Tag Archives: #sugar

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)

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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.”

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(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!”

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(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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-04 at 1.33.51 AM.png
Image 2: Hershey’s Kiss Ingredients
Screen Shot 2018-05-04 at 1.34.03 AM.png
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?

 

 

Continue reading Cacao-Chocolate Industry and Sugar Addiction

Sugar, Cacao, and Slavery in Brazil: Conversations between the works of Walker, Klein, and Luna

Introduction of the works

The relationship between commercial cacao production in Brazil and compelled or forced labor is one of extreme historical importance, yet it takes up little to no space in the history books. In his 2007 work, Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th to 19th Centuries), Timothy Walker analyzes this relationship, and believes that his research fills a gap in current academic literature. He argues that while popular published works explicate the importance of sugar, they do little to understand cacao plantations. For example, Walker explains that in Sweetness and Power, Sidney Mintz “argu[es] that sugar production was the primary reason for the institution of African slavery in the western hemisphere,” but what is not as well explained in his book is “the initial dependence on forced native American labor in the Brazilian cacao industry…and later heavy reliance of African slaves” (Walker, 78). What Walker’s work does not pay as much attention to, is the interconnectedness of the sugar and cacao industries in Brazil. In his concern over the unrepresented literature on cacao, he seems to discount (or at least does not sufficiently address) the importance of Brazil’s sugar production and its relationship to the cacao industry. Despite this, when put in conversation with other literatures such Herbert Klein and Francisco Vidal Luna’s Slavery in Brazil (2010), a much more comprehensive understanding of the economics of slavery and its relationship to the sugar and cacao industries can be drawn out.

Origins and Scope of Slavery and Crop Production in Brazil

In the American education system, slavery is taught to us from a quite slanted perspective that barely makes mention of slave trades in other parts of the world. We learn about the great extent to which slavery affected the United States and its enduring legacy in our institutions, so it can be incredibly difficult to wrap our minds around the idea that it could have occurred on an much larger scale. Figure 1 below illustrates the major regions where slaves arrived from Africa, and the size of the circle corresponds with the number of slaves brought to that area. Brazil received almost ten times as many slaves as the United States did (accounting for approximately 40% ), and was thus in higher demand by European powers to produce sugar and cacao commodities.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 8.56.23 PMFig. 1. Major regions where captives disembarked, all years.

In Brazil, “[e]nterprising colonists had begun to plant sugar as early as the 1510s,” but by the 1580s, two major areas in the Northeast (Pernambuco and Bahia) became the largest production centers for sugar (Klein and Luna, 25). What we also learn from Walker, is that these same areas (mainly Bahia in addition to the Amazonian region) played the most important role in Brazil’s cacao production economy. With these products being grown in the country’s most fertile regions and close to major slave ports, a special production symmetry arose. As they were grown in close proximity, they “developed a strong commercial co-relationship in American and European markets” and “[e]lite consumers learned to combine bitter natural cacao with a sweetening agent to make the food more palatable” (Walker, 84). Sugar plantations later made their way down to southeastern Brazil in the Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo regions in the late eighteenth century, which drove the slave ports in the South to receive even more slaves in total than in the North (Klein and Luna, 69).

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Fig. 2. Clearing agricultural land in Bahia, early 19th century.

Changes in Demand and Supply

The increasing or decreasing rate of production of sugar and cacao in Brazil was almost always a direct response to changing demand from Europeans. The demand for slaves also directly coincided with the plantation labor demands, so these factors went hand in hand. However, an increase in demand from Brazil specifically was not only because more Europeans wanted the commodity. One of the biggest hikes in demand for Brazilian sugar (and thus slaves as well) was due to the “collapse of Haitian slave production and the mid nineteenth century decline of British West Indian sugar production” (Klein and Luna, 78). This strengthened the plantation system in the Northeast of Brazil and allowed for even more expansion in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Ultimately, through the historical shifts in demand and supply from all regions involved in the production of these commodities, we can understand the intricate interconnectedness between the cacao, sugar, and slave markets. It is crucial to consider their overlapping histories, and not view them in a vacuum in order to arrive at a comprehensive image of how they influenced each other throughout history.

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Fig. 3. Relative share of Brazil in world sugar production.

 

 

Works Cited

Klein, Herbert S., and Luna, Francisco Vidal. Slavery in Brazil. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: the Place of Sugar in Modern History. Viking, 1985.

Walker, Timothy. “Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th–19th Centuries).” Food and Foodways, vol. 15, no. 1-2, 2007, pp. 75–106.

Image Sources

Figure 1:

Eltis, David, and Richardson, David. Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Yale University Press, 2010.

Figure 2:

Walker, Timothy. “Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th–19th Centuries).” Food and Foodways, vol. 15, no. 1-2, 2007, pp. 79.

Figure 3:

Fraginals, El Ingenio, I, pp. 40-2; II: 173. ***Found in Slavery in Brazil on page 80.***

 

Arab-Islamic Civilization and Sugar: Laying the Foundation of Modern Sweets and World Food Culture

The Arab-Islamic Civilization spread the cultivation and consumption of sugar, changing worldwide habits and trends in food culture and creations to the modern day.  Straddling three continents, Islamic empires in the medieval era allowed an intermingling of cultures and traditions, from East to West. “The Arab expansion westward marked a turning point in the European experience of sugar…the Arabs introduced sugar cane, its cultivation, the art of sugar making, and a taste for this different kind of sweetness.” (Mintz, 23) It would change the course of history and affect lands and peoples much far away; laying the foundations of large scale plantations that would eventually be established in the Americas and Caribbean Islands.

In a few centuries, sugar went from being a scarce spice and medicine, to a widely consumed, daily staple product of people of all economic standing, all over the world. The crystallization of sugar first started in India and was used in Persia by the sixth century. After the rise of Islam, the Arabs entered Persia and were introduced to the age-old process of sugar produced from cane, adopting and further developing these techniques.  They planted sugar-cane in plantations across their empires, in Mesopotamia, the Levant, Egypt, North Africa, Al-Andalus (Spain and Portugal), and by the tenth century the Arabs were growing the crop in Sicily, all the while perfecting the process of refining it in sugar mills. (Salloum, 4)

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Picture 1: Map Showing Sugar Cultivation by Muslims

In the lands of the Mediterranean, Arabs developed agriculture and introduced new crops to the land, such as, orange, lemon, banana, saffron, fig, date trees, and most importantly, sugar cane. Wherever the Arabs went, they brought sugar, the product and technology of its production with them, to the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, Crete and Malta. (Mintz, 25) During the Muslim rule in Spain, there was numerous contributions of irrigation, soil management, and scholarly efforts in farming innovation. (Hughes, 68) These plants were used not only in agriculture, but for pharmacy, gardens, luxury trade, and arts.

For nearly eight centuries, under her (Muslim) rulers, Spain set to all of Europe a shining example of a civilized and enlightened State.  Her fertile provinces, rendered doubly prolific by the industry and engineering skill of her conquerors, bore fruit an hundredfold.  Cities innumerable sprang up in the rich valleys of the Guadalquivir and the Guadiana, whose names, and names only, still commemorate the vanished glories of their past. (Lane-Poole, vii)

Irrigation and agricultural practices established then has had a lasting impact. “The knowledge, handwork, commodities, and luxuries of the East were brought by caravans to the farther East, and came by shipping from the Levant to the Mediterranean ports of Spain.  Seeds and plants were thus transported; thus, came rice and cotton and the sugar-cane”.  (Coppee, 397) Sugar was cultivated as far north as Castellon, which is probably the most northerly point of its commercial cultivation. To the south, it was grown in Arabia Felix, Abyssinia, and the islands and the mainland of East Africa from the ninth century.  From Arabia Felix, or directly from Oman, the plant was brought to Zanzibar, where it was reported the finest sugar came.  From Zanzibar, the plant could have been taken to Madagascar.  (Watson, 30)

Sugar was at first regarded an important spice and medicinal component and was consumed in large quantities in the Middle East.  It was used by physicians from India to Spain, slowly entering European medical practice via Arab Pharmacology.  (Mintz, 80) As early as the eleventh century a treatise on sugar was written by a Baghdadi doctor. (Watson, 27) In addition to the medicinal component, Arabs had a rich development of recipes and cuisine that strongly featured sugar at the time of its movement to Europe. In the Medieval Islamic world, sugar enriched many dishes: sour foods, fish, meats, and stews. Of course, pastries and jams especially were a “paradise of sugar”, using syrups made of white sugar and crystals of colored sugar.  Specific sweets using sugar such as stuffed cannoli, squash jam, caramelized semolina, jelly, among others. In Europe, the names of a number of several medieval dishes reveal their Arab origin. (Zaouali, 44)

“The decades that followed the Moors’ conquest of the Iberian Peninsula brought in a dominant Arab influence—in culture, food, and drink, but especially in the introduction of sugarcane-based sweet treats… And there the foundation was laid for sugar-cane based sweet treats of the world as well…In the history of sweet treats, few “events” had the impact on Western civilizations as did the near-800-year occupation of the Iberian Peninsula by Muslim peoples.   Their main sweet treat legacy—sugarcane” (Roufs, 304)

There was a further East to West transmission of food culture as well.  Figures such as Ziryab, credited with the renewal of the culinary arts in Spain and Europe.  In the ninth century, he moved from Abbasid Baghdad to the ruler’s court in Cordoba.  He led a renewal of culinary understanding and elegance, introducing low tables, tablecloths, cups made from glass, and the succession of courses in a definite order, ending with a sweet dessert. (Zaouali, 41).

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Picture 2: Fourteenth century manuscript document from Ibn al-Bitar’s “Book of Simples” depicting sugar cane. 

The dispersal of Arab inspired sweets left a mark especially on Southern Europe, Spain, Portugal, and Sicily; also transmitted to the Americas with later conquests of the Spanish and Portuguese empires.  Sweet dishes found in Mexico and Latin America such Bunuelos, Alfajores, and Arroz con Leche, were inherited from the medieval Arab chefs in Damascus and Baghdad.  (Salloum, 8) The Arab legacy on sweet foods remains in modern day commodities, many deriving their name directly from the Arabic language. The word ‘Candy’ comes from the Arabic qandi, stemming from the Sanskrit khanda (piece of sugar).  Sherbet, Syrup and Sorbet derive from the Arabic word shariba or sharab (to drink).  The ubiquitous drinks Soda Suwwad (saltwort), Coffee (qahwa), and Alcohol are all derived from Arabic.  Other food term that originate from Arabic, include fruits and vegetables such as Lemon, Lime, Orange, Shaddock, Apricot, Artichoke, Spinach, as well as spices such as Sumac, Saffron, Carob, Caraway, and Tamarind. Rice and pasta were also transmitted to Europe via the Arabs (Watson, 23). Marzipan and sugar decorations were documented in the Middle East centuries before its appearance in Europe, especially in festive times such as Ramadan. (Mintz, 88).

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 11.19.40 PM.png Continue reading Arab-Islamic Civilization and Sugar: Laying the Foundation of Modern Sweets and World Food Culture

Cheap Sugar and Expensive Cacao: the democratization of the “food of the gods.”

Chocolate means many things to many people, invoking feelings of romance, decadence, comfort, celebration, and memories of childhood. And despite its ubiquity across most of the globe, chocolate has maintained an aura of lavishness, mystery, and prestige. Once a food item strictly for the elites, chocolate has kept its image as a luxury item even though it has been cheaply available for over a century. How and why did chocolate go from an exclusive luxury item for the privileged to a staple everyday treat for the masses? The history of chocolate, or cacao, the treated fruit-seeds from which chocolate is produced, and how it became commonplace is inseparable from the history of colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the industrial revolution. And the same is true of the history of sugar. Ultimately it was the evolution and combining of these two once-exclusive products that changed chocolate from an expensive, rare commodity for a small elite class to an affordable, mass-producible snack for the everyday citizen of the industrialised world.

Chocolate finds its origin in the cacao tree, or theobroma cacao, literally “food of the gods, cacao,” as it was named by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus.1 However, the word cacao had been used, as had the fruits and the seeds within, since long before Linnaeus encountered the species. Traces of cacao have been discovered on pottery dating as far back as 3,300 B.C. in Zamora Chinchipe, Ecuador,2 almost five thousand years before contact between Europe and Mesoamerica began. When Europeans first encountered cacao at the beginning of the sixteenth century, cacao was used as currency and consumed as a beverage by the ruling class of the Aztec empire. The drinking chocolate travelled first to the royal courts of Spain and then spread to the other major powers in Europe including, Italy, France, and England.  Drinking chocolate prevailed until the middle of the nineteenth century when solid chocolate was first produced for widespread sale.

Köhler's_Medizinal-Pflanzen_in_naturgetreuen_Abbildungen_mit_kurz_erläuterndem_Texte_(Plate_157_II)_(8232806778)

Sugar has been known in Europe since long before cacao. Cultivated into its crystallized form in India as far back as 500 A.D.,3 and spread through the Arabic conquests of the eighth century, it was and remained “a luxury, a medicine, and a spice”4 until the seventeenth century. With the discovery and conquering of the West Indies, Europeans colonialists began to cultivate and mass-produce the luxury items – cacao, tobacco, coffee, rum, tea, and sugar – that would dramatically change the economies of the world forever.

By the nineteenth century sugar had a become a necessity of British daily life. And it was during this century that Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented a machine that would lead to the ability to produce chocolate in its solid form. Van Houten’s hydraulic press separated the fat, cacao butter, from the cacao beans, leaving behind a powder we call cocoa.5 The British Fry family, who had been producing and selling drinking chocolate since the eighteenth century, discovered that by remixing this cocoa with the butter and adding sugar, a liquid that would harden could be made, and the first real chocolate bar was born.6

Frys_five_boys_milk_chocolate

It should be stated that none of the major producers of solid chocolate who would come to dominate the market were the first to think to sweeten cacao for consumption. Adding honey to sweeten drinking chocolate had been commonplace in Mesoamerica before the arrival of the Spanish, and drinking chocolate recipes enjoyed by the aristocracy in Europe pervasively contained sugar. The change that took place that would significantly spread the consumption of chocolate was the pronounced increased, first, in the consumption of sugar. According to Sidney W. Mintz’s estimates, between 1800 and 1890 world production shot from approximately two-hundred and forty-five thousand tonnes of sugar to over six million, and he writes, “there is no doubt that the sucrose consumption of the poorer classes in the United Kingdom came to exceed that of the wealthier classes after 1850.”7 This transformative period in sugar production and consumption paired with Van Houten’s machine, which meant for easier and cheaper production of higher quality cacao powder and butter, set the stage for the mass-production and consumption of chocolate.

Hershey's_Kisses_and_Cherry_Cordial_Creme_Kisses

The public’s insatiable appetite for sugar has meant that chocolate production can be much cheaper, as the most expensive ingredient, cacao, can be used in less quantity. A good example of this is the enormously successful Hershey’s kiss that is just eleven percent cocoa and over fifty percent sugar.8 And the mass-production ideology that came with the industrial revolution led to astonishing manufacturing achievements. A good example of this is the lettering machine at the M&M factory that is able to print the M’s on M&M’s at, “200,000 M&M’s a minute, or 100 million M&M’s every eight hours:”9 needless to say, a far cry from the time-consuming procedure to make the drinking chocolate that was enjoyed by Mayans, Aztecs, and European “nobility” for the centuries and millennia prior. That milk chocolate can be legally called as such with just 10% cacao content has meant a form of chocolate can be made, and therefore bought and eaten, cheaply and regularly across class lines. So while there is debate as to the health effects of cheap chocolate and ethical concerns of cheaply sourced cacao, the “food of the gods” is now available to all mortals. And thank god for that.

 

Works Cited

 

  1. Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. Page 5
  2. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-22733002
  3. Mintz, Sidney W. 1985. Sweetness and Power: the Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin. Page 23
  4. Page 30
  5. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 1996. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson. Page 234
  6. Page 241
  7. Page 143
  8. Martin, Carla D. “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 3/7/18, Class Lecture
  9. Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. Page 185

From Bean to Boom: The Development of Chocolate as an Industrialized Food 


From its journey to Europe from the New World at the beginning of the sixteenth century all the way to its modern-day iteration, chocolate has become an important staple for people all over the world. Provided here is a brief history of its long and fruitful evolution through time – from Europeans first encounter with the substance through its development into an industrialized food. 

anubisinmexico_01_olmecmap
“Olmec Heartland”

The Olmecs (1500-400 BC) were almost certainly the first humans to consume chocolate. They would crush the cocoa beans, mix them with water and add spices, chillies and herbs – thus first creating, “the nectar of the Gods!”

Over time, the Mayans (600 BC) and Aztecs (400 AD) developed their own successful methods for cultivating cocoa. For these civilizations, cocoa was a symbol of privilege and abundance. It was used in religious rituals dedicated to Quetzalcoatl (the Aztec god responsible for bringing the cocoa tree to man) to Chak ek Chuah (the Mayan patron saint of cocoa) and as an offering at the funerals of noblemen. 

moctezuma_ii_cortes

Discovery and Commercialization of Cocoa (16th century) In 1528 Hernando Cortez drank cacao with the Aztec emperor Montezuma and brought it back to Spain.

The Spanish court soon fell in love with this exotic elixir and adapted it to their tastes, adding cane sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and pepper. 

In 1585, the first cargo of cocoa beans arrived on the Iberian Peninsula from New Spain, launching the trade in cocoa, resulting in the establishment of the first chocolate shops and a rapidly growing demand for this mysterious nectar from the new world.  

The expansion of cocoa in Europe (17th – 19th centuries)
During the 17th century, cocoa began arriving in other ports throughout Europe, effortlessly conquering every region’s palate. Chocolate beverages were first embraced by the French court following the royal marriage of King Louis XIII to the Spanish Princess Anne of Austria in 1615.

mv-7716_006
Hot Chocolate in Versailles

In 1650 chocolate beverages first appeared in England coinciding with the arrival of tea from China and coffee from the Middle East. For many years it remained a treat reserved for the upper classes.

In 1659 the first chocolate-confection maker opened in Paris.

In 1720, Italian chocolate-makers received prizes in recognition of the quality of their products. Then in 1765, North America finally discovered the virtues of cocoa. 

chocolate-maid2

Cocoa During the Industrial Era
Industrialization has had a marked democratizing effect on chocolate, transforming it from a rare delicacy reserved for royals, to a widely available and readily affordable treat for the masses. 

Cacao-pur-gif

In 1828, Dutch Chemist Coenraad van Houten invented a process for extracting cocoa butter, allowing for the extraction of cocoa powder. This made chocolate more homogenous and less costly to produce. From this moment on, the history of cacao changed drastically.

 

 

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In 1847, English chocolate maker J.S. Fry & Sons produced the first chocolate bar. The use of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks easier, but also made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar to create a solid bar.

In 1830-1879 Switzerland, chocolate flavored with hazelnuts was developed by Daniel Peteris followed by milk chocolate developed by Henri Nestlé. 

In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine. This new machine made the process of making chocolate a lot faster, and also helped make chocolate smoother and creamier.

imagesWithin the United States in 1893, confectionist Milton Hershey found chocolate making equipment at the Worlds Fair in Chicago and began production at a factory in Pennsylvania. 

Chocolate followed the French and American infantry into the trenches of the First World War, and effectively all US chocolate production was requisitioned for the military during the Second World War. In France, chocolate sweets appeared between the wars, and French pralines were considered the most fashionable. This further inspired chocolate producers to experiment with new and exciting flavors.

Converting cacao seeds into chocolate has now evolved into a complex, mechanized process. At the factory the cacao blended, roasted, cracked, winnowed, ground, pressed, mixed, conched, refined and tempered into candy bars. A few icons of the early 1900s still survive today, like Hershey, Cadbury and Nestlé. Either hand-made or as a fast food, it is now an established part of the world’s vocabulary and diet. Famous French gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin poetically summed up our universal love affair with chocolate, “What is health? It is chocolate!”

 

In these videos from Bon Apetit! you can see cocoa’s long and laborious journey from bean to bar. 

 

 

 

Works Cited

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

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

 

Goody, Jack. Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. In Counihan, Carole. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Media

“Olmec Heartland”
http://www.vampiresaragossa.com/02_anubis_mexico.html

Hernando Cortez with Montezuma II
https://www.biografiasyvidas.com/biografia/m/moctezuma_ii.htm

Hot Chocolate in Versailles
http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/hot-chocolate-versailles

Chocolate Maid, Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1744
https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/hot-chocolate-18th-19th-century-style/

Van Houten “Chocolats”
http://lapassionauboutdesdoigts.fr/recettesdessertschocolat/moelleux-chocolat-mascarpone-aux-poires/

Fry’s Chocolate
http://www.oakhamtreasures.co.uk/treasure-of-the-week/?year_week=2016_46

Hershey’s
http://www.artworkoriginals.com/EB5SB8XJ.htm

 

 

 

Choosing Chocolate: Ethical concerns and nutritional considerations

Last Sunday, I invited four opinionated family members to join me for an international chocolate tasting. My goal for this tasting and analysis was twofold. I wanted to survey my tasters’ preferences for various international chocolate offerings, and gauge their opinions and knowledge on many of the topics that we learned about in class. My family often discusses politics and current events, however I was curious to discover each guest’s individual level of knowledge of fair trade, direct trade, child labor and other troublesome issues related to cacao farming. My ultimate question for each participant was “would you alter your chocolate buying preferences based on potential ethical issues in the harvesting and production of cacao”. The evening did not disappoint. We enjoyed a colorful and insightful discussion on numerous levels.

My first task was to buy international chocolate for the sample tasting. On my way to Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market in the neighboring town, I stopped by my local grocery store to investigate their selection and confirm my suspicion of the limited choices. I live in a small town with a seasonal population and our little grocery store often presents slimly stocked shelves at this time of year. It appeared that the person responsible for chocolate buying was not interested in purchasing chocolate with any kind of ethical or organic certifications. The shelves were stocked with milk chocolate from the big American manufacturers. I was unable to locate one offering with any kind of ethical certification. Consumer demand in a mostly working class town may not be strong enough to offer chocolate with ethical certifications which often demand higher prices. As my guests debated later in the evening, many consumers are use to milk chocolate laden with sugar offered by the large manufacturers. The group’s contention was that ethical concerns in the production of cacao have not reached the vast majority of those in the United States who purchase chocolate on a regular basis. The limited selection at my local store confirmed my initial sense that I would be obligated to drive to the more affluent neighboring town where there is a Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market serving a larger population. The affluent town also includes a Whole Foods store on the opposite end of town. Whole Foods offers a good selection of international chocolate, however the choices offered at Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market, closer to my home, proved to be more than enough to support a successful tasting.

trader joe's chocolate shelves
Trader Joe’s Chocolate Bar Selection

Although I had visited Trader Joe’s in the past, I had never shopped in the chocolate section. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised at the variety and reasonable prices of many of the choices. My goal was to buy a wide range of chocolate that was manufactured outside of the United States with the cacao percentage and source of the cacao beans clearly labeled. Trader Joe’s offers numerous bars marketed with their own brand, most with the “USDA Certified Organic” label. However, the majority of bars branded with the Trader Joe’s name failed to list the detail of the source of the cacao or where it was manufactured. I found it frustrating that I could not determine where the cacao was sourced from. The Columbian chocolate bar was the only exception.

All of the Trader Joe’s chocolate bars I surveyed are distributed and sold exclusively through Trader Joe’s distribution center in Monrovia, California, even the bar that was listed as a product of Columbia. My guess is that most of the chocolate is manufactured in the United States. I reached out to Trader Joe’s through their website in an attempt to learn more, however, as of the date of this posting, I had not heard back. After searching the internet for information on Trader Joe’s business model, it is likely that I will not receive more specific information on the source of the cacao. It appears that Trader Joe’s brand is often white-labeled in an effort to sell quality brand name products at a lower price.

My intention was to purchase a wide variety of chocolate bars, with varying percentages of cacao. The selection at Trader Joe’s was broad, however Fresh Market’s international chocolate selection was impressive. Fresh Market often offers some good loss leaders, yet I find that the prices overall are higher than other grocery stores, especially compared to Trader Joe’s. The chocolate bar offerings were no exception. In total, I purchased eleven bars produced in numerous countries with differing cacao percentages and ethical certifications, plenty to engage in a good discussion with my tasters.

Fresh Market candy bar
Fresh Market’s Chocolate Bar Selection

To prime my guests for a meaningful discussion, I first asked them this question: “If they learned that unethical behavior was occurring in the production of cacao, would they alter their buying preferences and seek chocolate bars manufactured with confirmed ethical practices and legitimate certifications.” Quite honestly, I was a bit surprised at my guests firm conviction to alter their buying preferences. To be honest, three of the guests live in the affluent town in very close proximity to the Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market. Although they purchase their groceries at varying markets including Stop and Shop and Shaws, they regularly shop at Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market. Price is not necessarily a high priority for them.

Nonetheless, each guest confirmed they would be interested to learn more about fair trade and unethical practices in agriculture. In fact, one guest recollected an incident when she was traveling through Tanzania on a vacation and saw very young children working in a field. She could not ascertain which crop they were harvesting. After her description of the area, we felt the children were not harvesting cacao. Our suspicion was that the crop may have been coffee. According to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs as noted on the United States Department of Labor website, there is reason to believe that child labor exists in the harvesting of coffee in Tanzania. Our conversation brought back a disturbing memory to my guest and made our discussion surrounding child labor come to light. The other guests were clearly not educated on the prevalence of child labor or modern day slavery in the production of crops.

Child Labor photo DOL ILAB

After serving dinner, I quickly realized I needed to whittle down my offerings. Our discussion was lively and time was slipping away. Eleven tastings were too much to expect from my group on a Sunday night. Professor Martin had the ability to space out her tastings over time which would have been my preference but not an option in this situation. I quickly sorted through my chocolate stash and decided on the following choices making sure I only offered a very small sample of each:

  • Trader Joe’s dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate Bar 85% Cacao – Colombia-6g sugar per serving
  • Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic 72% Cacao Belgian Dark Chocolate Bar- 10g sugar per serving
  • Fresh Market Alter Eco Dark Blackout 85% cacao organic chocolate Switzerland- 6g sugar per serving
  • Valrhona Le Noir Amer 71% cacao- France- 12g sugar per serving
  • Vanini dark Chocolate 62% cocao with pear and cinnamon-Italy- 15g sugar per serving
  • Trader Joe’s Organic milk chocolate truffle 17g sugar per serving
  • Vosges Pink Himalayan Crystal Salt Caramel Bar 70% cacao 17g sugar per serving

    chocolate bars
    Original Chocolate Bars Selected for the Tasting

I lured the tasters to my house, stating they would be part of a blind chocolate tasting test. I explained my requirements: the tasters would be required to guess the percentage of cacao, the country of origin of each bar, and provide their honest opinions on the actual taste of each bar. Three of the guests have traveled extensively and have had the opportunity to taste many European chocolate offerings. Clearly, they were disappointed. None of the participants enjoyed the dark chocolate. Only one guest was somewhat accurate and able to guess the percentage of cacao in each sample. She’s a bit of a foodie, a good baker and was able to detect the percentage of cacao within a reasonable deviation. She was even able to describe the flavor as it was described in some of the packaging, i.e. full bodied, smooth or fruity. None of the tasters were able to detect the country where the chocolate was produced. They simply guessed and all guessed wrong. The group didn’t care for the initial offerings which included a high percentage of cacao. Their expressions were priceless. When I asked them to join me in a “chocolate tasting”, my guests clearly did not expect to eat chocolate with such a high percentage of cacao that lacked milk and sugar. After three pieces of dark chocolate in a row, I knew I needed to mix it up a bit and offered an olive branch, a piece of Trader Joe’s organic milk chocolate which quickly brought them back to life.

The tasters preferences were clear. All preferred the chocolate with the least amount of cacao and the highest amount of sugar. They were only able to tolerate the higher cacao percentage in the bars that included an additive such as the Vanini chocolate with pear and cinnamon and the Vosges chocolate bar with pink Himalayan crystal salt and caramel. After the last sample, we entered into a discussion around how they felt dark chocolate is an acquired taste similar to the varying choices of coffee offered at Starbucks versus a typical Dunkin Donuts coffee that many Americans were use to drinking before the advent of specialized coffee chains.

As I completed my assessment of the group’s chocolate preferences, I outlined their preferences versus the grams of sugar in each bar. It was not surprising to learn that the higher the sugar content included in each bar, the higher the personal preference. All of the testers agreed they enjoyed the chocolate bars with the most sugar as noted by the number of grams on the bar’s label. They clearly did not like the chocolate bars with less than 15 grams of sugar. Although their preferences were not surprising, it was somewhat disturbing. According to the USDA recommended dietary guidelines, individuals should consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugar. One small serving of chocolate can constitute a large portion of the suggested amount of added sugar in a consumer’s healthy daily diet. The new USDA nutrition labels required by July 26, 2018 mandate a separate category for “added sugar” in addition to the amount of natural sugar in a given food. No doubt this will highlight a negative aspect of the typical chocolate bar sold in the United States.

Food label changes coming. Old and new, all good!
USDA Nutrition Labels

Chocolate has proven to be beneficial in various studies, however moderation is key. There is evidence to suggest that eating too much sugar may raise your risk of heart disease (Corliss). If we plan to eat chocolate, we may need to consider reducing the amount of chocolate that we eat with high amounts of added sugar.

The final consensus of our tasting experiment, after our spirited discussion, led us to believe that we need to be more responsible in our chocolate choices. There is more to chocolate than the pretty packaging and sweet satisfaction. Ethical concerns and nutritional considerations should be at the forefront of our decisions.

 Works Cited

“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Tanzania.” United States Department of Labor. N.p., 30 Sept. 2016. Web. 07 May 2017. <https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/tanzania&gt;.

Corliss, Julie. “Eating Too Much Added Sugar Increases the Risk of Dying with Heart Disease.” Harvard Health Blog. Harvard Health Publications, 30 Nov. 2016. Web. 07 May 2017. <http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-too-much-added-sugar-increases-the-risk-of-dying-with-heart-disease-201402067021&gt;.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020. Washington, D.C.: For Sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 2015. Web. 7 May 2017.

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Labeling & Nutrition – Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, n.d. Web. 09 May 2017.

Beyond the Taste Buds

Lunch time on a Saturday seems like as good of a time as any for an all-you-can-eat, opulent Chocolate Buffet. At the request of my pregnant wife and her pregnant friend, I was summoned to the Chocolate Room to indulge. After talking about the Chocolate Room for weeks, we met up with the other couple for a visit to the Boston Langham Hotel where the event would be hosted. When we arrived, we tipped the valet, tended to our reservations, and didn’t so much as flitch at the forty-five-dollar charge to attend the Chocolate Room. Exceeding already-high expectations, it was worth every penny. While dollar-chocolate at the local convenience store is mere feet from home, why would any couple be compelled to spend over one-hundred dollars just to experience a room of chocolate?

While it is clear that chocolate varies in taste and quality, the experience chocolate warrants, and the experience that Langham creates, set a high value on the entire experience. It is worth exploring to what extent the gustatory perception plays in the social behavior around chocolate. The Chocolate Room experience invoked questions that I will use to probe at the value of the experience. This will help to understand whether the taste of chocolate, or the social and human experience, is a more powerful determining factor in assessing the value of chocolate. Ultimately, we will find that while the pleasantry of taste is what allows us to enjoy it so much, it is not always what compels us to enjoy it so much. When taste is paired with the experience of chocolate, it greatly influences a person’s love for the flavor of chocolate.

Love for chocolate: Natural vs. conditioned?

Is the human affinity for chocolate innate and then discovered in each person, or is it truly socially conditioned? On the topic of the development of food preferences in general, and not just chocolate, psychologist Jamie Hale explains what preferences are pre-programmed, or innate in humans. Hale explains that sweet, savory, and salty substances are innately preferred, whereas bitter and many sour substances are innately rejected (Jamie Hale). However, Hale further explains that “these innate tendencies can be modified by pre- and postnatal experiences.”  This means that while taste, a component of flavor, is detected by the olfactory system, it is also strongly influenced by early exposure and learning beginning in utero and continuing during early infant milk feedings (Jamie Hale). In a close study of child consumption, it was found that eighty-six percent of two to three-year-old American children consume some type of sweetened beverage or dessert in a day (Alison K. Ventura). These early experiences set the stage for later food choices and are important in establishing life-long food habits. While this is true, it cannot be ignored that flavors are enjoyed or not enjoyed by natural compulsions as well. In regards specifically to chocolate, studies show that multiple characteristics of chocolate, including sugar, cocoa and the drug–like effects experienced, play a role in the desire to consume chocolate (Nasser et al.) It is thought to be a combination of both early exposure and a naturally tendency to enjoy all that chocolate offers that ultimately shapes behaviors around chocolate. However, this understanding of a human affinity for chocolate does little to explain why chocolate is consumed as a treat.

Why is chocolate a dessert?

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Fig 1

When we looked around the chocolate room, there is more than just chocolate desserts. Although the vast majority of the treats are chocolate, there are also many other sweets. So, why when are so many chocolate centric? The obvious observation about chocolate is that desserts are often times thought of as a treat. We reward ourselves with something that we deserve. Often times toward the end of the day we may convince ourselves that “we’ve earned this”. Treats are pleasant and something we look forward to. The less obvious observation is that chocolate is a pleasantry beyond just taste. For more reasons that we will continue to explore, chocolate makes us feel good emotionally. According to psychology Doctor Susan Albers, we crave chocolate for the feeling that it gives us. She described in Psychology Today that it “Taste good. It smells good. It feels good when it melts on our tongue. And all of those ‘feelings’ are the result of our brain releasing chemicals in response to each chocolate experience” (Albers). As we learned, all these perceptions are part of the flavor of chocolate. A common thing happens when we feel good; our body release chemicals. The experience of eating chocolate results in feel good neurotransmitters (mainly dopamine) being released in particular brain regions (frontal lobe, hippocampus and hypothalamus) (Albers). If we are rewarding ourselves with a dessert what would a better way be than to do so with chocolate.

Am I getting a daily dose of dope with my chocolate?

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Fig 2

It was originally thought that chocolate contained compounds that could activate this dopamine system directly (like cigarettes and cocaine do) (Albers). Chocolate does contain theobromine, caffeine, fat and sugar. Theobromine can increase heart rate and bring about feelings of arousal.  Caffeine can make us feel awake and increase our ability to work and focus. Fat and sugar are preferred food sources for humans because they are calorie dense. However, experiments in which the components of chocolate were separated out indicated that just ingesting the chemicals in chocolate without the mouth-feel and taste does not decrease craving for more chocolate (Albers). This means that our bodies have a desire for the entire chocolate experience, and not just one chemical that is in chocolate.

What is chemically unique about chocolate?

In the chocolate Room, the effect chocolate had on our body, mood and emotions was evident. Starting with a chocolate crape with chocolate sauce, fruits and chocolate rum, my pallet was primed for more chocolate. We continued to explore the room in search for the next treat. After each sitting and each plate consumed, our joy and excitement continued to build for our next treat. We each shared a common affinity for chocolate. Chocolate’s effect on our body goes beyond the tongue. It enticed sense beyond taste and has a positive effect on our emotions. Chocolate transcends the senses and takes over inhibition. What seems like an insatiable desire for chocolate gradually transitioned to a glucose high, and feelings of stimulation. The joy’s of chocolate were compared to kissing in a study by psychologist David Lewis. The study found that letting chocolate dissolve slowly in your mouth produces as big an increase in brain activity and heart rate as a passionate kiss—but the effects of the chocolate last four times longer (BBC). Researchers at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California say chocolate also contains a feel-

locknkey
Fig 3. Anandamide

good chemical called anandamide, which is found naturally in the brain, and is similar to another one called anandamide THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) found in marijuana (Woodford). Its name comes from ananda, the Sanskrit word for “bliss”(Senese) (Fig3). Blissful is exactly how I would  to describe the experience in the Chocolate room. I must have been experiencing ananda.

If chocolate transcends taste, what other senses could be enticed?

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Vid 1. Dr. Spense

In an effort to recognize that the experience of chocolate extends beyond the taste buds, the Langham was certain to maintain an elevated experience for each of the senses. According to Dr. Carla Martin of Harvard University, the “sound of the environment and of the food and beverage itself has been known to impact the experience of flavor” (Martin). This idea of a multisensory environment encompasses elements that entice all the senses. Dr. Charles Spence from the Crossmodal Laboratory at Oxford University explains that the flavor experience for anything from coffee and wine to seafood and chocolate can be altered when careful attention is given to the texture, temperature, feel and esthetics of the mugs, chinaware and silverware, and chairs, as well as the lighting in the room, the sound of the environment, and the context of how the food is being presented (Spense) (Vid 1). The senses come together in a way that change the flavor. The multisensory environment prepared by the Langham was replete with elements to arouse all the senses including fine utensils, live musical string instruments, all compound to add to the ambiance (fig 4).

Music
Fig 4. Musical Instruments play in the Chocolate room

After being seated, we were immediately introduced to the layout of the room and explained that the room was segmented into the bodily senses. They have items prepared at separate tables to stimulate sight, sounds, touch, taste, and sent. Treats from the sight table we perfectly plated, meticulously garnished, and delicately placed with care. Desserts prepared for the smell table were chosen for their strong and pleasant aromatic properties such as Grilled Pineapple with chocolate beads, Orange Mouse, Milk chocolate Creamoux with Candied Violet and Rosewater Pana Cotta. Choices on the Sound table included items that audibly contributed to the experience, such as milk chocolate lined rice crispy treats, a crisp milk chocolate crème brulee, and some silent but delicious tarts topped with a fresh crisp strawberry. The touch table sought to tickle my fingers with tactile treats such as a chocolate bubble tapioca, chocolate mini waffle cones, chocolate cake pops, and Black Forest Triffle, rich red velvet cake with a light and airy whipped topping. The Taste table was curated to entice by pairing either rich and creamy or strong and dark chocolate with bold flavors such as cinnamon, spices, and citrus offerings. Not to be omitted, at the center of the room was a glorious fountain of chocolate ready to accept a dip from fruits and confectionaries such as pineapples or marshmallows (of course that included chocolate marshmallows).

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Fig 5. Sensory Tables

Notes on culture:

Looking around the room, it was a joy to know that many more people than we were enjoying this multisensory experience. While all our senses were enticed by each offering, it was an experience that seemed universally enjoyed by people from all cultures. At the Langham, as a destination hotel in a major city, international travelers seeking a reprieve from their journey all found comfort in the room alike. Asian, Hispanic, African and European people, all speaking their own languages, found commonality in their human affinity for chocolate. This universal love of chocolate not only transcends the taste buds and has a multifaceted effect on the body, but transcends race, gender, age and culture as a universally beloved delicacy thanks to transcontinental trade and migration hundreds of years ago. So ubiquitous is the love for chocolate, I’ve often found that it is expected that I enjoy chocolate. Is this projection cast on everyone by everyone? That expectation would seem to be projected onto all those aforementioned classes and ages. This universal love would seem to have no issue contending with the idea that chocolate is simply conditioned and is not an innate trait.

Would sugar alone have the same effect?

To support this idea that the love for chocolate is innate, Dr. Albers reminds her readers that you probably did not have to learn to like chocolate. She explains that “the sensory experience is enjoyed on an innate, biological level, but it is likely that you received chocolate as a treat, reward, or for holidays, especially if you are American” (Albers). This reward based consumption can often times contribute to it being a comfort food. This association alone can bring someone into a better mood, even before the chemical effects of sugar set in. While the thoughts of sugar can allow someone to feel good, the distinct flavors of chocolate also hold a unique ability to socially and psychologically associate with a positive experience in someone’s life. This reinforces the idea that the popularity of chocolate in desserts is no coincidence or due to a lack of alternatives, but rather to meet the demands of human desire.

Socially we have come to think of chocolate as a food that is comforting and can bring us into a better mood. The nature of chocolate candy being a sweet desirable stimulant is more attractive with sugar, but not because of sugar. Sugar alone can often times have an adverse effect on mood and can often times act as a depressant. In a study on the effects of sugar, David Sack explains that “the roller coaster of high blood sugar followed by a crash may accentuate the symptoms of mood disorders” (Sack). His research has tied heavy sugar consumption to an increased risk of depression, even worse in people with schizophrenia. One theory is that sugar suppresses activity of a hormone called BDNF that is already fairly low in individuals with depression and schizophrenia (Sack). Humans love for chocolate has historically persisted without the additive of sugar. Consider the ancient Mayan Cacao beverage prepared and a hot coffee-like drink made from the cacao bean and simple spices alone. This was a beloved Beverage of the God’s long before the refinement of sugar (Coe and Coe).

Sweet Treats room vs Chocolate room: why chocolate?

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Fig 6. Milk and Cookies

Is chocolate necessary in order to invoke this described response? As unique as chocolate is, it is one of many foods that can do what it does. While we were presented with bountiful chocolate offerings, the chocolate-less pastries couldn’t escape notice. While tarts, a glass of milk, tapioca pudding, cotton candy, strawberry shortcake, cream puffs, and even popcorn stood out from the chocolate theme, they had a role in contributing to the overall experience. After all, what good would chocolate cookies be without milk? We were told by the server these alternative treats, devoid of all chocolate as they were, allowed a reprieve from a chocolate over-load, while the salty popcorn offered a “pallet reset” that would allow us to extend our chocolate consumption further. We were advised that if we were to slow down and desire an extra boost to be able to continue, grab a hand full of popcorn to be able to carry on.

Reflections

If the room was only full of options deplete of chocolate offerings, the experience would have lacked appeal. Whether socially conditioned or innate, the human affinity for chocolate could not be accessed and leveraged as a draw for people to enjoy the room. While the ladies were excited to invite us men to the Chocolate room, and we were glad to accept the invitation, the we men would likely have attended a “Sweet Treats” room with less enthusiasm than a Chocolate Room”. Was the fact the two pregnant women invited their male husbands a fulfillment of the gender based stereotype of women craving chocolate?  As Thrilled as the women were to invite the men, it was no more a womanly compulsion than a gender natural human desire.

Our chemically motivated, socially reinforced desire, evident in all cultures, was satisfied in the Chocolate Room. Visiting the Boston Langham was an opportunity to satisfy and explore our most natural desire for the experience of chocolate flavor. The extent gustatory perception played in our social behavior around chocolate was the satisfaction of the craving for the taste of chocolate, but it did not address our deepest yearning for the full flavor experience that we craved. The social and human experience played the most powerful role in our enjoyment. Taste and flavor; experience and gustatory joy, are the ultimate pairing for chocolate.

Works cited

Albers, Susan. “Why Do We Crave Chocolate So Much?” Psychology Today Feb 11, 2014. Web. May 5 2017.

Alison K. Ventura, Julie A. Mennella. “Innate and Learned Preferences for Sweet Taste During Childhood.” Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, , Vol.14(4), pp.379-84 Vol.14.(4) (July 2011): pp.379-84. Print.

BBC. “Chocolate ‘Better Than Kissing’.” BBC News 2007. Web. 5/10/17 2017.

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

Jamie Hale, M.S. “The Development of Food Preferences.” Web.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 12: Psychology, Terroir, and Taste.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 19 April 2017. Lecture.

Nasser, Jennifer A., et al. “Psychoactive Effects of Tasting Chocolate and Desire for More Chocolate.” Physiology & Behavior 104.1 (2011): 117-21. Print.

Sack, David. “4 Ways Sugar Could Be Harming Your Mental Health.”  2013. Web.

Senese, Fred. “The Bliss Recptor.” Frostburg State University 8/17/2015. Web.

Spense, Charles. “Charles Spence: Multisensory Experience and Coffee.” You Tube. Oxford University May 27, 2014. Web. May 10 2017.

Woodford, CHris. “The Science of Chocolate.” ExplainThatStuff 2016. Web. 5/10/17 2017.

Image Sources

Feature photo; The Langham Hotel Boston. Web. May 5, 2017  http://www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/boston/dining/chocolate-bar/

Fig 3; General Chemistry Online! “The Bliss Recptor.” Frostburg State University 8/17/2015. Web.  http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/features/anandamide.shtml.

Vid 1: “Charles Spence: Multisensory Experience and Coffee.” You Tube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVKabsudi1I

Fig. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6; Stoffel, Grant. “Langham Chocolate Bar experience.” April 22, 2017. Langham Hotel, Boston.