of Central America, these countries also brought the product back home (Editors, 2017). Because of their geographic diversity, power and economic stability, Europeans continued to add a variety of different ingredients that were unheard of to the Maya or Aztecs. Some of these included cinnamon, almonds, hazelnut, nutmeg, clove, citron, lemon peel, achiote, musk, orange blossom, and jasmine petals (Coe & Coe, 2007). Some of the most commonly used ingredients were sugar, vanilla, anise, and cinnamon.

The recipes used to make chocolate were adapted from various different parts of Europe, and the British especially were considered to have some of the richest tasting chocolate. Antonios CoMenero de Ledesma’s 1644 recipe illustrates the diverse use of ingredients in the Europeans chocolate drinks:100 cacao beans

  • 100 cacao beans
  •             2 chillis (can substitute for black pepper)
  •             Hanful of Anise
  •             Ear flower
  •             2 Mecasuchiles
  •             1 Vanilla
  •             2 oz cinnamon
  •             12 almonds
  •             Hazelnuts
  •             ½ lbs of sugar
  •             Achiote to taste

            (Coe & Coe, 2007)

In addition to making a chocolate drink, the Europeans began to incorporate chocolate into other food cuisines. For example, black polenta was topped with chocolate bread crumbs, butter, almonds and cinnamon, pieces of liver dipped in chocolate and a chocolate soup which included cacao, milk, sugar, cinnamon and egg yolk mixed together and eaten with toast (Coe & Coe, 2007). 

Chocolate Today:

Although the production of chocolate has remained relatively similar throughout history, the specific ingredients that have been added has allowed each time period and geographical location to reflect a unique version of a chocolate drink. Today, the chocolate we consume has a greater amount of sugar and milk than what was once used. For example, Hershey’s chocolate similarly places great importance on the manufacturing and processing of the beans, but another large component is the addition of milk. The milk is combined with sugar and then mixed with chocolate liquor and cocoa butter (D’Antonio, 2006). Milk has become the essential ingredient for Hershey’s chocolate bar, which in some way hides the flavor of the true cacao beans that are used. However, without milk, Hershey’s chocolate would not be what it is known as today.

It is interesting to note the stark contrast between the chocolate used by the earlier civilization and the chocolate that is consumed today. What once required a minimal amount of ingredients to retain a unique taste now requires a variety of different and overpowering ingredients to make it appealing to the consumer. One would imagine that with technological improvements and refined processes available today, we would accentuate the true flavor of cacao; however, this is not necessarily true. The addition of ingredients such as sugar and milk have concealed the power of the cacao beans that the Maya and Aztecs cherished. The production process may have remained the same, but the quality of the products created has changed.

References

  1. Coe, S ., &  Coe, M. (2007) [1996]. The True History of Chocolate.
  2. D’Antonio, M. (2006). Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126
  3. Editors, H. (2017). History of Chocolate. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-americas/history-of-chocolate#section_5
  4. Sampeck, K., & Thayn, J. (2017). “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” pp. 72-99

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  9. 2013. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/adampop/8897493026/in/photolist-eyeYGb-ao9biK-dhPYwm-dZiaHr-FSGev-nm1vH4-qxWurS-6Gto89-7FBSkt-JFijvF-9DbyPX-7FBSiv-4iTm5X-6xGA2e-fbPjLU-9kLcJQ-6JsX9Z-Aw9QKF-9NbVaw-SSzLGs-m2Yddp-xzxzs-299bdgS-d1roRj-dmQTGZ-pQ9PGi-YohQ86-mPiow-7xLJta-bfWPiv-nmmsz6-9HWSN6-btrbwJ-CuAyt-aLLhvi-p8bsmB-2gfcNV-9eTwGF-HMxG5-pxWdot-2aYg4Jb-7q8LkG-2ge2Zo-KfysxM-itbkSJ-249zoYh-nbmySi-Up5S5o-2x1Wtv-27gGH22

Chocolate Consumption and Societal Divides

Chocolate in Europe, brought to Spain originally from Mesoamerica in the 1500s, has amassed into a staple of almost everyone’s diet today. However, the history of chocolate consumption and its social constructs have expanded and changed over the centuries since chocolate’s first venture into Europe. Chocolate began as a drink, medicine, and eventually a snack “among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Coe and Coe, 125). However, as time went on, and the price and availability of chocolate began to expand to beyond the upper circles of Europe, the elitism that surrounded chocolate still existed. Even today, when majority of people consume chocolate—often times in similar forms, for example as a bar or hot beverage—there still is a separation between chocolate for commoners and chocolate for the wealthy. How come even though there have been drastic consumption changes over the centuries, in quantity and form, there is still a strong social tension amongst different types of chocolate? By looking at the history of chocolate, it will become clearer that chocolate has always had societal divisions and it is merely impossible to fully break away from those constructs that are inherent to chocolate.

Chocolate for European Elites

In order to understand how consumption in Europe has and has not changed over the centuries, it is important to start at the beginning of chocolate in Europe. Once chocolate was brought over to Europe through Spain during the Renaissance, it was immediately viewed as for elites only— “it was in Baroque palaces and mansions of the wealthy and powerful that it was elaborated and consumed” (Coe and Coe, 125). While Spaniards more or less “stripped [the chocolate beverage] of the spiritual meaning” attached to it by the Aztec and Maya, they did start by consuming the beverage as a drug or medicine for healing (Coe and Coe, 126). This consumption was often matched with mix-ins custom to Spain and Europe, such as “atole and sugar” for a colder drink or “honey and hot water” for a more soothing hot beverage (Coe and Coe, 134).

However, this beverage was still strictly for the elites of Europe even once it started to spread throughout the continent. As time progressed, the royals started to create more recipes of chocolate beverages to be served to special guest, with a princess in 1679 recalling: “There was iced chocolate, another hot, and another with Milk and Eggs; one took it with a biscuit…besides this, they take it with so much pepper and so many spices” (Coe and Coe, 136). With the spread of popularity amongst chocolate beverages, there also were technical advances to enhance the experience. For example, the Spanish royals invented mancerina, a decorative saucer and small plate that helped avoid spills on fancy clothing (Coe and Coe, 134-5).

Spanish porcelain mancerina used by royalty to avoid spilling their chocolate beverages. The cocoa drink would be placed in the middle ring of the mancerina.

Sugar Becomes a Chocolate Equalizer

Skipping ahead, with the addition of sugar mass production, chocolate became a consumable good for almost everyone around Europe and the world, breaking down many original societal barriers. During the early 1800s, the British “national consumption [of sugar] was about 300 million pounds per year,” rising to over a billion pounds in 1852 as prices continued to drop (Mintz, 143). The addition of sugar allowed for chocolate to more easily become mass produced, creating more affordability and accessibility throughout Europe. By 1856, “sugar consumption was forty times higher than it had been only 150 years earlier,” allowing for everyone—wealthy and poor alike—to enjoy such treats in different forms (Mintz, 143).

1885 Cadbury advertisement markets towards the “public,” claiming their cocoa is “exhilarating, comforting, and sustaining” as well as “guaranteed absolutely pure.”

Sugar was a major success in creating access to chocolate throughout history, giving way for major chocolate companies such as Lindt and Cadbury to become the “producers of majority of the world’s chocolate” (Martin and Sampeck, 49). For the first time in history, chocolate was being consumed in similar forms at similar price points by both the wealthy and poor because of these large manufactures—arguably stripping away many societal differences inherent to chocolate by creating a consistent form of chocolate everyone could enjoy. However, as the prices decreased, the quality of chocolate also decreased, with many large manufacturers “even cutting out…the substance that gives quality to superior chocolates: cacao butter” (Coe and Coe, 257). As lower quality chocolate created by major companies became a staple of poorer and working-class citizens, the elites often would opt to fly to specific regions of Europe—such as Switzerland or Belgium—to indulge in their high-quality chocolate from chocolatiers (Coe and Coe, 258). Therefore, even though sugar allowed for some narrowing of the social constructs surrounding chocolate, there was still a market for superior forms that are only accessible for a wealthier audience.

Still a Divide with Chocolate Today

Today, chocolate still holds of great importance to many peoples’ lives, with chocolate consumptions estimates for 2018/2019 at 7.7 million tons globally (“Consumption of Chocolate Worldwide,” Statista). However, even with the advances in chocolate consumption over the many centuries, there are still similar societal constraints around chocolate. While the different forms of chocolate are often times similar amongst upper and lower classes—ranging from hot beverages or bars to baked goods—the quality and price ranges can heavily vary, instilling a separation and exclusivity in societal groups that existed even in the 1500s when chocolate was introduced to Europe. For example, the range in quality of chocolate products is vast: there exist fair trade chocolate sourced in more humane manners, specific species of cacao pods with better characteristics and richer flavors, granulated texture differences, and even different percentages of cacao in chocolate mixtures. One can go to a deluxe chocolatier shop somewhere in Switzerland or Belgium and purchase extreme, rare examples of certain types of chocolate—frequently at higher prices. However, these levels of chocolate are often inaccessible to others of not a higher social class because they require having more money and the ability to reach the areas where superior-quality chocolate is created—such as expensive regions in Switzerland. For these other social groups, the desire for chocolate could still be just as strong, but the more realistic options are to purchase mass-produced chocolate, such as Hershey’s chocolate bars or M&Ms, that are often associated with quick, convenient snacks that are affordable.

This social distinction around chocolate exists even in Harvard Square today, where one could purchase a quality, single source hot chocolate at L.A. Burdick from specific locations such as Ecuador (with an “earthy finish”) or Madagascar (with “fruity notes”) at a starting price of $5.50 (“Single Source Drinking Chocolate.” L.A. Burdick). On the other hand, one could instead go to CVS in Harvard Square and purchase a 10 pack of Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa Mix for $2.79, averaging $0.28 per serving (“Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Flavor Hot Cocoa Mix.” CVS). There is clearly an audience for both choices, but the more accessible version is at CVS because it is drastically more affordable and easily accessible at any CVS around the world, while L.A. Burdick is a specialty chocolate shop with a much higher price point and only a few locations. So even though there have been major advances in chocolate and the levels of consumption over the last few centuries—including the expansion of different forms of consumptions and the spread of accessibility beyond the upper-class nobilities—there still persists a divide when it comes to chocolate today.

Based on the history of chocolate, it seems unlikely that societal constructs around chocolate will ever completely disappear because there will always be a market for better quality, more elaborate chocolate consumption as well as affordable, accessible chocolate. However, as the interest in “fine flavor” chocolate continues to grow in more recent decades, then more “small-batch chocolate companies” will begin to come around “with a heavy focus on batch production, flavor, quality, and perceived ethical sourcing of raw ingredients,” creating more access and maybe eventually lower prices of higher quality product for everyone to enjoy (Martin and Sampeck, 54). While the future is uncertain, one steadfast is that chocolate will still be present in most peoples’ lives because of its unifying, joyous, cherished qualities that impact people on a daily basis—no matter one’s social rank.

Works Cited

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

“Consumption of Chocolate Worldwide, 2012/13-2018/19 | Statistic.” Statista, Statista, Nov. 2015, http://www.statista.com/statistics/238849/global-chocolate-consumption/.

Martin, Carla D., and Sampeck, Kathryn E. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3, 2016, pp. 37–60., doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

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

“Single Source Drinking Chocolate.” L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolate, http://www.burdickchocolate.com/DrinkingChocolate/single-source-drinking-chocolate.aspx.

“Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Flavor Hot Cocoa Mix.” CVS, http://www.cvs.com/shop/swiss-miss-milk-chocolate-flavor-hot-cocoa-mix-prodid-828715?skuid=828715.

Multimedia Sources

Anonymous, Cadbury’s Cocoa advert with rower 1885. Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cadbury%27s_Cocoa_advert_with_rower_1885.jpg. Accessed 11 March 2019.

Anonymous, Interior of a London Coffee-house, 17th century. Wikimedia Commons, 6 August 2013, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Interior_of_a_London_Coffee-house,_17th_century.JPG. Accessed 11 March 2019.

Daderot. Talavera mancerina (chocolate cup holder), ceramic – Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas – Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons, 10 October 2014, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Talavera_mancerina_(chocolate_cup_holder),ceramicMuseo_Nacional_de_Artes_DecorativasMadrid,_Spain-_DSC08143.JPG. Accessed 11 March 2019.

Lam, Willis. Swiss Miss Simply Cocoa. Flickr, 2 December 2014, https://www.flickr.com/photos/85567416@N03/15826425118/in/photolist-q7wyNA-4Vi3xj-2c1quQF-bAR6UB-5KXJTX-4uvVPN-e14Lxw-8Wa8AZ-nLpJvi-Cbm1VF-dqASpX-2ampJbb-Rd9TCh-2bZA3Mz-2bZ2eHi-RetAk7-7jSCz3-8h4wTf-bAqsAk-LuMes-2dotp4v-oRr31-axSjhw-98qkXu-ihJDzj-227rKBA-i2LSJm-iupoqe-5ro6Ux-HxgKn6-7qkecG-8WYapy-2ch8p7d-PkuWzx-hjPRMw-4m3SWK-2dfdft2-2cggZSf-PzRfGR-2chxsFj-2cg2pA7-Rft18y-PBbapT-PASK2P-3k8YWU-CDyBre-2dhZJb5-2diX3ZC-ReRqrL-9Sp3i. Accessed 11 March 2019.

Phelan, John. L A Burdick Chocolate, Walpole NH. Wikimedia Commons, 26 April 2014, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:L_A_Burdick_Chocolate,_Walpole_NH.jpg. Accessed 11 March 2019.

A Complicated History of Chocolate and Sugar in the Caribbean (and Abroad)

My Childhood Experience: 

I love chocolate and I love sugar even more. I have loved both since I was a child and will continue to love them well into my old age. The first time I tasted a Snickers chocolate bar on a small Caribbean island where almost all chocolate is imported, I was hooked- no other candy bar could compare. The Snickers bar became my cradle to grave candy bar and even today when I have one decades later, I tend to flash back to the nostalgic time when getting that chocolate (or any chocolate really) for me was a rare and expensive sugar-rush to be savored. In Barbados, the nation’s relationship with chocolate in general and sugar more specifically tends to be complicated by its history of slave labor production and British colonization (Beckles, 2017). Even in present day, conversations around the health of locals and sugar consumption are often linked back to the repercussions of this history.

Planting the sugar cane

Growing up in the Caribbean, there was no Halloween, no teachers that would give out candy to their students as rewards for good work in the classroom, no goodie bags filled with a delightful assortment at parties for me. Chocolate was a coveted treat and one that I was taught to respect as a child as something of value for having done good or been good in order to “deserve” it. While other kids would spend their lunch money on snacks, sweets, and chocolate during break, I was under strict rules not to spend money on such frivolities. Back then I was raised with the idea that chocolate and other sugary food was not money well spent and that the over consumption of sugar was a result of a still colonized mind. Although chocolate was not at the time as much of a staple as it is now, especially compared to the developed West, sugar was everywhere and in almost everything, like America and the UK. Bajans consumed large amounts of sugar regularly and have been since the mid 1600s when Britain relied on the colony for crops and began manufacturing sugar cane for their own consumption (Martin, 2018, slides 2-9).

Moreover, my mother- a professional cook and very health conscious- believed there were more potential health risks to eating chocolate and sugary treats and thought the health benefits were minimal. My grandfather had many theories on sugar’s use for the demise of the black population by the British crown.

Barbados-Slave-Code

He would say that the sugar industry used invasive propaganda and historically colonized slave mentality to keep locals pacified in order to maintain control of the island and keep its people unhealthy- like a drug. I had no idea what he meant by that back then, I was barely 7-8 years old when we would have these talks about the aftermath of sugar plantations in Barbados. Not until I was older did I reflect on these conversations and revisit them again in a class on chocolate culture.

My grandfather’s words resurfaced again when I read Sweetness and Power by Sidney Mintz. He wrote, “the upward climb of both production and consumption within the British Empire must be seen as part of an even larger general movement…We know that sugar consumption in the old sugar colonies…was part always very substantial- indeed, that slaves were given sugar, molasses, and even rum during slavery period as part of their rations” (Mintz, 1985, p. 72). When my grandfather would lecture on the perils of sugar- the cause of painful and expensive cavities, my diabetic relatives (one of which had the bottom part of her leg amputated from too my sugar in her diet), or the root of making people sluggish and less intelligent- did I start to develop a profound fear and wonder about the power of confectionaries. How could something so delicious be so dangerous? It took me many years to realize it was not just chocolate that was the primary concern for him. It was the production of sugar in Barbados by the enslavement of black people under British colonization and the exploitation of the island. The impact in which continues to have adverse risks to its citizens still.

Sugar cane harvest post card

There is a long tradition in Barbados to produce sugar in addition to an impulse to consume large amounts as well, which started with Britain’s obsession with the commodity. In fact, the turning point of British sugar production was the settlement of Barbados and thus both nations were transformed. One nation with the need to consume, the other forced to produce for consumption. Mintz aptly writes:

“England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fasted in creating a plantation system. The most important product of that system was sugar. Coffee, chocolate (cacao), nutmeg, and coconut were among the other products, but the amount of sugar produced, the numbers of its users, and the range of its uses exceeded the others; and it remained the principal product for centuries” (Mintz p. 38).

Thus, my relationship with chocolate in my formative years was neither abundant nor overindulgent and my view of sugar was entwined with stories of the colonized bodies of my ancestors. Still I was a child and I had a sweet tooth- like many others from the island-, which made my mother wearier of permitting me to have it out of fear I would become gluttonous, overweight, and doltish. With diabetes prevalent on both sides of the family there were lectures on the perils of sugar and my ultimate demise if I consumed too often. This was ingrained into my childhood. However, kids will be kids and I found ways to get chocolate whenever I could and hide it craftily. My morning tea was mostly sugar. This complicated relationship with chocolate and sugar during my childhood in the Caribbean continued into adulthood abroad.

Barbados is not like other islands in Caribbean for many reasons. First, it is a very small island, one of the smallest. Second, it is the most outside of the Caribbean strip of islands and more isolated with a population of less than 300,000 people. What it does have in common with places such as St. Lucia, Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Jamaica is that they were also ensnared in European and British colonization of their bodies and land for crop production. Now while many of these islands have transformed this into strong chocolate tourism foundation that has begun to flourish in the recent decades along with traditional crops of the past, Barbados struggles to join this cash crop sector. On other islands everything from haute and terroir chocolate to cheap chocolate are being produced. They were able to embrace the agricultural aftermath of slavery to make cacao and sugar into a moneymaking industry that appeals strongly to Western conception of sophistication and acceptability. In contrast, Barbados in the aftermath as a sugar producing island, chose to set up shop as a strong island tourism base and minimize the sugar industry production along with the dark history that came with it. In addition, the island is simply too small to produce many of its own crops, cacao being one of them. This caused many confectionery and snack factories in Barbados to be purchased and moved to Trinidad and Tobago as demand grew.

Looking back, it seems ironic that I thought cheap chocolate was more of an iconic delicacy than it really was. For instance, a $1 Snickers bar in America cost ~$4 USD in Barbados so its value felt more significant. Hence, it is understandable to me now why such chocolate was considered a special treat, especially in a family that thought it a wasteful. Growing up in Barbados, I had literally never eaten chocolate made on the island or any of the surrounding islands. Some factories used our sugar but that was about it, so it seemed like chocolate was a foreign substance from far off lands.

The only exposure to “fine” chocolate I had in the Caribbean was Cadbury Chocolate, a British multinational confectionery company that dominates the island almost single-handedly. Among locals, it is either loved or hated and can oftentimes be highly political because of its connection to the UK. Many believe that Britain as a nation continues to claw its way into the island’s industry via companies such as Cadbury, thus control by the British crown continues invisibility and from afar. Cadbury Chocolate in an island once dominated by a hugely profitable sugar industry that exploited African slaves is a contentious past still being unpacked.

Cadbury can be found everywhere on the island. Although the price is significantly higher than other candy bars, locals love it and consider it more “high end”. Although in the past 5-10 years more variety and quality chocolate is coming into the island and locals are getting a real taste of what good chocolate can be. It can be more than milk chocolate and chocolate covered candy. It has been a slow process because in Barbados dark chocolate is uncommon and unpopular. That is why one of the calls to action by local Bajans (and already promoted by other surrounding islands) is taking advantage of the blooming interest by tourists to try locally made chocolate and and for locals to reclaim untold histories.

In that respect, the island is now revisiting the history of cacao and sugar and getting more involved with the booming industry. In 2010, Agapey Chocolate was founded in Barbados conveniently located at the capital of Bridgetown. It is the only chocolate company on the island and is the only bean to bar chocolate company in Barbados.

agapey-chocolate-factory

Although the company was not very well known at first, it has grown in popularity among tourist and locals are now also taking advantage of their delicacies. The company has won multiple international awards and went through the process of Fair Trade certification (Agapey 2018). They offer in-depth tours of the factory that explain how their chocolate is made and also the history of chocolate and the role of cacao and sugar in the Caribbean. It is a good example of changing attitudes towards dark chocolate and progress in using local ingredients like rum and coconut to stimulate the economy.

agapey-chocolates

An International Cultural Exploration of Chocolate and Sugar

When I journeyed across the North Atlantic Ocean and set up a new home in Somerville, Ma. I soon learned about the abundance of chocolate and its widespread availability for any and every occasion, or no occasion at all. My mind was blown. Now in this wondrous place, chocolate could be found in almost every store, market, gas station, etc. It is not rare or expensive. It can be very expensive with places like L.A Burdick’s or it can be cheap like a Snickers from CVS. With my mother back in Barbados, I had no restrictions on my chocolate or sugar intake and I swiftly sought to make up for lost time, eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. It was liberating; this was America. I ate so much candy my first months of arrival, I could not get enough. Sugar consumption was even more rampant and readily available in almost everything people consumed.

Retrospectively, Somerville turned out to be one of the best places in the U.S to get a real taste of a multicultural experience, including its cuisine, which made for a great exploration of the candied goods of other lands. There has been a long tradition of community building at the foundation of local revitalization and urban development in Somerville that took a great amount of pride in exposing neighbors to “food from back home”. For many longtime residents, organizing community-building initiatives at the neighborhood and local government level has been a strategic way to promote the city’s rich cultural diversity and mixed-income environment. It also created bridges to parts of the population that might otherwise face isolation from resources aimed to empower them to take agency in improving their own socio-economic condition, particularly immigrants and people of color. Food was used to bridge the divide.

One of the first events I attended to increase exposure to different cultures was an annual international food fair held at Somerville High School where all the food was made by students, staff, or donated by local businesses. My recollection of walking through the school’s gymnasium and sampling different foods from over 100+ countries and cultures represented was a lasting experience. My Brazilian friend took me over to a table where I had my first bon-bon, a chocolate covered wafer with more chocolate inside that is widely popular in Brazil and now internationally. Another friend showed me her homemade milky coconut cardamon treats of India. There was table after table with food that I had never tried before, a whole candy world outside of Snickers and Cadbury.

For my first Halloween, my friends who had been trained in this occasion advised me to ditch the Halloween bucket and grab an old pillowcase. A pillowcase I thought, how much candy could we possibly get? The answer to that was a lot, a pillowcase half way full equating to more than four of the buckets I was going to bring. Every holiday and special occasion involved candy and chocolate. In addition, because of Somerville’s immense international population, there was not just the typical American candy, but treats coming from all over the world. I became seasoned quickly on how, where, and when to get candy and what chocolate came from which country. Chocolate became a constant and a source of comfort as I adjusted to life in America. Chocolate was for sharing between friends, indulging with cousins, and for no occasion at all.

Not until college did I learn the meaning behind fair trade, direct trade, or bean to bar- thus my ignorance of chocolate started to unfold. As Maricel Presilla writes, “to know chocolate, you must know that the candy in the box or the chef’s creation on the plate begins with the bean, the complex genetic profile of different cacao strains” (Presilla, 2009, p. 4). So began my segway into learning about chocolate production and saying goodbye to Snickers for a bit. I wanted to know about chocolate beyond what popular culture had taught me and beyond what my childhood experiences had ingrained.

I became engrossed with learning about the history of chocolate. I went to Madrid, Spain where I drank chocolate for the first time. Discovered theobroma cacao comes from Greek and means “food of the gods”.  I learned that Spanish invaders took the word cacao and their first real knowledge of cacao came from the Maya people of the Yucatan Peninsula. They used the word chokola’j, or ‘to drink together’. (Presilla, 2009, p. 10-12) and chocolate is amount one of the bastardized words created because it was easier for Europeans to pronounce. There I saw that even from the naming of cacao that history of chocolate was written and known mostly from a western-centric point of view and that influence continues today. I needed a different more authentic understanding of chocolate and kept traveling. I visited Tlaxcala, a sovereign state in Mexico with a strong connection to its complex history with cacao. There I used a molinillo for the first time- a whisking device to make cacao frothy- and drank a cup of chocolate that I helped prepare using traditional Mexican tools like the metate.

The story of how cacao developed from a sacred drink to the industrialized food that it is today is a complex history that dates back thousands of years. The story of how sugar production exploded in the Caribbean is also connected to the history of cacao. The bodies of black and brown people were used for European gain as was the land. Today, this history can be very complicated for the generations that followed. My relationship with chocolate and sugar has evolved overtime from a child in Barbados to a teen in America, to a traveler of the world. As my own understanding of these topics continues to expand, I will continue to enjoy these goods the best I can and keep educating myself on the topic.

Work Cited:

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

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, abolition, and forced labor’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 28 Feb. 2018. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin, 1985. Print.

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

“On Barbados, the First Black Slave Society” via AAIHS. Here is the website link: https://www.aaihs.org/on-barbados-the-first-black-slave-society/.

http://www.agapey.com/

https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-ushistory1ay/chapter/consumption-and-trade-in-the-british-atlantic/

Images (in order):

“Planting the sugar-cane” (Credit: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library).

“Slaves Wanted” Advertisement for the Island of Barbados (Credit: Lascelles Slavery Archive)

“Sugar Plantation Barbados, Carting Sugar Canes To The Mill”  W. L. Johnson & Co. Ltd., Barbados. No. 15

Agapey Chocolate Factory Website Photos (Credit: agapey.com)

Interview with a Chocoholic

My informant was chosen due to her self-proclaimed addiction to the product in question, chocolate. The following interview seeks to uncover the role that chocolate has played in her life, her current relationship with chocolate and her perception of chocolate on a global scale (i.e. production, certifications, etc.).

“When did you first find yourself falling in love with chocolate?”

“I started loving chocolate when I was seven years old.”

I started to laugh. “So you’re telling me that you know the exact age that you started to fall in love with chocolate?”

“Yes! I do and the reason I do was because that was how old I was when my mother married my stepfather. He was a New York City police officer and one of his weekend jobs was to work security for a candy factory, so my siblings and I would go along with my stepfather to the candy factory every Saturday. That’s probably why I had cavities.” Now she was the one laughing. “I was always so excited because we would get to drive the go karts around in the candy factory.”

“Go karts? In a candy factory?”

“Yes. It was actually called The Candy Factory and it was over in the Brooklyn Terminal Market. We would all ride around in those carts where you lift up cartons of candy and transport it out to the trucks that delivered them to the store. We would stop at each section in the factory and take whatever candy we wanted home with us for the weekend. It was like my stepfather’s payment for watching the factory. We would take home Reese’s peanut butter cups and Joyva jelly rings, which were chocolate covered raspberry rings, and those were my favorite. I fell in love with chocolate.”

515tM-7M1-L

(Image Retrieved from: http://groceryonlinemarket.com/product/joyva-jell-rings-chocolate-covered-3-ring-pack-1-35-ounces-pack-of-24/)

“Do you think that your love of chocolate came from the way your family felt about chocolate? Did your mother like to eat chocolate as much as you did?”

“Well, my mom likes to eat rasinettes but she mostly eats jelly donuts, so, no. I’m the chocaholic of the family and I turned my husband into one. When I met him 35 years ago he hated chocolate. He hated it! And then he lived with me and now he absolutely loves chocolate and he always wants to eat it. He got addicted to it because sugar is very addicting. He just didn’t like the taste of it before. You know how some people just like salty versus sweet? Well, he was just eating salty things. After living together for a while I noticed he would put chocolate on his sundaes or make chocolate covered strawberries. Pretty soon after that he was ordering chocolate cake at restaurants for dessert instead of cheesecake. He started drinking hot chocolate and mochas also. Oh god, I want a chocolate bar now.”

“Speaking of chocolate bars, what is your chocolate preference? How much cacao do you prefer in a chocolate bar?”

“70% because I love dark chocolate and it’s not too bitter at that point. Once you get past 70% though it is really bitter. My favorite brand of chocolate is See’s candies. When I walk into a See’s store I always say, “You should make perfume out of this!” It’s like aromatherapy. I love See’s and I like Lindt, which I think is Swiss. I know Belgium and Swiss chocolate is really delicious. It’s just creamy and it’s rich tasting. I love chocolate. It’s healthy and it’s an antioxidant. It’s also an anti-inflammatory I found out! I read that on the internet. Oh! And chocolate has endorphins, it gives you a feeling of happiness.”

Sees_Candies.jpg

(Image Retrieved from: https://www.riceepicurean.com/sees-candies/)

As it turns out, my informant was correct. Chocolate contains flavanols which act as an anti-inflammatory in the body, however, Goya et al. points out that flavanol concentrations vary among chocolate products (Goya et al. 2016, 212). A study conducted by Melchior et al. in 1991 also confirms that chocolate increases beta-endorphins after consuming chocolate beverages (Melchior et al. 1991, 941).

I figured this would be the perfect time to dive into the health aspects of chocolate. “Are there any reasons you would consider chocolate to be unhealthy?”

“Cholesterol. Chocolate increases your cholesterol, which is not heart healthy, although they say that chocolate does have antioxidants in it which are good for you! Also, there is too much sugar in it which just isn’t good for you when you are worried about diabetes! You have to be careful too because chocolate is an addiction so once you start eating chocolate you crave it. I did. I do. I still crave it. I can’t imagine life without chocolate. It’s totally my vice. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink much. If I had to be on an island, I would bring chocolate.”

The popular belief that chocolate increases cholesterol is no doubt derived from the common misconception that follows the meaning behind HDL’s, high-density lipoproteins, and LDL’s, low-density lipoproteins. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, LDL’s are considered to be the “bad” form of cholesterol, with high levels raising risk for heart disease and stroke. HDL’s are considered to be the “good” form of cholesterol, lowering the risk for heart disease and stroke (CDC 2017). It is recognized that the anti-oxidant activity that follows the consumption of chocolate actually helps decrease ones low-density lipoprotein cholesterol activity while increasing ones high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (Wilson 2015, 17). Therefore, certain types of chocolate are considered to be heart healthy as they delay the progression of diseases such as atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis (Wilson 2015, 17).

The notion that chocolate, which contains a lot of sugar, is a danger to those who have diabetes, seems like a completely rational statement. However, a study conducted in 2015 by Mellor et al. suggests that this may not be entirely true. As it turns out, small amounts of polyphenol rich chocolate, up to about 20-45g per day, can be safely added to the diets of those who have diabetes (Mellor et al. 2015, 9917). Unfortunately, it is not common for the level of polyphenol’s in chocolate to be labeled on products. As more research in this area continues, this may be expected to change (Mellor et al. 2015, 9917). After explaining the relationship between chocolate and cholesterol as well as chocolate with diabetes to my informant, we were able to continue the interview.

“How often would you say that you eat chocolate?”

“I used to eat chocolate at least three times a week but now I’ve cut my sugar down due to the cancer so I try to have it maybe once every two weeks. I would have a whole bar at a time, I couldn’t stop.”

“How did your consumption of chocolate change when you were diagnosed with breast cancer?”

“I got depressed. I still eat a little bit, not too much now. I modified my diet but I still can’t resist it every couple of weeks. They say to cut back on sugar because sugar feeds cancer so I don’t eat as much sugar in my diet but if I do eat sugar it is usually saved for dark chocolate. Last time I had a bag of dark chocolate peanut butter cups.

I became curious as to what exactly the relationship was between chocolate and cancer. According to a study in the European Journal of Cancer Care, dark chocolate contains catcehins which act as an anti-cancer compound or as a preventative for the development of cancer (European Journal of Cancer Care 2000, 131). However, it is also recognized that sugar fuels cancer. Receptors associated with cell survival in tumors are maintained through intracellular glucose levels and SGLT1’s, or the stabilization of the sodium glucose transporter 1 (Penson 2009, 918). It is then no wonder that those who have cancer are more likely to consume their catechins through less sugary products such as tea.

“When was your last chocolate binge?”

She started giggling again, as if I had caught her red handed doing something she was not supposed to be doing. “Honestly, it was yesterday. They were on sale! It was $4.99 for the bag and I wound up eating the whole thing in two days. That’s why I’m so happy right now. But I did gain back a pound that I had lost so I do seem to gain weight right away after I eat the chocolate.”

When my informant mentioned she had gained weight after eating chocolate, I decided to investigate the relationship between chocolate and obesity. This led me to a study conducted in 2013 by Gu et al. who conducted animal trials in an attempt to identify the positive effects of cocoa. The introduction of cocoa in mice was said to reduce obesity after just a ten week period (Grace et al. 2014, 795). While it is unclear whether or not certain levels of flavinols in cocoa, or in dark chocolate, are responsible for an anti-obesity effect in humans, the results from a variety of animal studies seems to point in that direction. However, more research in humans must be conducted before there can be any confirmation that this is the case. Dark chocolate, the product that my informant had consumed before her weight gain, contains “more cocoa butter and fat” than cocoa powder, which was analyzed in comparison with dark chocolate during the trials mentioned above (Grace et al. 2014, 793).

“Where do you usually buy your chocolate? For example, would you ever buy chocolate at a gas station?”

“Not unless I’m on Highway 5 for a long time and I’m dying for it. I used to buy the Mexican chocolate bars at the supermarket, melt them and make hot chocolate. Those bars have cinnamon in them, I don’t even have to add anything. They come in these round, circular containers that are yellow with red writing. I forget the name of the brand. I could look it up online!”

6a0120a8551282970b0148c6d03d81970c-320wi

(Image Retrieved from: http://kitchenencounters.typepad.com/blog/2010/12/-mexican-chocolate-cinnamon-orange-brownies-.html)

“No, that’s alright. Thank you. So, which grocery stores do you go to when you purchase chocolate?”

“I like Whole Foods because they have a variety of different countries the chocolate comes from. I can easily find the Swiss chocolate or the Belgium chocolate in that store versus a Safeway. Also, Cost Plus Imports is a great place to buy chocolate.”

I decided to switch gears here a little bit and discuss the ways in which chocolate is processed. “What do you consider the term processed to mean?”

“Processed? I think that means adding substances to the food that isn’t naturally organic. It’s when you add chemicals and fats that are unhealthy so that it tastes better.”

This brings up another common misconception. Many people associate the term processed with the term unhealthy. As it turns out, that is not always the case. “According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) processed food is defined as any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, packaging, or other procedures that alter the food from its natural state (MSU 2014). Chocolate actually undergoes many of these processes.

“Were you aware that chocolate is a processed food?”

“No, but at Trader Joes they have organic chocolate and I buy their organic 70% cacao dark chocolate.”

I could sense here that my informant believed that because the product was organic, it must not be processed. I decided to explore this idea further. “How do you feel about food that is marked organic?”

“I prefer it because I don’t want chemicals, pesticides and unnatural products in my food. I want to eat clean , especially after the remission of my cancer.”

The USDA claims that the term organic may be used on labels for raw or processed agricultural products (USDA 2018). Were you aware that processed products could be labeled as organic?

“No I wasn’t aware of that. I wish these labels would be more specific as far as letting us know exactly what is in the food or what has happened to the food.”

“Now that you know chocolate is processed, what steps do you think are involved in its’ production?”

“I have never thought about that. I actually never knew that it was processed. I assume they have to take it out of the pod, clean it, grind it, probably add sugar or some sweetener to it and put it in a mold. That’s all I can think of.”

My informant was correct, however, there were a few steps missing from her list. According to Dr. Martin (2018), the steps involved in processing chocolate are as follows: the harvesting of cacao pods, the extraction of seeds, fermentation, drying (in sun or over fire), sorting and bagging of beans, roasting, winnowing (aka deshelling, husking), Grinding in a metate, pressing in a hydraulic press, and finally, conching (Martin 2018, Lecture). I repeated this list to my informant and proceeded to ask her more questions.

I wanted to make sure she understood the steps that I had previously addressed. “What do you think winnowing means?”

“Widowing? Winn-o-wing? Can I look it up on google? Winnowing…winnowing…what do I think it means? I have no idea to be quite honest.”

“Winnowing, in this sense, means to de-shell or husk the cacao.”

“I would have never thought that. I winnow pistachio nuts, walnuts, I’ve winnowed! Yeah, winnow, I do that all the time. I never knew I was winnowing.”

The-Chocolate-Tree-Winnowing.jpg

(Image Retrieved from: http://www.chocablog.com/features/the-chocolate-tree-a-scottish-bean-to-bar-story/)

“Given the complex process involved in creating the chocolate that you see at the supermarket, how much would you say is a reasonable price to pay for a chocolate bar?”

“That depends on how much I’m buying but I usually won’t spend more than seven dollars on chocolate. I’ll either buy a really great chocolate bar or buy a bag of chocolate with peanut butter in it. If it’s over seven dollars though in one store visit I’ll say, forget it. I will only spend more than that if I am buying gifts for other people.”

By the end of this interview it had become clear that while chocolate as a product is readily available for consumption, the information concerning its’ production is not. Many people do not realize the complexity involved in creating the chocolate bar or fully understand the labels that are associated with the food that they consume. This experience as a whole was very eye-opening for my informant and acted as a reminder of what my own conceptions were surrounding chocolate when I had first began Dr. Martin’s course, “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.”

Works Cited:

2017. “LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), May 9. https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm

2018. “Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.” E-CFR, May 9. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7#se7.3.205_1300

Farhat, G., Drummond, S., Fyfe, L., & Al‐Dujaili, E. (2014). Dark Chocolate: An Obesity Paradox or a Culprit for Weight Gain? Phytotherapy Research, 28(6), 791-797.

Goya, L., Martín, M., Sarria, B., Ramos, S., Mateos, R., & Bravo, L. (2016). Effect of Cocoa and Its Flavonoids on Biomarkers of Inflammation: Studies of Cell Culture, Animals and Humans. Nutrients, 8(4), 212.

Melchior, Rigaud, Colas-Linhart, Petiet, Girard, & Apfelbaum. (1991). Immunoreactive beta-endorphin increases after an aspartame chocolate drink in healthy human subjects. Physiology & Behavior, 50(5), 941-944.

Mellor, D., Sathyapalan, T., Kilpatrick, E., & Atkin, S. (2015). Diabetes and chocolate: Friend or foe? Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 63(45), 9910-8.

Parrish, Ashley. 2014. “What is a processed food?” Michigan State University (MSU), May 9. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/what_is_a_processed_food

Penson, R. (2009). Sugar fuels cancer. Cancer, 115(5), 918-921.

Wilson, Wilson, Philip K., Hurst, W. Jeffrey, & Royal Society of Chemistry. (2015). Chocolate and health : Chemistry, nutrition and therapy. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry.

 

KISS your health goodbye! How Big Chocolate influences Obesity and Diabetes in Low Income Americans

Chocolate is everywhere. From grocery stores to gas stations, this sweet tasting, divine bar of goodness is inescapable in normal American life, especially if you’re in poverty. While Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate each year, Americans categorized as “in or near poverty” consume more chocolate than individuals who are not in poverty (O’Neil et al.), and given that nearly 32% of the U.S. population is at or near poverty (Aulls), it is important to study their eating habits. The chocolate consumption habits of the poor, both in terms of quality and quantity, has consequences for both their health and ethical chocolate production. A study of the chocolate selection at the Dollar Tree shows that the chocolate marketed towards low income individuals is of the cheaper, unhealthier variety, produced without concern for human rights or the environment. The prevalence of Big, cheap chocolate is indicative of both the obesity and diabetes epidemic facing low income Americans today and the severe human rights violations and ethical concerns surrounding chocolate production.

Visiting the Dollar Tree

To get a concrete sense of the chocolate selection low income Americans often have and its implications for health and ethical concerns, I took a trip to the Dollar tree in Somerville. While there, I looked at several factors such as price point, types of chocolates available, the number of chocolates that were advertised as ethically certified through Utz or Fair Trade, and finally, the nutritional value of these types of chocolates. In this observation, only bars of chocolate or an amalgamation of chocolate and other ingredients (such as peanut butter or wafers) were studied.

A Dollar Tree was chosen as a case study to represent the shopping experience of a low income American because of its prevalence in food deserts and “because the American economy of late has pushed so many middle-class people into poverty, and poverty is what pushes people to line up at the cash registers of…Dollar stores” (Griffin-Nolan). Food deserts “are areas where people have limited access to a variety of healthy and affordable food” (Dutko) and usually contain “households with low incomes, inadequate access to transportation, and a limited number of food retailers providing fresh produce” (Dutko). Since these individuals cannot afford cars, they rely on places such as convenience stores and dollar stores such as the Dollar Tree. In fact, “three chains, Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree, made up two-thirds of new stores in food deserts” (Schneider) because large grocery stores don’t want to risk lower profit margins. While obviously not all lower income Americans live in food deserts, nearly “23.5 million people” (Dutko) do. In addition, dollar stores offer individuals food products and other items at a fraction of other stores’ prices, making them the natural choice if you’re on a budget. Given that these stores also accept some form of EBT, or foods stamps, a Dollar Tree store is a good sample of a typical low income American’s shopping experience.

Food Deserts
A visual map showing where food deserts are located in the United States. Food deserts are areas that do not have grocery stores in close vicinity that carry fresh produce. This is why the map highlights the populations that do not have access to fresh food via grocery stores with darker colors. Notice how food deserts are concentrated in the southern part of the United States.

There are however 3 primary issues with selecting a Dollar Tree. First, with some exceptions, everything in the store is $1, which may imply that craft chocolates or chocolates that were created ethically may be absent from the store due to their traditionally higher prices. Second, Dollar Trees are usually small, meaning the chocolate selection might be limited. Thirdly, low income Americans don’t always shop at the Dollar Tree, and may instead opt to visit a Walmart which might have a much larger chocolate selection. However, given that the closest Walmart in the Boston Metro area is over an hour and a half away on public transit while Dollar Trees are typically no more than 15 minutes away on transit anywhere in the city, studying a Dollar Tree might accurately represent where a low income person living in Boston may shop.

Observations

The findings at the Dollar Tree were not surprising. Of the 37 different types of chocolate bars present, all but one of them were produced by either Mars, Nestle, or Hershey’s. The lone chocolate bar not created by the companies mentioned was created by Russell Stover. None of the chocolate bars were craft chocolate bars or produced by small companies. In addition, none of the chocolates were Fair Trade or Utz certified, or certified as organic. The only chocolate bar that was close to having a label marking it as ethical was Crunch, which had the Nestle Cocoa Plan label. According to Nestle’s website, the Cocoa Plan “aims to improve the lives of cocoa farmers and the quality of their products” (“The Nestle Cocoa Plan”); however, upon closer inspection of their website, it is unclear how this plan improves the livelihood of farmers or reduces child labor. Furthermore, the only chocolates without fillings were a Hershey’s Chocolate bar, the Russell Stover solid chocolate bar, the Dove Milk Chocolate bar, and Kisses. Other chocolates had a combination of nuts, peanut butter, caramel, mint, or wafer filling. In addition, there was only one white chocolate option, which was the Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme Bar. There were no dark chocolate options available.

Chocolate Supply at the Dollar Tree
A picture of a chocolate bar selection at a Dollar Tree in Somerville (not all chocolate selections are pictured). As you can see, all the chocolates (or candies) present were produced by large corporations. Notice how Hershey’s has 9 chocolate cases on the stand and M&M’s has 5, suggesting that these are the most popular chocolates sold at this particular Dollar Tree.

Health Claims

Most chocolate bars made some health claims, though their actual nutritional value was questionable. Hershey’s chocolate bar had “Made with Farm Fresh Milk” on the bar, and the 3 Musketeers proudly wrote “45% less fat than the leading Chocolate Brands.” While the 3 Musketeers bar contains 5 grams of saturated fat and Hershey’s bar contains 8g (which is indeed close to 45% less), a Hershey’s bar only has 24g of sugar, while a 3 Musketeers bar has nearly twice as much at 40g of sugar. Another claim on the “Crunch” bar was that it was made with “100% Real Chocolate” and that it had “No artificial Flavors or Colors.”

Price

The price point was the same across all chocolates, which was $1. The Dollar Tree also had a value pack which included 6 smaller “fun size” chocolate bars of the same type in a packet for $1. The weight of the fun sized packet of chocolates was 75g or $.013/gram, while a normal chocolate bar was 1.55 oz, or about 44g, costing twice as much at $.022/gram. Only the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar, Crunch, Snickers, Kit Kat, Reeses, 100 Grand, and Butterfingers bars were sold in fun sized packets, making them the cheapest chocolate options.

Crunch Value Pack vs. Normal Bar
A picture of the two sizes of chocolates sold (minus the candies in boxes). Chocolate was either sold in bar form (1.55 oz) or in fun sized packets (6/0.45oz, or 2.7oz total). Since each were a dollar, the fun sized packet is more economical, which encourages shoppers to buy more chocolate. Notice on the fun sized packet the “Nestle Cocoa Plan” Label, which is actually absent on the normal sized bar, and how the “100% Real Chocolate” claim on the normal bar was not on the fun sized packets; however, both had “No artificial Flavors of Colors” on the wrappers. Choosing to place different labels (an ethical one vs. a health conscience one) says something about who buys what, or who the company is trying to target with these two sizes.

Actual Nutrition

In terms of actual nutrition, the worst chocolate bar for saturated fat was a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar, with 8g of saturated fat and 13g of total fat, and the best bar for saturated fat was the York Peppermint Patty, with 1.5 grams of saturated fat and 2.5 grams of total fat. The worst bar in terms of sugar was a Three Musketeers, with 40g of sugar, and the best in terms of sugar content was the Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme bar, which contained 19g of sugar. For reference, a healthy adult should consume between 25 and 37 grams of sugar each day and around 16g of saturated fat per day.

Discussion

The chocolate selection at the Dollar Tree has three worrisome implications: Big Chocolate takes advantage of gross human rights violations present in the chocolate supply chain to sell at low prices; Big Chocolate pumps chocolate bars with cheap alternatives such as sugar and other ingredients to even further lower the price of their chocolate bars; finally, because of the two reasons mentioned, the cheapest chocolate on the market (the one that low income Americans will buy) is filled with inordinate amounts of sugar and fat, fueling the diabetes and obesity epidemic plaguing low income Americans today. In the next section, I will substantiate these claims and explain how they feed into one another and result in unhealthy Americans and abused workers and farmers.

Cheap Cacao

The cheapest chocolate available at the Dollar Tree was produced by Big Chocolate companies, Mars, Nestle, and The Hershey Company. These companies typically get their cacao beans from West African farms or plantations by interacting with complicated systems involving national, government, and local powers (Martin); however, human rights violations run rampant on these farms. More often than not, these farms are pressured to lower their cost of production by these large chocolate corporations, which results in child labor, abuse, slavery, and extremely unsafe working conditions. Slavery and child labor are the most salient problems, which exposes nearly “half million to 1.5 million child workers” (ACI Group) to dangerous work conditions, with “more than half reporting injury at work” (Martin). Some individuals, including children, “are trafficked and forced to labor without or with little pay on cocoa farms” (Martin), but these human rights violations are often overlooked in favor of cheaper cacao prices.

Cheap Ingredients

While human right violations in the chocolate supply chain decrease the price Big Chocolate pays for their cacao, their inclusion of insane amounts of sugar, milk, and other ingredients further pushes down the price of their chocolate. Let’s take a look at a normal Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar. According to the Nutrition Label, the ingredients are Milk Chocolate (Sugar; Milk; Chocolate; cocoa butter; Lactose; Milk Fat; Soy lecithin; PGPR, Emulsifier, Vanillin, Artificial Flavors). According to the FDA, “ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with the ingredients used in the greatest amount first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts” (FDA). Sugar is the first listed ingredient, which is vastly cheaper than cacao as sugar is about $0.26/lb. Assuming that “chocolate” is made of cacao beans, this is the most expensive ingredient used, since the ICCO price was around $1.35/lb on May 3, 2018, which is over 5 times the cost of sugar. It is clear that chocolate manufacturers inject their products with incredible amounts of sugar because it is the cheapest ingredient. But it wasn’t just Hershey’s; of the 37 bars I observed, all of them had sugar listed as the very first ingredient on the nutrition label, meaning these bars are no more than a hint of chocolate and a heap of sugar. In addition, most bars weren’t pure chocolate, but instead contained peanuts, caramel, nougat, and other cheaper costing ingredients that further increase the sugar content and decrease the cost to make the bar.

Hershey's bar
Nutrition bar for a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar. Note the high saturated fat and sugar content. In addition, the first ingredient listed on the ingredients list in the parenthesis is sugar, implying that sugar comprises most of the bar, not milk or even cacao.

Health Implications

Knowing that nearly all the candy bars had more sugar content than the recommended daily allowance, it’s apparent why the US population, especially the lower income one, is so incredibly unhealthy. The average amount of sugar present in these bars was 29 grams, while it is recommended that children consume no more than 25 grams of sugar daily, and adults between 25 and 37.

Sweet Lies

But why is consuming so much sugar, which low income people disproportionately do, such a problem? Sugar has been identified as the leading cause for the obesity and diabetes outbreak in modern American. Although some experts argue that fat, not sugar, is the main proponent of diabetes and obesity, seeing who has funded sugar research is alarming. Multiple corporations such as Coca-Cola, Hershey’s, and Nabisco have given millions to the Sugar Association, or ISRF, to exonerate sugar. The ISRF attempted to shift the blame of obesity and diabetes to fat intake and create multiple research panels to argue that any research that points sugar to negative health claims is inconclusive. They have funded researchers such as Edward Biernan, who claimed that diabetics “need not pay strict attention to their sugar intake,” and Ancel Keys who claimed “Cholesterol and dietary fat—especially saturated fat—were the likely causes of heart disease” (Taubes). The FDA even subcontracted a committee “led by biochemist George W. Irving Jr., who had previously served two years as chairman” (Taubes) of the ISRF to determine if sugar was harmful, which has caused uncertainty of sugar’s effect on health for decades.

However, while the ISRF and Big Chocolate tried to hide the truth about sugar, the verdict is out. New research suggests that not only is sugar “addictive in much the same way as cigarettes and alcohol,” but the “overconsumption of them is driving worldwide epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes” (Taubes). No wonder “obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled, while the incidence of diabetes has more than tripled” (Taubes). Regarding diabetes, “long term consumption of sucrose can result in a functional change in the capacity to metabolize carbohydrates and thus lead to diabetes mellitus” (Taubes).

Obesity and Diabetes in Low Income Americans

Rates of diabetes and obesity are even more startling among low income individuals and children. “Those live in the most poverty-dense counties are those most prone to obesity. Counties with poverty rates of >35% have obesity rates 145% greater than wealthy counties” (Levine). In addition, “diabetes may be up to two times more prevalent in low income populations compared to wealthy populations” (Rabi, Doreen M et al.). This is believed to the case because “that individuals who live in impoverished regions have poor access to fresh food,” (Levine) and are instead bombarded with food items that are loaded in sugar. This is consistent with the unhealthy and sugary chocolate selection at the Dollar Tree.

ObesityDiabetes
Two maps indicating Obesity (Top) and Diabetes (Bottom) occurrences in the United States, with darker shades of blue indicating a higher percent of obese/diabetic people. Notice how these two maps are similar in that areas with higher rates obesity are the same ones with higher rates of diabetes, suggesting that there is a correlation between the two. In addition, there seems to be higher percentages of both obesity and diabetes in the South, which coincidentally homes more food deserts. In fact, the food desert map above shows a correlation between food deserts and obesity/diabetes since the areas that have a higher percentages of obesity/diabetes also have more food deserts.

In regards to children, the “number of overweight children in the US has tripled since 1980” (Albritton 344), and low income children “were more likely to be overweight than higher income children (7 percent vs. 4 percent)” (Lin). Companies, such as Hershey’s, specifically target children to develop a lifetime loyalty of their products, and it’s working. Research shows that sugar is addicting, almost as addicting as tobacco (Albritton 344), and when children and even adults consume these products, they will desire their products throughout their life and continue to consume them with disastrous results. “Overweight children often become overweight adults, and overweight in adulthood increases the risk of developing many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, and…cancer” (Lin). 

The Big Takeaway

By understanding how Big Chocolate reduces the price of its chocolate, we can see how cheap chocolate has crippled the low income population in the United States. But a question still remains: given all this information on how terrible sugar and cheap chocolate are for you and the world, why do low income individuals continue to consume it? Do low income customers just not care the people who make their chocolate, or even their own health? Or is it that don’t have a choice, or the proper education to understand how sugar will affect them?

Packaging and propaganda have made it incredibly difficult for low-income individuals to choose the products that match their values. They are bombarded with misleading information on bars that contain supposedly 45% less fat when in fact it contains twice the amount of recommended daily sugar, they are told that bars bought through the “Nestle Cocoa Plan” will help farmers and eliminate child labor when in reality no one understands how these organizations impact the lives of farmers, and lastly, they are told by their doctors and schools to reduce their saturated fats intake when it is in fact sugar that is killing them. While it may be true that some low income consumers just don’t care about what they buy, the widespread misinformation and the products available renders them almost helpless in choosing products that are good for them and the world. It’s on us to give not only these individuals, but everyone the power to know what we put into our bodies and its effect on the world around us. Perhaps it’s time to take the power out of Big Chocolate and Sugar’s hands and place it into where it belongs—the consumer’s.

 

Works Cited:

ACI Group. “Is Your Favorite Chocolate the Product of Child Labor?” Edited by The Nation Blogs, The Nation’s Blogs, ACI Information Group, 22 Dec. 2014, scholar.aci.info/view/1464ec3e2ee6b730146/14a738db750000f00b2.

Albritton, Robert. 2012[2010]. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.”

Dutko, Paula., et al. Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2012.

Griffin-Nolan, Ed. “DOLLAR STORES MAKE A BUCK ON POVERTY.” Syracuse New Times, 6 Aug. 2014, p. 43.

Levine, James. “Poverty and Obesity in the U.S.” American Diabetes Association. 01 May, 2018, http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/60/11/2667

Lin, Biing-Hwan, and United States. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service, issuing body. Nutrition and Health Characteristics of Low-Income Populations. Body Weight Status. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2005.

Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food .Lecture 7: Modern Day Slavery. 2018.

O’Neil, Carol E., Victor L. Fulgoni, and Theresa A. Nicklas. “Association of Candy Consumption with Body Weight Measures, Other Health Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease, and Diet Quality in US Children and Adolescents: NHANES 1999–2004.” Food & Nutrition Research 55 (2011): 10.3402/fnr.v55i0.5794. PMC. Web. 3 May 2018.

“Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives & Colors.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 01 May, 2018, https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/ucm094211.htm  

Rabi, Doreen M et al. “Association of Socio-Economic Status with Diabetes Prevalence and Utilization of Diabetes Care Services.” BMC Health Services Research 6 (2006): 124. PMC. Web. 4 May 2018.

Schneider, Mike. “Grocery Chains Leave Food Deserts Barren.” The Epoch Times, 7 Dec. 2015, pp. A4–A5.

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

“The Nestle Cocoa Plan” Nestle, 01 May. 2018, http://www.nestlecocoaplan.com.

Cacao-Chocolate Industry and Sugar Addiction

Chocolate is one of the most consumed products in the world. The industry has been extremely successful in marketing chocolate as a healthy product. The industry relies on advertising chocolate as a healthy product. In recent times, researchers have proven that sugar has a negative impact on health. The effect of sugar on health continues to be a controversial topic because the industry has consistently misled the public, creating a perception that its products are healthy. The reality, though, is that a majority of chocolate products have more sugar additives than cacao content.

The global chocolate industry was worth $98.3 billion in 2016. Currently, the U.S. industry is worth $22 billion. The industry has been growing steadily for the last four decades. Chocolate is popular because of its rich, unique and sweet taste. In addition, ever since ancient times, chocolate had been used in a variety of different ways to treat different medical conditions as demonstrated by the image below taken from this class’s lecture.

Screen Shot 2018-05-04 at 2.03.05 AM
Image 1: Historical Medical Uses of Chocolate/Cacao

The perceived health benefits of chocolate products continue to drive the growth of the industry today. The problem though is that these products contain added sugar which plays an important role in making them palatable and tasty. Sugar is also the ingredient that makes chocolate problematic for the long-term health of consumers. The consumption of chocolate is closely associated with the development of conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes because of the sugar in it (Stanhope 52). The industry has spent vast amounts of resources in promoting the healthy aspects of chocolate. Advertising plays an important role in creating consumer awareness but it can also be used to mislead consumers about the nutritional and health value of a product. Deceptive advertising has been used to promote the nutritional value of chocolate and to obscure the negative consequences of sugar additives.

Contemporary State of the Cacao/ Chocolate Industry

Chocolate is one of the most consumed products in the world. The industry is driven by innovation because of intense competition. There are numerous chocolate products and brands that are available for different market segments. In the chocolate market, the quality and richness of a chocolate product is usually defined by the cocoa content. For example, milk chocolate contains 10% cocoa and dark chocolate contains a minimum of around 60% cocoa. With the exception of dark chocolate, any other “chocolate ” product actually contain large amounts of added sugar. Think Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s Buttercups, Nutella. All of these aforementioned famous “chocolate” products contain a higher sugar content than cacao content. The pictures below are from the lecture slides found here. They outline the ingredients found in the Hershey’s Kiss and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. By convention, the first ingredient listed is the most occurring in the substance, and it is no surprise to find that sugar is at the top of the list of ingredients for both chocolate products. What is important to notice as well is that the other ingredients present in these chocolates such as milk is primarily made up of a sugar itself, lactose.

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Image 2: Hershey’s Kiss Ingredients

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Image 3: Reese’s Cup Ingredients

The perceived health benefits of chocolate products continue to drive sales. The Chocolate Industry has spent vast amounts of resources to promote the healthy aspects of its products. Chocolate is marketed as a healthy product that keeps consumers looking young, lowers blood pressure, and makes people feel good. Marketing campaigns have claimed that chocolate delays the onset of heart disease. Ultimately, dark chocolate is popular because the industry has succeeded in managing consumer perception through effective branding.

The advertising of products plays an important tool for chocolate makers to market their products. It is no longer adequate for chocolate makers to produce high-quality products because there are many strong competitors and many channels of distribution. Besides, chocolate competes with many other confectionaries. As such, advertising is a critical success factor in the industry because it creates consumer awareness and provides information about the benefits and uniqueness of the products.

Manufacturers of chocolate have used branding with considerable success. Branding has been focused on managing the perception of chocolate in the minds of consumers (Emari, Jafari, and Mogaddam 5692). The industry has taken advantage of consumer interest in health and wellness in order to position its products. For decades, chocolate brands have made well-targeted health claims. The industry has also succeeded in making their products ubiquitous. The products are readily available to consumers in drug stores, supermarkets, high-end stores and the internet. There are many products that have chocolate in them and are chocolate flavored.

Manufacturers of chocolate products have developed sophisticated targeting strategies. They have developed a universal demographic by targeting every category with different products. The product is universally appealing and is consumed by people of all ages (Shekhar and Raveendran 306). Psychological segmentation plays a critical role in the positioning of chocolate products. For example, marketers target impulse buyers with well-placed products near the supermarket check-out counter. Looking at the local CVS and you notice the many different chocolate and other confectionary products placed near the check-out counters.

Packages additionally play an important role in the marketing of chocolate products because they have nutritional claims that influence consumer decision-making (Shekhar and Raveendran 303). Apart from nutritional claims, visual cues also play an essential role in shaping consumer choices.

Big Chocolate and Health

Global chocolate production has been on a consistent upward trend from the 16th century. Chocolate is rich in cocoa which contains flavonoids which are important because they lower both cholesterol and blood pressure (Drayer n.p.). Dark chocolate has the highest amount of flavonoids. The presence of flavonoids is the basis for the health claims that are made by chocolate companies (Drayer n.p.). The challenge that chocolate companies face though, is that flavonoids have a bitter taste. Bitter chocolate does not appeal to many and the most used way to make chocolate palatable and more flavorful is to add sugar.

In the 1960s, the sugar industry withheld research findings that revealed the negative health effects of sucrose. The industry’s largest companies worked tirelessly to prevent public awareness about the harmful effects of added sugar that linked excessive sugar consumption to heart disease. Through the Sugar Research Foundation, the industry used funding to divert public attention from the negative consequences of sugar (O’connor n.p.). Scientists, such as Harvard’s Frederick Stare were paid to blame saturated fats for heart disease (O’connor n.p.). In hindsight, the unethical conduct of the industry and researchers prevented an early debate about the links between sugar consumption and heart disease. For decades, the public was unaware that excessive sugar consumption could harm human health.

Excessive consumption of sugar has been linked to the development of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes (Stanhope 52). The consumption of added sugars leads to insulin resistance and hyperuricemia. Also, the metabolism of fructose causes liver lipid accumulation and decreased insulin sensitivity (Stanhope 52). Researchers have also established that fructose consumption leads to reduced energy expenditure and increased energy uptake.

Excessive intake of sugar has also been linked to obesity. People who consume high amounts of sugar are more likely to be overweight or obese (Stanhope 52).   For a long time, the public has been misinformed that sugar has nothing to do with obesity. The popularity of sugar products has contributed to the obesity epidemic. Sugar constitutes a significant portion of the daily diet of most people (Stanhope 52). Obesity is a risk factor for the most severe chronic conditions including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Furthermore, sugar consumption is a risk factor for metabolic disease. Indeed, excessive consumption of fructose leads to the deregulation of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.

Sugar Addiction

Sugar addiction is a serious condition that is caused by excessive consumption of sugar. Scientists have proven that sugar has an addictive character that is harmful to human health and wellness. Experimental research on both humans and rats has confirmed that sugar is addictive (DiNicolantonio, O’Keefe, and Wilson 1).  Sugar stimulates the same parts of the brain that cocaine and heroin do. In addition, sugar has a significant impact on the mesolimbic dopamine system and activates the reward system of the brain that causes the release of dopamine (Stanhop 52). Some people find it hard to resist chocolate because of the cravings that can only be satisfied through rewarding by the high sugar content. Sugar also alters the mood by inducing reward and pleasure (Danicolantonio et al. 2).  Excessive sugar consumption creates dependence and should be considered as a public health problem. A YouTube video, albeit a pretty long one, by Ashley Gearhardt, Yale and Rudd Center for Policy and Obesity, demonstrates the complex science of sugar addiction here.

Increased sugar consumption leads to sugar tolerance. Repeated consumption of sugar leads to increased demand because the reward system adapts to the frequent stimulation. Consumers take in more sugar because the body needs more intakes for the same reward (Danicolantonioet al. 2).  Therefore, sugar consumers experience the same tolerance that is experienced by drug addicts (Danicolantonio et al. 2). Cutting sugar from the diet is not easy because of addiction and the deceptive advertising tactics of the industry.

Deceptive Advertising

Deceptive advertising refers to the use of false, misleading, and untrue statements while marketing a product. It describes marketing practices that mislead and misinform (or fail to inform) prospective buyers about the nutritional value or ingredient composition of the product they are looking to purchase.The Big Five chocolate manufacturers have engaged in deceptive advertising to obscure the health consequences of sugar products.

In 2012, Ferrero paid a California mother a total of three million dollars for false advertising (Tepper n.p). The company had depicted Nutella, a chocolate product, as healthy. The case exemplifies the misrepresentation of chocolate products on mass media, and the video here shows a Nutella ad where they intentionally neglect to mention the high sugar and fat content in it and simply present it as a mixture of cacao, hazelnut, and skimmed milk.

Marketers use words commonly associated with health and fitness and specifically gear their ads to a certain target audience. These companies have targeted women with specifically tailored messages that tie sugary products to self-worth (Union of Concerned Scientists n.p.). Children, moreover, have also been the target of customized messages and advertisements by chocolate marketers (Union of Concerned Scientists n.p.) Research indicates that children are vulnerable to advertising and failure to regulate marketing to children has been one of the shortcomings of the Federal Communications Commission.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the corn sugar industry to stop deceptive advertising by using the term “corn sugar” instead of high fructose corn syrup, a product found in many household products. The industry has invested in a marketing campaign aimed at portraying “corn sugar” as natural sugar that is safe. Scientists have argued that high fructose corn syrup is more damaging than regular sugar. The corn industry has been misleading consumers that the added sugar, the high fructose corn syrup, is natural sugar.

Aggressive and misleading advertisements have contributed to the increased consumption of sugar. Most products have “hidden sugar” in their ingredients. In the current environment, it is not enough to rely on the information provided on the label. Sugar-free labels are often misleading (Reichelt n.p). In some cases, sugar-free simply means that there is no added sugar (Reichelt n.p). In other cases, it is that the product is manufactured with sugar substitutes (Reichelt n.p). Products that contain artificial sweeteners are usually labeled as sugar-free. Moreover, sugar-free products may contain carbohydrates or fruits which have sugar components (Reichelt n.p). Most sugar-free products contain naturally occurring sugars such as lactose and fructose.

Deceptive advertising by the sugar industry targets low-income populations. A disproportionate amount of advertising for sugary products is aimed at African-Americans. These low-income areas are less likely to be aware of the harms sugar-free or sugar substitutes, such as high fructose corn syrup, actually cause.   Another method to lure people in these low-income areas to purchase sugary products is by retail outlets providing coupons and discount offers for them.

Government Regulations

The advertising of food products is highly regulated because of safety and health concerns. False or deceptive advertising is unethical and illegal. The Federal Trade Commission Act contains regulations that define false advertising. The federal trade commission (FTC) is charged with the mandate of protecting consumers from deception in the marketplace. Section 5 and 12 of the FTC Act prohibit misleading advertisements. The FTC has made clear statements about the misuse of corn sugar instead of high fructose syrup in advertisements on the internet.

The Food and Drug Agency (FDA) protects consumers by ensuring that chocolate manufacturers comply with labeling regulations. Chocolate manufacturers are expected to comply with specific labeling requirements. Chocolate product labels have to label the quantity of natural sugar and added sugar. The FDA uses warning letters to inform industry players that they are breaching labeling regulations. The regulator has already warned against the use of corn sugar instead of high fructose syrup. Also, the FDA has strict regulations governing the claims that can be made by advertisers on product labeling. Health claims can only be made if they are supported by scientific evidence. The FDA has stated that science experts must support such evidence.

Government regulations provide a basis for legal action by consumers. Chocolate makers have been sued because of deceptive advertising. Consumers who are victims of misleading advertising can contact a lawyer and take legal action. Ferrero and Nestle have settled claims out of court because of misleading advertisements. Youth targeted marketing has been one of the challenges posed by deceptive advertising tactics. However, both the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission have failed to address the marketing of chocolate to children (Union of Concerned Scientists n.p.).

What To Do With What We Know?

The chocolate industry has continued to experience growth because of the popularity of its products. Its products have been marketed as healthy and there is an increase in the amount of sugar-free or healthier foods that keep popping up on the market. It is a fair conclusion to come to that most chocolate products have more sugar additives than actual cacao. Also it is fairly evident that sugar is an addictive substance, and their presence in these chocolates makes them more desirable and more addictive.

Despite all the evidence that correlates increased sugar consumption with an increase in diabetes and fueling of the obesity epidemic, the debate about the ill effects of sugar is still ongoing.  However, due to the ever-increasing restrictions and stricter rules by the government, consumer’s rights are finally being protected. Chocolate companies are culpable to sanctions and lawsuits if they are guilty of deceptive advertising and neglectful labeling . Consequently, consumers are better protected and educated to make their own choice, whether they opt for a healthy option or not. By having the proper information available to them, whether that is understanding the names of sugar substitutes (high fructose corn syrup, etc.) or being skeptical about what is meant by sugar-free, consumers are now able to understand the harms of what it is they would be consuming. Having this information, awareness and healthy skepticism allows consumers to understand how these sugary products are being advertised to them, what is in them , and the potential effects of consuming them.

The big question that we face now though, despite the information at our disposal, is this: the next time you are at your local supermarket/CVS, will you grab a chocolate or sugary product from by the counter?

 

 

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